Pentagon Funds New Data-Mining Tools to Track and Kill Activists

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is funding a multimillion dollar university research program to develop new data mining and analysis tools for the US military intelligence community to track political radicalism among British Muslims and other activist groups around the world.

Leading intelligence experts including former National Security Agency (NSA) official Thomas Drake — the whistleblower who inspired Edward Snowden — confirm that the tools are designed to enhance the intelligence community’s capabilities to identify potential terrorism suspects that could face a range of sanctions, from surveillance to no-fly injunctions to, at worst, being targeted for extrajudicial assassination via the CIA’s “kill lists.”

But, they say, inherent flaws in the program are instead likely to facilitate the criminalization of political dissent and the targeting of innocent civilians — and that such trends are increasingly likely to affect not just “hostile theatres” abroad, but even domestic populations in the US, Britain and Europe.

One flagship project established at Arizona State University (ASU) since 2009 examines “radical” and “counter-radical” movements in Southeast Asia, West Africa and Western Europe. This month, I obtained exclusive access to some of the online research tools being used by the Pentagon-funded project, disclosing a list of 36 mostly Muslim organizations in the UK targeted for assessment as to their relationship to radicalism.

The project’s most significant outputs have involved the creation of sophisticated data-mining tools capable of analyzing thousands of online materials, whether in the form of webpages, tweets or discussion forums. The ASU team, led by anthropologist Prof. Mark Woodward, has designed a range of algorithms and advanced modelling techniques to automatically categorize and rank political or religious organizations or networks, and individuals associated with them, on a “radicalism scale” to measure the degree to which they “threaten” US interests. The project is also capable of identifying and locating individuals and ranking their propensity for terrorism.

Unbeknown to many, Arizona State is officially an NSA-designated university. Its Information Assurance Center (IAC), based in the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision System Engineering — where the programming of data-mining tools for the Pentagon has occurred — is a certified National Center of Excellence in education and research by the NSA and US Department of Homeland Security.

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