AI Analysis of Bin Laden Data Revealed Future al-Qaeda Plots

  • Our Bureau
  • 05:15 AM, June 30, 2020
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AI Analysis of Bin Laden Data Revealed Future al-Qaeda Plots
Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 4, 2011

The United States found a treasure trove of information on al-Qaeda’s future plots during its raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan’s Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, that was deciphered later using Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The U.S. Navy special operators carried out a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-led operation to kill or capture OBL, the founder of al-Qaeda group which responsible for many terrorist activities including the 9/11 attacks, from Afghanistan. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, among others, also collaborated in the operation.

In a webcast yesterday, Brian Drake, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)'s Science and Technology director of AI, said DIA's National Media Exploitation Center (NMEC), working with the CIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and others, collaborated on this.

AI Analysis of Bin Laden Data Revealed Future al-Qaeda Plots
An aerial photo of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.

The webcast, titled "Human Machine Team: The Intersection of Diverse Skill Sets" was sponsored by Defense One.

The media that was captured was flown to NMEC, where rudimentary AI was able to exploit the data to discover future al-Qaeda plans.

NMEC invested early in AI capabilities across the board, he said, in things like text recognition, object detection, machine translation and audio and image categorization that allowed them to go through petabytes of data that they get from document exploitation.

The result was tens of billions of pieces of relevant data that allowed analysts to quickly delve into the terrorist organization. The data alerted them to future plots, emerging threats and a greater understanding of mysteries they didn't understand before, he said.

“Had AI not been used in that instance, it would have taken the entire federal workforce to piece the puzzle together and it still probably wouldn't have succeeded,” he noted.

AI Analysis of Bin Laden Data Revealed Future al-Qaeda Plots

AI can enable analysts not only to discover what they're looking for, but also enable them to gain insights from things they don't know they're looking for but are relevant and important, he added.

The speed of AI analyzing the media after the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was approximately a couple of hours. Today, AI can deliver the same information analysts need in mere milliseconds, he said.

“AI will soon deliver an even greater competitive advantage to warfighters. Part of that effort will be done with interdisciplinary teams from such fields as neuroscience, education and experimental psychology, who can understand how the human-machine teaming with AI can be best integrated with the warfighters,” Jane Pinells, the chief of test/evaluation of AI for the Defense Department's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC).

She added that another important piece of AI is ethics in using these systems. If AI cannot be employed in a responsible way on the battlefield "then we will not use AI for that mission," she said. 

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