Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

TSA Missed Boston Bomber Because His Name Was Misspelled In a Database

Soulskill posted about 7 months ago | from the let's-blame-technology dept.

Crime 275

schwit1 sends this news from The Verge: "Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the primary conspirator in the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people, slipped through airport security because his name was misspelled in a database, according to a new Congressional report. The Russian intelligence agency warned U.S. authorities twice that Tsarnaev was a radical Islamist and potentially dangerous. As a result, Tsarnaev was entered into two U.S. government databases: the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment and the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS), an interagency border inspection database.

A special note was added to TECS in October of 2011 requiring a mandatory search and detention of Tsarnaev if he left the country. 'Detain isolated and immediately call the lookout duty officer,' the note reportedly said. 'Call is mandatory whether or not the officer believes there is an exact match.' 'Detain isolated and immediately call the lookout duty officer.' Unfortunately, Tsarnaev's name was not an exact match: it was misspelled by one letter. Whoever entered it in the database spelled it as 'Tsarnayev.' When Tsarnaev flew to Russia in January of 2012 on his way to terrorist training, the system was alerted but the mandatory detention was not triggered. Because officers did not realize Tsarnaev was a high-priority target, he was allowed to travel without questioning."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Jeez (5, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | about 7 months ago | (#46588851)

That's a bomber, I mean bummer.

Re:Jeez (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46588895)

Don't you mean an "Obummer"? This guy will go down as one of the worst presidents of all time.

Hope and change? LOL.

Re:Jeez (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46588933)

More like hope he will chance amirite?

BULLSHIT - COVER STORY (2)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 7 months ago | (#46588987)

They never tell you the truth. All assertion, no evidence.

Re:Jeez (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589035)

Idk, I was hoping for no more change until he leaves office.

Soundex Algorithm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46588951)

The soundex algorithm would have helped.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soundex

Re:Soundex Algorithm (5, Insightful)

Cryacin (657549) | about 7 months ago | (#46589009)

Great, so now not only if we are a namesake with a wanted "enemy of the state", but also if our names are soundex or Levenshtein Distance 3 similar, we are going to get detained, cavity searched and otherwise.

Re:Soundex Algorithm (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589211)

But Obummer is keeping you safe!!!

Re:Soundex Algorithm (2)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 7 months ago | (#46589315)

if our names are soundex or Levenshtein Distance 3 similar,

"that's Levenshtein with an ei and Levenshtyne with a y" *

(*) my son, the terrorist

Re:Soundex Algorithm (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 7 months ago | (#46589611)

How is that not probable cause for a warrant?

Re:Jeez (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589193)

Thank god he got through and managed to blow apart some scum.

Re:Jeez (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589305)

Hate to see the guy that was mistaken as the terrorist because of a wrong letter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_(1985_film)
>One day he is assigned the task of trying to rectify an error caused by a fly getting jammed in a printer, which caused it to misprint a file, resulting in the incarceration and death during interrogation of Mr. Archibald Buttle instead of the suspected "terrorist", Archibald Tuttle.

Good movie.

Re:Jeez (1)

maz2331 (1104901) | about 7 months ago | (#46589499)

No, a Bimmer!

Who says computers will take over.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46588861)

The most advanced systems in the world will never outpace human mistakes.

Re:Who says computers will take over.... (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589153)

The most advanced systems in the world will never outpace human mistakes.

If you type "Tsarnayev" (the way his name was incorrectly spelled" into Google, the first match is: wikipedia.org/wiki/Dzhokhar_and_Tamerlan_Tsarnaev

So I'll call bullshit on your claim, and also note that the database entry error was only the last in a long series of events. (try reading the article)

The problem was not "human mistakes". The problem was a string of incompetent and corrupt police and FBI agents. Mistakes are accidents, the string of fuck-ups in this case were anything BUT mistakes.

Re:Who says computers will take over.... (4, Insightful)

Sique (173459) | about 7 months ago | (#46589175)

Never attribute to malice what sufficiently can be explained with stupidity.

This is a clear case of "blinded by data".

Re:Who says computers will take over.... (4, Insightful)

Eddi3 (1046882) | about 7 months ago | (#46589231)

I'm not at all disputing the idea of what you're saying. In fact, I agree that incompetence let this guy through.

