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Data-Sifting For Timely Intelligence Still an Elusive Goal 131

Posted by timothy
from the even-if-you-like-all-the-sifting dept.
gyrogeerloose writes "Although there was evidence to suggest that the Japanese navy was up to something in December 1941, that information was scant and came too late. Today's intelligence agencies have another problem altogether — more information than they can deal with, and computers aren't helping as much as one might expect for reasons that will be familiar to Slashdot readers: computers can crunch numbers faster and more accurately than humans, but they're still easily baffled by language as it is commonly used in the real world. Metaphor, slang and simple figures of speech can confuse the best algorithm and, as quoted in the linked article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, 'A system that takes a week to discover a bombing that will occur in a day isn't very useful.'"
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Data-Sifting For Timely Intelligence Still an Elusive Goal

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  • If someone says, "I'm gonna bust a cap in the president's head", they could be referring to destroy some sort of hat or other head covering. The computer will back me up on this.
    • by vlm (69642)

      If someone says, "I'm gonna bust a cap in the president's head", they could be referring to destroy some sort of hat or other head covering. The computer will back me up on this.

      Ah that's nothing, think of all the fun when Pete Souza sends emails that he's going to "shoot the president" at a certain public appearance.

      (For the google impaired, Souza was appointed by Obama to the post of "official white house photographer", and weirdly enough I believe he was also Reagans photographer)

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Lumpy (12016)

        You think that is fun, Try doing a commercial shoot with a team at an airport.

        "Ok, we need to set up there and there. we can start shooting when the 12:30 planes arrive to get good coverage as the most people will be here."

        Homeland security and TSA people are very dumb and can not understand Film or TV jargon. Nothing like having your entire team detained past the shooting time because the morons refuse to call to administration to clear things up.

  • HUMINT SIGINT (Score:2, Redundant)

    Which is why human intelligence is much more useful than signal intelligence (data mining). You can't get a sense of a person's thoughts by reading something nearly as well as you can by talking to them. IMHO, fighting any war remotely will last much longer than one fought with boots on the ground.

    • Oh I don't know... "We win or we nuke you." "You win!" See? It's a question of degrees.

      Incidentally, this is why we don't want Iran to become a nuclear power.
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Oh shut up already. If a country X decides to threaten another country with nukes, EVERY other country that has nukes will be very displeased and tell country X to GTFO. The whole reason that nukes are great as a defense is that nobody wants to be involved in a nuclear war. Which is also why they suck for offense. The only reason we don't want some countries to have nukes is because it sucks when those things get lost/stolen/whatever. A country is unable to use nukes, but a person or an organisation is.

        We'r

        • by JustOK (667959)

          jeoli gayo ( !)

        • by peragrin (659227)

          If Iran wants nuclear power then Russia is willing to sell it to them. Nice light water reactors that can't be used to enhance uraninmum. However Iran isn't satisfied with that. They want their own complete infrastructure. The kind where they can build whatever they want including bombs.

          My personalhope is that there is yet another revolution in Iran before then. Many will be dead, but things stand a chanceof being better.

          • by Jellybob (597204)

            Hey, we could start one off, by supporting a few choice characters. I'm sure that'll go down just fine.

            • by peragrin (659227)

              Nope iran needs to do it themselves so that they can truly understand the cost of Freedom.

        • by downhole (831621)

          With Iran, it's not that they'll get lost or stolen, it's that it puts the country possessing them in a much stronger diplomatic position. We already know that Iran is the main source of funding and weapons for most of the terrorism and unrest in the middle east (Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, etc). The main check on that is diplomatic (sanctions, etc) and military (threat of invasion) pressure on them. Right now, Iran could potentially be invaded by the US, or by some combination of middle eastern countries, but

          • by DrVomact (726065)

            ...but if you're Israel and one nuke would wipe your whole country out, are you really willing to bet your live and the fate of your nation that the rulers of Iran aren't that crazy? Hitler told everybody pretty much what he was going to do; nobody believed that he was really that crazy, and look what happened.

            Er...you do realize that Israel has a considerable nuclear arsenal, right? And that includes submarines capable of launching nuclear-armed missiles after a strike at Israel itself. If Iran is truly threatening to "nuke" Israel, then they will stop doing so the moment they actually acquire their own nuclear capabilities—in other words, the moment when the Israelis could perceive it as a real threat. Right now, the Iranians are vulnerable to attack from either the United States or Israel, so they use a

            • They don't want to be wiped out any more than Israel does...

                  actually, I've seen enough talk about believing in the destiny of the end of the world that I wouldn't count on rational MAD behavior from everyone who can get their hands on an Iran nuke.

                rd

    • Re:HUMINT SIGINT (Score:4, Interesting)

      by houstonbofh (602064) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @12:24PM (#30366534)

      Which is why human intelligence is much more useful than signal intelligence (data mining).

