Picture the scene. A storeroom on the 15th floor of New Scotland Yard, packed to the ceiling with thousands of cardboard box files filled with crucial technical data, detailing terrorist componentry and methodology going back decades.
To access the relevant data page a complicated card index was used to identify which box, and which page within the box, the data was contained in.
This was the scenario facing the UK Police National Bomb Data Centre of the Metropolitan Police’s Anti-Terrorist Branch up until the early 2000’s. This was an archive of irreplaceable and unique data dating back over 40 years and a new system had to be devised to make access of this vital information easier and user friendly.
Enter ISS Global (formerly Xpect Software). The company was approached to devise a data management system to not only allow easy access to the vast archive of data, but to allow for easy input of new data and crucially, to allow that information to be easily exchanged with other Law-Enforcement agencies.
The company worked in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police’s Anti-Terrorist Branch, together with their close partners in the fight against terrorism in the United States, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and together they created the first “Dfuze” Intelligence Management System.
The system was cutting edge. It allowed for both sets of users in the UK and the US to download encrypted data from each system and send it electronically to each other where it would be decrypted and uploaded into the other user’s database. This allowed for both databases to contain different sets of data pertinent to their own country, but in the event of International attacks of relevance to both countries, for information to be easily exchanged. Not only that, but due to it being created with hands-on advice from the end users, it had buy-in from day one.
In a time when it was difficult to exchange information with a different department within the same organisation who were utilising a different system, even in the office next door, this technology proved to be ground-breaking.
The next few years saw more and more countries coming on board and using Dfuze software, making the ability to exchange data easier and more widespread Internationally. In the UK the software was utilised to catalogue the many attacks involving Irish terrorism, and the early years of radical Islamic Terrorism.
It became the system of choice of the International Bomb Data Centre Working Group (IBDCWG). The IBDCWG is a collaborative body, comprised of Bomb Data Centres and recognized government agencies, that are focused on the efficient and effective sharing of technical intelligence on explosives.
The Working Group was formed in 2005 by Bomb Data Centres from 12 countries who saw the need for such information sharing in C-IED and Counter-Terrorism work. The group now has more than 50 member nations.
These members include Bomb Data Centres from: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, France, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US
A number of the Bomb Data Centre’s now utilise the Dfuze system making the exchange of data within this crucial organisation easier and more efficient. Most importantly though, it is secure.
One of the most popular offerings is Dfuze Report Desk. This is a real-time configurable open source intelligence database that is fully web based, device agnostic and accessible from anywhere. It incorporates a “News Ticker” which keeps countries up-to-date with incidents happening around the world in near real time.
The Dfuze Intelligence Management System came into its own when dealing with terrorist groups who were “creatures of habit”. Many groups utilised the same components when manufacturing Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) going by the rule “if it aint broke don’t fix it”. This was particularly so for Irish Republican Groups who regularly used a timer called the “Memo Park Timer” in their devices. Forensic Bomb Scene examiners knew that if they found any component parts of a Memo Park timer, they could be fairly sure that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had carried out the attack.
Father Patrick Ryan, an ordained Catholic priest was a well-known Irish republican sympathiser who became a quartermaster for the IRA. He discovered the Memo Park timer, which was made in Switzerland. It was a small timer used for car parking. You would park your car and turn the dial on your timer so that it buzzed when the time on your meter had expired. The terrorists discovered that if you attached a metal arm to the top of the timer, when it rotated, it completed an electrical circuit, rather than activating the buzzer. This formed the perfect bomb timer to be utilized in IED’s.
Ryan found a shop in Zurich which sold the timers and he bought their entire stock. Over the coming years components of Memo Park timers were found at the scene of nearly 200 different explosions, together with recoveries at many bomb factories. These attacks were all documented and links established through the Dfuze Intelligence Management System.
A further example of the systems success came in the aftermath of a bombing in London, where investigators were recovering debris from the scene looking for evidence of the IED used in the attack. Small fragments of blast damaged plastic were found, that upon closer inspection showed embossed lettering and numbers. The details were entered into the Dfuze Intelligence Management System which instantly returned a match. The results showed that the item found at the scene contained identical markings to a 9-volt battery holder listed in the Power Source database within the system. This gave the investigators a strong indication that the power source for the IED’s TPU (Time and Power Unit) had utilized the same 9 Volt battery holder.
During investigations of further incidents, the same 9 Volt battery holder was found to be used in other TPUs all committed by the IRA and all these incidents were linked using the system.
