High Performance Computing and National Security

I find myself reflecting on national security and anti-terrorism efforts each year on and around the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center on this date 14 years ago. I often think about how high performance computing (HPC) improves national security, and how I am (and the industry is) contributing to our nations safety. When people ask me about my job, one of the things I like to say is that we – the entire field – help advance almost all kinds of modern science and this includes the science of national security.

Analyzing Data

National security and agencies alike are collecting more and more data. Satellite pictures, intercepted transmissions, tapped phone calls, and a myriad of other things that can be acquired under current laws and interpretations of laws. These all have to be analyzed, and as the data sets increase so do the resources required to analyze this data. In many cases, the exact computing power and or resources aren’t disclosed, so we can’t talk about the number of petaflops, but we know that its a non-trivial amount of HPC resources dedicated to analyzing data, often in real time, when seconds matter. In some cases, this data collection has been controversial but one thing that is certain, analyzing this data has helped determine a course of action that has saved lives. Some have speculated that faster, more reliable data analysis would’ve prevented the thousands of deaths from those attacks.


Currently, a lot of national security efforts are focused on restricting ISIS’ ability to perpetuate terrorism. Most have probably already heard about the Air Force intel of the ISIS ‘moron’ selfie taken outside of a command center that led to an airstrike against this terrorist group. Essentially, a selfie was posted, the building was identified, and the building was destroyed within 24 hours. Specifics of how the building was identified have not been disclosed, and I have no wish to take credit as an industry here, but HPC certainly could have been used in such pursuits. Adding automation to the collection of social media posts and the analysis process of any geological data referenced against known topological maps, weather conditions, activity in the area, satellite photos, and anything else analysts can come up with dramatically increase our odds of defeating such terrorist attacks. Maybe one day these methods can become so effective as to make recruiting on social media more dangerous than beneficial for terrorist organizations.

The world and its communications are becoming increasingly more digital; the relevant translation means that the amount of data to analyze will continually increase. As a result, high performance computing will be used more and more to analyze that data. This growth is likely to be applicable to all data regardless of how it is collected, stored and analyzed. I have complicated feelings about how some data is collected in this field, some of which I cannot resolve completely in my own mind much less communicate in a few hundred words, but I feel content to say that HPC as a field makes a positive impact on national security. For the sake of time, this post has been restricted to primarily discussing how HPC has affected anti-terrorism efforts, but there are numerous contributions HPC has made to all kinds of military technology and many other facets of keeping our country safe. I feel it’s reasonable to say that this is likely only the tip of the iceberg and data collection and analysis of that data is only going to grow over time.

I am honored to work for Adaptive Computing, creating software that contributes to the automation process that speeds time to discovery and has an impact on our nations safety.