However, your example of googling this guy's name is a particularly bad one. Google's autocorrection algorithms are based on the popularity of terms and their similarities. Since the bombing, surely this name would have been googled millions of times.

Do you really suppose that Google would have made such an accurate correction before the Boston attacks that madetheir family name infamous?

Re:Who says computers will take over.... (2)

reboot246 (623534) | about 7 months ago | (#46589401)

My last name has at least four different spellings, maybe more. If you enter one of them into Google, some exact matches will be found. But, if you enter them into a genealogical search engine, all the variations of the name will be found. Google is good at what Google does, but it's not always the best search engine for every task.

Re:Who says computers will take over.... (1)

maz2331 (1104901) | about 7 months ago | (#46589547)

Garbage in, garbage out.

No. You do not get to pull this bullshit. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46588873)

The TSA is operated by some of the most incompetent people the USA has to offer. They are the problem, not the hardware or software. I fail to see why they should get a "free pass" here on account of a bad database entry. Heads should be hung over this, especially considering the justifications thrown around for the continued existence of the TSA.

Re:No. You do not get to pull this bullshit. (1)

mrzaph0d (25646) | about 7 months ago | (#46589559)

yeah, but whose head? if anyone, it'll be the guy who let him pass. the one earning $10 an hour. big deal. his supervisor (earning $12/hr), maybe gets written up. their manager? a stern talking to. that's it.

Re:No. You do not get to pull this bullshit. (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | about 7 months ago | (#46589599)

The "bad database entry" wasn't a fault of the database. It was human error, and the summary makes that completely clear.

Homer Simpson says it best (1)

turp182 (1020263) | about 7 months ago | (#46588877)

Doh!!!

More lies from the Republicans (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46588887)

"on his way to terrorist training"

Bullshit! I can't believe the Republicans are still sticking to that lie to try to scare the general public. That is a complete and utter lie. Besides the ones the CIA runs, there are no terrorist training camps. They're trying, and failing(!), to try to convince us that terrorists are a problem when the Republicans are the problem.

Re:More lies from the Republicans (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46588925)

Exactly. This is clearly all Bush's fault. Glorious Leader Obamessiah never does any wrong.

Re:More lies from the Republicans (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589195)

Exactly. This is clearly all Bush's fault. Glorious Leader Obamessiah never does any wrong.

Yes, actually you could argue it's Bush's fault, and the GOP's fault.
You see, they were too busy crying about Clinton's jizz on a Blue Dress to pay attention to some guy named "Bin Laden" who was blowing up embassies. They got so pissed at Clinton for launching cruise missiles at training camps that after he left office, Bush completely halted all operations against his network. Then they proceeded to ignore multiple public warnings and threats, and after the first airplane hit the tower Bush felt it was more important to finish reading "My Pet Goat" to some kids than it was to immediately ground all commercial air traffic in the region.

For the record, I'm a Conservative. But I'm not an idiot, either, and can do more than puke up "clever" insults I heard on Rush's nutjob radio show.

Re:More lies from the Republicans (-1, Troll)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 7 months ago | (#46589271)

You are not a conservative. You are trolling slashdot trying to make conservatives look bad. The left-wing's propaganda machine you belong to is pretty transparent.

Re:More lies from the Republicans (1, Informative)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | about 7 months ago | (#46588957)

"on his way to terrorist training"

Bullshit! I can't believe the Republicans are still sticking to that lie to try to scare the general public. That is a complete and utter lie. Besides the ones the CIA runs, there are no terrorist training camps. They're trying, and failing(!), to try to convince us that terrorists are a problem when the Republicans are the problem.

You are trying to be funny, right?

I know that to most of you, Republicans are responsible for everything from circles-that-can't-be-squared to bad breath, but really, I assure you that they didn't invent Muslim nutso bombers.

Lern 2 computer noobs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46588899)

Copy Paste.
It's not that hard.

We already knew this way back in 2013 (5, Insightful)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 7 months ago | (#46588903)

I've seen this story about Russia giving us warnings about the Boston bomber floating around elsewhere recently, why is this news now? We knew this back in 2013 [bostonglobe.com] .

Despite the misspelling, the FBI interviewed him and determined he was no threat (unlike his friend who they interviewed after the bombing, and shot to death during the interview).

