Catching terrorists by following the money trail

Interview with Peter Ship, Senior Industry Consultant of SAS Public Security, South Asia.

“Terrorism needs funding,” says Peter Ship, Senior Industry Consultant of SAS Public Security, South Asia. What if public safety and security agencies could analyse financial data to track down terror cells? That is one way that real-time data analytics is helping investigators to identify persons of interest and uncover their terror networks, Ship explains. He is helping intelligence teams across the region to collect all the information available to them, break down data silos, and derive meaningful insights. He tells GovInsider how financial institutions, police forces and national security agencies can work better together to make connections faster, which can make a huge difference in tracking down the bad guys. What’s your risk score? Financial institutions are often the first line of defence in the battle against terrorism, according to Ship. Financial information can quickly help investigators identify individual actors, such as terrorists, which can be worked on to reveal an entire network. This means that banks need to work closely with police and public safety agencies, says Ship. It is crucial to use a single platform to collect and analyse all of the information that is available, financial or otherwise, he continues. To track down people who may be committing tax fraud, for instance, SAS’ data analytics platform will calculate ‘risk scores’ of persons of interest and provide these to analysts. The platform updates risk scores in near real-time whenever new information comes in, Ship explains. “Within two seconds of that piece of information being ingested into the system, the analyst is told that the risk score on this person is increasing.” Investigators will be able to identify “terrorism cells and how money has been moving” by following the trail of counterterrorism financing. At a broader level, real-time data analytics helps investigators uncover the underlying connections between crimes in different parts of a country. Ship recently worked with a regional police force to solve a home invasion; the robber had taken a knife from the first offence and subsequently used it to hold up a petrol station in another part of the country. This only came to light with the SAS’ data analytics tool. “The system immediately identified links between the two crimes, which meant that the police were able to provide a coordinated response and quickly identify and arrest the offender,” says Ship. SAS’ intelligence and investigation management solutions help agencies to very quickly connect the dots, Ship explains. “Without analytics, this incident would have been treated as two completely separate crimes that would have been investigated by different people in different parts of the country,” he explains. Information for action Ship believes that investigators today are often in danger of being overwhelmed with data - restricting their ability to find the right data. These massive and ever-increasing quantities of data can strain limited operational resources, which often exist in siloed stores and repositories, preventing investigators from identifying areas of increasing threat. Data analytics tools can “prevent law enforcement from drowning in data”, Ship continues. With support from real-time data analytics tools, agencies will be able to collect “information for action”, as Ship puts it. “Intelligence is always imperfect,” he notes, but there is also a real need to understand the difference between data, information and intelligence, he believes. SAS Visual Investigator can help agencies better manage investigations across the entire life cycle, Ship explains. It works by helping analysts and investigators to manage vast stores of information, and make it all understandable and actionable. Public safety teams can proactively identify areas that may need further investigation; respond to anomalous and suspicious activity as it is happening;, and at the same time, address the demands of regulatory compliance and internal audits. This solution is particularly useful for banks looking for fraud and money laundering, national security and law enforcement looking for terrorism and criminal activities, and hospitals guarding against disease outbreaks. Another aspect that public safety teams struggle with is predicting risks of future crimes, Ship continues. By working with SAS, investigators can also have “augmented intelligence” at their disposal. Here is where it gets interesting: artificial intelligence and machine learning are used to build ways to accurately detect patterns of criminal activity, based on historical training and outcomes data. As an example; real-time analysis of body-worn cameras and other image or video datasets can be analysed in real time, says Ship. “We help public security agencies to identify risks that they would never have been able to find before in the huge amount of data they are analysing,” he remarks. Ultimately, Ship believes that for safety and security agencies to be more effective, they “need to be more clever in how they collect and manage intelligence” so they can “connect crime in real-time”. From frontline police to executive-level officials, from local to national or cross-border agencies, everyone who is working towards a safer country will benefit from a ‘single view of the truth’. Real-time data analytics provides a double whammy in this fight - it broadens the focus for investigators, and helps them do their job faster. It empowers investigators to find a crucial missing piece of intelligence that helps them prevent the next attack, and saves lives. Peter Ship has headed the SAS Public Security Unit for South Asia since September 2013. Over the past ten years, Ship has worked with a number of police forces and intelligence agencies across the world, helping them to develop and maximise their intelligence systems. Ship had a notable 30-year career with London’s Metropolitan Police Service, most of which was spent within New Scotland Yard’s Specialist Crime Directorate managing intelligence-led operations. During his last three years as a police officer, Ship led the strategic review of intelligence systems in MPF, which led to major changes including the development and implementation of the SAS ‘intelligence platform’ across the force.