Fast forward to 7th July 2005 – Four terrorist suicide bomb attacks on the London Transportation system resulting in the death of 52 innocent people and serious injuries to hundreds more. Three attacks took place on London Underground trains and one on the top deck of a London double-decker bus.
Forensic officers were immediately deployed to the scenes and It was vital to convey the imagery and vital intelligence gathered back to the Command and Control centre as quickly as possible, to identify the victims and bombers. Information was also being gathered in an attempt to stop any further attacks. Not only was it vital to get quick-time information back to the centre, but also to get that information from one bomb scene to the other.
How was this achieved? Even though it was only just over 10 years ago, images were still being downloaded from a camera onto a Compact Disc and then handed to a police motorcyclist. It was then driven back to the Centre. A more efficient way of handling this data had to be devised.
As is the company’s ethos, ISS Global listened to the customer and a range of new products were devised to meet the need. Dfuze Mobile and Net offerings were written enabling fast-time information to be sent from any device to any other device, anywhere in the world. This revolutionised how crime scenes were managed with near-real time intelligence being accessed by key decision-makers, enabling more informed decision-making.
The company ethos has always been to give the customer what they want and this interaction resulted in the formation of the Dfuze International Working Group (DFIWG). This meeting is held annually and is now in its 12th year. It enables the end-users to provide first-hand feedback to the development team to allow the products to move forward with new innovations.
Since 2005, Dfuze Net and Dfuze Mobile systems have been utilised to assist the investigation of many terrorist attacks, both in the UK and Internationally. One example was when the software was deployed with UK officers to Mumbai in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in 2008. Not only was the system able to assist in the identification of munitions and IED’s, but imagery was being sent real-time back to the Bomb Data Centre at Scotland Yard, and instant decisions were made and relayed back to the officers on the ground. The information gleaned from the system assisted the authorities in identifying the terrorist group involved in the attack.
The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office have also seen the benefits of the systems and have funded installations into countries that are deemed to be of high significance in the fight against International terrorism. Dfuze Intelligence Management systems are now running in Morocco, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon and Pakistan thanks to the foresight of the UK Government.
In 2011, the National Forensic Institute of the Netherlands saw the benefits of the Net offerings and invested in a nationwide system, which, for the first time in their history, linked together many separate branches of the emergency services.
In the aftermath of the North African Gas pipeline attack in 2013 biometric data was able to be relayed back to the UK assisting in the identification of victims.
ISS Global also enter into collaborations with other entities involved in the International war on terrorism. One such venture is on a European Union funded project with Conflict Armament Research (CAR). CAR investigation teams work on the ground in active armed conflicts. The teams document weapons at the point of use and track their sources back through the chains of supply. CAR teams investigate weapons in a variety of conflict-related situations—be they recovered by state security forces, surrendered at the cessation of hostilities, cached, or held by insurgent forces. The information is entered into a system titled iTrace, which is powered by Dfuze, and is immediately accessible back at the Centre or by other operatives worldwide.
One of the growth areas is with the “Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf” in the Middle East. This region incorporates Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. One of the key features for this is the fact that the software is multi-lingual therefore allowing the countries to operate the system in their own language.
Up to date, imagine having an eye in the sky at any scene, at any time. Being able to view what it sees, live on your tablet, Mobile, or computer wherever you are. This is the power of ISS Global’s new offering OverC2. This system involves live video streaming from UAV’s (drones). With intelligent system monitoring, the video stream offers autonomous mission management from a safe location. The system offers robust security within a protective and proven software product, allowing the safe sharing of live video streams with other Dfuze users.
Other offerings include Dfuze Labs which is a highly configurable and customisable Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) which can be adapted and integrated into a wide range of different environments, Topic Builder, and Dfuze Predict. Topic Builder enables powerful search and discovery by “shrinking the haystack” for an analyst—characterizing information of interest with combinations of keywords, taxonomic synonyms, geographic names, areas of interest, time constraints and entity facets. Dfuze Predict is basically a behaviour analysis tool. The software works by analysing past attacks to give an idea of where hotspots might be in the future, as well as the types of explosive devices that might be used and how. It utilises historic data together with a number of other elements. A computer algorithm is bolted on that analyses the data and based on a number of parameters, it will break it down into the percentages and likelihood of something happening in a certain place at a certain time.
Going forward, ISS Global will continue to listen to their users, to determine how to enhance their software offerings and keep one step ahead of the Terrorist, providing the Right Information to the Right Person at the Right Time.
About the Author
Neil Fretwell is operations director at ISS Global and former lead investigator at the United Kingdom Police National Bomb Data Centre. ISS Global is part of Intelligent Software Solutions, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.