So what would it have mattered if airport security searched him after one of his trips to Russia? It's almost certain he wasn't carrying anything that would have got him arrested.

Ellis Island Syndrome (2)

swschrad (312009) | about 7 months ago | (#46589419)

we can require everybody to change their name. but we still end up with Anderson, Andersen, Anderssen, etc.

Helpful links for intelligence community devs (4, Informative)

rk (6314) | about 7 months ago | (#46588905)

soundex [wikipedia.org]

Levenshtein distance [wikipedia.org]

Hamming distance [wikipedia.org]

More like this, can't be arsed to go looking them up, though. Those were three I knew off the cuff.

Re:Helpful links for intelligence community devs (5, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | about 7 months ago | (#46589049)

So, Mr oBama would have a Levenshtein distance of 1 with oSama then? Good job there.

Re:Helpful links for intelligence community devs (1, Informative)

Dragonslicer (991472) | about 7 months ago | (#46589213)

So, Mr oBama would have a Levenshtein distance of 1 with oSama then? Good job there.

If you were comparing only someone's first name to only someone else's last name, sure.

Re:Helpful links for intelligence community devs (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 7 months ago | (#46589325)

So, Mr oBama would have a Levenshtein distance of 1 with oSama then? Good job there.

Apparently you haven't read the comments section of the weekly standard lately.

Re:Helpful links for intelligence community devs (1)

Mastacheata87 (1759916) | about 7 months ago | (#46589057)

This wouldn't have helped, according to the article.
They didn't detain him because there was no exact match, despite the fact that there was an order to detain the person and call $superior-authority$ even if there was no exact match.
The problem is the officer that noticed him and didn't take action, not the systems that flagged the person as potential terrorist.

Re:Helpful links for intelligence community devs (1)

laughingskeptic (1004414) | about 7 months ago | (#46589227)

Have you used these algorithms in this application? Apply these algorithms to all the last names in the Social Security death index http://ssdmf.info/download.htm... [ssdmf.info] and evaluate your false positive and false negative stats. You will find that these are not generally helpful. It doesn't matter if an algorithm would have worked in one particular case if 99% of the time the algorithm drives the end user insane with useless results.

Re:Helpful links for intelligence community devs (2)

vux984 (928602) | about 7 months ago | (#46589319)

A major problem with soundex is false positives. A terrorist named John Smith on the watch list would be hell on a lot of people... but if they were using soundex... he's now J500 S530. So Now Jan, Jim, Jens, Jon, Jaymee, Jayne, Jane cross product with Smith, Smit, Smite, Smithe, Smithee, Smythe, Smathe, Snuthe, Smothe...

all get caught in that web.

Similar problems exist for hamming and so on. There's a LOT of very different names a very short "distance" from each other in nearly any scheme.

But on top of all the false positives, your still going to miss people due to typos and data entry issues:

David and Dacid is just fat fingering the keyboard and missing the v for c, resulting in a different soundex.

Similarly Christy and Chritsy is simple transposition error during typing, resulting in a different soundex.

Horseshit (1, Troll)

Tailhook (98486) | about 7 months ago | (#46588907)

They would have "missed" Tsarnaev if he had a siren and a pink neon "TERRORIST" sign bolted to his forehead. Re: Nidal Hasan.

They only miss things they aren't interested in finding.

Significance? (5, Insightful)

mwehle (2491950) | about 7 months ago | (#46588915)

I think the tacit implication here is that if Tsarnaev had been questioned on exiting the country the Boston Marathon bombing might have been averted, but is there really any substance to this? Do we think he would have changed plans had he been questioned? Pressure cooker outlets would have been alerted to refuse to sell him cookware? What exactly would the outcome likely have been had he been questioned?

Re:Significance? (-1, Offtopic)

AHuxley (892839) | about 7 months ago | (#46589143)

The fact the Russians had him on their lists shows *something*.
The fact the Russians told the USA shows they knew something *something*. Russia also wanted to be seen telling the USA.
When does Russia really want another country to know about some person they are tracking? When the other nation knows it all.
The fact the US gov did not seem very interested at all ie allowed free travel... did not do too much is very telling too.
From then on it gets tricky - he could be in the Russian part of the world for a good US reason and been allowed back into the USA as part of ongoing US backed activities.
Now we get a rewarmed database spelling mistake story? If your free to travel, someone in a gov is allowing your papers to keep on working....
ie not flagged, listed and that takes powerful gov connections.