      Exactly. If people can't sift through the mass of information (and misinformation) we have today, what hope does a computer have? Just look at how hard it is to find "The Truth" in todays news, or on the Internet...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by flyingsquid (813711)
        Exactly. If people can't sift through the mass of information (and misinformation) we have today, what hope does a computer have?

        An individual person can't, the volume is too large, and the information is often dispersed. However, large networks of people could potentially gather and bring together that intelligence in a timely fashion so that it can be acted on. Obviously, this didn't happen before Pearl Harbor, or 9/11. But can this type of intelligence gathering be done in the real world- can we collect

        • by TheCarp (96830)

          > We know what failure looks like (Pearl Harbor, 9/11) but what does success look like? How and why do certain intelligence-
          > gathering systems actually work, when they do work?

          I think the problem here is that few want to admit the simple truth: Success looks no different than it ever did.

          9/11 was no "failure of intelligence" it was just a tragedy. A tragedy engineered by human beings solving technical problems. The BEST you can ever hope to do, is change their plans. That's it really. You can change

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Which is why human intelligence is much more useful than signal intelligence

      People lie.

      The US government is especially good at sending bogus signals. There's no reason to believe other governments aren't as good.

      All intelligence has it's problems. The trick is to put together enough different sources to weed out the bogus, and home in on the truth, all while keeping everything secret. Basically, it's an impossible task, but sometimes it's good enough, and sometimes you go to war looking for WMD that aren't there.

      • by mpe (36238)
        The US government is especially good at sending bogus signals. There's no reason to believe other governments aren't as good.

        Not just governments. The same can apply to organised crime, corporations, etc, etc.
    • Re:HUMINT SIGINT (Score:4, Informative)

      by megamerican (1073936) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @01:06PM (#30367048)

      Human SIGINT is flawed because they can easily be manipulated, compartmentalized and shut down when neccessary. You can also be relying on people who are flawed morally, intellectually, etc...

      An Example [wanttoknow.info]

      15 of the 19 hijackers fail to fill in visa documents properly in Saudi Arabia. Only six are interviewed. All 15 should have been denied entry to the US. [Washington Post, 10/22/02, [wanttoknow.info] ABC, 10/23/02 [go.com]] Two top Republican senators say if State Department personnel had merely followed the law, 9/11 would not have happened.[ [wanttoknow.info]AP, 12/18/02More [wanttoknow.info]]

      At least 13 of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers were never interviewed by U.S. consular officials before being granted visas to enter the United States, according to a congressional report issued yesterday. The finding contradicts previous assurances from the State Department that most of them had been thoroughly screened.

      The General Accounting Office also found that, for 15 hijackers whose applications could be found, none had filled in the documents properly.

      ...

      The GAO report found that all 15 of the hijackers from Saudi Arabia applied for visas in Jeddah or Riyadh; two others applied in their native United Arab Emirates. The remaining two, including ringleader Mohamed Atta, an Egyptian citizen, applied as "third-country" applicants in Berlin.

      None of 18 separate visa applications by 15 of the hijackers was completed properly, the report said. Thirteen of the 15, who were from Saudi Arabia or UAE, were never interviewed before being approved for a visa, the report found. Investigators were unable to review the applications for four other hijackers, including Atta, because they were destroyed.

      If you want to see the actual Visas of some 9/11 hijackers you can go here. [911review.org]

      If you want to know why people with such obviously fraudulent Visa applications can get in to the country consider the testimony of J. Michael Springmann. [google.com] He worked at the Jeddah consulate approving Visas and says he was occasionally overruled by the CIA. Remember that when Springmann was working there they weren't known as terrorists, they were still called freedom fighters.

    • by ls671 (1122017) *

      The way it is (should be?) done is as follows:

      Data mine to generate reports to human beings.

      Conventional strictly human intelligence is still done and needed. The pitfall is that an organization could try to cut costs too much by relying too much on computer generated reports. Aside from that pitfall, data mining is efficient to find instances where traditional human methods would have failed as long as you tune the system not to have a ridiculous amount of false positives.

