DHS Developer Battles Terrorism With a Dash of 007

The U.S. Homeland Security Department employs gadgetry and geeks in its efforts to combat terrorism, USA Today reported yesterday.  At the vanguard stands engineer and former submarine commander Rolf Dietrich (see GSN, July 3). 

Dietrich is in charge of developing cutting-edge technology for the agency.  All of his work is highly secret, highly esoteric and not necessarily highly successful.

"The projects that I'm working on are expected to fail," said Dietrich, who oversees just 1 percent of Homeland Security's science and technology division budget, roughly $8 million in this fiscal year. 

Dietrich considers proposals submitted to his department and develops some of his own.  The goal is to have one idea bear fruit for every 10 that do not.

Homeland Security Science and Technology Undersecretary Jay Cohen promotes such visionary work.  At a recent meeting with high-tech industrialists, Cohen solicited their most fanciful products.

"Reach down to your weirdest, geekiest, stinkiest engineer or scientists and say, 'Do we have a job for you,'" he said.

Some recent projects smack of science fiction: underwater explosions to diminish hurricane storm surges; cell phones with biological, chemical, and radiation detectors; and drones that would hover over airports to intercept surface-to-air missiles.

Not everyone is enthralled by Dietrich's work.  Parney Albright, a former DHS security innovator, called such projects wasteful.

"If they thought about it for 10 minutes, they'd say, ‘I'm not going to spend any more money on it.  It's stupid,'" Albright said.

"It's always good to be thinking out of the box," he added.  However, "it's the taxpayers' dollars" (Mimi Hall, USA Today, July 5).

July 6, 2007
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The U.S. Homeland Security Department employs gadgetry and geeks in its efforts to combat terrorism, USA Today reported yesterday.  At the vanguard stands engineer and former submarine commander Rolf Dietrich (see GSN, July 3).