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[Sandia Lab News]

Vol. 55, No. 8        April 18, 2003
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

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Labs working with LA, Long Beach ports on security issues Smart machines on the horizon Labs researchers use antineutrino detector in reactor security test



Unchecked cargo: Sandia security experts help secure US ports

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By John German

Several Sandians are working with the port authorities and companies that operate and utilize the country's two busiest ports to reduce the potential threats to homeland security, the supply chain, and the world economy posed by sea cargo.

Forty percent of all goods entering the United States in containers by sea comes through the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach.

The merchandise arrives in truck-sized metal bins -- some 15,000 are processed by the two ports during a typical day -- each packed in the Far East, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

Although the US Customs Service inspects a small percentage of the containers for terrorist threats and other contraband, relatively few of the incoming containers are opened until they arrive at their manifested destinations within the US.

Gizmos on a pier.

After consulting with security vendors and other experts, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in June 2002 asked Sandia to conduct a threat assessment and offer recommendations to improve the security of the ports and their supply chains.

"Everybody has a device that will solve the security problem," says Sandia port security program manager Charles Massey, Manager of International Borders/Maritime Security Dept. 5356 and former US Merchant Mariner.

"But rather than simply having vendors tell them they must put some gizmos on a pier, the ports wanted someone to understand the threats and ask, What is the combination of procedural and technical solutions that would cost-effectively address those threats?"

The Sandia team includes nonproliferation experts from International Security Programs Center 5300, whose specialties include detecting and preventing smuggling of materials needed to create weapons of mass destruction.

It also includes experts from Security Systems and Technology Center 5800, whose areas of expertise include protecting valuable assets by assessing security threats and correcting vulnerabilities. Critical infrastructure protection experts from Infrastructure and Information Systems Center 6500 are involved as well.

Consequences to be avoided

The team began conducting the security assessments last fall with private funding from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach through a work-for-others agreement.

A grant proposal submitted to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) could provide additional support under the TSA's Operation Safe Commerce, one of several new government programs intended to help improve supply chain security at US transportation centers.

The Sandians first worked with the ports to prioritize the consequences the ports wished to avoid (see "Port closures among top security concerns" below left).

One of the team's first questions was, How could a ship or cargo or persons aboard a ship be used to cause loss of life or denial of usage of the port?

Working backwards from each set of undesirable consequences, the team identified threats that could bring about those consequences and security vulnerabilities that could allow the threats to be realized.

The Sandians now are working with the ports to identify the most cost-effective means of dealing with the most significant vulnerabilities.

Technology only part of solution

Although the team is looking at port security from a systems perspective, technology could be part of the overall solution, adds Charles.

Commercially available technologies and Sandia-developed seals, sensors, and information technologies might be useful, but their utility cannot be accurately assessed until Labs and port officials fully understand and prioritize the vulnerabilities and then identify technologies that can fill gaps, he says.

Procedural improvements, as well as training, are likely to be as important as technology improvements, he says.

Ultimately, he says, Sandia's recommendations to improve security at Long Beach and Los Angeles could be shared with ports around the world.

"What the ports and carriers hope is that improved security doesn't solely occur through expensive new government mandates," he says, "but rather through an industry-driven effort with independent recommendations adopted as best management practices."

Sandians involved in the project include Dick Wayne (5356, project leader), Larry Miller, Martin Sandoval (both 5849), Roger Case, Jennifer Jacobs, Wendy Clayton (all 5356), Jim Larson (9815), Nancy Orlando-Gay, and Robert Matthews (both 5302). - - John German

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New 'smart' machines could fundamentally change how people interact with computers

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By Chris Burroughs

A new type of "smart" machine that could fundamentally change how people interact with computers is on the not-too-distant horizon at Sandia.

Over the past five years a team led by Labs cognitive psychologist Chris Forsythe (15311) has been on the fast track in developing cognitive machines that accurately infer user intent, remember experiences with users, and allow users to call upon simulated experts to aid them in analyzing situations and making decisions.

Although work is being coordinated through the Emerging Threats Strategic Business Unit (SBU), the team includes representatives from organizations 5838, 8964, 9212, 9216, 12335, 15221, 15222 and 15311, as well as university and industry collaborators.

"In the long term, the benefits from this effort are expected to include augmenting human effectiveness and embedding these cognitive models into systems like robots and vehicles for better human-hardware interactions," says John Wagner, Manager of Computational Initiatives Dept. 15311. "We expect to be able to model, simulate, and analyze humans and societies of humans for DOE, military, and national security applications."

The program started with an effort led by Sabina Jordan (5838) on the Next Generation Security Simulation project. Chris developed a framework for constructing individualized computer models that simulated how people apply their knowledge to make decisions in real-world settings. Subsequently, these developments provided the basis for an internally funded Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) grant through the Advanced Concepts Group in which the computer model was elaborated to include the influence of organic factors such as arousal and emotion.