      For the time being, human review i

      • by TheCarp (96830)

        I have a better how it should work.

        Data mine to find out all the people working in SIGINT, send them pink slips, offer retraining into another field.

        The pitfall is thinking that they should be doing this in the first place, or that its going to turn up anything mildly useful. I figure you have too many issues. The first is the false positive rate, the second is the false negative rate. Its worst than needle in a haystack. Its... find the specific gauge of sewing needle in the stack of hay AND assorted needl

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Nobody's actually proposing replacing one with the other, though.

    • A lovely concept but what human operator generally has a full view of all the actors, events, relationships and their importance? No one operator is going to have all the pieces of the puzzle in their head which is why they have to write up Intelligence Information Reports to share information with other operators and analysts that try to put all the pieces together. Now you have a mountain of IIR's to either sift through by hand or you're right back to the data mining problem.

      Key take away: Data Mining I

    • SIGINT isn't just data mining. Wiki article [wikipedia.org].

      James Bamford's "Body of Secrets" [amazon.com] mentions SIGINT was used on naval vessels to determine what kinds of submarines, etc. they were up against, merely by the radio frequencies and signals received. It's really cool stuff.

      Robert Baer's "See No Evil" [amazon.com] is the perfect explanation of why our intel community, especially on the HUMINT side, is so fucked right now.
  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @12:15PM (#30366372)

    Squadron Leader: "Top hole. Bally Jerry pranged his kite right in the how's your father. Hairy blighter dicky-birded, feathered back on his Sammy, took a waspy, flipped over on his Betty Harper's and caught his can in the Bertie."

    Computer: WTF?

    Pilot: "Bunch of monkeys on your ceiling, sir! Grab your egg and fours and let's get the bacon delivered."

    Computer: (explodes)

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @12:16PM (#30366384) Journal
    This is why we need to legally mandate that all human communication occur in newspeak. Ambiguity is the enemy of security.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @12:21PM (#30366474)
    We use an expert system to try and figure out what air traffic controllers are doing in a simulation. It is a big system and making it fast means trading alot of memory for speed. Identifying rules to categorize what a subject is doing is hard, especially because you see things that arent' expected when you think about what rules the system can use to identify a category of interaction. Looking at a stream of recording of system events is similar to looking at a stream of intelligence hits like 'subject crossed border x', 'subject a called subject b', 'subject purchased x, y, and z with credit card #k at mid #l with location coordinants (m,n)' The hardest part is that the system wants context but computers don't do context very well. To do it fast, you have to come up with vectors representing context state and rules and accept a certain amount of errors. Data can easily run into the hundreds of gigabytes for only 1 hour of monitoring a self contained experiment. It is fun though...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "A system that takes a week to discover a bombing will occur in a day isn't very useful.'"

    I would argue that it can be. If your system takes a week to discover a bomb plot that occurred last week, refinements can be made to the system to improve its detection abilities.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      The thing is, they will never achieve their goal. It is very easy to fool a set of rules.

      communicate in pig latin and replace key words with a word from a list.

      Bomb = tree, fat cat, snotty bunny, or Taco.
      Meet at = Go to lunch, fly a kite near, I eat hamburgers across from, etc....

      And those rules are very easy to get to your operatives and can be parsed quickly. If you release new phrasebooks you can confuse the hell out of the detection systems well past the time you need to. Remember, if they detect you

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @12:22PM (#30366520)

    There's one thing that's worse than too little data: Too much data that may or may not be relevant to your task.

    It's bad to have no data. But that can be remedied. Having more data than you can process, worse, data where you cannot discriminate between wheat and chaff is pretty much useless. And that's basically what we have now. They were busy collecting data left and right, not asking whether that data could be relevant. Now they're stuck with a buttload of data that may or may not be relevant.

    The best solution? Toss it and start over. And this time, collect only what's relevant.

    • by SpeedyDX (1014595) <speedyphoenix@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @12:43PM (#30366768)

      Isn't that kind of begging the question? The problem here is, as you said, not being able to discriminate between useful and useless data. So how do we know what's relevant (a.k.a. useful)? Do we only collect data by using humans interpret the data? If so, then the role of the computer is much diminished. Do we automate the process by having computers discriminate between useful and useless data? Well, that's exactly the problem - we can't figure out how to do that yet. Even if we only have relevant data, how do we assign semantic value to the data in order for the computer to properly parse the data and give us semantically useful results?

