Northern Command eyes new and existing technologies

The Pentagon needs existing and advanced technologies to better protect the homeland, a top official told industry and government officials Wednesday.

Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of North American Aerospace and Defense Command at Northern Command, said his division must use available commercial technology as well as advanced devices that incorporate nanotechnology, satellite imagery and detection technology for its various missions.

The troops of Northern Command, which was established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to defend the country against another tragedy, can only be deployed by the Defense secretary and works with other federal, state and local agencies during an emergency.

"We never go uninvited," Keating said at a homeland security conference in Washington. He reiterated that his division must follow the Posse Comitatus Act, which limits the use of the military for civil law enforcement.

Keating said Northern Command has "very few assigned resources" but can employ tools from other agencies, such as satellite imagery, bomb-detection dogs, the Coast Guard's fleet or Federal Emergency Management Agency resources.

For maritime security, Keating said officials need devices that can find and track suspicious vessels and suggested aerial devices in "near space." Keating added that industry should focus on devices to detect germs, gases and other lethal substances entering the country at the borders.

Another Pentagon official said nanotechnology -- the science of developing tools at the molecular and atomic levels -- is "very, very important to us." He also said the command's information technology systems are integrated vertically with other jurisdictions but need to be securely integrated with systems across federal jurisdictional lines.

Keating also said the military must curb its appetite for more resources such as airwaves and technologies, and instead work with the billions of dollars appropriated by Congress. "If we can't do it on a half-trillion dollars, you should get somebody else," he said.

Meanwhile, government officials said during a separate panel discussion that the Transportation Department is on schedule to issue a common identification standard Friday.

The standard, which was mandated by a presidential directive in August, would help control logical and physical access to government property with compatible, reliable and tamper-proof electronic "smart cards" for all government employees and contractors. By October, every government agency must begin implementing the technology.

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