Tracking Terrorists

With disturbing revelations coming out of the Bali bombing trials about the existence of cells of the regional Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiah in Australia, BearingPoint thinks it can offer intelligence agencies technology that can help track such cells down.

One problem intelligence-gathering and law enforcement agencies have in flushing out members of sleeper cells is that of harvesting information already in the system that might point to their nefarious motives and activities. Prior to the September 11 terror attacks in the US two of the two hijackers were on the Immigration and Naturalization Service's watch list, but were still able to board the planes because no-one ever alerted the Federal Aviation Administration or commercial airlines. Some of the hijackers had drivers’ licenses, meaning a government official had taken their picture, grabbed their signature and possibly a thumbprint, and harnessed a lot of information about them — real or false. Such people are “Hiding in plain site within our system, within our bureaucracy,” according to Tom Patterson, managing director of managed services for BearingPoint.

The BearingPoint solution involves sophisticated technology capable of linking information from across Government stovepipes in real time in order to shine light “into the bureaucratic shadows,” as Patterson puts it.

Pennsylvania's $US20 million Justice Network system (JNET) is the model. Developed before September 11, and afterwards used to help identify the hijackers of the plane that went down outside of Pittsburgh, JNET has already been rolled out across numbers of other US States (unsurprisingly, with former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge now heading up the US Homeland Security Department) and is receiving strong interest from the Singapore and Irish Governments.

JNET is a secure, Web-based solution that integrates existing, disparate systems to create a common online environment for information sharing without changing the existing system or disturbing the custodial nature of the information. BearingPoint says the JNET integration framework enables government organisations to share critical information within the law-enforcement and public safety communities to meet the challenges of homeland security.

More than 2800 state and local government justice professionals across Pennsylvania now use the system. The FBI’s Pittsburgh office has been using it since mid-September to rapidly provide photos and addresses of terrorism suspects. In one instance, a "warrant" was issued for a suspect, and JNET data quickly located that person in a Pennsylvania prison. The FBI then interviewed the suspect.

BearingPoint’s managing director for Public Services Australia Pacific Region Paul Nadeau says he will be presenting the technology at the 2003 Homeland Security Conference running from 31 July to 1 August in Canberra.

“About five years ago (Governor Ridge) had a vision for being able to share information across agencies, and so we built an application that allows us to share information across the court system, the prisons, police, the Department of Transportation and so on,” Nadeau says.

“One of the features of this application is that you can create watch lists. In the Pennsylvania example, the parole board can put out a watch list and say hey if you pick this guy up for this kind of an offence, this would be a violation of parole. And the system will automatically generate an SMS message or email or whatever you want it to, and notify the parole officer,” Nadeau says.

“It’s been very effective. We’ve had over 15,000 notifications of potential parole violations or other offences, they’ve used it to help solve a murder case, and they’ve also used it to do a lot of things now like photo line-ups for instance. There have been a lot of things that they’ve been very excited about.”

Now BearingPoint is confident JNET is the answer to the Government’s prayers, as it seeks ways to harness existing information to track terrorists.

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