      It's not as simple as just collecting relevant data. Even if it were, that in and of itself is a major hurdle.

      • by Bakkster (1529253)

        It's not as simple as just collecting relevant data. Even if it were, that in and of itself is a major hurdle.

        Agreed. Even at a worst case scenario a human can identify information that is more likely to be important, but only if you have it. As you said, sometimes we don't know data is relevent until after we have collected it, especially in the case of corroborating evidence.

        GP's suggestion to delete the data ignores the ability to search for useful signals (even if it is time consuming or a crap-shoot) and assumes that we will not obtain an automated system by the time this data is useless.

      • If it is impossible to discriminate between useful and useless data in a timely manner then it's pointless busywork to collect it altogether.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Indeed. In addition, this is not a new problem.

      If you visit STASI museum* in Berlin, one thing you'll no doubt learn is this: STASI was a lot more inefficient than they could have been because they had much more data than they could process. They didn't have problem with gathering information but with acting based on it. They received so many reports and pieces of information that there was no chance for them to tie them all together and analyze them all.

      That's why I don't think that the biggest risks we fa

      • Also don't forget that both, Stasi and Gestapo, were not rarely used to get rid of "unwanted" neighbors. Nothing's easier in a totalitarian system than to accuse someone you don't like of being an enemy of the state and let the state get rid of him for you. After all, the state assumes anyway that all its subjects are its enemies.

        We're not far from that either now, btw.

  • The Real Issue (Score:3, Insightful)

    by carp3_noct3m (1185697) <slashdot@warr i o r s - s h a d e .net> on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @12:22PM (#30366522)
    Is not that technology can't sift through some language as easy as it wants to. The problem is that (I am speaking for US and some allies) we have moved away from HUMAN intel. All the technology in the world can be rendered useless when for example, terrorists cells start to use face to face only communication in a tree like scheme. Only a few people ever talk to the people that pull the strings, and they talk to only a few people, only by passing letters or by talking face to face. I took a counter-surveillance course where I was amazed at the relative ease it took to shake even trained professionals. (It was also very fun to learn how to make drops and such) The point being that if someone really doesn't want to get caught, especially in a foreign country, its not too difficult. Humans are vulnerable, weak, and irrational beings capable of cognitive dissonance at every corner. If you want real intel, start focusing on HUMINT again. I read a very good book written by the guy whom the movie "Syriana" was based. Basically it boiled down to the CIA moving away from tried and true practices of gathering intel through human means, and becoming heavily reliant on both technology and politics to get stuff done, a major factor why he retired. Anyway, just my two cents.
    • Re:The Real Issue (Score:5, Interesting)

      by darkmeridian (119044) <william.chuang@gm a i l . com> on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @01:20PM (#30367232) Homepage

      Intelligence is worthless without an intelligent decision-making process. During the run-up to the second Iraq War, the CIA sent Iraqi-Americans related to Iraqi nuclear scientists to inquire about the status of that country's nuclear program. Thirty Iraqi-Americans were debriefed by the CIA and sent independently of each other. All thirty returned with news that the Iraqi nuclear program had been run into the ground by a relative of Saddam, that the scientists lied about their progress to Saddam to stay in his good graces, and that Saddam was bluffing by denying UN inspectors.

      In fact, a few scientists reported that Iraq had no real capability to make nuclear bombs since the early nineties. A crucial centrifuge facility had been destroyed in the first Gulf War. The facility had been unknown to Western intelligence until Saddam's hand-picked boss ordered it to be moved to a safer location. American intelligence detected the activity. They didn't realize that was a nuclear processing facility but knew it was a military target. Thus, the facility was put as a secondary target on the Air Tasking Order designating targets for air bombardment.

      One day, a fighter-bomber returning to its carrier had unexpended laser-guided munitions because its primary target had been masked by weather. Back then, American planes could not land with unexpended munitions because the explosives were not inert and posed a risk of fire or explosion. The air traffic controller directed him to the nuclear facility. The bombs hit their target and that was the end of the Iraqi nuclear program.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by timeOday (582209)
        OK, let's look at the recent case of Nidal Hasan [msn.com]: sigint detects his communications with somebody considered an extremist, law enforcement detects some troubling internet postings maybe attributable to him, other officers report him having potential problems, his case is looked into very carefully by the right people, but they decide not to act and disaster ensues. What went wrong here?

        I would argue, probably nothing. In hindsight, it is always easy to second-guess why the system "didn't work," but in f

      • Back then, American planes could not land with unexpended munitions because the explosives were not inert and posed a risk of fire or explosion.

