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Googling Terrorists

February 14th, 2006 by dk

Ever wonder why google doesn’t allow wild cards in its searches? Admiral John Poindexter and the people he taught at the White House know and they want to know more. The king of the search engines has a “special sauce” that they are refusing to share with government inspectors, but it’s seen as a key building block to the Bush Doctrine and its war on terror. It’s also why the president is unapologetic about his warrantless wiretaps.

The special court set up to hand down permissions for surveillance start with an individual. The changes made to the statute by the PATRIOT Act make it easier to follow that individual, but you still need a name and a history to get the process started.

If the War on Terror is to meet the Bush Doctrine of preemption, it won’t suffice to react quickly to bad guys doing bad things. Poindexter and others are convinced that, with enough data, you can identify bad guys BEFORE they have done their first bad thing. They may be right, and google does it best.

Google refuses to place ads on their search page and they won’t allow wild cards because they want to preserve the singularity of that moment you are choosing from the search results. Rather than using the well-established technology of “fuzzy logic” to round up approximates from the search you type in, google does the opposite. If it thinks you’ve misspelled a word, it will give you the correct spelling, prefaced with “Did you mean…?” Because maybe you didn’t.

Type in “Opra” and google will ask you if you meant “Oprah.” (It won’t ask if you meant “opera.” Apparently those people know how to spell.) But it will also go ahead and give you exactly what you asked for: Ohio Parks and Recreation Association (OPRA), Ohio Provider Resource Association (OPRA), New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA), along with Options Price Reporting Authority, Order Processing and Requisition Accelerator, Operator and Pollution Risk Appraisal, Office Products Recycling Association, and many others.

Singularity is the key, and that needn’t be attached to an individual. In fact, individuals often only confuse the matter. Google has remained the most popular search engine not because it finds the most pages, but because it puts the link you’re most likely seeking at or near the top most often. This predictive analysis or “backcasting” is the key power President Bush is pushing for.

If only the government could harvest every phone call, every e-mail, every library check-out, every traffic stop, every passport application, every bank and credit card transaction. Then its supercomputers, the same ones that can land a football on mars with pinpoint accuracy, could set out to outgoogle google in predictive analysis.

The program started as John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness program, but it was scuttled when some of its more exotic elements were exposed in the media, such as hosting a “futures” market on heads of state to determine which regimes might be toppled next. The same goals and technologies and mindset have returned as a research and development portion of the Department of Homeland Security’s “Threat and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment” portfolio.

The program was described last week in the Christian Science Monitor. It goes by the name ADVISE: “Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement.” It stakes claim to cutting edge technology that can no longer be rightly called surveillance. “Surveillance” is understood to mean “watching over, or close observation of, a suspected spy or criminal.” The goal of ADVISE is to preempt the criminal activity and the preferred term is dataveillance. The data itself contains clues about future behavior in its patterns.

This explains why the White House is not going to the FISA court for warrants, even after the program has been revealed. They are hoping the ADVISE program can identify criminals before they have committed their first crime.

Can it work? Nobody really knows for sure. Well, maybe google knows. But they’re not cooperating. But even if it can be done, should it be done? That’s the question that absolutely no one can answer.

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