Using Data to Find Bin Laden
Where they thought he was and where he was.
Great piece — Geographers Had Predicted Osama’s Possible Whereabouts – ScienceInsider (thanks Daily Kos- Geographers predict Osama’s location) which tells the story of Thomas Gillespie, a UCLA geographer
who, along with colleague John Agnew and a class of undergraduates, authored a 2009 paper predicting the terrorist’s whereabouts, were none too shabby. According to a probabilistic model they created, there was an 88.9% chance that bin Laden was hiding out in a city less than 300 km from his last known location in Tora Bora: a region that included Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was killed last night.
Here’s their original paper: web.mit.edu-mitir-2009-online-finding-bin-laden.pdf. It’s not as if these guys identified the town correctly (and the Science article has had to backtrack on some of its original assertions and the comments aren’t kind), but they got a lot of things right: They figured out he was much likely to be in a house than a cave, and in a relatively large town rather than a village, and that he was in Pakistan rather than somewhere else. They also predicted the kind of building he would be living in. In the end they were less than 300 km off.
Not bad, when you look at what the CIA was saying about him before (of course, they may have been trying to put people off the scent, but we know that it was only earlier this year that they had an idea he might be in the house:
- Bin Laden’s location still unknown- CIA boss – World – CBC News: On bin Laden, Panetta said he was hiding amid Pakistan’s rough terrain with “tremendous security around him.”
- NATO official- Bin Laden, deputy hiding in northwest Pakistan – CNN.com The official said the general region where bin Laden is likely to have moved around in recent years ranges from the mountainous Chitral area in the far northwest near the Chinese border, to the Kurram Valley, which adjoins Afghanistan’s Tora Bora, one of the Taliban strongholds during the U.S. invasion in 2001.