Update: 2017.11.06 – The following program would have predicted the Sutherland Massacre as well as the Las Vegas massacre, because it’s predicated not on motive but on assembling what the individual has been doing and, when certain relations are connected, flagging the individual. Those who rail against “invasion of privacy” exempt Google, which has more than enough information to be spooky in other areas but doesn’t examine the information they collect for these kinds of connections. There is no justification for civilians possessing ballistic vests nor semi-automatic long-guns.
While politicians and law enforcement waste time and treasure in the vain pursuit of the Las Vegas loner’s motive, out of useless and macabre curiosity, multiple future terrorist attacks are being readied for execution. Even if the motive is determined, trying to prevent a terrorist attack by profiling based on motives is like herding prairie dogs on camelback. Until the killing is done there is only suspicion, not motive; and a democracy cannot act decisively based on suspicion. Once the killing is done, no one can unkill the deceased.
But let’s distinguish a loner from a “lone wolf” and dispel the notion that mass killers act alone. Loners keep to themselves and may avoid disclosing their motive to anyone. But, these days, “lone wolves” can be motivated, even self-motivated, to a cause, remotely, via the web. Such a killer is no less a terrorist for that cause than any other.
When I was an intelligence analyst in 1964-66, I noticed a structure that was independent of content-oriented surveillance. I built a couple of different Artificial Intelligence applications based on this observation but, at the time, there was no one who grasped the potential. Concerned that it might be classified, I’ve never mentioned the overall structure, or the details of how it works, to anyone. So I was surprised to find that another intelligence analyst, Army, noticed the same thing but, whereas I got out of the military, he stayed in and developed an equivalent structure for the intelligence community (designated ” Thin Thread“).
Unfortunately, no one in the intelligence community grasped its potential either. But its author has now published the basic structure of Thin Thread in a documentary. So the concept is now out in the open where I can discuss yet another application for the structure – along with mentioning the twit-General Hayden who scuttled it for a multi-billion $ turkey that put a lot of money in his pocket.
This approach data mines certain types of actions that a mass killer cannot avoid – cause, motive or not. These things are not dependent on content, only on activity contacts; thus avoiding the need for, and associated barriers to, individual surveillance.
To prevent requires that activities essential or strongly related to mass killing must be automatically gleaned and processed unseen by human eyes — like Google and others already do: like amassing weapons and ammo, which may occur over time and from widely dispersed dealers. Thus, surveilling no content (e.g., conversation) whatsoever, simply allowing a data mining program to build a network of contacts around all gun dealers would enable a “flag” program to inquire if a person who is flagged from several different suspicious networks, is a contact of any gun dealer. Similarly, the program would ask all networks, from doctors prescribing medications for potentially dangerous mental conditions, to pharmacies filling such prescriptions, to ammo sales, to target practicing ranges, to vehicle rentals, etc.
No surveillance happens here. Intelligence from other sources may flag individuals. But there’s no wire-tapping, no eves-dropping, not even a suspicion of an individual not otherwise on a terrorist list – until a “flag” pops up advising that a given individual has been collected into a number of potentially dangerously-related activity networks. Only then does a human get involved. It’s a trivial matter to ensure that no algorithms are permitted that collect voice intercept or other privacy-limited sniffing.
Flagging an individual who seems to be preparing for a mass attack would enable legislation to strip such individuals of weapons, ammo, explosive materials, limit transportation, court-order surveillance, supervise doctor-prescribed medications in cases of mental disorders and conduct a criminal investigation for suspected terrorist-related activity — BEFORE AN ATTACK!!!
Present practice is exactly backwards: attack happens first, THEN build the networks that led to it. Stupid beyond description!
One more point I tweeted earlier: Trained & licensed (including background checks) citizens have right to carry handguns concealed. But “sport” hunters who use a semi-auto LONG gun for “sport” hunting are like a “sport” fisherman who dynamites a creek to catch trout. There is NO justification for civilians having semi-auto LONG guns! Such a ban doesn’t ban semi-auto hand guns nor pump-action shotguns nor bolt-action long guns. (Fast-fire adjustments and extended ammo clips need to be banned even for semi-auto handguns.) Only military and law enforcement should be equipped with semi-auto or auto long guns.
Of course, how do you overcome political incompetence that prevents this from protecting us?