Department of Precrime


by Tim Moran

The Defense Department wants to wage a preemptive campaign against dangers from within our own military ranks. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is "scrambling to identify disgruntled or radicalized troops who pose a threat to themselves or their buddies," and to that end, is looking for algorithms "to find and pre-empt anyone planning the next Fort Hood massacre, WikiLeaks document dump or suicide-in-uniform."

On October 19, an Industry Day conference at the Arlington offices of Systems Planning Corporation, a defense-research firm, will address the topic. The futurists at Darpa call their effort Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales, or Adams; the idea, says Wired, is to "sift through 'massive data sets' to find the warning signs of looming homicide, suicide or other destructive behavior." The focus will be on ferreting out good guys who could possibly turn into bad guys by detecting "anomalous behaviors before or shortly after they [the soldiers] turn."

One of the reasons we need algorithms and other technological help is that we really don't know how or why this happens. How does a soldier in good mental health turn into an "insider threat?" What Darpa and company do know is that, after the fact, there is often a trail that could have been recognized before a traitorous or homicidal act took place, which could have given the military just cause to intervene.

Just how Adams will identify these behaviors is uncertain, as is the range of personal information to be considered by the software. If the project leads to workable technology, applications for corporate security can be expected -- along with arguments over privacy.