Security and Data Visualization- Use the NCTC WITS system

February 23, 2011
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The work of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) is important and, because of the need to protect our nation’s information sources and advantages over international terrorists, criminals and other malicious actors, is not discussed much in the open. But there are things you can learn about NCTC by review of reputable sources. The most important source is testimony of its leadership to Congress.  For example, see the statement of The Honorable Michael E. Leiter of 9 Feb 2011.  These guys have a very hard job to do and we have great leadership in place here to get it done.

Another good source on what they do is the website at NCTC.gov. The info they put there is intentionally designed to inform us on the threat and what the country is doing about it. It is all worth a review.

As a techie, one of the things I really appreciate about the unclassified NCTC site is the automated information discovery tool they provide for research into terrorism incidents. Unclassified information on terror attacks can help academic research, security studies and even research into counter terror technologies. To see how they provided it, visit the site for the Worldwide Incident Tracking System (WITS). This system provides statistical information in a searchable format focused on discovery of trends and relationships.

The WITS system is available at: https://wits.nctc.gov

Visiting that URL brings up a familiar “Endeca-like” interface into the incident data. This lets you navigate all reported incidents by multiple paths.  You can search, you can correlate, you can plot on maps with density clusters and heat maps, you can navigate through tag clouds and concept clouds, and you can continuously iterate in and learn from your research as you go.

I would like to see more government organizations presenting their information this way. A couple already are.  For example, the entire US Census is now available from this sort of interface.  But I’m proud to say NCTC was leading the way in getting info out to our citizens via this type of interactive interface.