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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 02-64-1 - July 30, 2002

Media contact:

Peter West

(703) 292-8070

NSF, Intelligence Community to Cooperate on "Data Mining" Research

The intelligence community will provide as much as $8 million to supplement existing National Science Foundation (NSF) research into methods of extracting underlying patterns -- and even developing predictive abilities -- from enormous sets of data such as television broadcasts and Web pages. The funding will come from the Intelligence Technology Innovation Center (ITIC), which falls administratively under the Central Intelligence Agency but is funded separately.

The researchers who will receive the ITIC funding already were tackling aspects of those problems. But last September's terrorist attacks have lent their work much greater immediacy, noted Peter Freeman, assistant director for NSF's Directorate for Computer & Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE).

CISE program officer Gary Strong said the agreement would give the intelligence community access to some of the finest minds in the fields of computer science -- including some it would not otherwise encounter -- while the researchers gain access to large databases that will facilitate their research.

The research will be as freely available to scientists as any other NSF-supported findings, he added.

The partnership also reflects an aspect of NSF's charter: to support science and engineering research related to national security.

"NSF's priority remains keeping the United States at the cutting edge of development in all scientific fields, including computer and information sciences," said NSF Director Rita Colwell. "That the agency can, at the same time, contribute materially to the nation's security is beneficial to all Americans."

Strong said that in a world awash in data -- from Web pages to e-mail to television broadcasts in all languages - information scientists seek to "mine" that data for underlying patterns and trends and to flag changes in established patterns. The task is made more difficult by the "streaming" nature of databases - for example, television news broadcasts which are constantly in flux.

Not all of those applications have national security aspects, however. Uses could range from natural disaster response to bioinformatics. Currently, efforts to use the enormous datasets belonging to the federal government in a coordinated way is difficult for a variety of reasons, ranging from incompatibility of databases to privacy restrictions. Developing data mining techniques within these constraints is a major challenge regardless of national security implications, Strong said.

"These are very interesting public policy and technology data problems," Strong said. "It's a very complicated problem and it's being approached right now in an ad hoc way."

The arrangements with ITIC and the CIA were made through the interagency Knowledge Discovery and Dissemination (KDD) program. Through KDD, NSF identifies projects and programs in which research might be related to national security and then calls on the research community to focus its efforts, where appropriate, in that direction.

An NSF-sponsored workshop was held in December to identify projects, programs and new research directions. From an initial pool of more than 40 potential projects of interest to the intelligence community a dozen were chosen to receive supplementary funding over the next three years as part of the cooperative venture.




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