The Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) is a low-profile multi-federal-agency program with a highly important mission. Working with a vast array of U.S. government departments and agencies, the TSWG helps to rapidly develop the latest in technological solutions to combat terrorism. “Rapid” is a key word in TSWG’s mission, as it is expected to fund projects that can be ready for use by law enforcement, military, and other government personnel in two years or less from time of first approval.
On October 23, 1983, a large delivery truck drove to the Beirut International Airport in Lebanon where hundreds of U.S. Marines were stationed as part of an international peacekeeping force sent to help stop the ongoing civil war. The truck crashed through a barbed-wire fence and gate and slammed into the lobby of the multistory building serving as barracks for the Marines. The truck exploded with the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of TNT, crumbling the four-story building and killing 220 Marines and 21 other U.S. service members.
A year earlier, the administration of President Ronald Reagan had adopted National Security Decision Directive 30 (NSDD 30) in response to growing concerns over terrorist threats. NSDD 30 crafted a new policy for how the federal government should respond to terrorism that resulted in the establishment of the Interdepartmental Group on Terrorism (IG/T), chaired by the State Department. Following the truck bombing in Lebanon, administration officials decided that a new program was needed to help develop the latest in technological solutions to combat all forms of terrorist threats. Thus, the Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) was established as a subgroup of IG/T to help federal agencies procure cutting-edge technology. In time TSWG became a stand-alone program.
From the mid-1980s until 2001, the TSWG quietly operated in the background as it funded six-figure projects to help law enforcement, military and other government personnel combat terrorism. But following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the working group suddenly took on greater importance. Its budget increased dramatically, from approximately $8 million at one point in the 1990s to five and even ten times as much to fund research-and-development (R&D) projects. Six weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the TSWG published an announcement to private contractors seeking ideas for new antiterrorist technology. The response was unprecedented, as the working group received 12,000 submissions. Of those, about 60 were approved and funded for development.
Prior to 9/11, funding for the TSWG came from the State and Defense Departments, which share in the leadership of the program. With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the TSWG began receiving a third source of federal dollars. Currently, its budget ranges from $50-$100 million each year.
Multi-Agency Team Seeks New Tools for War on Terror (by Harold Kennedy, National Defense)
Special Briefing on the Technical Support Working Group (News Release)
History of TSWG (pdf)
Pentagon Seeks Ideas On Combating Terrorism (Press Release)
The Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) is one of three programs overseen by the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO), which, itself, operates as a program office under the Assistant Secretary of Defense (ASD) for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC). A low-profile multi-federal-agency program with a highly important mission, TSWG works with a vast array of U.S. government departments and agencies to rapidly develop the latest in technological solutions to combat terrorism. “Rapid” is a key word in the TSWG’s mission, as it is expected to fund projects that can be ready for use by law enforcement, military and other government personnel in two years or less from time of first approval.
The TSWG does not develop new equipment or systems itself, but rather provides funding to private and public contractors with groundbreaking ideas that have anti-terrorism applications. The TSWG issues public notices describing a technological need to solve an anti-terrorist problem, after which contractors submit proposals that are reviewed by the working group. Such problems are compiled after consulting with representatives of over 80 organizations across the federal government that identify and prioritize R&D requirements for combating terrorism. These member organizations include:
Department of Defense
Department of State
Department of the Treasury
Department of Justice
Department of Agriculture
Department of Energy
Department of Health and Human Services/USPHS
Department of Commerce
Department of Transportation
Department of Veterans Affairs
Department of Interior
The working group is co-managed by officials in the State Department and the Pentagon. Its Executive Steering Committee (ESC) provides oversight for the activities of the TSWG. The State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism maintains policy oversight and provides the chair for the ESC. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (SOLIC) is responsible for managing the work of the TSWG. SOLIC provides a technical chair for the steering committee, and other federal departments and agencies provide technical chairs for subgroups.
The TSWG breaks down its work into nine subgroups, each responsible for different subject areas: Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Countermeasures; Explosives Detection; Improvised Device Defeat; Investigative Support & Forensics; Physical Security; Surveillance, Collection, and Operations Support; Tactical Operations Support; Training Technology Development; and Personnel Protection. Each subgroup is chaired or co-chaired by representatives from various federal agencies, such as the FBI, the intelligence community, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Secret Service.
The kinds of projects that are approved range from chemical and biological defense to air-defenses for civilian aircraft to new types of body and vehicular armor to large-scale infrastructure protection. Of all projects the TSWG has funded, about two-thirds have gone on to be used by government departments and agencies, including Defense, Justice, State, and Treasury (Secret Service, Customs and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives); the Intelligence Community; Federal Aviation Administration; and the Public Health Service.
A top priority of the working group has been the funding of projects that will address the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which was the deadliest problem in Iraq for American soldiers. The TSWG was reportedly prepared to spend upward of $100 million for new technology that will reduce the risk of IEDs on U.S. military forces.
Some examples of working group “success stories” include development of new bomb squad equipment. One was a disrupter used to break apart bombs; another was an X-ray device for looking inside packages to review its contents for explosives (the military also is using this). Another TSWG contribution was new special suits to protect bomb squads from not only explosives but also chemical and biological agents.
