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Israel is one of America’s “chief partners” on anti-terror tech

US Department of Defense official Adam Tarsi’s June trip through Israel to work on joint cutting-edge technology projects to combat terror was far from his first run through “Start-up Nation.” Speaking to The Jerusalem Post during the Combating Terrorism Technology Startup Conference held during Tel Aviv University’s Cyber Week, in which he announced two new technologies who will receive special seed funding from the US, Tarsi explained that his department has been working with Israel for years on these issues.

Tarsi, whose specific division is called the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO), said that the technologies his department helps fund for combating terrorism sometimes are for military and classified use, but sometimes are for use in the civilian sector. His goal is to “look where venn diagrams intersect…where we have shared needs, so we only all need to solve problems once.”

The US defense official said that Israel is one of America’s “chief partners” on these issues due to its “long history in this business,” while adding that the US has similar agreements with England, Canada, Australia and Singapore.

Talking to the Post in the midst of the ongoing trade crises between US President Donald Trump and various traditional US allies, he said that the broader diplomatic tensions have not impacted his work. “There has been no spill over. We are very lucky that at a working level and an operational level, we go about our business, regardless of some other things that are taking place.”

Another advantage Israel has in developing technologies to combat terror is it faces “an operational test environment every day. Combine that with its innovative spirit, and it allows Israelis to be very aggressive in evaluating and testing novel technologies - adopting ones quickly that work, and dropping one which don’t.”

How is CTTSO different than its more well-known cousin, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), made famous in many fictional movies for researching everything from ultimate weapons to mind-control? He said that DARPA looks into long-term programs which are likely to take five or more years to develop whereas the CTTSO focuses on rapid prototypes which can be put into the field in only one to two years. Furthermore, while DARPA’s technologies may serve a wide-range of interests, the CTTSO is exclusively focused on technologies to combat terror.

Moreover, while DARPA has an international office and engages in information exchanges, the CTTSO is more zoned in on international cooperation, and with certain combating terror technologies which DARPA has interest in, his division will even run point on its behalf. Tarsi said he is “not concerned at all” that the Mossad has been investing more funds in start-ups and could steal off some of the new up and coming ideas because “we are all rowing in the same direction. If there is an innovation that can benefit us, it will be shared with us.”

He made it clear that “if it is too sensitive and cannot be shared, that’s the way it is when you work in national security.” Regarding the winning new technologies at the conference, first prize of $100,000 went to Cardio Scale. It uses an algorithm and a sleeve placed on a victim to detect how much internal bleeding is taking place in order to do triage on a battlefield with multiple injuries or after a mass terror incident.

Tarsi explained the idea is that, unfortunately there are horrific incidents where dozens or more people may be hurt, and quick decisions must be made about who should be treated first. Instead of the current rough superficial approach of guessing based on who seems to have the largest outer wounds, Cardio Scale does a quick internal check to determine the rate of blood loss, the balance of internal versus external injuries and how close a person is to cardiac arrest in scoring victims.

Colugo won the second prize of $10,000, and has developed a breakthrough UAV technology that provides the advantages of both quadrotor and fixed-wing technologies, without the disadvantages of either. This means that the technology allows taking off and landing vertically like a drone, but also flying for long distances and durations like a fixed wing UAV. A prior Israeli company which his division helped fund was Fincom.

FINCOM’S TECHNOLOGY puts numerical values on phonetic characters, including using non-English characters, to help security systems review a range of spellings of names of particular terrorists on wanted lists. To date, many times terrorists have gotten past airport or other security systems because the wanted list spelled their name slightly differently than their name in their documents, allowing them to slip by.

A notorious example is the Boston Marathon bomber who Russian intelligence had warned the US about, but who slipped through US security because his name on his documents was spelled differently. This is without a forged and fake identity. Tarsi said that Fincom is a great example of an “innovation which is a technical solution to a well -understood easy problem” that was significantly harming efforts to catch terrorists.

However, not all of the innovations funded by CTTSO are defensive or logistical. In the past, it has funded technologies for drones to carry assault rifles. Pressed if he was concerned that pushing forward with such technologies could lead to their eventual falling into the hands of terrorists (a number of terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are working on drones), he admitted it was a concern.

He explained that there are technologies CTTSO does not invest in “for those reasons. There are also things we do while developing to make sure the system does not get turned on ourselves, There are also tactical things – we understand a technologies strengths and weaknesses because we are using it... All terror and national security issues are a cat and mouse game.”

Asked for predictions about whether all of these new technologies for combating terror will continue to be necessary with the fall of ISIS, he said that such a forecast was beyond his area of expertise, but that “it seems like every few decades one [terror group] goes down and another comes up.”

Tarsi said his background was as a stock-broker in finance, but that his switch into this very specific area of international defense cooperation was “very fulfilling and interesting” and that he “loves how...everyone has common attributes, but can benefit from how different people approach a problem.”

Yonah Jeremy Bob