Saving Lives One Mouse Click at a Time

Thursday, September 01, 2011

IDENTITY THEFT, MUSLIM RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION, and ONLINE CHILD EXPLOITATION RING UNCOVERED were a few of the headlines on today’s morning news show. Anyone with a television knows that the world we live in seems to be growing more restless and volatile by the day. The bad guys of today are a new breed – they no longer have to be in close proximity to blow up a building. They can remotely access your computer and use it to commit numerous crimes without ever stepping foot into your home. They can use the internet to recruit and train a new generation of terrorists without ever appearing in person. We live in a digital world, fully equipped with high-tech criminals. Fortunately, the security world has also changed, and the people behind the computers may surprise you.

Established in 2009, Fairmont State University’s Open Source Intelligence Exchange (OSIX) is the laboratory and applied research component of the university’s National Security and Intelligence (NSI) program, which is the only program of its kind at a higher education institution in the state. The NSI program provides the necessary background for students to pursue careers as intelligence officers, diplomats, law enforcement professionals, foreign affairs specialists, and private sector competitive intelligence analysts.

OSIX Program director and faculty mentor David Abruzzino explained, "The goal of OSIX is to give students hands-on experience producing intelligence assessments for real customers in the national security and law enforcement communities. OSIX intelligence products have been provided to the CIA, FBI, Department of Defense, and Department of State, as well as to state and local law enforcement agencies in West Virginia."

NSI students are handpicked and rigorously screened to participate in OSIX. Student intelligence analysts working in OSIX leverage emerging information technologies and new media to identify and assess national security and law enforcement threats to provide real products for the local, state and federal law enforcement and security intelligence agencies.

When asked how hands-on this program is for the students involved, Abruzzino detailed a recent occurrence that has evolved into a potential revenue generating project for the group and the university.

"A few months ago we picked up on discussion about huge pro-democracy protests in Iran. We set up a 24 – 7 operations center, monitored events in real time, and sent update reports to a number of government agencies. We provided them with information that they were not getting through other channels in terms of location of protests, size, what people were saying, and what was happening on the ground. This information wasn’t available through other sources because there was a total media blackout, so traditional media was banned from the country. Our information was coming from local Iranians on site through Twitter and Facebook. When the Iranian government started cracking down, we were able to provide regular updates about tanks being spotted on a particular street, soldiers firing in a particular square, and those sorts of things. Based off of this event, our group began to look at the Middle East more broadly and decided to compile a weekly report which is now going to a variety of customers in the national security community. Right now, we are solely grant funded. Our ultimate goal is to contract our services out to the government and private sector so that we can not only fund ourselves, but be a source of revenue for the university. "

The students of OSIX also participated in U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the memorial service in Beckley, West Virginia for those lost in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in April 2010. The team of 11 students supported the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center during the visit. Through their monitoring of the web and social media, they were able to provide useful information to the Fusion Center that was passed on to the Secret Service.

"I provided top level director support, but at the end of the day the students were responsible for getting the work done and for taking care of the management of tasks. The Fusion Center told us that at least one of the reports we provided caused the Secret Service to say, ‘Wow, we didn’t know that.’ Working with students and the level of enthusiasm they bring is remarkable," Abruzzino said.

Through the NSI program and OSIX, FSU students have the opportunity to learn from faculty experts in their field.

Dr. Gregory P. Noone, Director of the NSI program, has been an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Law at FSU since 2007. Noone is currently a Captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve and was the Commanding Officer of the Navy JAG International and Operational Law reserve unit. He was mobilized to become

the Staff Judge Advocate for the Department of Defense’s Office for the Administrative Review of Enemy Combatants at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Base, Cuba. He is now the Commanding Officer of the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies reserve unit, where over the past fifteen years he has trained senior military, governmental and non-governmental civilian personnel in over 40 countries (and has traveled to about 75 countries total). Most notably, he trained members of the Iraqi National Congress, the post-genocide government in Rwanda, the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan, civil society in the Sudan and members of the Russian government.

Abruzzino came to FSU in January 2010 as the director of OSIX and a faculty member in the NSI program. He has served in several positions within the national intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

"Professor Abruzzino is an incredible addition to the fastest growing major at Fairmont State," Noone said.

In the fall of 2010, Gov. Joe Manchin announced the award a $100,000 matching grant to OSIX as part of the state’s "Bucks for Brains" Research Trust Fund that supports programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas.

"When we created the Bucks for Brains program, our goal was to not only spur research and intellectual capital at our state’s major research institutions – but also to encourage greater learning in STEM fields at colleges and universities statewide," Manchin said. "By providing opportunities for more of our students to innovate and compete, we’re planting the seeds for a more diverse, high-tech economy in West Virginia."

The funding will go toward a New Media Assessment Project, which will enable OSIX to strengthen its capabilities through student stipends and technology enhancements.

"This grant award speaks to the distinctiveness of OSIX and the ingenuity of its director, David Abruzzino," said Dr. Maria Rose, Interim FSU President. "Fairmont State is committed to building and delivering programs that respond to regional, state and national needs and opportunities. Our programs are targeted, selective and strategic."

OSIX students continue to provide valuable intelligence on topics such as pro-democracy movements in the Middle East, terrorists’ use of the Internet, and online money laundering. OSIX students will continue to move FSU and West Virginia forward as national leaders in next-generation knowledge-based industries.

About this story: This story, written by Nita Coleman '10, was featured in the Summer 2011 edition of maroon & white. Click here to view this edition. To request a paper copy contact Beth Martin at (304) 367-4009.