[Tweeters] Fwd: New DNA Sensing RADAR Technology Could Revolutionize The War On Terror and Bird Watching - Yahoo! News

jeff gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Mon Apr 1 17:39:10 PDT 2013


Thank you very much for forwarding this very interesting article! I am hoping, however, that this incredible new technology will evaporate some time very early on the morning of April 2nd.

Jeff Gibson
Anchor Pub Society of Homeland Birdwatchers
Everett Wa

> Date: Mon, 1 Apr 2013 05:09:28 -0700

> From: xjoshx at gmail.com

> To: tweeters at u.washington.edu

> Subject: [Tweeters] Fwd: New DNA Sensing RADAR Technology Could Revolutionize The War On Terror and Bird Watching - Yahoo! News


> I just saw this article pop up on my news feed. Incredible to say the least!!!


> Josh Adams

> Lynnwood, WA


> ---------- Forwarded message ----------

> From: <mailbot at yahoo.com>

> Date: Mon, Apr 1, 2013 at 5:08 AM

> Subject: New DNA Sensing RADAR Technology Could Revolutionize The War

> On Terror and Bird Watching

> To: xjoshx at gmail.com


> “Sparrows, lots of sparrows.” The words are spoken by David Iconia, a

> government contractor for the NSA

> who is staring down at a laptop with a screen full of color coded

> names, not dissimilar to the screen an

> aircraft controller would spend their day looking at. David is on the

> forefront of a until recently secret

> government project with the goal of protecting highly vulnerable

> targets from known terror suspects, but

> today his job has brought him to an unnamed tract of government land

> on the outskirts of Washington, DC

> looking for birds.


> The project started ten years ago, when NSA researchers discovered

> that, using a series of microbursts of

> high frequency radiation in specific series, they could detect certain

> patterns in the deoxyribonucleic

> acid that exists in all living organisms. The acid, better known as

> DNA, contains the genetic instructions

> that exist in all living organisms and the technology could,

> researchers theorized, be used to

> differentiate and detect specific individuals remotely. Although not

> technically that similar to RADAR,

> the technology in shorthand was referred to as DNA RADAR or DRADAR and

> the name stuck. In a country still

> reeling from the September 11th terror attacks, it didn’t take a lot

> of imagination to think of uses this

> could have to safeguard the country, and the Bush administration

> quickly funneled almost $30 billion

> dollars into the program.


> Over the last decade researchers worked tirelessly to get the

> technology accurate enough to recognize

> specific human beings in a large crowd of people, but the logistics

> involved in retrieving hundreds of DNA

> samples from volunteers with top secret clearances to train the

> machine and then assemble said volunteers

> for testing proved to be daunting.


> That’s where the birds come in. Over the past two centuries, museums

> have amassed incredible quantities of

> mounted specimens (known as “skins”) in their collections. This made

> collecting DNA samples for the most

> common species in a given test area trivial. Once the samples were

> entered, scientists were able to take

> their DRADAR systems, now portable enough to fit in the back of a

> small SUV, into the field to test their

> effectiveness. Initially they could only detect the differences

> between individuals with large

> differences, such as ducks, sparrows and crows. “We had to do a lot of

> fine tuning, which really helped us

> begin to pinpoint which individuals came from which species, but

> eventually we realized that nobody on the

> team knew enough about birds to ensure that what the screens were

> telling us was correct.”


> That’s where Richard Grousman came in. Richard has been a bird watcher

> for almost 30 years and currently

> works for Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology. He spent 15 years

> as an NSA researcher before moving

> into bird research which gave him the necessary background in

> classified research to join the team. “When

> I showed up they didn’t know a Warbler from a Kinglet, much less a

> Swamp Sparrow from a Song Sparrow,”

> Richard laughs. “They could detect the birds, but they didn’t know if

> what they were detecting was

> correct. So I get paid by the government to bird.”


> David looks through the jumble of text on the rough map of the terrain

> in front of us. In a sea of blue

> there’s one lone red icon moving slowly. That’s Richard, roughly 50

> yards away from us, invisible in the

> thick brush. David zooms in on the spot and clicks on a blue icon.

> “Song sparrow, about 5 yards north of

> you,” he radios. “Hit,” comes the reply back and a nearby colleague

> types the result into a database. “It

> took a long, long time to get the sparrows.” The radio rings out

> again, “I have a small flock of birds

> moving from northwest to southeast about 15 yards in front of me.”

> David zooms frantically to find what

> the bird watcher is reporting. “I see a Carolina Chickadee, and

> White-Breasted Nuthatch and also”, he

> trails off. “Hit and hit, but there’s one more species with them.”

> David looks frustrated. “I know it’s a

> woodpecker, Downy or Hairy, but it can’t tell which one.” He clicks a

> few keys and the system seems to

> pause for a minute before the text goes bold. “Hairy Woodpecker,” he

> radios. After a minute the reply

> comes back, “hit.”


> If they can get the technology sensitive enough to detect not only

> humans, but specific humans, it could

> be the biggest military breakthrough since radar was originally

> perfected during World War 2. “The

> Pentagon wants this bad. Imagine an army of drones flying at 40,000

> feet above the Middle East, searching

> for the DNA of known terror suspects. If we’d had this before we would

> have taken out Bin Laden ten years

> earlier.” The DRADAR unit can already detect a handful of the

> researchers in the field tests, but the

> difference between detecting a species and an individual of that

> species is very significant. “The

> resolution just isn’t there yet. We can almost do it with individual

> birds, but humans have proven to be a

> lot harder,” says Iconia. “I think we’ll get there, it’s just going to

> take some more effort,” he suggests.


> In the meantime, they continue to test on birds. “It’s a birder’s

> dream come true,” declares Grousman. “We

> took it to the beach last fall during shorebird migration. Shorebirds

> are very tough to identify for even

> seasoned birders, but the DRADAR had no issues. There were about

> 15,000 birds out in the tide flats and we

> could identify almost every one. As a birder it drove me nuts. There

> were several rare birds, a Little

> Stint and a Ruff,” continues the bird watcher. “Those are birds from

> Europe that end up here on accident

> only every few years. I couldn’t tell anyone about them, or even that

> I was there. It drove me nuts!” he

> says with a laugh.


> With the unprecedented amount of research and data being generated on

> bird DNA, the program may have a

> long-lasting effect on ornithology. “We’ve never had these resources

> before, it’s been really exciting,”

> says Grousman. “They were really confused why all these unknown birds

> they were finding turned out to be

> simply common Crows. It turned out that there was a lot of significant

> differences in Crows genetically

> that nobody had noticed until now. Everyone just assumed that in most

> parts of North America one Crow was

> the same as the others, but that’s not the case. We have three

> different subspecies where we are now that

> nobody knew existed until now. They don’t interbreed at all, but

> because they look the same with the human

> eye everyone just assumed they were the same.” Grousman is working on

> a research paper to present to the

> American Ornithologists Union, the governing body of North American

> bird taxonomy, that, if accepted,

> could balloon the number of recognized Crow Species in the United

> States from the current 3 up to as many

> as 27. “Bird watchers in the Northwest have been trying to figure out

> if they have one crow species or two

> for over a century, but when we did field tests in the area last year

> I found four just in one small area.

> Unfortunately you need one of our devices to tell the difference.”


> Just when, or if, the devices will every reach the point of consumers

> is still up in the air, but the

> researchers think it could happen in the next decade. “We could shrink

> it down to a size that would fit in

> your hands right now, it’d just be pricey,” say Grousman. “I don’t

> know when birders will be able to buy

> one, but I’ll be the first in line.”


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