Link Analysis at the FBI: Part 1
If a picture is worth a thousand words, can a hyperlinked visualization reveal a fraud upon the court? Link Analysis is a group of techniques and technologies used to understand and visualize the relationships between objects.
In the criminal investigation and intelligence worlds, those objects are the people, phone numbers, bank accounts, and places into which you want to obtain better insight. Link analysis software allows you to visualize different aspects of related objects to see their interconnectedness.
For example, to understand who’s calling whom you tell the link analysis software to include only phone call records and filter out irrelevant aspects such as gender, marital status, or eye color for a group of people. The output is a interactive visualization of incoming and outgoing calls where outgoing calls might be in a different color than incoming calls. You can color-code international calls to make them better stand out. Furthermore, to illustrate the duration of a call or perhaps the frequency of calls, the lines might be thicker. This is called the “strength” of a link.
Likewise if you wanted to visualize a graph of a person’s friends, and their friends’ friends, and the friends of all of their friends… then Link Analysis will allow you to do this type of research quite easily.
So to sum up the technology, Link Analysis has 2 major components: analyzing relationships between objects and visualizing those relationships. Link Analysis software can be integrated with other technologies such as dictionaries and thesauri to pre-process and post-post the data. This is necessary so that an address with the word “street” will be matched and visually linked to an address with the word “St” or “Rue”. And finally, Link Analysis is usually paired with a ranking system component that can give you a “degree of closeness” from an object. This enables the user of the software to answer the question “how many degrees to Kevin Bacon” or “how dangerous is this person on a scale from 1 to 10″.
To put this in context, police already do a simpler version of this when they look at a criminal’s “known associates” and “modus operandi” which is also known as the “MO” in police shows on TV. Some law enforcement personnel refer to Link Analysis as “Community of Interest” software.
And now for the subversive stuff that undermines a chunk of the Constitution: rather than typing a limited set of data on a limited set of people into a Link Analysis system… if you instead attached a Link Analysis system to a database of everyone in a city. And for each person you entered their names and aliases, phone records, their family information, their friends’ information, their company information, their habits, emails, etc. you would be Big Brother in the making.
So what’s the relevance of this technology to Ali’s case? It seems that the FBI extensively used Link Analysis on Ali. In fact it was so pleased with itself, it issued a press release about Link Analysis and mentioned Ali by name.
In “The Mafia Retcon“, we’ll look at how the government does another rewrite of Ali’s history as a means to promote the use Link Analysis software. And in ”Link Analysis at the FBI: Part 2“, we’ll examine how the use of Link Analysis software actually exonerates Ali and can show that the government misled the court.