Thursday, August 05, 2004

Dot Connection

Dean, Cheney, Lieberman, Ridge, the tug-of-war over the latest terror warning continues. Yes, much of the data is three or four years old. But a hallmark of al Qaida-backed operations is meticulous planning and patience. They take years to incubate. Al Qaida went after the WTC in '93 and failed to bring it down. So they studied and re-planned and eight years later they tried it again, and succeeded.

And, as some people have pointed out, you can't have it both ways: You can't damn the government for not connecting the dots before 9-11, then damn them now for playing politics when they warn us that the dots appear to be converging again.

Timing? Right after the Democratic Convention, to deflate John Kerry's mojo? Name me a week in the past year when Bush wasn't tangled in bad news and you could have released a terror attack warning without sparking the response that it was just a smoke screen to "deflect attention" in some way.

How to put the terror alert system above the reflexive suspicion of political chicanery? You'd need a national security czar who is appointed like Supreme Court justices, for life, and untouchable save by impeachment. You'd have to re-write the constitution and literally create a fourth branch of government.

Meanwhile, Connecting the Dots, by Valdis Krebs, is a fascinating illustration of how it might have worked, based on "Social Network Analysis," a mathematical method for mapping and measuring complex human groups and organizations.

His starting point is early in 2000, when the CIA learned that Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, two terrorist suspects living in Los Angeles and linked to al-Qaeda, had been photographed attending a meeting of known terrorists in Malaysia.

All 19 [Sept. 11] hijackers were within 2 degrees of separation of the two original suspects uncovered in 2000!

Social network metrics reveal Mohammed Atta emerging as the local leader.

With hindsight, we have now mapped enough of the 9-11 conspiracy to stop it. Again, the investigators are never sure they have uncovered enough information while they are in the process of uncloaking the covert organization. They also have to contend with superfluous data. This data was gathered after the event, so the investigators knew exactly what to look for. Before an event it is not so easy.