Danger Room (Wired)

These Classy Defense Contractors Are Already Looking to Cash In on Boston

The newly-limbless victims from the Boston Marathon attack are still being treated, and the alleged bomber has only been in custody for a few days. But for a handful of defense and intelligence contractors, it’s never too early to start pimping their products as the solution to the next terrorist strike.

“The Boston Marathon bombing has proven the need for real time video and data analysis from all types of cameras, including user mobile devices, surveillance cameras, and network footage,” Chris Carmichael, CEO of Ubiquity Broadcasting Corporation, says in a press release. As it happens, his company offers an intelligent video system that does just that.

Piggybacking on big events a long-standing trick of the PR trade. It’s a way to garner attention for products that might ordinarily get ignored. So dress-makers jump on the Oscars. Social media monitors issue “analysis” of Twitter’s reaction to the Presidential debates. And the night after the Boston bombings, an explosive detection outfit called Implant Sciences emailed reporters to say that its “quantum sniffer” was the kind of “technology needed to prevent attacks like this… It is the most sensitive detection system ever created and it can save lives.”

Not to be outdone, a publicist from a facial recognition firm, FaceFirst, boasted to reporters a few days later that “this technology can identify individuals with prior arrests, terrorists and persons of interest in a matter of seconds.” He also sighed that “the last few month [sic] have been pretty hectic for due to the use of face recognition in the finding of the Boston Marathon Bombers and other high profile cases.”

One small problem: facial recognition wasn’t used to catch Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the accused attackers.

Thankfully, some of the companies boasting of their roles in the bombing response actually did help in that response.

During its quarterly earnings call this week, iRobot CEO Colin Angle was happy to let reporters know that, yes, one of the firm’s PackBot machines certainly was used to investigate a car driven by one of the bombing suspects. ”The company’s response to the Boston Marathon bombings continues a long tradition of iRobot’s responsiveness in a time of crisis and speaks to our values and commitment as an organization,” he crowed.

The Emergency Communications Network firm not-so-humble bragged in a statement that ”on Monday alone, more than 228,000 calls, tens of thousands of texts and emails, in addition to 700 CodeRED Mobile Alert app notifications kept citizens informed of critical public safety messages specific to their areas… On Tuesday, ECN client Massachusetts Institute of Technology used the CodeRED system to notify students, faculty and staff of a suspicious package on campus. More than 20,000 calls were launched in 11 minutes and 18,000 text messages were sent in three minutes, allowing MIT to proactively communicate with their campus community during a time of heightened awareness and vigilance.”

Others trying to ride the attack’s media wave had, at best, tangential connections to the tragedy. Afront group set up by outdoor advertising companies to promote billboards in Los Angeles decided that the bombing was a perfect excuse to renew its call for digital signs alongside L.A.’s freeways. An anti-Islam outfit pounced on the attack to demand that Muslims be stripped of their Constitutional rights.  And when the news broke that bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev purchased hundreds of dollars’ worth of fireworks, the American Pyrotechnics Association quickly issued a statement defending its industry.

“Could these consumer fireworks devices be used to produce a pipe bomb or pressure cooker bomb like the bombs involved at the Boston marathon? Perhaps; however, it would take a significant volume of these small aerial shells to extract the volume of chemicals necessary to create a significant blast,” reads the press release. “Contrary to media reports, consumer fireworks have rarely been used in such destructive activities.”

Book publishers were also quick turn the awful attack that left three people dead into a marketing opportunity.

“This terrorist event left millions of citizens concerned about their family’s personal safety and wondering what they should do to plan and protect themselves,” notes one press release. ”Those answers are at your fingertips,” said Rob Stern, principal of Defense Research LLC, developer of the ‘Citizens’ Emergency Response Guide.’

“Can the reasons for the Boston Marathon bombing be understood by reading a 39 page book?” asks another press release, this one from a publisher hawking a novel from some guy named Morris Matthews.” Revered by America’s traveling carnival community, he brings a blend of ancient Ayurvedic wisdom and ‘Middle American’ horse sense to his writings.

If only he had used that horse sense to stop this press release before it was issued.

– with Spencer Ackerman