# Using mathematical modeling to predict terrorist attacks

A terrorist attack might seem like one of the least predictable of events. Terrorists work in small, isolated cells, often using simple weapons and striking at random. Indeed, the element of unpredictability is part of what makes terrorists so scary – you never know when or where they will strike.

However, new research shows that terror attacks may not be as unpredictable as people think. A paper by Stephen Tench and Hannah Fry, mathematicians at the University College London, and Paul Gill, a security and crime expert, shows that terrorist attacks often follow a general pattern that can be modeled and predicted using math.

Predicting human behavior is obviously a difficult thing to do, and one can’t always extrapolate from past events to predict the future. As one academic discussion of the topic points out, if you made a forecast in 1864 about how many presidents would be assassinated in office based on historical data, the expected number would be zero. But over the next 40 years, four U.S. presidents were killed in office.

Yet when you put individual human acts together and look at the aggregate, they often do follow a pattern that can be represented with math. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes in “The Sign of Four,” the second Sherlock Holmes novel, “. . . while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty.”

The Hawkes process

The mathematical model that Tench and Fry use to look at terrorist attacks is called a “Hawkes process.” The basic idea behind Hawkes processes is that some events don’t occur independently; when a certain event happens, you’re more likely to see other events of the same kind shortly thereafter. As time elapses, however, the probability of a subsequent event occurring gradually fades away and returns to normal.

A mathematician named Alan Hawkes first developed the idea while searching for a mathematical model that would describe the patterns of earthquakes. Earthquake tremors aren’t independent events, either – after an earthquake hits, the area often experiences aftershocks. So Hawkes designed his equations to reflect the greater probability of experiencing a subsequent tremor shortly after the first one.

Since Hawkes developed the model in the 1970s, similar equations have been used to describe all kinds of sequences of related events, including how epidemics travel, how electrical impulses move through the brain, and how emails move through an organization. Recently, Hawkes processes have also been used to predict the locations and timings of burglaries and gang-related violence.

Why gang-related violence follows a Hawkes process is fairly easy to understand. A murder or shooting by one gang often provokes retaliation by another gang. So following the first incident, the probability of a second incident typically goes up.

It’s a little harder to understand why burglaries follow a Hawkes process – i.e., why one burglary would increase the chances of another burglary happening soon after. But, having your house burglarized does increase the chances that thieves will visit again. The burglars now know the location of your valuables and the layout of your house and your neighborhood, meaning your neighbors are more likely to be burglarized in the future, too.

Hawkes processes so accurately describe how trends in crime vary that some security companies and law enforcement bureaus have started to use them in their work. As Fry says, companies like PredPol monitor data on past crimes to model geographic “hotspots” that can be more heavily policed or can become the focus of specific crime-prevention policies.

Predicting terrorist attacks

In their paper, Tench, Fry and Gill apply this same model to terrorism in Northern Ireland. The paper looks at more than 5,000 explosions of improved explosive devices (IEDs) around Northern Ireland during a particularly violent time known as “the Troubles” between 1970 and 1998, when paramilitary groups in the mostly Catholic Northern Ireland fought to secede from Britain and join Ireland. The researchers used the process to analyze when and where one group, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), launched its terror attacks, how the British Security Forces responded, and how effective those responses were.

IED explosions follow a pattern. After one incident, others follow more quickly. So you have the ordinary chance of the event, but afterward you have a “little kick,” as Fry says, that increases the probability that you’ll have another attack – but then fades away over time. Mathematicians can capture and model these patterns using a Hawkes process equation. The math can reveal patterns in past terrorist activity that weren’t seen before, or be used to test different theories about those patterns, the researchers say. It can also create predictive models, which estimate the probability of future attacks at different times and in different areas.

The researchers say that their analysis shows distinct phases in the conflict between the Irish terrorists and authorities. For example, bombings slowed down as the IRA was infiltrated by British security forces and when more of its members were imprisoned, and bombings increased when the group launched a renewed campaign of violence or tried to use incidents of terrorism as a bargaining tool in negotiations.

One of the most fascinating lessons of the research is on the effects of counterterrorist operations. The paper shows evidence that the death of Catholic civilians, whom the IRA claimed to be representing, would cause the group to increase their IED attacks in retaliation.

