Looking Into the Future

Obituaries for the late Tom Clancy covered a wide range of information about the author – universally recognized as the best military-technical-thriller writer of his generation. But what every obituary noted – and emphasized – was that Clancy was prescient. He wrote about intelligence, military and technical matters in fiction – and fiction always seemed to have a strange way of becoming fact years later.

When we came up with the high concept for Out of the Ashes back in 2011, one thing we felt strongly was that to stay ahead of the threat the United States needed to create advanced collation architectures and algorithms to process raw data faster than humans could and thus support decision-makers trying to stop the threat before it materialized. If you’ve read book you know precisely what I mean.

Now, Wall Street Journal writer Julia Angwin hits the nail on the head showing how our intelligence agencies are drowning in data. She points out how William Binney, creator of some of the computer code used by the National Security Agency to snoop on Internet traffic around the world, delivered an unusual message to an audience worried that the spy agency knows too much.
It knows so much, he said, that it can’t understand what it has.

“What they are doing is making themselves dysfunctional by taking all this data,” Mr. Binney said at a privacy conference in Switzerland.

The agency is drowning in useless data, which harms its ability to conduct legitimate surveillance, claims Mr. Binney, who rose to the civilian equivalent of a general during more than 30 years at the NSA before retiring in 2001. Analysts are swamped with so much information that they can’t do their jobs effectively, and the enormous stockpile is an irresistible temptation for misuse.
Mr. Binney’s warning has gotten far less attention than legal questions raised by leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the agency’s mass collection of information around the world. Those revelations unleashed a re-examination of the spy agency’s aggressive tactics.

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