I write about technology. Therefore it is in my interest to mentally solve problems using financial markets technology that I know about and (peripherally) understand. This gives me ideas for stories that I can pitch to publications, and thereby make money. This morning I was struck by an idea that has nothing to do with financial markets, but everything to do with its technology. I am not a techie. But I know that there are a few geeks who read my blog (you know who you are) who might be able to answer this question for me. Why can't governments coordinate their anti-terrorist groups and databases using algorithms? If a bank's algo can hunt down and nail liquidity and find the best price among 40-odd exchanges and ECNs, why can't governments hunt down terrorists the same way?
Here is my thought. This Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab who tried to set his pants on fire on Xmas Day was either listed by or known about at over a dozen US and foreign agencies. None of them seemed to be bothered about telling the others what they knew, so Umar slipped through the - very wide - cracks. If these agencies had to note down every known or suspected terrorist or their movements or a plot into a central database, which I believe they do, then an algorithm could be programmed to find patterns and similarities between the data in them. The TSA, CIA, FBI, MI5 and whoever else is supposed to be in charge, could therefore communicate without any egos or lobbyists getting involved. The quant brains over at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse could earn their 2010 bonuses by helping to design the algos. Am I wrong? Or could technology really help to control terrorism?