That finding echoes previous research that looked at counterterrorism operations by the United States and its coalition partners in Iraq. That paper showed that counterinsurgency operations that were carried out indiscriminately – in other words, attacks that hurt or kill innocent people who were not necessarily insurgents — led to a backlash of terrorist violence. In contrast, counterinsurgency operations that were carried out in a discriminating, targeted way led to a lower level of violence than before.

The paper looks at events in the past, but Tench says the same technique can be used to project future trends. After one terrorist attack, and especially after civilians are killed, the likelihood of subsequent “aftershocks” increases for a specific time period, and authorities need to intervene quickly to avoid a long period of violence. They must also ensure their counterterrorism operations are targeted at the actual insurgents, to avoid provoking the destructive wave of violence that indiscriminate counterterrorism has been shown to do.

Tench says he hopes counterterrorism officials will start using the technique as part of their portfolio. “This application of the Hawkes process is a relatively new idea, so I imagine it might take some time to filter through,” he says.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/03/01/the-eerie-math-that-could-predict-terrorist-attacks/

# 10 conspiracy theories about Malaysia Airlines flight 370

While investigators are stumped over the fate of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the lack of evidence as to what happened hasn’t stopped speculation as to the fate of the missing jet and its 239 passengers and crew members.

It’s not unusual for mysterious or dramatic aviation accidents to catch the imaginations of the conspiratorially inclined – the Korean Air Lines Flight 007, Pan Am Flight 103, and TWA Flight 800 tragedies spurred all kinds of claims of conspiracy, and last week’s apparent tragedy in the Gulf of Thailand is no different.

Conspiracy theorists took to social media this week to contribute their own ideas as to why Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared.

1. Aliens are involved: Alexandra Bruce at ForbiddenKnowledgeTV points to records on the flight mapping website Flightradar24 as evidence of extra-terrestrial meddling. She goes so far as to say the “captured signals” could “only be termed a UFO.”

Her source? YouTube user DAHBOO77, who posted a video that attempts to recreate the plane’s last moments. The clip shows a quick-moving plane and other strange anomalies around the time of the MH370’s disappearance from radar.

Loading the logs directly on the site allows readers to easily click and identify the so-called “UFO,” which is clearly marked as Korean Airlines Flight 672. Its apparent supersonic speed is likely related to a glitch in the system, not alien intervention, according to the site’s CEO Mikael Robertsson.

“[Some] receivers do not provide the same data quality, so sometimes parts of the data can be corrupt [and] generate errors like the one you see on the video,” he explained. “For example if Longitude received is 120 instead of 110, that would generate such error.”

2. The passengers are still alive: Families awaiting news about lost loved ones have told reporters they are able to call the cell phones of their missing relatives, and have said they can also see their instant messaging service accounts remain active online.

The news has fueled all kinds of speculation, but phones that are turned off do not always necessarily go straight to voicemail. Factors such as location, the phone’s network type and its proximity to a cell phone tower can all affect whether a dead phone will still ring on the caller’s end.

You can test this for yourself: turn off your cell phone, remove the battery and call your number on another line – most kinds of phones will still ring before you reach voicemail.

3. There’s a Snowden connection: Reddit user Dark_Spectre posted an unusual theory on the website’s conspiracy boards, related to 20 employees of the Texas-based Freescale Semiconductor who were reportedly on the flight:

“So we have the American IBM Technical Storage Executive for Malaysia, a man working in mass storage aggregation for the company implicated by the Snowden papers for providing their services to assist the National Security Agency in surveilling the Chinese.. And now this bunch of US chip guys working for a global leader in embedded processing solutions (embedded smart phone tech and defense contracting) all together..on a plane..And disappeared.. Coincidence??”

Dark_Spectre goes as far as to suggest those chip experts may have been kidnapped by Chinese or American authorities:

“Perhaps a little fast and furious dive under the radar to a flat water landing to rendezvous with a Chinese ship or sub for transport to a black-site for advanced interrogation, scuttling the plane along with the remaining passengers.(any oceanic trenches in fuel capacity distance?) What would 200 lives be to the Chinese intelligence community for the chance to find out ‘exactly’ the depth and scope of our intrusion.”

“US intelligence got late wind that their flying brain-trust of 21 were going to be arrested/detained and interrogated upon landing in China and the US intelligence community deemed the risk too great to their Asian based espionage programs and took appropriate action to “sanitize” the plane in flight.”

