Radical Instrument

IT is changing the exercise of power. Radical Instrument is picking up the signals.

Posts Tagged ‘Al Qaeda

Crowdsourcing the hunt for bin Laden

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USA Today summarizes a fascinating paper released today in MIT International Review. In it, UCLA geography professors Thomas W. Gillespie and John A. Agnew use biogeographic theory, public reporting,and satellite imagery to develop a hypothesis about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden…narrowing it down to a choice of compounds in Parachinar, in Kurram, one of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Leaving aside the validity of the model – although a suspected U.S. drone conducted the first attack in Kurram on Monday – the most striking point of the authors’ analysis is in the conclusion:

“…For instance, in an attempt to aid disaster relief efforts after the October 8, 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, numerous international aid agencies posted high-resolution satellite images on the web.  The Pakistani government forced these images to be removed because they feared that the security of the Kashmir region might be compromised.  Perhaps it is past time to embrace this technology and create a public database concerning models or hypotheses about bin Laden’s current location [emphasis added]. … Altogether, the US intelligence community spent over $50 billion on intelligence activities last year alone.  Ideally, some of this money should have been spent looking for bin Laden and the US intelligence community could make public a report based on all data collected  from 2001 to 2006. … These methods are repeatable and could easily be updated with new information obtained from the US intelligence community on his last known location.”

It’s a point worthy of debate. There have been applications of related knowledge-transfer techniques inside the U.S. government, but the authors appear to be advocating for something akin to a crowdsourcing model to expand the resource capacity of the intelligence community. The counter-argument will, of course, be based in security. But could a “public database” such as advocated by the authors have appropriate filters in place to protect security considerations? Could development or testing be released to the public domain in such a way that the testers cannot distinguish between, say, an analysis of building types in Pakistan and an analysis of buildings in a fictional environment?

Written by Mark

February 17, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Facebook and a new form of opposition in Egypt

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Samantha M. Shapiro has an exceptional piece in this Sunday’s NY Times Magazine on Facebook’s role in organizing an opposition youth movement in Egypt. Shapiro also brings to light the attention paid by the State Department’s public diplomacy arm to Facebook, including this December summit featuring the Obama campaign’s new media team. 

You can find the Facebook group created by the State Department, the “Alliance of Youth Movements,” here. It gets even more interesting. The first thing listed in the group’s description is “THE MARCH AGAINST AL QAEDA,” scheduled for March in 20 locations around the world, including Baghdad, Mumbai, Cape Town, Beirut, Bahrain, and an unnamed site in Saudi Arabia. Its precedent is the “One million voices against FARC” group that inspired a protest of one million+ in Colombia last February, the largest so far against a terrorist organization. 

The Colombia and Egypt examples offer hope for technology-driven efforts in “civil society 2.0” and “dorm room diplomacy.”  But it still seems a hope fraught with ambiguity. Shapiro’s best sentence is at the end of her article on Egypt:  But what does it mean to have a vibrant civil society on your computer screen and a police state in the street?

Written by Mark

January 26, 2009 at 1:24 am