Use big data and crowdsourcing to detect nuclear proliferation, says DSB

FierceGovernmentIT: “A changing set of counter-nuclear proliferation problems requires a paradigm shift in monitoring that should include big data analytics and crowdsourcing, says a report from the Defense Science Board.
Much has changed since the Cold War when it comes to ensuring that nuclear weapons are subject to international controls, meaning that monitoring in support of treaties covering declared capabilities should be only one part of overall U.S. monitoring efforts, says the board in a January report (.pdf).
There are challenges related to covert operations, such as testing calibrated to fall below detection thresholds, and non-traditional technologies that present ambiguous threat signatures. Knowledge about how to make nuclear weapons is widespread and in the hands of actors who will give the United States or its allies limited or no access….
The report recommends using a slew of technologies including radiation sensors, but also exploitation of digital sources of information.
“Data gathered from the cyber domain establishes a rich and exploitable source for determining activities of individuals, groups and organizations needed to participate in either the procurement or development of a nuclear device,” it says.
Big data analytics could be used to take advantage of the proliferation of potential data sources including commercial satellite imaging, social media and other online sources.
The report notes that the proliferation of readily available commercial satellite imagery has created concerns about the introduction of more noise than genuine signal. “On balance, however, it is the judgment from the task force that more information from remote sensing systems, both commercial and dedicated national assets, is better than less information,” it says.
In fact, the ready availability of commercial imagery should be an impetus of governmental ability to find weak signals “even within the most cluttered and noisy environments.”
Crowdsourcing also holds potential, although the report again notes that nuclear proliferation analysis by non-governmental entities “will constrain the ability of the United States to keep its options open in dealing with potential violations.” The distinction between gathering information and making political judgments “will erode.”
An effort by Georgetown University students (reported in the Washington Post in 2011) to use open source data analyzing the network of tunnels used in China to hide its missile and nuclear arsenal provides a proof-of-concept on how crowdsourcing can be used to augment limited analytical capacity, the report says – despite debate on the students’ work, which concluded that China’s arsenal could be many times larger than conventionally accepted…
For more:
download the DSB report, “Assessment of Nuclear Monitoring and Verification Technologies” (.pdf)
read the WaPo article on the Georgetown University crowdsourcing effort”