Re:Significance? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589181)

We need to know how many people are reported to the US by Russia and how many people are on these lists. Perhaps the lists have grown so large that they became ineffective, then some unvalidated coding scheme was instituted that just ended up creating more false positives and room for error.

Re:Significance? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589521)

The elder brother was actually investigated and interviewed by the FBI.

"The FBI said that it interviewed him and relatives of his, but did not find any terrorist activity, and that it provided the results in the summer of 2011.[76] At that point, the FBI asked the FSB for more information, but the Russians did not respond to the American request, and the FBI officially closed the case.[78]"

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dzhokhar_and_Tamerlan_Tsarnaev#2011

The FBI also interviewed some other people in his circle. And the gov't can't restrict your travel without probably cause and, ultimately, some sort of judicial determination. It's called Due Process--i.e. gov't officials can't just decide to fsck-you over, not at least without a nod from a court. These are pretty significant barriers.

But, you know, don't let the facts get in the way of your hypotheticals.

Re:Significance? (0)

AHuxley (892839) | about 7 months ago | (#46589571)

As I said AC "The fact the US gov did not seem very interested"

transliteration (5, Informative)

Heraklit (29346) | about 7 months ago | (#46588917)

News at Nine: transliterations of names can be tricky... Some parts of the world use different alphabets...

Re:transliteration (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589349)

exactly. why do spelling bees include transliterated words?
"ta-eye-koo-nn" -> "tycoon"

Re:transliteration (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about 7 months ago | (#46589663)

It's a bigger problem than just that. There are multiple systems for mapping various foreign names into English, and many variant spellings. Then there are what you could refer to as a "fully qualified name" that may not map well into the first-middle-last convention in many places in European languages. In some areas the full name could include things like tribe and/or clan, geographic designations, additional honorifics, and other possibilities. The same person could use multiple names depending on what was selected from the full name.

It was not misspelled (5, Interesting)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about 7 months ago | (#46588921)

It was not misspelled, it was just transliterated differently. The original name is Cyrillic, and "Tsarnayev" is actually closer to how it is supposed to be pronounced, but "Tsarnaev" is the more usual letter-for-letter transliteration that doesn't distinguish two modes of Russian "e" (it's pronounced as "e" in general, but as "ye" after vowels and at the beginning of words), and is the one that's usually used in passports. I wouldn't be surprised if "Tsarnayev" was how it was spelled in the documents that they've got from Russia, because the person on the other side translated it phonetically...

Either way, this points at a glaring issue in all those databases. If they require a perfect match, they're going to be very flaky for all kinds of foreign names - ironically, Arabic ones especially, which I assume are the most commonly searched ones. Remember that whole Qaddafi vs Gaddafi vs Kaddafi in US press when Libya was on the front pages?

Yet another evidence that all this stuff is little more but security theater. It doesn't matter whether it actually works, so long as people are convinced that it does. Unfortunately, they actually let a real terrorist through this time...

Re:It was not misspelled (5, Funny)

manicb (1633645) | about 7 months ago | (#46589061)

If only there were some kind of universal character set that included all these scripts

Re:It was not misspelled (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589131)

Right. Because we can totally trust TSA agents to enter UTF-8 correctly after they've completely mastered the Cyrillic, Georgian, Armenian, Arabic, Hebrew, Thai, Chinese, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan, Japanese, [ . . . ] orthographic systems.

Re:It was not misspelled (2)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about 7 months ago | (#46589173)

I doubt having them type names in their original script would help matters. Cyrillic is easy, but how many DHS agents can input Arabic? Chinese? If anything, I'd suspect that the amount of typos would increase significantly.

What they need to do is proper phonetic match, tailored to the specific language in question (i.e. if it's an English name, use soundex or something along those lines, if it's Russian, use the Russian equivalent etc).

Of course, what they really need is to just drop all this bullshit and start paying less attention to names and more attention to people. Gee, guys who moved from a region with a separatist underground movement that quickly evolved into hardline Islamist organization? And they emigrated citing support for said separatist movement? Maybe you should keep an eye on them, just in case. Like, so that if the kids start posting videos with "allahu akbar" beheadings on their public YouTube channel, you'd notice and figure that maybe there's something going on there...