So far, there is no evidence of an explosion.

4. Iranians kidnapped engineers: UFO Digest’s Tony Elliott points to revelations that an Iranian national was responsible for buying plane tickets for two passengers with stolen passports as evidence that the country was involved, possibly to extract technological intelligence from Freescale Semiconductor employees.

“If the plane is not found in the next few days, or ever, we must assume the plane was hijacked and taken to a nearby country where that government wants to keep the disappearance a secret,” he wrote. “If this is the case, the two passengers with stolen passports must be the hijackers.”

Elliott concludes that the plane is in East Timor, due to an apparent u-turn made by the plane in its final moments on radar.

“If the Iranian government wanted to hijack the plane, it would have had its hijackers make an abrupt turn and head to the nearest friendly Muslim country,” he wrote. “In this case, it would be East Timor, the most likely country, located in the opposite direction from the flight path.”

The theory doesn’t address why the plane suddenly disappeared from radar entirely – no passenger plane could drop from 36,000 feet to below radar horizon in mere seconds.

5. Passengers were taken to Pyongyang: This map is slightly deceptive – while the trip to both Beijing and Pyongyang appear equidistant, this theory would require the plane fly at extremely low altitudes to avoid radar detection, which – due to greater air density at lower altitudes – would require more fuel to travel the same distance.

6. The Illuminati is involved: “Was looking at the Wikipedia page for the missing Malaysia Airlines, and noticed that it’s was [sic] the 404th 777 Boeing produced,” Redditor i-am-SHER-locked wrote.

“An HTTP 404 error mean [sic] not found, which in this case is oddly approiate [sic] for the status of the aircraft, or just a concidence [sic]. Coincidence, i think not!”

7. There’s a new Bermuda triangle: Though the Bermuda Triangle’s status as one of the sea’s most mysteriously treacherous zones has been debunked for decades, it doesn’t stop some from seeing triangles in the Gulf of Thailand.

8. The plane is in Vietnam, where it is waiting to be used as a weapon: “Conspiracy and prophecy in the news” blogger ShantiUniverse said she has three possible theories about what happened to Flight MH370: A major mechanical error (OK), a terrorist attack (reasonable) or it was whisked away to a secret Vietnamese airport to be used in a later 9/11 style attack (…).

“Flight 370 was last contacted by another unnamed pilot 10 minutes after losing initial contact,” she writes. “He claims the plane was deep into Vietnam airspace. Its [sic] possible it was hijacked and forced to land at another airport, where passengers are being held hostage. There is a long list of former airports and proposed airports in Vietnam. Its also possible since the plane had no contact, it could of [sic] managed to get to Cambodia to a former or proposed airport…Why would terrorist want a plane intact? Though this is highly unlikely, but not impossible, the only reason I can think of is they would want the plane to use as a weapon of mass destruction like on the September 11 attacks.”

9: There was some kind of miniature hydrogen bomb controlled by an iPhone app and it created a miniature black hole: It’s hard to tell whether @Angela_Stalcup’s account is the work of a completely unhinged lunatic or a genius, masterful troll. Wading through claims that Donald Trump runs a prostitution ring through Trump University or that Russian President Vladimir Putin is one of 92 clones of Adolf Hitler, you may stumble upon this gem of a theory about Flight MH370:

10. Terrorists employed a new electromagnetic pulse weapon: Such a device snuck on board and activated would cause the plane to instantly lose power and fall into the ocean. Had this been a test run, terrorists in possession of such a device would now know that it works, and we could expect to see a multitude of such attacks in the future, perhaps in multiple planes simultaneously. This, of course, has been challenged by conflicting reports of persistent electronic communication from the plane after its disappearance.

So what really happened?: The truth is, no one really knows. The AP now cites a senior Malaysian military official who reports the country has radar data detecting the plane in the Malacca Strait – hundreds of miles from the last position recorded by civilian authorities.

*Armchair conspiracy theorists have also speculated (on Twitter, of course) that the passengers on flight 370 have landed on a remote, impossible-to-find island a la “Lost.”

# Stealth Wear fashion to shield people from drones and face-recognition software

As debate over the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the U.S. rages on, a fashion designer introduces clothing that blocks drone-mounted infrared cameras.

