Computer-Sleuthing Aids Troops in Iraq
Monday, December 22nd 2003, 12:00 am
News On 6
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ U.S. troops battling the shadowy guerrilla insurgency in Iraq have adopted the computer-sleuthing tactics of big-city American police departments to prepare strikes against rebel fighters and their sources of money and weapons.
Military intelligence analysts have adopted databases and software used by civilian law enforcers to catalog names, pictures and suspects' fingerprints and to search such for links among guerrilla suspects, said Lt. Col. Ken Devan, the top intelligence officer for the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division.
Like the police, the military uses the software to predict the locations and timing of attacks.
The idea, Devan said on Saturday, is to focus the division's raids on insurgents without sweeping up too many innocent people and risk turning more Iraqis against the U.S. military.
``Early on we may have been a blunt instrument. Now it's all about precision,'' Devan said in an interview with The Associated Press at division headquarters at Baghdad International Airport. ``We try to be very precise in what we do. You don't want to turn someone who may have been supportive of the coalition.''
Baghdad has about 200-500 hardcore insurgents, along with hundreds more part-time rebels who work for pay, Devan said. Across Iraq, military estimates have placed the number of die-hard guerrillas at 5,000. The 1st Armored Division has identified 14 cells operating in and around the city, one of which has already been dismantled, division commanders have said.
Devan and the division's intelligence analysts study clusters of attacks in Baghdad neighborhoods, looking for the time of day and days of the week when strikes are most likely. They then alter their convoy schedules and routes to avoid ambushes or send patrols to confront the guerrillas, Devan said.
The division uses three programs in tandem, entering data on every bomb blast, every firefight, every suspect detained and every tip given by a local resident. Digital fingerprints are taken from every arrested suspect and added to the database.
``We're seeing patterns emerge. There are certain neighborhoods you don't want to be out in, or there's a better likelihood you'll be attacked,'' Devan said. ``You try to predict what the enemy's going to do next. We try to cut him off at the knees.''
The software allows the military to plot on a Baghdad street map, for instance, the locations of roadside bomb blast that occurred between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. in a given month. Commanders then tailor raids to catch the bombers by watching the neighborhood and rounding up suspects until they find a weapons cache, Devan said.
On Friday, one 1st Armored unit did just that, turning up a cache of about 50 130mm artillery shells _ commonly used to make roadside bombs, Devan said.
``Now we find more of them before they go off,'' he said. ``We're getting better at focusing resources in those areas. It's all about pattern analysis.''
The Army's software includes a program called Analyst's Notebook, from the British software maker i2, as well as CrimeLink, made by Sierra Vista, Ariz.-based Precision Computing Intelligence. These and similar programs are used by police across North America and Europe to map crime hotspots and track serial rapists or arsonists. Police have credited the tools with solving high-profile murder sprees and helping cut crime in the United States and beyond.
Link analysis software is also common in the U.S. intelligence community. But it's relatively new for heavy tank divisions like Germany-based 1st Armored, which, until 1991, focused on repelling a possible Soviet tank invasion of western Europe. i2 said it provided 100 copies of Analyst's Notebook to the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq last month.
The 1st Armored Division also uses a search engine called ASAS, or All Source Analysis System, which allows intelligence analysts to plumb all Iraqi suspect databases simultaneously, _ including those kept by the other U.S. military units here. Analysts can then retrieve satellite imagery, names, personal details and fingerprints.
``That's how we track everything.'' Devan said. ``You type in a name and see if there's any previous intel on him.''
Analysts have compared attack clusters with weather and other data to pick up interesting clues. Intelligence analysts struggling to find a pattern among seemingly random nightly mortar attacks compared attack histories with a chart showing the phases of the moon, and learned the attacks tend to come bunched on nights when the moon is fullest.
``They need moon illumination with their mortars especially,'' Devan said. ``The database tracks all these events.''