Re:It was not misspelled (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | about 7 months ago | (#46589189)

I doubt having them type names in their original script would help matters. Cyrillic is easy, but how many DHS agents can input Arabic? Chinese?

English?

Re:It was not misspelled (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 7 months ago | (#46589321)

Passports are usually scanned to prevent human "type names" issues.

Re:It was not misspelled (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about 7 months ago | (#46589355)

Yes, you have a point there. I suppose there's no reason why they shouldn't have the name in original script alongside the English transliteration, at least, and check matches for both.

Do current passports encode the native script in machine-readable format, though?

Re:It was not misspelled (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 7 months ago | (#46589541)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M... [wikipedia.org] seems to hint at 1980s for the machine-readable format.

Re:It was not misspelled (1)

Ichijo (607641) | about 7 months ago | (#46589371)

This is about transliterating to Latin. What's needed is to transliterate each name all possible ways [wikipedia.org] and store all the transliterations in the database as alternate spellings for the same name.

Re:It was not misspelled (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589099)

Those sneaky bastards with their ambiguous names ....

Re:It was not misspelled (4, Informative)

AHuxley (892839) | about 7 months ago | (#46589257)

Russian names should not be an issue for the USA in ~2000~2014. They have spent vast sums educating their mil and gov during the cold war and have had US digital database experts since the 1960's...
The US is not some loser nation with massive budget restrictions upgrading from paper files to imported super computers in the 1970's.
The US is not some loser nation with massive budget restrictions trying to find staff with language skills in the 1950's.
This is not Korea or Vietnam in the 1950-60's where the US gov did have to play catch up.
The USA did great work tracking the KGB/GRU and others within the USA for many decades and that took spelling skills and complex shared database work.
The USA did great work tracking the KGB/GRU staff changes... and that took spelling and database work too.
If the USA is having issues with Russian names in a US gov database after 2000++ - someone has ensured a name is protected/free to travel.

Re:It was not misspelled (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 7 months ago | (#46589337)

I doubt it was an accident either. Remember movie stores? If I got a big enough late fee I'd just go back to the store and use my given name instead of my nick name to get a new card. Charles or Charlie, John or Johnathan, etc... Worked every time.

Re:It was not misspelled (2)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about 7 months ago | (#46589385)

My understanding is that the misspelling did not originate with the guy himself. It's not like he has two passports, when he crosses the border it's his passport that'll be used to identify him, and the name as it is spelled there (and that would normally be "-ev" rather than "-yev"). The screw-up happened where they were compiling the no-go list, and the alternative spelling slipped in somehow - and if I had to guess, they just keyed it in letter by letter from the email or fax that they've got from Russian side, and the guy on Russian side who composed it transliterated the Cyrillic name that he had the best way he could, which was different from the "standard" (for passports) name.

Even when the change is deliberate, it's not necessarily malicious. I've been in this boat myself, since my family name also ends up with the same suffix, as is common for Russians and other Russian nationals with russified family names. Originally, I consistently used the "-yev" spelling online and in all kinds of formal documents which I had to fill in English, which includes e.g. some of my early IT certificates. When I got my first passport for foreign travels, however, it had the "-ev" spelling per their standard, and I switched everything else to this spelling, as well, to avoid confusion and to be able to easily prove that I am me, should the need arise.

Re:It was not misspelled (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589353)

It's spelled with an H and two Ds and isn't a seven-letter word for anything. Who am I? I'm just an ordinary citizen who relies on the Times crossword puzzle for stimulation. I'm telling you I've met the man twice, and I recommended a pre-emptive exoset missile strike against his Air Force, so I think I know how to...

Re:It was not misspelled (1)

rtb61 (674572) | about 7 months ago | (#46589383)

C'mon seriously that excuse is just total bullshit. It is the same as claiming they could not arrest John Smith because they could not identify him because there are too many John Smiths. This lame excuse is a red flag something decidedly worse going on. Reality check, it works like this, one entry in one data base and no one worries much about you and spelled right or wrong makes not much difference basically to claim such would also mean you didn't bother to add other details like appearance, location, associates etc. When they become concerned about individuals is when there a multiple entries in multiple data bases, hence spelling errors require repetition, which is unrealistic and of course question about the associates would bloody mean who the fuck is this Tsarnayev character living at the same address as Tsarnaev (which would tend to remedy the spelling error thing). It is bullshit to claim they just use your name to identify you, they use everything they can get, name, location(who else lives there and what is their association), appearance (stored images), finger prints (associated crimes), associates (if they lose you they can attempt to recover you via them). So what the fuck is really going on?

