Mimi Browning | Executive Suite: Who has the IT advantage in the war on terror?

Mimi Browning

On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, we should consider seriously, but with a grain of salt, information technology's role in making the world more or less safe against terrorism.

How are the good guys and the bad guys using IT to their advantage? Who is really winning the global war on terrorism in the IT world?

To keep score, here are 10 IT capabilities, in reverse order of importance, and an assessment of who's having the most impact on the GWOT.

10. IT Documentation. The good guys have tons of this incomprehensible resource, and almost all of it is in the public domain. However, the bad guys think that we may actually follow these references, and therein lies the danger for them. Score: Good Guys: 1

9. Data Visualization. Huge databases, sophisticated 3-D displays and complex techniques to portray 'actionable intelligence' are the good guys' best friends. Cheap, ubiquitous cell phones (dual use as a camera and an explosive-device detonator) are the bad guys' best friends. Score: Bad Guys: 1

8. Enterprise Architecture. The ability to blueprint the enterprise systems world and design integrated solutions is a true IT art and science. However, terrorism'asymmetrical, nonsystems oriented and disruptively entropic'does not need EA to inflict damage. Score: Bad Guys: 1

7. IT Governance. Is there an al-Qaida CIO? Does he matter? Should cost containment strategies be measured by such factors as enterprise commodity buys or the price of oil? Is streamlining or disruption the goal of process improvement? Score: Too hard to score.

6.Cyberterrorism. Obsessive socio- paths and anti-U.S. terrorists are the key players in this IT game. The win probably goes to the side with (a) the better disaster recovery processes and techniques, and (b) outside auditors who monitor and assess security preparations. Score: Good Guys: 1

5. Hybrid Systems Solutions. Internet savvy coupled with a limited budget can result in very creative solutions. A typical, cheap terrorist ploy would be to download coupons (shampoo, mouthwash, Vegemite'a British Commonwealth material) from the global Sunday newspaper supplements to buy discount supplies for bomb making. Score: Bad Guys: 1

4. Digital Media. The winning side is the one with the most inventive and captivating content on blogs, videos, personal digital assistants, etc. Entertainment trumps polemics. Score: Good Guys: 1

3. Information sharing. Information sharing is about trust, first; and IT, second. After five years, federal and local anti-terrorist good guys now sit in the same room and talk to one another. In another five years, they should have the rules locked down for systems information sharing.

Low-level bad guys trust only their sleeper-cell mates, and high-level bad guys don't need information sharing to align with rogue nuclear powers. Score: Good Guys: 1/2

2. Biometrics. Fingerprints, retina scans and DNA are the best ways to identify friend or foe. Our friend database is their foe database, and vice versa.

However, the critical capability is the database. For the ability to collect, store and access biometric data in real time, no one does this better than our colleagues in West Virginia. Score: Good Guys: 1

1. The Internet. For every bad guy Googling up how to kill Americans in new and different ways, there are numerous good guys monitoring his every Internet move. Score: Draw.

Who's winning? The bad guys need only a handful of analog tricks to be dangerous. But, the good guys have better understanding, experience and control of the digital arsenal.

Mimi Browning is a former Army senior executive who is currently a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va. She can be reached at browning_miriam@bah.com.

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