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Explaining Activity-Based Intel

BAE does a brisk business providing software tools to intelligence analysts and contracting out analysts to various U.S. intel agencies. Jordan Becker is general manager of that business. BAE counts itself as a pioneer in the relatively new field of Activity-Based Intelligence, in which specialized software rifles through volumes of data to help analysts figure out what kind of activities people spotted in a video image or overheard on a cellular call are engaged in. In December, BAE received a $60 million contract from NGA to deliver ABI software tools and computing infrastructure. Becker, an electrical engineer by training, wasn’t always the analysis expert he is today. While at IBM in the 1990s, he helped pioneer email services through a spin-off company IBM sold to America Online in 1994. I spoke by phone with Becker about the future of Activity-Based Intelligence.

BAE's Jordan Becker

ABI defined >> “Activity means an event or an action that somebody or some entity is involved in, which is really the core of what an intelligence analyst is interested in as opposed to looking at images, pixels, signals or text. Those are all artifacts or means to an end. It’s really activities that they’re interested in, because that’s what determines intent.”

Not like the old days >> “Previously you would go task, collect data, and exploit which is try to do interpretation, and then publish or disseminate your results. Today, you break that work flow into pieces, where there are these concepts, one of them is called geo-referenced to discover. You get all your data spatially indexed and temporally, time, indexed.”

Beyond forensics >> “Before ABI they would go through that whole linear process. They’d be locked into this forensic time frame of analysis, which is evething is in the past. With ABI, it gets them closer to mission time.”

Role of computers >> “They can ingest huge amounts of data that analysts cannot sit and look at no matter how many of them you’ve got sitting there…. A computer can do some level of pre-analysis on imagery or signals or other data, and do tipping and cuing, which is extracting interest artifacts from the data. That’s the big data issue… Then there’s the multi-int problem. It’s not just imagery. It’s not just signals. How do you integrate those things? How do you tie signals like cellphones or AIS beacons on ships to images that happen to be synchronized in time, and say, ‘Those two things are related to each other’?” That traditionally has been a manual process. With computer assist, you can start to automate that.”

An app for that? >> “As (ABI) matures more, this will become more of a commoditized capability that you can download from an apps store. But I think there will be an ongoing need for more personalized capabilities for certain communities, and there will always be new capability on the bleeding edge, where a customer needs customization.”

Compared to the Analyst’s Notebook software >> “Analysts have these things called shoeboxes which are places that they store bits of pieces of information that they haven’t yet figured out how to exploit. The Analyst’s Notebook tools really help them organize a lot of that shoebox kind of information. ABI is more of the analyst tool that then works on specific kinds of problems.”

2 Comments

  1. How do you tie signals like cellphones or AIS beacons on ships to images that happen to be synchronized in time, and say, ‘Those two things are related to each other’?” That traditionally has been a manual process. With computer assist, you can start to automate that.”

    Please, that capability (tool) existed back in the early 80′s. I know, I flew a platform that did just that. The IC has more tools than it can shake a stick at and doesn’t need yet another “tool” designed to make money for the vendor.

    • Jason I am supporter of ABI. I know it works because OPINTEL upon which ABI is based has worked this the US 10th Fleet adopted it to locate German U-Boats in the Battle of the Atlantic (1941-1943)

      When I was doing OPINTEL in the 80s the idea was to take vacuum cleaner collection and pull out all the data that was relevant based on geography, time,and signature mash it together with other vacuum clearer collected data as well as discretely collected information to discern and understand activity.

      What makes ABI “new” but really more effective is the compute power the the IC cna bring to bear on this approach now wiht analysis selected tools

      joemaz

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