Synthetic human

The initial goal of the work was to create a "synthetic human" -- software program/computer -- that could think like a person.

"We had the massive computers that could compute the large amounts of data, but software that could realistically model how people think and make decisions was missing," Chris says.

There were two significant problems with modeling software. First, the software did not relate to how people actually make decisions. It followed logical processes, something people don't necessarily do. People make decisions based, in part, on experiences and associative knowledge. In addition, software models of human cognition did not take into account organic factors such as emotions, stress, and fatigue -- vital to realistically simulating human thought processes.

In the first LDRD project, Chris developed the framework for a computer program that had both cognition and organic factors, all in the effort to create a "synthetic human."

In 2001 two other LDRD grants were awarded. One, part of the Nonproliferation and Materials Control SBU, was to develop methodologies that allowed the knowledge of a specific expert to be captured in the computer models. Through this project, cognitive psychologist Ann Speed (12335) has developed unique approaches for obtaining both explicit and implicit knowledge and translating it into quantitative data necessary for constructing a computer model (see "Cognitive Collective" on page 5).

The second was for the Emerging Threats SBU to include episodic memory -- memory of experiences -- in the software. This would allow a synthetic entity to apply its knowledge of specific experiences to solving problems in a manner that closely parallels what people do on a regular basis.

Strange twist

Chris says a strange twist occurred along the way.

"When I got the second LDRD grant, I needed help with the software," Chris says. "I turned to some folks in Robotics [Patrick Xavier (15221) and David Schoenwald (9216)], bringing to their attention that we were developing computer models of human cognition."

The robotics researchers immediately saw that the model could be used for intelligent machines, and the whole program emphasis changed. Suddenly the team was working on cognitive machines, not just synthetic humans.

Work on cognitive machines took off in 2002 with a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a real-time machine that can infer an operator's cognitive processes (see "Airborne Warning and Control simulation" below).

"This project is developing technology to fundamentally change the nature of human-machine interactions," Chris says. "Our approach was to embed within the machine a highly realistic computer model of the cognitive processes that underlie human situation awareness and naturalistic decision making. Systems using this technology are tailored to a specific user, including the user's unique knowledge and understanding of the task."

The idea borrows from a very successful analogue. When people interact with one another, they modify what they say and don't say with regard to what the person knows or doesn't know, shared experiences, known sensitivities, etc. The goal is to give machines highly realistic models of the same cognitive processes so that human-machine interactions may enjoy benefits similar to human-human interactions.

Recently a major car company has taken interest in real-time cognitive machines. The technology could adjust systems such as the brakes in response to the driver's cognitive state -- talking on cell phone, or changing the radio -- in real time. Also, a developer of PC desktop software applications has expressed an interest in the capability for the computer to know what a user has done in the past so that current activities can be put in the context of experience. Computers would have a record of all their interactions with a user so that if a user starts to change a setting, it could tell him that he tried this before and it didn't work.

"It's entirely possible that these cognitive machines could be incorporated into most computer systems produced within 10 years," Chris says.

Grand Challenge

Early this year work began on a Next Generation Intelligent System Challenge LDRD project. Russ Skocypec (15310) is the program manager, and Larry Ellis (6502) is the principal investigator.

"The goal of this Grand Challenge is to significantly improve the human capability to understand and solve national security problems, given exponential growth of information and very complex environments," says Larry. "We are integrating extraordinary perceptive techniques being developed by John Ganter (6533) and his team with Chris' cognitive systems."

The intent of the cognition track of this project is to develop technology that will augment the capacity of analysts, engineers, war fighters, critical decision makers, scientists, and others in critical jobs to detect and correctly interpret meaningful patterns based on large volumes of real-time and archival data derived from diverse sources.

This may involve real-time systems that use simulated experts from different domains that singly and collectively assess immense volumes of data to alert engineers and analysts to potential problems.

The same technology would allow an individual to visualize the knowledge of experts and even compare experts to one another.

"We have already shown that engineers from different disciplines have quite different knowledge structures that allow them to look at the same data and reach somewhat different conclusions," says Chris. "Our intent is to capture these unique perspectives in a practical set of tools that may in essence allow any given engineer to function as a team of engineers with different expertise and experience."

A primary emphasis of the Grand Challenge involves development of tools that will enable individualized knowledge to be captured by software running in the background, without the need to directly interact with the engineer or analyst. Currently, the rigorous methods required to develop an accurate model of an individual's knowledge of a domain are very labor-intensive. "Automated knowledge modeling," says Chris, "is the most challenging aspect in developing this technology."

