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How Tech Is Helping Us Fight Terrorism


By Philip Kushmaro

Lately, a week doesn’t pass without reports of a terrorist attack flooding the news — there is a sinking realization that terrorism and martyrdom are gaining traction as an effective means of expressing ideology or political dysfunction. Still, amid the seeming chaos, it is heartening to know that law enforcement and tech companies often partner up to prevent, thwart, and catch terrorists. Some of their heroics and efforts are described below.

Investigators collected and combed through thousands of photographs and hours and hours of video from nearby surveillance cameras and snippets of footage from camera phones. If you’re thinking, wow, that’s a daunting task — you’re right.

So, in order to sift through the immense amount of video they had in their hands, investigators turned to Video Synopsis by BriefCam, a video analytics tool that compresses long hours of footage into single frames. Video Synopsis displays activity that takes place at different times and presents it as a single event, effectively condensing hours of footage into just minutes. Plus, the tool only displays when something has changed or moved within the frame so that investigators can recognize patterns and notice when something significant occurs.

For example, if in several frames we view the same backpack lying in the same place, and then notice that in the previous frame it’s missing, we can deduce what time the backpack was left behind and more or less who was last seen with that backpack. Or at the very least, understand that we should be looking for individuals wearing backpacks. And, the backpack was the key to this investigation, meaning that BriefCam was critical in identifying and capturing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

First, think Jack Bauer, and imagine a stereotypical CIA operation, in which an inconspicuous ice cream truck is actually a disguised data center, gathering intelligence on nearby targets and suspected terrorists. Because data centers are often massive, contain hundreds of servers, and can take up entire rooms and even buildings — this scenario seems a bit implausible, right?

In reality, this is actually somewhat possible. In particular, SQream Technologies, an Israeli company that developed a high-performing big data analytics solution, has installed its technology, which fits within a standard 2U server, in various size-limited warehouses so that international defense companies can more conveniently conduct geospatial analytics — meaning that yes, SQream could absolutely fit in a disguised ice cream truck.

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