Anti-terror software glitches?

January 2, 2010
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As I was researching my book, Jeff Jonas described for me how a government data failure preceded the 9-11 attacks. Different branches of the government had access to information about several of the terrorists. People on the danger list were renting cars and hotel rooms under their own names. But the government lacked the means to search through this data, matching the names with those on their lists. Jonas had developed software called NORA specifically for such matching work, and in 2005 he sold his company, Systems Research and Development, to IBM.

Jonas often cannot provide details, but he works closely with national security agencies, and the government buys this data-matching software. So my question: Why didn’t the software match the data of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of attempted terrorism on the Christmas flight to Detroit?…


As I was researching my book, Jeff Jonas
described for me how a government data failure preceded the 9-11 attacks.
Different branches of the government had access to information about
several of the terrorists. People on the danger list were renting cars
and hotel rooms under their own names. But the government lacked the
means to search through this data, matching the names with those on
their lists. Jonas had developed software called NORA specifically for
such matching work, and in 2005 he sold his company, Systems Research
and Development, to IBM.

Jonas often cannot provide details, but he works closely with national
security agencies, and the government buys this data-matching software.
So my question: Why didn’t the software match the data of Umar Farouk
Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of attempted terrorism on the
Christmas flight to Detroit?

Yesterday’s New York Times editorial
seems to misunderstand the challenge. It says that the National
Counterterrorism Center should be …quot;correlating data so any pattern
emerges….quot; No doubt they’re interested in patterns. But in this case, it
wasn’t mathematical analysis that was missing, but simply connecting
dots. That’s NORA’s specialty. Then the editorial says, …quot;Long before
Mr. Abdulmutallab was allowed to board that flight to
Detroit, some analyst should have punched …ldquo;Nigerian, Abdulmutallab,
Yemen, visa, plot…rdquo; into the system….quot;

Again, I think that’s relying too much on humans. If these software
systems work, they should find those connections and issue automatic
alerts. Jonas describes what he calls Perpetual Analytics in this post.

In a system designed to handle perpetual
analytics, as data changes in source systems (e.g., an employee updates
his address) a message is fired off to the analytics engine and this
new observation is integrated into the collective knowledge.…nbsp; In this way, the …ldquo;data finds the data…rdquo;.…nbsp; Should
this incremental knowledge result in insight (e.g., the employee is
related to an open fraud investigation) such discovery can be published
to the appropriate user (e.g., in this case the fraud investigator).

My question to Jeff: Is the government running this software?

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