Monday, January 11, 2010


Failure to "connect the dots"

I'd guess my reaction to the Christmas Day attempted bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was shared by a few others: after 9/11 and the shoe bomber, how was this possible? I looked forward to President Obama's remarks, as well as the the press session with the President's Assistant on Counterterrorism, John Brennan, and Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano. I also read the Summary of the White House Review and President's Directive on Corrective Action.

I came away thinking we could do better. If, as the Summary reports, "previous formidable barriers to information sharing" and "entrenched patterns of bureaucratic behavior" have now been "largely overcome," then the application of technology might need a boost.

It's things like Secretary Napolitano citing half a million individuals being characterized by analysts and tracked, and giving the sense that we're supposed to feel overwhelmed by the number. It's references to data being available, but not connected.

It's this kind if stuff that makes me wonder whether we'd benefit from a meeting of the minds between the security technologists and Valley people: Web 2.0, social media, digital marketing, and e-commerce. For example, could the characterization of those individuals being watched be something like what we do in assigning attributes to customers. Based on past behaviors, instead of the likelihood to do home repair, characterizing the likelihood to assemble bomb materials. Scoring models for extremism. In the world of targeted selling, half a million is not a large number.

Given what's being reported, you get the image of a beehive of security analysts combing through data. I'm sure some level of automation and "dashboards" are in place, at least I hope they are given that a deluge is expected. This isn't the kind of thing that can be addressed by hiring up. What can be done to better leverage current analysts and even assign to machines things now being done be humans?

Finally, another thing that struck me was the absence of any reference to Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra. I was under the impression that he was going to bring the Valley ways to Government. Maybe next on the agenda.

Sure, this is simplistic. I'd bet there's a lot going on in the spook world that I'm underestimating. But I'd love to get a sanitized view, if just to get a sense what it looks like. So let's say down the line CIO Kundra convenes the grand convergence of the Valley (and elsewhere) and Government, and it turns out that the Amazons have something to learn from the CIA. I don't think anyone would be too upset about that either.

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