As the U.S. government draws up plans to use surveillance drones in domestic airspace, opposition to what many consider an unwarranted and significant invasion of privacy is mounting across the country, from rural Virginia to techopolis Seattle. Although officials debate anti-drone legislation at federal, state and local levels, one man is fighting back with high-tech apparel.

A New York City privacy advocate-turned-urban-guerilla fashion designer is selling garments designed to make their wearers invisible to infrared surveillance cameras, particularly those on drones. And although Adam Harvey admits that his three-item Stealth Wear line of scarves and capes is more of a political statement than a money-making venture, the science behind the fashion is quite sound.

“Fighting drones is not my full-time job, but it could be,” says Harvey, an instructor of physical computing at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts and the creator of the CV Dazzle project, which seeks to develop makeup and hairstyles that camouflage people from face-recognition cameras and software.

Harvey’s newest medium, metalized fabric, has been around for more than 20 years. It holds in body heat that would burn bright for infrared cameras—a characteristic that could prove attractive to those who do not want unmanned aerial vehicles spying on them.

Metalized fabric
Metal is very good at absorbing and scattering infrared light, says Cheng Sun, a Northwestern University assistant professor of mechanical engineering. In that sense there is nothing exotic in how metalized fabric works—it “would strongly attenuate the [infrared] light,” he says. The metal would dissipate heat to surroundings as well, making the wearer harder to pinpoint.

To date, the fabric has primarily been used in tape and gaskets to protect electronics and communications equipment from static electricity and electromagnetic interference, according to Larry Creasy, director of technology for metalized fabric-maker Laird Technologies, based in Saint Louis.

Here’s how metalizing works, at least at Laird: Woven fabric, commonly nylon or polyester, is coated with a special catalyst—a precious metal Creasy declined to specify—that helps copper bind to the fiber. Once dry, the fabric is submerged in a copper sulfate–plating bath and dried. A nickel sulfamate bath follows to help the finished fabric withstand the elements and abrasions. The result is a flexible, breathable fabric that can be cut with ordinary tools but that protects against electromagnetic interference and masks infrared radiation, Creasy says. The process adds weight to the original fabric. An untreated square yard of nylon weighs about 42.5 grams. Treated, the same patch weighs more than 70 grams.

The fashion
Harvey’s fabric is coated with copper, nickel and silver, a combination that gives his scarves, head-and-shoulders cloak and thigh-length “burqa” a silvery and “luxurious” feel. The material blocks cell signals, as well, adding an element of risk to tweeting, texting and other mobile activities, as the wearer must break cover to communicate.

Stealth Wear is sold only via a U.K. Web site. The burqa goes for about \$2,300, the “hoodie” is \$481 and the scarf is \$565—luxury items, but so, too, is privacy today, Harvey says.

The impetus
The high cost and limited availability are significant drawbacks—Harvey says he’s only sold one Stealth Wear item online, a scarf. But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts 10,000 commercial drones will ply domestic airspace by 2017—almost twice the that of the U.S. Air Force’s current fleet of unmanned aircraft. The number of drones flying in the U.S. today is hard to pin down because not every company and agency that gets FAA approval to fly a drone actually puts one in the air. In fact, 1,428 private-sector and government requests have been approved since 2007, according to the FAA. A Los Angeles Times report states that 327 of those permits are still active. Meanwhile, President Obama signed a law in February 2012 that gives the FAA until September 2015 to draw up rules that dictate how law enforcement, the military and other entities may use drones in U.S. airspace.

As of October 2012, 81 law agencies, universities, an Indian tribal agency and other entities had applied to the FAA to fly drones, according to documents released by the FAA to the Electronic Freedom Frontier following a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Government entities as diverse as the U.S. Department of State and Otter Tail County, Minn., are among them.

Discomfort rising
Although Harvey’s anti-drone fashions are not currently flying off the shelves, he could soon find himself leading a seller’s market if recent events are any metric:

•The Charlottesville, Va., city council has passed a watered-down ordinance that asks the federal and commonwealth governments not to use drone-derived information in court. Proponents had sought to make the city drone-free (pdf).

•Virginia, Minnesota, Oregon, Montana, Arizona (pdf) and Idaho legislators are trying to at least regulate or even prohibit, drones in their skies.

•Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn returned the city’s two surveillance drones after a hostile public reception.

•A bipartisan pair of U.S. Representatives has introduced legislation to limit information-gathering by government-operated drones as well as prohibit weapons on law-enforcement and privately owned unmanned aerial vehicles.

