Public Release: 

Homeland security highlights from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Quarterly news tipsheet from PNNL

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

In this special issue dedicated to homeland security-related technologies and training, we are highlighting just a few projects that fall within PNNL's approximately $220 million national security portfolio.

Doing double duty to secure borders - Within seconds, a new portable instrument developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory can identify high-value metals, such as "dual-use" materials commonly found in industry but also required for production of nuclear weapons. Called the Dual-Use Analyzer, the system enables a border inspector or other field agent to immediately identify cargo and differentiate between metals of similar appearance, eliminating the need for costly off-site analysis.

Using eddy current technology, the Dual-Use Analyzer determines the electrical conductivity of the metal, then compares this signal "signature" against a built-in library of nuclear dual-use and high-value metal signatures. The system also identifies varying metals that may have been "co-mingled" to avoid detection.

The lightweight system consists of a small sensor probe for scanning and a handheld operating platform custom designed by PNNL to ease use and deter theft.

Earlier versions of the analyzer have been deployed to counter smuggling of illicit materials at several international borders, including Kazakhstan, Georgia, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. PNNL now is teaming with Mehl, Griffin & Bartek Ltd., a company located in Arlington, Va., to incorporate final system enhancements, with plans for a commercially available product in 2003. Development sponsors include the departments of Energy, Defense and State.

Tackling bioterrorism one protein at a time - Because biological pathogens grow and spread inside the human body on a molecular level, the key to protecting against bioterrorism may rest in understanding how these pathogens function one protein at a time. Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have begun studying Yersinia pestis, commonly known as the plague, and its complement of proteins in an effort to gain the knowledge needed to develop ways to treat and protect against bioterror agents.

Using powerful analytical instruments called mass spectrometers, PNNL scientists are studying the proteins that exist when Y. pestis is exposed to the body temperature of a flea - 77 degrees Fahrenheit - and of a human - 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Fleas, common hosts for Y. pestis, are the major source of human infection.

Understanding the pathogen's various proteins present under different host and physiological conditions may provide insight to which proteins perform functions related to virulence and infection. Having a greater understanding of protein functions could lead to new methods to block infection.

Novel mass spectrometers housed in the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE scientific user facility at PNNL, enable more comprehensive and rapid protein studies than other comparable techniques.

PNNL's research complements Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's ongoing genomic studies of the plague. Funding comes from the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Homeland security goes global - Protecting the homeland doesn't always begin at home. Preventing materials or components of a weapon of mass destruction from leaving or moving through a country can provide another layer of security to the United States by stopping materials before they reach American soil. To help build up foreign borders, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the U.S. Customs Service recently trained a group of Czech Republic border enforcement officials how to thwart potential smuggling of weapons of mass destruction.

In an 8-day course, the students learned new methods for detection, identification, interdiction and investigation of the potential smuggling of materials or components related to chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Approximately 25 border guards, customs officials, police detectives and members of a special nuclear nonproliferation task force attended the training. There is growing concern that materials, commodities or components that could be used to develop or deploy weapons of mass destruction must be kept inside their originating countries or prevented from moving through other countries.

Stopping smuggling relies just as much on a border enforcement officer's "sixth sense" as it does technology. U.S. Customs investigators instruct visiting students in various methods designed to extract information from a suspect through profiling, interrogation and behavior. PNNL researchers provide the understanding of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and components, as well as the new technologies designed to detect hidden goods.

The Czech students were the most recent class to go through the training program. Since 1997, PNNL and Customs have trained nearly 300 border officials from 18 countries. The program, called Interdict/RADACAD, has been funded by the Defense and State departments, Customs Service and the Department of Energy's Second Line of Defense program.

Mozart - A genius at assessing your Web site - Based on new risks posed by adversaries seeking strategic information available on the Internet, government agencies and industry have been feverishly combing through their websites in search of sensitive information to remove. The task is time consuming and potentially expensive. But thanks to an Internet assessment tool under development at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory called Mozart, a thorough analysis soon will be just mouse clicks away.

Mozart quickly archives and analyzes entire Web sites based on search terms provided by the user and built-in search libraries containing hundreds of key phrases designed to find sensitive information. The output is a hyperlinked report, including a prioritized listing of Web pages containing potentially strategic or sensitive information both within the user's organization and at externally linked sites.

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