        Now I know you're bullshitting or repeating bullshit somebody else has fed you - because explosives today aren't inert and pose a risk of fire or explosion. If it's inert, it's not a munition.

    • The book was by Robert Baer, and is called "See No Evil" [barnesandnoble.com]. I agree that it was very good.
  • Japan had only one real front in the lead up to Pearl Harbor. For all intents and purposes Japan was only focused on expanding westward into Asia. They envisioned "breathing space" like Germany did and meant to build an "Eastern co-prosperity sphere" led by an enlightened Japanese government. Naturally there was some resistance from the neighboring countries, but America and Japan didn't really have any reason to fight except that Japan was allied with Germany and there was a greater anti-imperialist zeitge

    • Now, if you want to say that the American military had its head up its ass that fateful morning, you'll find support from most historians. But to make the claim that no one expected an attack is simply absurd.

      No one was expecting an attack that day. But they were supposed to be on alert. Granted, this was from the movie, but leaving planes out on the airfield and lots of shore leave for the sailors on the ships docked at Pearl Harbor is not what I'd call being on alert. Fortunately for the U.S., only the battleships were in port. I don't think that the U.S. could have been as successful in the Pacific if it had lost carriers during this attack.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        Carriers are 100X easier to build than battleships. If we had our full compliment of battleships we would have ended the pacific theater war far earlier.

        Carriers back then were simple as hell to build compared to the 18" thick hulls of the Big Iowa class battleships.

        • Carriers are 100X easier to build than battleships. If we had our full compliment of battleships we would have ended the pacific theater war far earlier.

          Carriers back then were simple as hell to build compared to the 18" thick hulls of the Big Iowa class battleships.

          You are aware that we lost only two battleships permanently as a result of Pearl Harbor?

          And that none of the Iowa class ships (4), or South Dakota class ships (4) had even been completed when Pearl Harbor happened?

          It's silly to think that we

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by hardburn (141468)

        Granted, this was from the movie, but leaving planes out on the airfield and lots of shore leave for the sailors on the ships docked at Pearl Harbor is not what I'd call being on alert.

        Planes were out on the field because they thought the biggest threat was from Japanese spys laying bombs in the hangers. They put them all together so they'd be easier to guard. To their credit, not one plane was lost due to a Japanese spy.

        It's an interesting case of a defense against one form of attack making you more vulnerable against another.

      • by nfk (570056)

        Fortunately for the U.S., only the battleships were in port. I don't think that the U.S. could have been as successful in the Pacific if it had lost carriers during this attack.

        That doesn't seem to be the case, unless the carriers were of vital importance immediately. Quoting Churchill in The Second World War:

        In the autumn of 1942, only three American aircraft-carriers were afloat; a year later there were fifty; by the end of the war there were more than a hundred.

        • by hardburn (141468)

          They were vital at Midway 6 months after Pearl. The result there fundamentally changed how the war in the Pacific was fought, but probably didn't change the ultimate outcome. The Axis powers combined simply didn't have the industrial output to keep up in a prolonged war.

          Also, it should be noted that most of those carriers that came later were "jeep" carriers; smaller ones intended to hang back and resupply the bigger ones. With all the island-hopping necessary in the South Pacific, they were logistically va

    • by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @01:10PM (#30367104) Journal

      It was strategically the right move.

      I think the outcome of World War II demonstrates that it was not the right move strategically. Tactically, perhaps, if the Japanese military planners were expecting the U.S. to enter into war, but it was a strategic disaster for them over the long run.

      • First, by setting up the blockade, America had already committed itself to a war in Asia.

        Second, it's quite plausible that even the best of strategies is bound to fail. In fact, it is almost guaranteed that one side's strategy will fail to bring it victory in any competition. This doesn't mean that the strategy was bad or not the best available, just that it was unable to overcome the opponent.

        If the Japanese had succeeded in wiping out the Pacific fleet in one fell swoop, it would have unlocked the entire

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by gyrogeerloose (849181)

          I've got to disagree with you almost completely on this one. Japan made a slick tactical maneuver with their attack on Pearl Harbor but a huge strategical blunder. If Japanese war planners had paid any attention to their own intelligence, they would have realized that even if they had succeeded in knocking out the American Pacific fleet, all that would have accomplished was delaying the inevitable.

