New App Tracks Terrorism-Linked Events in Local U.S. Communities

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It marks an enhancement of the information-sharing capabilities the National Counterterrorism Center offered before.

The National Counterterrorism Center or NCTC designed and launched a new mobile app and website that provide unclassified intelligence reports, training materials and breaking alert notifications tracking terrorist-associated events. 

Dubbed “aCTknowledge,” this new digital tool was produced with—and explicitly for—U.S. law enforcement officers, first responders and homeland security professionals. It will be frequently updated based on their feedback going forward.

“This is a tremendous evolution of our information-sharing effort,” an NCTC expert who helped build the platform told reporters during a press briefing on Monday.

That official was among several who shared details about aCTknowledge on the call.

As a component of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, NCTC connects specialists from different government hubs for counterterrorism aims, captures and analyzes intelligence, monitors national and international communications for threats, manages massive lists of incidents and individuals with potential links to terrorism, and more. The center was formed at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. 

“After [Sept. 11, 2001], it was obviously determined that we do need to be sharing info and part of the reason the [NCTC] was formed was to have a place where that info could reside and that we can push it out and have the relationship with the community,” another expert explained during the briefing. “So on our end, we do want to share when we can the information that's needed to protect communities.”

The new aCTknowledge resource is meant to be a one-stop-shop for NCTC analyses, training materials and real-time alerts, among other assets. Users can search for specific topics of interest, which will also inform new features it could include down the line. 

In this first release, the tool is available to the center’s federal and military partners—but officials confirmed that “in the coming months” it will be rolled out to state, tribal, local and other players that NCTC works with. As a mobile application, aCTknowledge is now currently listed in the Apple App Store, and it will soon be offered in Google Play for use on Android devices. Besides the mobile option, it is also offered as a web portal to fit the needs of different types of users and first responders who function in different environments.

Officials are required to register with their official government email address after downloading the application, and vetting information must also be submitted.

“The information that the app will have is unclassified, for official use only,” an expert said on the call. “So, it's for people who need to use that information to keep their community safe.”

Previously, the center would disperse a great deal of its information to its stakeholders via email and on listserves. Officials believe offering alerts and incident updates that can be accessed on handheld devices in real-time will help boost response and protection. 

“Our ability to send push notifications to partners using the app is really going to change the community in general, because we'll be able to immediately level-set everyone's understanding of counterterrorism event as it occurs,” one said.

To help visualize its potential impact, another individual mentioned the recent hostage situation that starkly unfolded at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, where an hours-long standoff ensued.

“Once we do the later rollout to first responders, [and] state and local [partners], one thing that'll be neat about the app is when you have an incident like, say—there was the Colleyville incident a few weeks ago—if you're law enforcement in another part of the country, you can be tracking that in real-time and thinking ‘okay, well, do I need to be looking at synagogues as well, or something like that,’ to really make use of the information in a practical way,” they explained.

NCTC officials repeatedly emphasized that they worked with and were informed by teams from the New Jersey State Police, the Jackson Fire and Rescue Service and the Las Vegas Metro Police Department—and multiple others—in developing and refining aCTknowledge. 

The platform will also continue to be expanded and updated with new features based on user input now that it is in use, the experts noted. Audio and video capabilities aren’t yet offered in the tool, for example, but they’ll likely be included in the future.  

“We aren’t just endlessly building,” an official said. “We’re building with purpose.”