PRISM Magazine - January 2003
High Tech Hunting
Engineers for all Seasons
Shrinking Assets
On Politics
Teaching Toolbox
ASEE Today
Last Word
Back Issues


The Hunt for Terrorists

Frank HubandThis month's cover story gives Prism an exclusive look into the Pentagon's Information Awareness Office (IAO). Robert Popp, IAO's deputy director, talked to Prism correspondent Bruce Auster about the office's controversial plans to track down terrorists. The idea is that terrorists, like everyone else, use cell phones, credit cards, and airlines. They have phone bills, airline tickets, and use computers to go online. All these activities can be traced, and engineering researchers are working to develop software that will define suspicious behaviors and alert authorities. The IAO, which is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is the agency keeping watch. Adding to the mix is IAO director John Poindexter, the National Security Adviser during the Reagan years. Poindexter was convicted of lying to Congress and destroying evidence connected to administration efforts to bypass a congressional ban on aid to the Nicaraguan Contras by funneling money from arm sales to Iran. Poindexter's conviction was eventually overturned on appeal because he was granted immunity from prosecution in order to win his testimony before a congressional investigative panel.

The office has generated controversy of late because of privacy concerns and Poindexter's previous activities. Up until now, IAO has kept mum, but in "High Tech Hunting" we get an exclusive look at the Pentagon's plans for protecting the nation against terrorism.

"Engineers for All Seasons," is the third in a series of articles about a new and different engineering school, Olin College. Olin now has its first freshman class. The college's startup has been impressive—the school has a strong entrepreneurial thrust, students excel academically, and faculty members are academic nonconformists who have signed on without the possibility of tenure. In addition to a strong engineering curriculum that emphasizes substantial engineering projects, Olin also provides courses in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The school hopes to produce "Renaissance" engineers.

Colleges and universities are now seeing their endowment funds erode after years of having those same funds show rapid growth. "Shrinking Assets" examines how universities have to adjust after the free-spending ‘90s, as they're faced with the prospect of doing more with less. Engineering departments, which are usually more cost-intensive than other disciplines, will be challenged to seek funds, perhaps through technology licensing and other entrepreneurial relationships with the private sector. Solutions for hard-pressed state systems may include higher tuition fees, greater reliance on two-year colleges, and distance learning.

I hope you find this broad mix of stories as intriguing and reader-worthy as I have. As always, Prism seeks to engage and offer stories of thought provoking interest. I welcome your comments.

Frank L. Huband
Executive Director and Publisher