WMD management complicated by data challenges

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WMD management complicated by data challenges

The Defense Department is building a data-driven environment from supply logistics to satellite communications, but it is facing data architecture challenges when it comes to monitoring weapons of mass destruction.

The Pentagon and the military branches, however, are joining forces to make sense of the massive amounts of data DOD components collect via disparate systems, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) experts said.

"We've got legacy systems that have decades of data available to us, but how we layer that with current data also builds on a need for better data curation because they don't have a common data architecture," Amanda Richardson, chief of operations for the DTRA's Research and Development Directorate, said during a Dec. 11 event on the topic hosted by FCW and Noblis.

"So I have data … you have data, we all have data, but getting it into a form that we can use in a single tool is a pipe dream at this point," she said.

To address the issue, DTRA is in the midst of creating a common data architecture, Richardson said.

"Right now, we're working on that just internal to our agency," she said. "But being able to leverage more data gives us more information to help us better respond to potential risks, potential threats."

DTRA is looking to leverage artificial intelligence and advanced data analytics tools, Richardson said, though she stressed that the goal is not to "take the human out of the loop completely."

However, gaps in those humans' abilities can also hinder detection and mitigation efforts, said Ed Lawson, director of integration for the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense, speaking at the same event.

"User competency is at an all-time low in compared to technology," he said. "We're doing great stuff, but collectively, where are we showing that success?...I can out-speed intelligence by looking at Twitter."

Richardson said one reason today's whole of government approach falls short is that WMD events are low probability, but very high risk.

"One of the struggles, I think that … we don't really know how to address non-probabilistic risk," she said.

"How do we find not just the actual weapon that [a bad actor is] about to use, but how do we find the people who are buying the precursors for that weapon?" Richardson asked. "How do we find the people who are looking for money to do that? How do we find the people who are just researching but interested in that?"

A longer version of this article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to Defense Systems.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at lwilliams@fcw.com, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.

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