          As it was, all the Pearl Harbor attack accomplished was to give the Imperial Japanese Navy six months of free r

          • by timeOday (582209)

            And, by the way, the U.S. was not actively involved in the war in Europe at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, although it was supplying weapons and materials to Great Britain to help them in their fight against Germany.

            Well, that's mostly [ww2pacific.com] true [taphilo.com].

            As for your assessment of Japan's "strategic blunder," I am not so sure, simply because I think the US would have entered the war anyways. It would have been more sporting to at least declare war on us first, although the US doesn't do that anymore either.

            • by hardburn (141468)

              Strictly speaking, they intended to declare war first. Things just got held up in the bureaucracy around the embassy.

              • by timeOday (582209)
                Well, this is one of those situations where (claimed) good intentions don't count for much :)
                • by hardburn (141468)

                  Not claimed, really--American codebreakers knew about it before their ambassador did. And then the codebreakers got held up in bureaucracy around the military and couldn't warn Pearl Harbor in time. Which is oddly symmetrical, somehow.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by downhole (831621)

          If the Japanese had succeeded in wiping out the Pacific fleet in one fell swoop, it would have unlocked the entire Asian continent for them. American was already fighting a war on the European front. A crippled Pacific fleet would have made it impossible to keep up a second front.

          No, it wouldn't. The bottom line is that our industrial capacity was just too much for them. It wouldn't matter what they did in the opening stages; we would have out-produced them and defeated them eventually no matter what. And there were more than enough production resources to smother both the Germans and the Japanese. (I know, technically the Soviets did most of the smothering of the Germans, but that's beside the point here).

          The fundamental problem with the Axis powers is that they just weren't big en

      • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @02:09PM (#30367894)

        You're missing the point, denying the Japanese access to steal and other resources during wartime was, for all intents and purposes, and act of war. Without those resources, Japan wouldn't have been able to hold the ground they had already taken, let alone continue advancing. When the US cut off access to critical war resources, Japan had only two choices: End the war almost immediately and retreat back to Japan proper, or take control of the resources by force. For political and ideological reason, the former option wasn't much of an option at all.

        Imagine if the US were fighting a major war (against a powerful, conventional enemy) and OPEC said "No more oil exports for a while". You don't think the US govt would see that as an act of war?

        • There was nothing in my original comment that says anything except that the attack on Perl Harbor was a long-term strategic blunder. Did the U.S. commit acts of war against Japan? Probably, depending on how want to define it.

          Perhaps I should have expanded my comment a bit and stated "it was a strategic disaster for Japan and it's people over the long run."

        • by hardburn (141468)

          You're missing the point, denying the Japanese access to steal and other resources during wartime was, for all intents and purposes, and act of war.

          Except in one important way: letting Japan shoot the first actual bullet gave Hitler a reason to ignore the mutual defense treaty of the Axis powers, since the treaty specified that they'd only have to come to each other's aid if they were attacked first. Hitler choose not to interpret it that way, but you could have theoretically had a situation where the US mopped up Japan before committing to anything in Europe.

          There's also the thought that Roosevelt wasn't naive like Wilson during the last go-round, and

    • Japan had only one real front in the lead up to Pearl Harbor. For all intents and purposes Japan was only focused on expanding westward into Asia.

      In some alternate universe where Japan didn't attack southwards to obtain resources, sure.

      So when America decided to blockade South Asian shipping routes to effectively starve Japan of steel and other necessary resources, the Japanese had only one recourse.

      In some alternate universe where the US blockaded shipping routes, sure.

  • by br00tus (528477) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @12:40PM (#30366732)
    In the mid 1990s I watched a video tape of "The Falcon and the Snowman". It is based on a real story of a young man who worked at a sensitive location at TRW (his father was in the FBI and got him the job through the old boy network) which was responsible for sending and receiving CIA cables from overseas. Sometimes, they mixed up the TWXs and they saw cables they weren't supposed to. It was by this that he learned of how the CIA helped in the overthrow the government of Australia in the 1970s, the famous Whitlam constitutional crisis. You can read about it on Wikipedia. It can be debated how effective or ineffective the CIA's efforts were, but they've never denied their involvement, and in fact it was alleged that John Kerr was a CIA asset. Anyhow, so one day in 1997 or 1998 I was sitting at my SunOS x86 workstation at work, back before NAT had become popular, and I decided to surf the web and visit some lefty Australian web sites that discussed the extent of CIA involvement in overthrowing Australia's government in the 1970s. Several days later, I noticed SNMP requests coming into my workstation, scanning for any information about it. If I hadn't set my workstation to log absolutely everything, if it wasn't a UNIX workstation, if I didn't control the Cisco router and access list and so on and so forth I never would have seen it, it would have been a standard SNMP request. In fact, I didn't log for everything and who knows what other queries came to the machine. I saved the request for years but then lost it in a hard drive crash. It came out of a US army intelligence division (.MIL) that was based in Quantico, Virginia and which had some long acronym which I now forget. I thought the military wasn't supposed to monitor the communications of US citizens, but apparently not in this case. Also, as soon as I saw this, I thought of how I had read about Whitlam and the CIA on the Australian web site days before, and that was the only thing I had done on the machine that they might have been interested in. With the Patriot Act etc. who knows what will be happening.
    • by Vahokif (1292866)
      You seriously believe that Big Brother watches you from a .mil hostname?
      • by dkf (304284)

