Defense aims to help agencies improve counterterrorism efforts

The Defense Department is helping "first responders" to local emergencies and other government officials to improve their counterterrorism capabilities by "teaching people how to fish," Pentagon officials said Wednesday at a homeland security expo sponsored by the Commerce Department and the White House Office of Homeland Security.

"Homeland security is best accomplished by building up the capabilities of local, state and federal agencies so that they do not have to turn to the Department of Defense," Peter Verga, the Pentagon's special assistant for homeland security, said during a breakout session on Defense agencies' acquisition of security-related technologies.

"Technology, in particular, is an area where the DoD has the lead."

Verga, who directs Defense's homeland security task force, said Pentagon officials are working with the Office of Homeland Security to make it easier for civilian agencies at all levels of government to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks by obtaining technologies originally developed for the battlefield.

"The trick is to take military technologies and turn them into commercial applications that people outside the Department of Defense can afford," he said.

Verga noted several existing programs that are enabling Defense to share its cutting-edge counterterrorism expertise with other agencies. For example, the Technical Support Working Group, which has existed in various forms since the mid-1980s, is charged with identifying and coordinating interagency and international research and development needs for combating terrorism. The group also oversees the rapid development of up to 250 counterterrorism technologies each year, said Todd Anderson, TSWG's manager of international programs.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks prompted TSWG and the Defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics to issue a broad public appeal last October for new ideas to help combat terrorism. Anderson said Pentagon officials received 12,500 responses, and after a long review process, 57 projects were selected. Forty-eight of those projects are awaiting contracts.

TSWG already has awarded contracts to the remaining nine projects and is funding those contracts through its internal budgets.

Anderson said those nine projects include technologies that could enable U.S. officials to rapidly screen suspected terrorists for exposure to chemical or radiological materials that could be used in the building of "dirty bombs" or other weapons.