Technology: Advantage and Threat

July 10, 2012
By Rita Boland

Before interagency became the hot buzzword it is today, groups involved in the protection of U.S. borders have banded together to stop illicit goods and individuals from crossing into the country. Technology aids that battle, but it also gives the enemy unprecedented advantages. During a panel focused on interagency cooperation for border security at TechNet Land Forces South in Tampa, Florida, various members of the military and law enforcement communities gave their take on the issue.

Captain Michael Baumaister of the Criminal Intelligence Bureau of the Tampa Police Department said new technology and resources have enabled his organization to identify many people in the United States who should not be in the country. The department also has adopted biometrics technology such as a rapid identification system in squad cars that allows officers to take thumbprints to make better identifications.

In addition, a connected system is available in the jails, so many groups can share biometrics information in a rapid manner. Another product enables the department to share its database with other groups, helping to track potential problem patterns. For example, if an individual has an encounter with police at the Port of Tampa, then later has another incident with police near a nuclear power site in the northern part of the state, officials can determine there might be a situation worth investigating. The Tampa Police Department used recent technology investments to upgrade communications such as its radio system. Efforts also made driver's licenses harder to forge.

Gerald Bessette, from the traditional technology section of the FBI, explained that his organization constantly has to shift technology policies depending on interpretation of the law by the Supreme Court and others. He also cautioned that, "Technologies are like weapons. They know no allegiance." Jose Soto, the Drug Enforcement Administration intelligence liaison to U.S. Special Operations Command said technology must be part of investigators' arsenals at all times, but unfortunately the bad guys often have greater access to and knowledge of technical resources. "It's amazing to see some of these organizations ... definitely planning how to use these latest technologies for their enterprises," Soto said. He added that the criminal groups will seek out any knowledgeable assets from a recent graduate of MIT to a nuclear engineer from Russia.

Soto also brought up technologies not commonly associated with the military and law enforcement such as video game systems that enable players to communicate. Law enforcement agencies have to figure out who is using them and how, then determine methods to legally intercept the transmissions. Even technology in the hands of officers can benefit individuals with violent intentions. If undercover agents carry smartphones that track movements and locations, their security could be jeopardized.

Rear Adm. William D. Baumgartner, USCG, commander, Seventh Coast Guard District, said keeping people trained on the latest technology is a challenge. Adm. Baumgartner stated that his organization wants to stay up to date, but also has to put into place standardization. Bessette also voiced training on technology as a concern. "Technology is a bear," he stated. "It's expensive. It changes monthly, yearly. Whatever we have now will be outdated [soon]."

The military and law enforcement are seeking out solutions that enable them to interoperate more effectively. Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw, Jr., ANG, The Adjutant General of the State of Florida, shared that in the last few years the National Guard has fielded systems that enable troops to communicate directly with law enforcement. The effort synchs service members and first responders in the field.

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