Phillip Mudd says the ground war we are waging on terrorism is going to be a long grueling war, but it’s not a “forever war.” He says, “The forever war will be chasing the elusive terrorist – the one who knows how to hide and act using technology and data.”
Speaking before an audience of law enforcement and financial services executives, Mudd, a former Deputy Director of National Security, FBI and former Deputy Director, Counterterrorist Center, CIA, explained how poor data access has been a huge roadblock to predicting terrorist attacks.
For example, when the first US suicide bomber attacked, agencies couldn’t put the pieces together. They needed to look beyond the money that was moving into and between suspect regions of the world and connect it to the men and women who were also traveling to those regions – to train in terrorist tactics. Without the data, they missed the linkages.
“I used to think this war was a data war because we could map out all the questions the same – looking at things like credit card and travel data,” said Mudd. “And then I realized that in the revolutions of the future, data will become secondary – the agility of the analyst’s questions will be primary.”
Mudd says analytical technology has improved a lot since the first attack. In fact, it’s improved so much that victims, the public and government officials now want investigators to anticipate attacks – to predict the threat. It’s no longer good enough to investigate an attack after it’s been committed.
Follow the digital footprints
High-performance computing and data visualization will help analysts see trends and connections. They’ll be able to find a digital trail to uncover intent to act – before the crime happens. Mudd uses the Tsarnaev brothers to show the frustration law enforcement faces: there were no leaks to track because they were brothers.
“How do you hunt a kid that is excited by the revolution?” he asks. “What communications do you track? This kid can build a canister device in his basement – with equipment you can buy at Walmart.”
To prevent the lone wolf attacks, agencies need analytics that can spot the potential for attack. “Imminent threat is about capabilities,” said Mudd. “But it’s also about intent.”
Find imminent threat
High-performance analytics can pour through the data that holds the answers. Mudd asks, “What if you started with someone who has had a prior conviction or has known associates in the terrorism world?” Then you could match that data to sources like:
- Emails and social media posts.
- Passport and travel information.
- Credit cards, wire transfers and purchases.
To find imminent threat, agencies’ biggest need is for real-time or near real-time analysis of the data they collect. And they’ll need to collect a lot more data. That has many citizens concerned about the invasion of privacy. Agencies will need to find that fine line, the balance of protecting a citizen’s right to privacy against the need for data that’ll help law enforcement predict threats.
Mudd says this won’t be the last digital battle we will face, so we need to get this right – and the time is now. Analytics is the best weapon in this war.
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