Re:It was not misspelled (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about 7 months ago | (#46589527)

You assume some degree of competence. I don't think that is justified.

I mean, we're talking about the country where a top-secret "No Such Agency" intelligence gathering service has just let a rank and file sysadmin walk out with a dump of the entire internal network, including numerous classified and top secret documents, on his USB flash stick, and board a plane to another country under his real name with said stick in his pocket.

Re:It was not misspelled (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 7 months ago | (#46589647)

Snowden was flagged by the CIA but then got a contractor job with the NSA... just another database issue?
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10... [nytimes.com]

Re:It was not misspelled (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about 7 months ago | (#46589677)

I can totally imagine how everyone and their dog have their own database, and a lot of those databases are not cross-referenced because no-one making these decisions even knows of their existence.

Re:It was not misspelled (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589543)

Either way, this points at a glaring issue in all those databases. If they require a perfect match, they're going to be very flaky for all kinds of foreign names

Let me introduce you to this radical new database feature I've been working one... it's called a "foreign key". And -- get this -- it has nothing to do with nationality. It's designed to link pieces of data together, across tables and databases. So, for instance, if you have granted a Visa to a student and you later get an alert about this immigrant, you can look up and link the items together. Your terror watch list will have a foreign key into this other database -- something I call a "source of record" so your data does not get out of sync. These are radically new concepts. If this war on terror thing is at all important, maybe the DoD will fund my research and let me add this to our growing arsenal of amazing terror fighting weapons.

soudex? (1, Interesting)

job0 (134689) | about 7 months ago | (#46588949)

haven't they heard of soundex?

Re:soudex? (1)

Yonkeltron (720465) | about 7 months ago | (#46588959)

Or the metaphone variants? There exist a whole family of phonetic algorithms designed for just this very purpose.

Re:soudex? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589161)

Metaphone 3 at least manages to acknowledge that the rest of the world doesn't speak English.

Re:soudex? (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | about 7 months ago | (#46589601)

Or Levenshtein distance [wikipedia.org] .

I knew a Mexican citizen with a green card who would be constantly harassed and held for questioning when entering from Canada because his name was similar but not the same as an alias used by someone on the 10 most wanted list. Apparently their matching algorithm is thrown for a loop by Slavic names.

I wrote anti-terrorist software for banks. (5, Informative)

quietwalker (969769) | about 7 months ago | (#46588955)

I've written about this before; I used to write financial software for a living, and one of the requirements for a US bank was to provide a mechanism to detect transactions by an unauthorized person.

In short, the govt. provides a list of bad people in a text file. One name per line, all upper case, like it came out of an old batch system. We then check to see if the sender or receiver of any transaction /EXACTLY/ matches that string, case insensitive. If it's an exact letter-for-letter match, there's a flag that's set and the transaction is delayed, but it appears to go through as normal(*). What happens after that is the bank's responsibility, but that's the whole of the complexity.

Whoever made the list usually has a few variants of spelling; OSAMA BIN LADEN or OMASA BIN LADEN or OSMA BIN LADEN, for example. But that's it. Just spelling your name slightly differently is enough to avoid the flag. We're literally not allowed to add anything else, like soundex matching or handling foreign letters.

This is ~probably~ also how the TSA no fly list works, and why you still hear about false positives from time to time. It's also probably how any security works until it's been around for 20 years and they hire a contracting company to make them really good software that does what they want, instead of what they think they want it to do.

It just takes a very long time for software designed by a legislative committee with no technical awareness to morph into something usable, but that's government for you.

* - most transactions are not sent out until the end-of-day reconciliation anyway, so it looks like it's accepted like most other transactions, probably in a 'pending' state in your online balance - unless you're paying for a wire transfer or something.

Re:I wrote anti-terrorist software for banks. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589039)

So what happens when someone named John or Jane Smith gets on the list? Do suddenly thousands of people who happen to have the same name get their transactions delayed too?

