The U.S. government plan to create a massive new Department of Homeland Security is good news for the companies that provide goods and services aimed at fighting crime, espionage or possible terrorist attack. At a recent technology expo in Washington, companies showed off their products, which range from radiation detectors to computer network security programs.
California-based Technical Associates has been around since 1946. The company makes about 200 different kinds of radiation detection devices, everything from air monitors to devices that detect surface radiation.
Sales representative Jessica Swicker says the company's radiation monitors are already being used at the Turkey Point Nuclear Plant in the southeastern U.S. state of Florida, as well as in hospitals and radio-pharmaceutical labs. She adds that after the September 11 attacks, the company saw an increased demand for devices that detect the two types of radiation that indicate material necessary for a nuclear bomb. "Since 9 -11, the U.S. Coast Guard has just acquired one of our items, which is used to find neutrons and gammas," she said. "Now, if you have neutrons and gammas present, you have fissile material - plutonium, uranium - which is the stuff that is used to make atomic and nuclear bombs."
She says Coast Guard officers are using the radiation monitors when they inspect ships coming into U.S. ports, as a way to guard against the possibility of things like so-called suitcase bombs. "Back when the Cold War was going on, the Russians supposedly had suitcase bombs, which had plutonium and uranium in them," said Jessica Swicker. "And to make sure that those don't enter the country, they're thinking about being equipped with those to make sure that our borders are safe from those items."
But she stressed that Coast Guard officers need to be able to distinguish between dangerous and harmless radiation. "If you were to set up radiation detection devices that weren't specific and not have people trained on them, you would get calls every day at the borders about cargo ships, because bananas give off radiation," she said. "There's some glassware that give off radiation. There's some natural radiation that occurs and people need to be educated on this."
Ms. Swicker adds that the National Institute of Standards and Technology recently recommended that one of the company's products be put on every fire truck in the United States. "If you have a bunch of firefighters, their alarm goes off, then they take their surface monitor, they monitor and find out that it's a truck that's carrying a whole bunch of tiles that are radioactive - all right, we don't have a problem," said Jessica Swicker. "If they find a liquid on the ground, then you have a problem."
Radiation detection devices are not the only products that are expected to receive a boost in sales because of an emphasis on homeland security, computer security has also become a priority.
NFR Security was founded in 1996 to provide software to safeguard computer networks. The company's federal sales manager, Robert Bohlander, says his company works to detect unauthorized intrusions into secure computer systems. "Bioterrorism, nuclear terrorism, people stealing our secrets," he said. "How do they do that? They access the critical server information. So, when they do that, I provide a report to see, well, where are we getting hit from? And what type of, what's the address of the attacker, which I can show you on this next report, and then we'll come back to the attacks by type. These are the types of attacks. Now, we can actually see attacks by the source."
He added that because of the secure nature of his work, he can not disclose who his clients are, but said he recently has been doing more work for the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy.
Mr. Bohlander added that protecting crucial information is also a concern for other government agencies like the National Institutes of Health, which has to guard against the threat of bioterrorism. He says the number of cyber attacks has increased over the past year, and that he hopes some of the homeland security funds will be spent to protect agencies from them. "Limited funds were allocated to these initiatives and efforts in the past," said Robert Bohlander. "They have doubled, in certain areas, tripled, their budgets for network security because they're very concerned about terrorists and they're very concerned about vulnerabilities that currently exist that they're unaware [of]."
The creation of the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security is expected to bring a surge in spending on technologies that can help prevent attacks, and many business representatives are working to help companies move into the expanding market. Computer giant Microsoft has hired a former Coast Guard commander to oversee its bidding for anti-terror funds. One German-based contractor has started a political action committee to help its efforts. And several firms are creating special units to help them compete for billions of dollars in new national security spending.