Other examples of TSWG projects can be found in the transcript of a press briefing that the working group held in 2001.
As a result of a Senate initiative for joint counterterrorism R&D efforts, the TSWG conducts joint projects with NATO and non-NATO allies, such as Israel. One project for Israel involved development of fingerprint recovery techniques that allowed Israeli investigators to recover prints off of evidence left at a scene. In one case the technology identified an assassin, and in another case identified an individual who had stolen materials that were going to be used in an attack on civil aviation. The attack was prevented.
Special Briefing on the Technical Support Working Group (News Release)
Working Group PPT (pdf)
Small Biz vs. the Terrorists: The Pentagon picks the brains of U.S. entrepreneurs (by Paul Magnusson, Business Week)
From the Web Site of the Technical Support Working Group
The Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) spent more than $342.3 million on more than 5,000 contractor transactions between FY 2002 and FY 2012, according to USASpending.gov. The top five types of products or services purchased by the TSWG were engineering and technical services ($77,168,457), technical assistance ($52,504,882), facilities operations support services ($17,811,003), logistics support services ($17,755,972), and ADP systems analysis services ($15,815,710). The top five recipients of this contractor spending during that period were:
1. The Parsons Corporation $22,775,020
2. Al-Raha Group for Technical Services $22,414,680
3. L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. $22,169,755
4. Northrop Grumman Corporation $17,363,214
5. BAE Systems PLC $15,669,536
Contractors that perform work for the working group range from private defense companies to universities to government laboratories. Contracts can vary in cost from $20,000 to $10 million, although most fall in the six-figure range. In some cases, a project approved by the TSWG for a relatively modest sum can lead to much bigger money once it is purchased by other agencies.
One example is the Chemical Biological Response Aide, or CoBRA, a rugged laptop with wireless communication, a digital camera and a scanner that can be used to collect and disseminate information at disaster scenes. One convenient feature is that it can be decontaminated by running it through a dishwasher. The TSWG subsidized development of the CoBRA with a $600,000 grant in 1998, and the manufacturer, Defense Group Inc. of Alexandria, Virginia, later signed a $14 million contract to supply them to FBI bomb squads.
Companies can also earn multi-year contracts that add up to substantial earnings. Since 2002 iRobot Corp. has received more than $8 million in development contracts from TSWG to develop a number of next-generation robot technologies. In July 2012, the firm was awarded an additional $1.6 million in funding to develop, train, and field test the iRobot Warrior. In the case of Technology Service Corporation, the company was awarded a single $10 million contract to provide a Secure Perimeter Awareness Network that will allow airport security personnel to better monitor for unauthorized intruders.
Other examples of TSWG contracts are:
Should facial recognition technology be used in public places?
The Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) has been a big part of the Pentagon’s Combating Terrorism Technology Support Program. Part of this work has involved research, development and prototyping of ways to detect, identify and spy on terrorists. Specifically, this has meant the development of biometric facial recognition equipment, which would allow the government and law enforcement to spot specific individuals within a crowd of people.
But the use of facial recognition technology, such as at Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Florida, has spurred public debate about its effectiveness, as well as broader policy and philosophical concerns.
Supporters of facial recognition technology include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other U.S. law enforcement agencies. They want the capability to track suspects, quickly single out dangerous people in a crowd or match low-resolution security-camera images against a vast database to look for matches.
The National Sheriffs’ Association has favored the technology for operating prisons. They say this capability prevents the accidental release of prisoners who slip out of jails by exchanging identities with other inmates. The state of Georgia has used facial-recognition technology for eight years, supporters point out.
Supporters also want to keep regulation of the technology to a minimum in order to prevent the stifling of new advances.
Facial Recognition Technology: A Boon To Law Enforcement, A Blow To Privacy Advocates (by G.W. Schulz, California Watch)
Facing Facts (Federal Trade Commission)
Opponents include civil libertarians who say society is not yet ready for such a technology. They fear it is advancing too quickly and becoming available before policymakers can develop appropriate regulations for the technology’s use.
Also, critics say the FBI might abuse facial recognition technology and infringe upon Americans’ Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
“In our country, government shouldn’t be looking over your shoulder unless it has a reason,” said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union’s speech, privacy and technology project. “They should not be collecting data on innocent subjects.”
Why Facebook's Facial Recognition is Creepy (by Sarah Jacobsson Purewal, PCWorld)
Facial Recognition and Privacy (by Harley Geiger, Center for Democracy & Technology)
Facial Recognition Technology And Your Rights (Liberty News)
Michael D. Lumpkin was sworn in as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) on April 25, 2011. In this job, Lumpkin assists the Assistant Secretary of Defense (SO/LIC) in developing policy regarding special operations forces, strategic forces and conventional forces. It also puts him in the position of leader of the multi-department Technical Support Working Group.
A member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ronald Lewis Schlicher serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Coordinator of Counterterrorism in the State Department, a position he assumed on September 2, 2008.