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Finding the Needle in Any Data Haystack

June 3, 2010
By Beverly Schaeffer

Analysts certainly don't want to become obsolete, but they definitely appreciate a leg up in the world of technology. If finding a needle in a haystack were the challenge, the best and brightest would suggest, for example, using a giant magnet to sift right through the hay to obtain the metal prize. Now instead, picture specialized data as the coveted prize-information so important that to find it in the vast, voluminous barn loft of information, researchers need a proverbial data "magnet" to find what they're looking for-a system so precise in tagging verbiage that one could say it literally brings all information right through the eye of the needle. In this month's SIGNAL Magazine, Maryann Lawlor pinpoints a continuously evolving software that IDs specific information, groups it, and ultimately delivers a neat Cliffs Notes compilation of actionable knowledge in her article, "Googlizing Intelligence." Modus Operandi Incorporated has spent the last several years designing semantic software that tags text in a manner that lets intelligence analysts extract key information by using both set and adjustable search parameters. The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force each are on board, all finding ways to enhance their own data functions using this technology. Actionable intelligence gleaned rapidly can mean the difference between life or death in theater. Tod Hagan, Modus Operandi's director of ISR software solutions, says the company demonstrated its capabilities by choosing 100 intelligence reports directly from the field and giving them to intel specialists for analysis. At the same time, those reports also were put through the company's software. The analysts took two weeks to finish, while the Modus Operandi product identified 19,000 essential intelligence elements in less than five minutes. One concrete field application involved an Army intelligence specialist able to document the serial numbers of cell phones after their confiscation in Afghanistan. Data from this type of find can become lost in the shuffle of thousands of intelligence reports. Modus Operandi's software sifts through mounds of gathered intelligence information with lightning speed to deliver only the most pertinent data. Lt. Col. Scott E. Camden, USMC, MARCORSYSCOM deputy program manager for project management, intelligence, data diffusion and dissemination, emphasizes the benefits of linking culled data with existing intel reports and identifying gaps in intelligence:

This is really about the work ratio for the analysts. Currently, analysts spend 70 percent of their time finding the data and 30 percent of their time analyzing the data. This [technology] has the potential to reverse these percentages.

Across the military services, additional apps for this technology include automated natural language sensor programs; enhanced information fusion/representation at the command level, based on a service-oriented architecture; and filtering, parsing and sorting of large amounts of data for HUMINT purposes. In the past, computer systems used to fill entire rooms from floor to ceiling. Handheld PDAs with previously unimaginable computing rates are now commonplace, boggling the minds of our technological predecessors. Computing speed and accuracy are coveted goals, as is software that enables information to be broken down into the most specified subject groupings. Can these software tools become even more discerning, and if so, what other applications await them? How about dual-use technologies beyond the military? Share your opinions and ideas here.

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