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Seeing is Believing

Once a system or framework is in place, other technologies can help keep track of the multitude of clues, not to mention the enormous array of possible interpretations. A good example is Analyst’s Notebook, a set of visualization tools developed over the past decade by a Cambridge, England-based company called i2. Originally created for police and insurance investigators, Analyst’s Notebook has recently attracted a following among U.S. intelligence agencies. Indeed, the company claims that President Bush is regularly briefed with charts from i2.

Right after September 11, says Todd Drake, i2’s U.S. sales manager, “we were asked to come help out at FBI headquarters,” where a hurriedly convened interagency intelligence group was struggling to get up and running. “Our software was already heavily deployed inside both the FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency. So we saw cases where a DIA guy would walk past the cube where an FBI guy was sitting and say, Hey, I know this program!’ And suddenly they’d be working together. If the bureaucratic barriers fall, technology can help cooperation happen.”

Analyst’s Notebook provides timelines that illustrate related events unfolding over days, weeks, or even years, as well as transaction analysis charts that reveal patterns in, say, the flow of cash among bank accounts. But most dramatic of all are its link analysis charts. These look a bit like the route maps published in airline magazines, with crisscrossing lines connecting cities around the world. But the “cities” in these charts are symbols that represent people, organizations, bank accounts, and other points of interaction. (An i2 demonstration chart that traces only publicly available information shows the links that tie the September 11 hijackers to Osama bin Laden.)

Each element in a chart is hyperlinked to the evidence that supports it; that evidence, in turn, is tagged with such additional information as sources, estimated reliability, and security levels. If it later becomes apparent that information from a particular source is in fact disinformation-that is, lies-a single keystroke can purge from the chart all of that source’s contributions. It is similarly straightforward to eliminate elements that are related to classified information. The “sanitized” chart, still quite useful, may be freely shared with collaborators who lack the requisite security clearances. “Why,” Drake asks, “should the Drug Enforcement Administration have to redo something the Defense Intelligence Agency already did?”

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