The Buzz

IDs Checked

A governmentwide identification program mandated in 2004 received its first legal challenge in late August. Twenty-eight engineers and scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., sued the California Institute of Technology, the Commerce Department and NASA, contending that background investigations for the new IDs violate Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, 14th Amendment privacy protections, the Administrative Procedure Act and California's constitution.

The plaintiffs include key players on well-known NASA missions including Robert Nelson, who leads the New Millennium Program that tests new technology. The ID card program, created by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 and known as HSPD-12, requires federal employees and contractors to carry interoperable smart card badges for entry into buildings and access to computers.

The lawsuit objects to a NASA rule that in order to receive the IDs, JPL employees in sensitive jobs submit to investigations of medical, financial and employment records and to interviews of friends and acquaintances. Employees must sign waivers giving access to personal information.

The plaintiffs do not work on classified or national security issues, according to the lawsuit, and many agreed to work for NASA under the condition they would be exempt from security clearances so their work can be peer reviewed and they can collaborate freely with scientists worldwide and publish their research.

When JPL employees protested to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, the Associated Press reported, he said working for the government is a privilege, not a right, and he would carry out the order to bar those without the IDs.

"This is a security apparatus that has gotten out of control using 9/11 as a pretext to gather background information on innocent civilians," Nelson told the Pasadena Weekly in August.

Wearing a WIRE

Note-taking hardly seems a likely weapon in the fight against Iraqi insurgents, but it's at the core of a new system that defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing with a Marine battalion and the Chicago Police Department.

Research from a number of sources shows distinct similarities between American city gangs and Iraq's insurgents: secrecy, intricate networking, unclear relationships among individuals. So, when the Defense Department requested help in neutralizing the threat of improvised explosive devices, some folks within Lockheed thought beyond the bombs. Instead of combating IEDs, they sought to battle the bombers with a system modeled on one used by Chicago cops to fight gangs.

The resulting counterinsurgency surveillance system, called COIN, combines cameras and other tracking equipment with an investigative database created by Lockheed with analysis using algorithms patterned on those in I-CLEAR, the Illinois Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting System used in Chicago. Most of the equipment will be commercial off-the-shelf gear, save for the wearable intelligent reporting environment, or WIRE, a hands-free system for dictating reports directly from the battlefield or while on patrol into a computer for real-time transmission to commanders.

While Chicago police officers jot down on index cards their observations about meetings among suspected gang members or repeated sightings of one person on the same street corner, soldiers don't have time to take notes, nor do they want to let go of their weapons. They can dictate their observations into WIRE, which translates voice into text, categorizes the information, links it with exact geographic coordinates and downloads it into the database. Lockheed's Advanced Technology Laboratories in Cherry Hill, N.J., turned over a working WIRE prototype to the Army's Training and Doctrine Command in late August.

Games On!

Sept. 27 marked the release of "America's Army: True Soldiers," a new video game for the Xbox 360 developed by the Army and Red Storm Entertainment. In the tradition of the massive success of the Army's first game, "America's Army," designed for recruiting, "True Soldiers" was created to allow team as well as individual play. Single players can advance through a military career as they gain prowess, taking on the role of rifleman, grenadier, automatic rifleman and sniper.

In an effort to realistically portray the Army experience and values, "True Soldiers" includes rewards for teamwork, leadership and respect for rules of engagement, life and property. Members can award points to teammates for honorable play and taking initiative. Single players can hone marksmanship, stealth and conditioning, and carry their accomplishments with them into online play.

Players train with authentic simulations of field exercises and nonlethal ammunition used by the Army. "True Soldiers" also will feature realistic high-tech equipment, such as a Blue Force Tracker to improve recognition of targets and prevent friendly fire losses. A Raven unmanned aerial vehicle will collect intelligence and display it on the Blue Force Tracker.

Not to be outdone by the Army, the Homeland Security Department also has a video game in production. Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico is developing "Ground Truth" along with the University of California's GamePipe Laboratory. It consists of a virtual environment where decision-makers and first responders can play through attacks to see the effects of decisions made under time and resource constraints.

"Ground Truth" resembles "Sim-City," a city-building game, in its urban setting and big-picture aerial view. It's designed for incident commanders who must allocate resources and learn the dangers faced by first responders. Only certain ones can wear protective gear, for example, so "you don't want to be sending your police officers into an area where they might face a cloud of toxic gas," says Donna Djordjevich, principal investigator for "Ground Truth" at Sandia.

The game includes a chlorine spill that requires players to move around police, firefighters and hazmat teams and create medical and supply staging areas. The simulation takes 20 minutes.

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