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The Information Battlefield

Published
  • July 01 2003, 1:00am EDT

Information has been used for many things including CRM systems, churn analysis, elasticity analysis and profitability analysis. Yet these uses barely skim the surface of information's potential.

In 2003, there is another use for information. Today, information is used as a weapon in a battlefield. Terrorists have created a new battlefield that is everywhere. In the past, battle lines were often clear. However, with terrorism, battle lines can be anywhere – they are not well defined or predetermined. They may be found in airports, city streets and even office buildings.

The rules of engagement with the terrorist enemy are not clear either. It used to be that the enemy dug into foxholes or fought from bunkers. It used to be that tanks were used in fighting. Now, the terrorist is often nowhere to be found when the act of terrorism occurs. The new battlefield is anywhere, and the enemy is invisible (or at least trying to be invisible).

Let's consider battle weapons of the past. There have been arrowheads, spears, swords, guns and cannons. In modern warfare, we have bombs, machine guns and hand grenades. It is into this battlefield that information enters as a weapon. The primary use of information as a weapon is to bring to light acts and events that would otherwise be hidden. Once the light of information shines on the terrorist, the terrorist can no longer hide.

In this sense, information is probably the newest of weapons. Only in the crudest sense has information been used this way before. In a blatant and obvious manner, one might look at those making regular phone calls to Iraq. It is not that every phone call to Iraq is made by a terrorist; it is just likely that a few are. Or, there might be information about those buying and transporting enriched uranium and plutonium. An ordinary citizen has no use for such things, and anyone outside of an atomic scientist has a questionable use for such materials. Information of this type is so obvious that only the rookie terrorist would be caught in such an entanglement.

Fortunately, we can be much more subtle in our use of information. Let's not look at phone calls made to Iraq. Let's look at phone calls made to Canada that are then forwarded to Iraq. Or, let's look at the background of people using medical materials such as toxins and gases. There are some people who have a very legitimate use for those materials and information about those materials. Then again, there are people who do not.

Then, there is also the very sophisticated use of information: looking at patterns and drawing important conclusions. For example, let's look at people who buy chemical fertilizer. Farmers buy chemical fertilizer every day. However, what about the adult who has never been on a farm, who has never before bought fertilizer and who does not live in a farming community that wants 10,000 pounds of fertilizer? Are there some alarms that are going off here? How about people attending pilot school who want to fly a plane but do not want to know how to land the plane? What about people buying one-way tickets on airlines? There's certainly nothing criminal about buying one-way tickets on an airline; however, if other factors fall in place, maybe we should pay a lot of attention to someone engaging in this behavior.

The Obstacles

What then are the obstacles to the usage of information as a weapon? There are the classic problems including:

  • Large volumes of information. However it is done, there is the need to handle very large volumes of information. Data needs to be handled at the detail level and data needs to be kept historically. We learned a long time ago that history x detail = a lot of data.
  • Integration. In order to be useful, data must be integrated from many different sources. It simply is not plausible to use unintegrated information effectively as a weapon. Integration is difficult. There are many facets to integration, and they must all be addressed.
  • Analyzing the data. It is not enough to collect and integrate the data at the right level of detail. It is necessary to have sophisticated analytical tools to process the data. The patterns that enable one to be proactive in the face of a threat do not voluntarily jump out; they have to be teased out by sophisticated and clever analysts armed with sophisticated tools.

The battlefield of the next millennium has changed – information is the Uzi for the warrior of the future.

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