Re:I wrote anti-terrorist software for banks. (5, Informative)

quietwalker (969769) | about 7 months ago | (#46589155)

Yes.

It's no longer making the news, but for a while it was a nearly-daily occurrence. It's just not a big media draw anymore, unless it impacts a politician or famous entertainer.

Re:I wrote anti-terrorist software for banks. (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 7 months ago | (#46589469)

Sounds like a good idea for terrorists.
Step 1
Have your group of terrorists change their names to John Doe and other common names.
Get them on the watch lists
Laugh at the hoards of innocent people getting extra rub downs by TSA.
Send your second group through while TSA doesn't have the resources to check everyone who matches the list.

Step 2
Have your next group change their names to politicians and famous people...

Re:I wrote anti-terrorist software for banks. (1)

jrumney (197329) | about 7 months ago | (#46589359)

It's also probably how any security works until it's been around for 20 years and they hire a contracting company to make them really good software that does what they want, instead of what they think they want it to do.

You really don't understand the companies that are awarded government contracts, do you? Figuring out what the customer really wants is not part of their job description, and is most likely grounds for being put on the first plane back to India. You give the customer exactly what they ask for, no more, with screeds of documentation signed and countersigned in triplicate to cover your ass. When the customer asks for a database that matches names, the names must match, in the official character set of the nation - ASCII, not any other character set, and no mention was made in the customer requirements of accounting for alternate transliterations, so don't try to bring it to the table.

Re:I wrote anti-terrorist software for banks. (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | about 7 months ago | (#46589625)

Using Soundex on something like the terrorist watch list would undoubtedly increase the false positive rate, even though it would solve the true positive problem laid out by the summary. We need something that doesn't create far more problems (you know, like expanding the invasion of rights) than it solves.

well well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46588969)

well well.. a spelling mistake in the end, a shame, the US cannot put a name correctly in a database.

Never blame a person in the bureaucracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46588997)

Baloney. The first rule of government bureaucracy is to blame your resources when you fail. The second rule is to demand more money to fix the problem.

Toilet time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589017)

is the last bastion of American freedom, but fear not, they have set aside 30 billion dollars and will be sending S.W.A.T. to every home to verify.

The possibility of such snafus is preferable to th (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589031)

After 9/11, the dragnets were so broad and reckless that people whose names even resembled those of suspected terrorists ended up being dragged out in the night, held indefinitely, sometimes tortured, and in best-case scenarios "merely" put on no-fly lists and blacklisted from employment. Better to accept the possibility of an attack and remain a free country than accept that kind of disgrace.

WTF? What are they using excel spreadsheets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589045)

Why would they have to *enter* the name twice, just click the identity, tag it and link to detention... sheesh...

who designed their app?? The folks who fucked up the obamacare websites? uhhhh ohhhh - looks like it was...

Sure he did.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589047)

..sure they did..

Not just misspelled, but misspelled *differently* (4, Informative)

Max Threshold (540114) | about 7 months ago | (#46589065)

Neither "Tsarnaev" nor "Tsarnayev" is the correct spelling; the correct spelling is "ЦÐÑнÐÌÐÐ".

As another commenter mentioned, utility companies solved this problem decades ago with technology like Soundex. Our intelligence apparatus is apparently crippled by incompetence, laziness, haste, provincialism, or all of the above.

Spell That (2)

puddingebola (2036796) | about 7 months ago | (#46589081)

Tamerlan Tsarnaev- T-I-M-T-H-O-M-A-S. I am professional hockey player.

His name was diabolical! (5, Funny)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 7 months ago | (#46589107)

That fiend had changed his name to "Tsarnayev'); DROP TABLE Terrorists; --"

Re:His name was diabolical! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589263)

I don't think these software systems are that advanced. Probably something as simple as "Tsarnay\\nev" would be better.

Get rid of the TSA! (4, Interesting)

colin_faber (1083673) | about 7 months ago | (#46589129)

Seriously, this entire organization encompasses everything wrong with the Federal government. Massive privacy overreach, complete incompetence, and a literal NIGHTMARE BUREAUCRACY! This is one of the worst aspects of the Bush legacy, and "The One" has not done anything to curtail its power: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TRAVEL... [cnn.com]

Re:Get rid of the TSA! (4, Insightful)

ShaunC (203807) | about 7 months ago | (#46589497)

It's also an enormous jobs program, employing 50,000 nut-cuppers and breast-gropers alone, without even getting started on air marshals, behavioral analysts, and of course thousands more management positions. Don't expect TSA disappear anytime soon, no matter who's in the White House.