However, the ability for a machine to automatically acquire accurate models of users' knowledge could have dramatic impacts. In the near-term, this would enable adaptive help systems that adjust to the specific knowledge of a user or technologies that allow a novice user to compare their knowledge to that of one or more experts.

"Looking into the future," Chris adds, "one may envision an economy in which an individual's knowledge and experience may be packaged and sold as a commodity -- when an engineer buys their computer-aided design software they may select from a library of experts whose cognitive models come installed with the software not unlike going to a music store and selecting a stack of CDs of your 10 or 12 favorite artists."

Russ sees an exciting future for this work and the impact it can have on Sandia

"One of Sandia's strengths is our expertise in understanding and representing complex physical behavior from a sound foundation basis," Russ says. "The efforts that we are now undertaking in cognition are beginning to lay a similar foundation upon which we will build capabilities to represent human behavior, which is a difficult, yet critical, aspect of national security." - - Chris Burroughs

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San Onofre reactor hosts experimental monitoring scheme that measures antineutrino production

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By nancy Garcia

A Sandia National Laboratories/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory collaboration is exploring a new way to safeguard fissionable material, by building an antineutrino detector a few dozen yards away from the core of a reactor at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente, Calif.

Antineutrinos are created in fission reactions in which atoms split into lighter elements, which themselves decay, emitting pairs of electrons and antineutrinos in the process. The latter are subatomic particles so insubstantial that they pass through most matter without interacting. However, room-sized detectors like the one coming online at the San Onofre plant can detect a small fraction of the huge number of antineutrinos released from the reactor core. The detector, a pool of liquid laced with massive gadolinium atoms, emits two bursts of light generated when an antineutrino hits a proton. Photomultiplier tubes above the scintillation fluid detect the light.

Equipping the plant for the field trial has been an ongoing project for the past year. John Estrada (8120) joined the team as project lead at Sandia when he came here in April. He completed his doctorate in physics at MIT, where he researched antimatter.

"Reactors make lots of plutonium while making electricity," he says. "The purpose of this project is to measure antineutrinos to show the material has not been removed, or plutonium is not being produced at an abnormally high rate by modifying the operating parameters of the reactor."

Unlike standard monitoring practices of visits by inspectors, record logs, and video cameras mounted on fuel rods, the detector provides a continuous, direct, remote measurement of events inside the reactor core.

The tests will explore whether measurements can be done well enough to become a facet of safeguarding and surveillance. Factors being explored include detector volume, background shielding, the amount of photomultiplier tubes, and sophistication of electronics.

Rather than spotting diversion of material, John anticipates it would have a deterrent effect. "It's like a metal detector at an airport," he says. "People don't bring anything through because they know they'd get caught."

The device can also be used to independently measure the plutonium content in a spent reactor core destined for reprocessing or storage. In contrast, the international regime that currently safeguards civilian plutonium production relies on operator declarations and plant operating history to estimate plutonium content.

In the reactor, uranium in the fuel rods releases six antineutrinos per atom during radioactive decay. As electricity is produced, some plutonium is also created, which releases fewer antineutrinos per atom. By measuring the energy and rate of antineutrinos released, the researchers can watch for anomalies, such as an unexpected change in spectrum after a shutdown.

Although they are hard to detect, plenty of antineutrinos are produced -- 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 per second. "It's a bigger number than anyone can imagine," John says. Of these, about 5,000 per day collide with protons in the detector volume, producing a neutron and a positron simultaneously. These final state particles each generate a flash of light in the liquid scintillator. The flash is detected by a

photomultiplier tube.

The overall detector measures about 15 feet per side and is located between the inner and outer walls of the reactor, about 25 feet from the core, in a ring-shaped room known as the "tendon gallery." It was partly due to the convenience and availability of this space that led research team member Adam Bernstein, a former Sandian who is now the project lead at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, to arrange for the project to take place at this reactor near San Clemente.

The project grew from an early study of antineutrino rates and spectrums from bombs, Bernstein said.

At the center of the detector is a cubic meter of scintillator fluid, surrounded by a water shield that screens out gamma and neutron backgrounds. Five sides have an additional shield that reduces the effect of muon particles, which can create antineutrino-like events.

The central core was recently redesigned. Final installation is being completed now. In May, the detector should be turned on to collect data for about a year to evaluate this potential approach to monitoring.

The technology has the potential of supporting verification of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, John said. "It can be used to help determine that countries aren't making more plutonium than they have agreed to make in a civilian reactor, and that this plutonium is not being diverted into weapons programs," he said.

Team members on the project include Mike Greaves (8120), Steve Haney (8731), Jim Lund (8233), Duanne Sunnarborg (8358), Mark Zimmerman (8731), and Dept. 8120 Manager Carolyn Pura. -- Nancy Garcia

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Last modified: April 20, 2003

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