THE MISSING LINKS
Technology Helps FBI Unravel Criminal and Terrorist Networks
It’s said that
success often depends on ”who you know.” For criminals, it
can be their undoing. Try as they might to hide behind phony phone numbers,
fake names, and bogus credit cards, new technology can pick up their
tracks and use evidence of their social networks, money trails, and phone
trees to nail their true identities.
Take the case of the
missing Saddam Hussein, hiding in a remote lair in 2003. How was he located?
Largely by tracing his ties to others through a technology called network
analysis. Likewise, the hunt for snipers terrorizing the D.C. area was
narrowed using the same technology. In the case of the “Virginia
Jihad Network,” a group of 11 Northern Virginia men who trained
for war against the U.S. in the days after 9/11, FBI analysts used link-analysis
technology to visualize the connections between members as a pyramid,
with the group’s leader, Ali al-Timimi, at the top.
we wanted to see how strong the connections were and how they were connected
to each other,” said Dawn, an intelligence analyst who worked this
last case. She plugged in photos of the suspects, along with their phone
records and a raft of other clues culled from databases and gathered
by agents. The software revealed patterns and connections illustrating
a vivid and intricate web of links among the accused jihadists. The picture
helped crystallize al-Timimi’s place at the center the organization.
He was sentenced earlier this month to life in prison.
just easier to get a sense of what’s going on if you can see a
picture in front of you,” Dawn said. “It’s also a good
tool if someone’s saying they didn’t know somebody.”
Studying a group’s social network for clues is not new to investigations—we’ve
all seen mob bosses fall when underlings sing. What’s new is using technological
tools to visually connect suspects.
“Any kind of
number structure data you can get, it will link it together,” said
Jack Israel, the FBI’s chief technology officer.
The Bureau licenses
the software and trains all its intelligence analysts to use link analysis
for intelligence and for investigations of everything from mortgage fraud
to terror networks.
absolutely essential when we are trying to figure out a bad guy’s
social network,” said Israel. “It shows you the network.
And when you start taking apart the network, that’s when you can
disrupt the operations.”
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