Shoulda used Google (1, Interesting)

LoRdTAW (99712) | about 7 months ago | (#46589159)

Agent: Tamerlan Tsarnev

Google: Did you mean: Tamerlan Tsarnaev

That would have solved the problem.

new meme....deliberate misspelling (2)

turkeydance (1266624) | about 7 months ago | (#46589201)

john or jhon or joohn....... every one gets a different one.

Soundex (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589209)

I said Sowndaex

Jungle Monkey Data Entry Clerks (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589247)

I wonder if the clerk who entered his name was Lafawnduh Ayeisha Tanaynay.

difficulties with names (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589273)

This topic has been covered before...
http://slashdot.org/story/137228

No, no . . . Archibald Buttle (4, Funny)

Idou (572394) | about 7 months ago | (#46589279)

It should have been: Archibald Tuttle

As much as the TSA sucks... (2)

Patent Lover (779809) | about 7 months ago | (#46589417)

... this had nothing to do with the TSA. They just make sure people bring bombs, snow globes, or nail clippers onto planes. Even if they detained the correctly spelled Tsarnaev, he did nothing illegal until he built and set off a bomb. Some day the DHS will realize that they have to do real police work instead of making lists that depend on correctly spelled names.

Ah, but rest assured... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589465)

The next time they cavity-search your 9-year-old daughter at the airport, or microwave your pregnant wife, they're doing it to protect you from TERRORISTS!

When they log your license plates, traffic-cam your commute, snoop on your e-mail and phone calls, etc. remember: IT'S FOR YOUR OWN GOOD! #OBEY. Do not object no matter what natural and/or constitutional rights they infringe! Above all, ask no questions! (you might be aiding TERRORISTS if you do).

It's all Security Theater (TM).

This EXACTLY like U.S. Border security; The elites want the cheap labor and hope to get the votes of a new permanent poor underclass so they demand no border control (and do not enforce immigration laws) while they pretend to be concerned and show-off border patrol vehicles and weapons, etc and propose bill after bill to "fix" the "broken" existing laws (which are only "Broken" in the sense that they're not being enforced).

The same elites (in BOTH parties - they work together) who let the entire Bin Laden family fly out of the US immediately post-911 (while US citizens were all grounded) without ANY of the normal investigative interviews ANY American family of a mass-murderer would have been subjected to, orders 70-year-old Catholic nuns to get groped at airports for our safety. The same elites who demand lax security at all the nation's cargo ports (so the billions of dollars of trade packed into massive shipping containers will freely flow and their stock market investments will rise) need to make sure YOU do not carry a quart of Mountain Dew onto a plane (to PROTECT THE NATION!!!). They demand online services provide access to your accounts, demand your banks hand-over your financial records, demand your phone company hand over your phone records, demand your doctor make all your medical records electronic and available to them online ("don't worry, it's all for your own GOOD" they say) ... don't worry, NONE of that information will be used by the IRS or the NSA to blackmail your elected politicians or your judges... but then they claim they just cannot find an actual terrorist even when given his identity long before the attack (oh, they MEANT to stop him, but they just COULDN'T help it! they mis-spelled his name!). They are counting on the public to generally be too stupid to ask questions and push-back before they can get their police state. Elites are always perfectly happy in police states... average people? not so much. Pay no attenttion to any of this. They'll give your food stamps and offer you legalized pot if you'll just look away while they sieze all your most-important rights.

Move along. Nothing to see here, it's all double-plus good.

Memo: Tscharneyeff determined to attack America (0)

haruchai (17472) | about 7 months ago | (#46589481)

Oops, must be Bush's fault :-)

Gob'ment! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589509)

Git wercha payfer!

Multiple factor ID (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46589613)

Jane Smyth from 1600 Foo Ave. is not John Smith from 1601 Foo St. One or both of these people might not even exist. If the database just did some simple consistency checks like that as a matter of routine, not only would they detain the right people, they'd gradually "heal" the database. Name, address, telephone, email, maybe a few other things without compromising everybody's security (no SSNs, etc.) and you'd get a much more robust ID.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?