A giant leap forward in intelligence sharing

A new framework developed through a series of small-business innovation research projects is making it possible to share ISR data across the Defense Department.

One of the biggest problems that Defense Department intelligence analysts face isn’t a lack of information — rather, it's finding the right information buried in the sea of data that exists on DOD's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance networks.

If you’ve ever struggled to properly search for something using Google, you’ll understand why: Most search engine technologies only function well when you know exactly what you’re looking for and know precisely the right keywords to find it.

“Even with the different [data-sharing] technologies that are out there, we're not leveraging the technologies to share information,” said George Eanes, vice president of business development at Modus Operandi, a software and integration company based in Melbourne, Fla., that works exclusively in the realm of ISR integration.

“You can say that all the information is available through the [Distributed Common Ground System Information Bus], for example,” Eanes said. “But it's in different formats, and different branches of the military are using different applications. So what we're doing is trying to address this problem and look at how to create common formats and sharing of information" across that system.

Several DOD ISR programs have deployed technology developed by Modus Operandi through a number of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) projects. The software, called the Wave Exploitation Framework, uses semantic processing and natural-language processing to help overcome differences in the vocabularies used by different branches of the military. The software can also sift through different data formats to reveal data hidden in application stovepipes on ISR networks. The technology is being integrated into that work inside the software plumbing that intelligence analysts use to improve the discoverability and searchability of unstructured ISR data — text such as human intelligence reports and descriptive data associated with sensor information.

When analysts search for intelligence information on a subject, they're not just doing keyword searches, Eanes said. “It's actually looking at words and phrases in context. For example, with an existing technology like Google, it's really good at finding dates in various formats. But if you have an intell report that says ‘yesterday,’ how do you tie that to a date? It might be a key report, but you might miss it if you're using standard-type technologies. Our semantic technology addresses those sorts of issues.”

One of the ways that the Wave Exploitation Framework achieves that is by bridging the services’ domain vocabularies, said Todd Hagan, director for ISR applications at Modus Operandi. Army and Marine Corps ISR organizations have similar missions, Hagan said, but they use different vocabularies to accomplish those missions — and their systems have different data dictionaries to define the structure of information. Semantic technology can be used to mediate the services’ different vocabularies and data dictionaries.

“I just want to be able to search for a bad guy,” Hagan said. “I don't want to worry about how it's represented in the data store, what the Marine calls it versus what the Army calls it. So the ability to mediate between different dictionaries or vocabularies is a very powerful capability.”

In that regard, Hagan said, Modus Operandi is aligning with the Universal Core data-sharing effort led by DOD, the intelligence community and the Homeland Security Department. “Part of our semantic enrichment is to align the concepts or the essential elements of the information to elements in the UCore ontology,” he said. “We're ontology agnostic, though. We're not tied to UCore because you know how quickly standards change, and not all orgs are on board with UCore yet.”

Semantic capabilities also improve searches within a domain because analysts might use different words to describe the same event or object. For example, Hagan said, a search on the event “ambush” would also seek all tenses of that word — such as “ambushed” and “ambushing" — while most existing search technology would skip results that didn’t include the exact word.

The semantic technology also can group concepts as it enriches data to make it more easily searchable. “As an analyst, I just want to search for a dark-colored car,” Hagan said. “One analyst may have tagged it as a gray car, and another as a black car — I just want to know what dark cars were in my area of interest. Semantic technology will resolve that difference in data tagging.”

Modus Operandi developed the Wave Exploitation Framework through a number of SBIR programs, including one called Decision Explanation Engine Platform Phase II, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory. In March, the lab awarded a $425,000 project to Modus Operandi to integrate the Wave Exploitation Framework into the Web-based Threat Human Intelligence Reporting Evaluation Analysis and Display System, an application used by Air Force ISR organizations, including the National Air and Space Intelligence Center. The research lab also contracted Modus Operandi to apply the technology to the 45th Space Wing’s Knowledge Management Framework at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.

Outside the Air Force, Modus Operandi is also using the technology for a number of other DOD ISR programs. In January, the Marine Corps awarded the company a $1.2 million SBIR to develop the technology for use in the Distributed Common Ground System-Marine Corps. The SBIR is in coordination with an Army program funded by the Army Communications-Electronics Command.