        You seriously believe that Big Brother watches you from a .mil hostname?

        Why not? They're arrogant enough to not cover their tracks more thoroughly (after all, it's not like most people would have noticed) and you're dismissive enough. Playing right into their hands.

      • You seriously believe that Big Brother watches you from a .mil hostname?

              Put interesting stuff on your website and watch your weblog.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      I noticed SNMP requests coming into my workstation, scanning for any information about it.

      And you didn't mirror a goatse gallery for them? Shame on you for a missed opportunity.
           

    • If I don't have the concept wrong, this is likely just the result of information coming from ECHELON. The later is a military project set up to monitor communications around the world, for the purpose of developing SIGINT.
      Since it is usually illegal for the Government of a western democracy to spy on its citizens, the US, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia have reportedly arranged to spy on each others citizens and then report the results to the nation of that Citizen.
      If this is true, then its

  • by hardburn (141468) <hardburn AT wumpus-cave DOT net> on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @12:41PM (#30366758)

    Today's intelligence agencies have another problem altogether — more information than they can deal with . . .

    This is the ultimate argument against those defending increased surveillance activities to fight terrorism (or any other crime). Intelligence agencies already have way more information than they can deal with just from public sources. 99.999% of it is the noise of people going about their normal lives. Getting out the interesting bits is a hard problem, and adding more is only going to slow you down. It can help if you've already nailed down a good list of suspects and therefore have a small, targeted list of people to watch. But if that's the case, what's the big deal about getting a warrant?

  • a bombing will occur in a day using exclusively prior knowledge is tremendously useful. For a start it proves that the algorithm works and might be sped up either by optimization or throwing better hardware at it

    If someone had a process by which the attack of 9/11 could have been forecast using only information being processed on 9/10 and it produced a report highlighting the attack would happen by 9/18 I think the CIA would be beating a path to their door.

  • ...at least as presented in the article, which frequently assumes that the text of a communication carries its meaning. The article keeps hinting at the problems, but comes back to the position that you just to make more links with more text. That's simply not true, and shows a rather understanding of the nature of language.

    The meaning of a piece if a communication involves not just the text, but the specific context (who is the source, who is the recipient), the social context, and the cultural context.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Did'ya talk to our friend? The one downtown, who was involved in that thing last week. You know who I mean?
    • by LanMan04 (790429)

      There is an entire field devoted to such a concept: Semantics. FYI.

    • You can't separate text, meaning and culture and consciousness. Which is why the problem of interpreting natural language is so hard; harder than even the article author seems to acknowledge.

            I seriously doubt there is any understanding within context going on. They wouldn't have time for more than keyword searches (text and audio depending on medium) in any language.

  • 'A system that takes a week to discover a bombing will occur in a day isn't very useful.'

    Hmm, this could be a problem, unless.... *thinking pose*

    I know! Time travel!

  • ... if Bush would not have gone looking for porn, or Obama for offshore bank accounts, the remaining data could be analyzed in a timely manner for those bombs they all claim to be interested in.
  • Sure it's late, but you really know you got the right answer.
    So, not all bad, and it will be easy to check your work.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... I've been answering the phone with "Assassinate the vice-president" the last five years. I figure when I finally do commit some hideous act of terror upon the American people, they'll have been ignoring me as a potential threat because of obfuscation.

  • All your base are belong to us. You have no chance to survive make your time.

  • 1. Having information expire before it is discovered follows practical usage of encryption.

