KDnuggets : News : 2007 : n21 : item22 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >


Date: 30 Oct 2007
Subject: Data Mining and Counterterrorism

In reaction to a recent Washington Post front page story "From Casinos to Counterterrorism" by Ellen Nakashima

The front page story on the Washington Post "From Casinos to Counterterrorism" offers examples of how Las Vegas has become the security lab for the federal government. For example, software developed for the gaming community is making its way into our national counterterrorism agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security.

One of these technologies is guilt-by-association software known as NORA -- for Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness. As the name suggests, the program is designed to find hidden links via the use of a name, an address, a phone number, etc.

Originally created for screening casino job applicants, NORA software was developed by a small Las Vegas firm known as SRD before IBM purchased it. NORA is designed to find links between bad guys, to find out 'who knew whom, where and when.' It can discover networks of associations. However, betting our national defense on this gaming industry software is using law enforcement technology to perform counterintelligence work. It is doing addition when the solution calls for division. It is using cop software that cannot possibly detect subtle and sophisticated financial and behavioral patterns.

Unfortunately the DHS components of ICE, TSA and CBP are set in this law-enforcement mode. They are looking backwards rather than forward. They are geared at making arrests and not at preventing future terrorist attacks. All of these DHS components are using this IBM gaming software to screen domestic and foreign passengers at our airports and our borders in the processing of no-fly watch-lists. Remarkable as it may sound, but a full six years after 9/11 there are no preemptive counterintelligence software systems at DHS. This is a department with a $46.4 billion budget for FY 2008.

Perhaps this is why the Department of Defense has taken the initiative to build a real modern counterterrorism program they called TANGRAM. In the DOD request for proposal for their TANGRAM Project they cite the limitations of what they called "guilt-by-association algorithms" and instead solicited software that can be used for what they call "collective inferencing" in a search for "suspicious avoidance behavior" for this modern counterterrorism system.

DOD cites the limitations that in the absence of an "embedded entity" guilt-by-association algorithms fail in counterterrorism work. For example, several terrorist cells discovered here in the United States and in Europe had no links to suspected or known terrorists.

The problem in the exclusive use NORA by DHS is that it won't help in preemptive detection of home-grown terrorists with any direct links to foreign bad guys. That is betting the farm on discovering associations; it is only half of the job. The primary DHS contractor on these watch-list screening systems, IBM is quite happy to sell DHS their cop software.

However, advanced analytical software that performs "collective inferencing" exists from a small McLean, Virginia firm, InferX Corporation, which was originally built to guide missiles in mid-flight. The software can analyze for the subtle patterns DHS needs and does it in a totally privacy preserving manner since it moves no data as it searches through networks and multiple databases for the signature of terrorist behavior.

Privacy concerns are more problems that keep popping up with DHS data mining systems. Congress is holding hearings of DHS contractors, like IBM. It wants to know why over $300 million dollars have been spent on four data mining projects, like Secured Flight, only to scrap them because of privacy issues and violations. DOD recognizes that finding associations has its limits. If only DHS would get of the dime; it could save the country millions of dollars.

Jesus Mena

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KDnuggets : News : 2007 : n21 : item22 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >

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