Drone advocates defend the use of the technology as a surveillance tool. “We clearly need to do a better job of educating people about the domestic use of drones,” says Ben Gielow, government relations manager for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Gielow says U.S. voters must decide the acceptability of data collection from all sources, adding, “Ultimately, an unmanned aircraft is no different than gathering data from the GPS on your phone or from satellites.”

GPS does not use infrared cameras, however, and satellites are not at the center the current privacy debate brewing in Washington—factors that could make Harvey’s designs all the more fashionable.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=drone-proof-anti-infrared-apparel&page=2

# U.S. Security Will Be Put at Risk With Future Water Shortages

Water shortages, polluted water and floods will increase the risk of instability in nations important to U.S. national security interests, according to a new U.S. intelligence community assessment released Thursday.

“During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will almost certainly experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will contribute to the risk of instability and state failure and increase regional tensions,” the report from the office of the director of national intelligence states.

The assessment focused on seven key river basins located in the Middle East, Asia and Africa that are considered strategically important to the United States: the Indus, Jordan, Mekong, Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Amu Darya and Brahmaputra basins.

The intelligence report indicates conflict between nations over water problems is unlikely in the next 10 years, but after that, water in shared basins will increasingly be used by some nations as leverage over their neighbors, the report says.

A senior U.S. intelligence official who briefed reporters on the report said, “It’s very difficult to be specific about where because it depends upon what individual states do and what actions are taken on water issues between states.”

The study also warns of the potential for water to be used as a weapon, “with more powerful upstream nations impeding or cutting off downstream flow.”

Water could also become a terrorist tool, according to the report. The U.S. official said that, “because terrorists are seeking more high visibility items to attack, in some cases we identified fragile water infrastructure that could potentially be a target for terrorism activity.” A likely target would be dams.

The official also said terrorist groups could take advantage of large movements of people displaced by water issues in vulnerable nations.

The report indicates water supplies will not keep up with the increasing demand posed by a growing world population.

Climate change will further aggravate the water problems in many areas, as will continued economic development, the report says.

“The lack of adequate water,” it says, “will be destabilizing factor in some countries because they do not have the financial resources or the technical ability to solve their internal water problems.”

Food markets are threatened by depletion of ground water in some agriculture areas of the world. Unless corrective steps are taken, food production will decline, increasing the stress on global markets, the report predicts.

The intelligence community assessed that by 2040, water shortages and pollution will harm the economic performance of important trading partners.

The study does not name specific countries, because it is based on a classified national intelligence estimate.

But the report indicates that increasing populations, industrial development and climate change in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa will make it difficult for those regions to deal with water problems.

The report does say that improved water management and investment in water-related sectors, such as agriculture, hydroelectric power and water treatment, could compensate for increased demand over next 30 years.

Since agriculture uses nearly 70% of all ground water, the report states it has the most potential to provide relief if technological changes are implemented such as large-scale drip irrigation systems.

The intelligence study suggests developing countries are likely to turn to the United States to lead the effort to resolve water problems, because of its technological capabilities.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was concerned about how global water problems could affect U.S. security interests over the next 30 years, requested the study on global water security. The National Intelligence Council prepared the assessment with contributions from 10 intelligence organizations.

At a World Water Day event at the State Department on Thursday,  Clinton labeled the report “sobering,” and called on everyone to read it to “see how imperative clean water and access to water is to future peace, security, and prosperity, globally.”

The Secretary also used the occasion to announce a new effort called the U.S. Water Partnership which bring together experts in the private sector and government to find system wide solutions to water problems.

http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/22/u-s-security-at-risk-over-water/?hpt=hp_t3

# The Hidden World That’s Fighting Terrorism

The top-secret world the U.S. government has created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

Thanks to ‘Da Brayn’ for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

# The No Fly List

Abe Mashal, a 31-year-old dog trainer from St. Charles, says FBI agents told him he ended up on the government’s no-fly list because he exchanged e-mails with a Muslim cleric they were monitoring.

The topic: How to raise his children in an interfaith household.  Mashal is Muslim and his wife is Christian.

Mashal said he has never had any links to terror or terrorists and is a “patriotic,” honorably discharged Marine Corps veteran.

He said the agents offered to get him off the list if he would become an undercover informant at mosques.

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.