    2. Basically, an extra layer is being applied at the content level: slang and the like are just word substitution.

    3. Too much information probably indicates that attention is being diverted to cover unnecessary discussions. Think of it this way: you're looking for someone in a city. You could wiretap a few people close to that person and hope you catch some bit of conversation OR you wiretap the whole city guarantee

    • Too much information probably indicates that attention is being diverted to cover unnecessary discussions. Think of it this way: you're looking for someone in a city. You could wiretap a few people close to that person and hope you catch some bit of conversation OR you wiretap the whole city guaranteeing you have every bit of conversation.

            what person? That's the whole point.

      • by u8i9o0 (1057154)

        what person? That's the whole point.

        No, it's not. The premise of my scenario was "you're looking for someone in a city", meaning that you already know the identity of the individual.

        Looking at the general issue that my example was trying to address, the 'whole point' is that most of the information overwhelming intelligence agencies is probably entirely irrelevant.

  • by foobsr (693224) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @01:42PM (#30367506) Homepage Journal
    Computers and Common Sense, the Myth of Thinking Machines. 1961 by Mortimer Taube.

    Still valid, but mostly unheard of.

    Interesting that in the English Wikipedia there is even no article on him.

    CC.
  • How many times to serious potential terrorists use channels that could be monitored by the governments? I'd figure - except for the low-hanging fruit that would probably expire themselves whilst hooking up their explosives, doing us all a favor in the process - that the _real_ bad guys would be almost out of reach as far as surveillance goes. I mean, don't they all have encrypted private networks, if not at least encrypted phones, and other methods of communication?

    So, of this volume of data, how much of

    • seriously, are the most dangerous bad guys really that stupid to communicate their plans almost in the clear?

      Of course, then they leave to the command room to bring their plan of devastation to fruition -- assuming the hero will quietly meet his fate, encased in the trap the bad guy had so deviously invented, surrounded by the most expendable subordinates available, next door to the central power chamber and flashlight supply, which typically has a ventilation system, large, empty, and cool enough for a grown man to shimmy comfortably through, leading to the command room.

  • Easy Fix (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AK Marc (707885) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @02:34PM (#30368304)
    The problem is both hard and simple at the same time: Hire Google-like problem solvers. There are a lot of people really good at logic problems. However, companies (including the government) don't hire smart people because they are smart. They hire skillsets and such (when a smart person could be taught the skill set and get more done in 6 months than hiring a mediocre person that already has the skillset for the position). Don't look for programmers. Don't look for linguists. Find people that can solve complex problems. Motivate them. Give them resources like programmers and linguists, and the ability to study those subjects directly as well. And then the problem will be worked on. But having bureaucrats trying to fix the problem will have them not even consider the route that will get them the solution fastest.

    It's a cryptography problem. There's information stored in codes. Sometimes the code is regular language, sometimes slang, sometimes coded language, but it's all decoding meaning from words. Problem solvers are better at solving the problem than having someone program a solution when no one actually figured out the solution, or having some linguists come up with direct matches that miss a large portion of what they want and get huge numbers of false positives.

    But hiring someone that doesn't know what they are doing and training them is anti-American. We'll import our labor at a higher cost than actually train someone for the position. So I don't think anyone will ever do it. Google proved me wrong, but it doesn't seem anyone else is following their lead.
    • by hcdejong (561314)

      The problem is both hard and simple at the same time: Hire Google-like problem solvers.

      If you think the NSA hasn't come up with that idea, I'm afraid you sorely underestimate them.

    • But having bureaucrats trying to fix the problem will have them not even consider the route that will get them the solution fastest.

      You were modded Insightful, and you have no clue what you're talking about.

      Not only does the NSA and other spook agencies do all you suggested, they heavily outsource to defense contractors to do much of it. So much for your bureaucrat nonsense, not to mention the top secret background checks vis a vis your outsourcing to foreigners c

  • by ljwest (743563)
    A system taking a week to discover a bombing that will occur in a day's time will (by Moore's law) break even in 33.9 month's time. I.e., in 33.9 month's time, it won't take week - it'll take a day. So keep developing - it'll be viable in three years.
  • Everyone who uses the expression "is da' bomb" will be arrested and taken off the street.

  • by Fishbulb (32296)

    Straight out of my "Languages: Animal, Human, and Machine" class in '88 -

    "A professor teaching a languages class once asserted, 'There is no double-positive in the English language that means the opposite, like the double-negative.' To which a student replied, 'Yeah, right!'"

    Another test case:

    Prat: "Everything I say is a lie!"

    computer response: Erk!
    human response: What a dick.

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.

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