Monday, January 31, 2011

Mubarak’s Going to Saudi Arabia, CIA-Backed Forecasters Say | Danger Room | Wired.com

Mubarak’s Going to Saudi Arabia, CIA-Backed Forecasters Say

Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule of Egypt is probably coming to an end, and that means he’ll likely leave Egypt right after he leaves power. (Dictators don’t usually stick around the countries they dictated.) So where would Mubarak flee? One data mining company, backed by the investment arms of Google and the CIA, has an educated guess.

Recorded Future scours tens of thousands of websites, blogs, and Twitter accounts to find the so-called “invisible links” between people, actions, and events. In this case, the company turned its tools on Mubarak’s travel patterns to find clues to his next moves. The guy isn’t exactly posting his post-regime plans on his Facebook wall. But, by looking at public documents about where Mubarak has been and who he hangs with, some likely destinations for his exile emerge.

“If you want to know where he’s going next,” says Recorded Future CEO Christopher Ahlberg, “you’ve got to know what he’s done in the past.”

The reasons why he travels matter, too. Mubarak flew both to Germany and France last year: once for cancer treatment, and a second time for suspected health reasons. It suggests that the 82 year-old leader would rather land in a country first first class medical facilities (at least for former strongmen).  Some of Mubarak’s other destinations this year — like Libya, Sudan, and Algeria — don’t really fit that bill.

On the other hand, European countries — especially ones with large Arab minorities — might be a little skittish about taking such an unpopular figure. So Germany or France might not be the best choice for Mubarak’s retirement home.

Saudi Arabia is another frequent Mubarak destination. He was there in January, 2009, huddling with King Abdullah, and again in July, 2010, talking about the Lebanese political crisis. Mubarak and King Abdullah were supposed to meet again in November — although Abdullah called off the trip at the last minute, because of health issues.

A few days ago, the Saudi ruler blamed “intruders” for allegedly “tampering with Egypt’s security and stability… in the name of freedom of expression.” And earlier in the month, Saudi Arabia took in ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. No wonder, then, that one chant in Egypt goes: “Hosni Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak, the plane is waiting, the plane is waiting. Saudi Arabia is not far!”

Recorded Future’s analysts believe that Saudi Arabia is Mubarak’s next destination, too.

The company attracted millions of dollars from Google Ventures and from In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the U.S. intelligence community, based on the promise that it can forecast coming events automatically. The company’s scouring of present and past information is supposed to feed predictive algorithms, which offer likely future outcomes.

But in this case, “humans put it together. No predictive model. No data models,” Ahlberg says.

If that’s not a ringing endorsement of Recorded Future’s predictive powers, consider the performance of one potential competitor. An Air Force-funded firm, Milcord, used a statistical model to put together a list of the 37 countries most likely to see political violence by 2014. Egypt was ranked #36, just ahead of Belgium.

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