November 14, 2009Foreign Affairs

The probability of not suspecting David Headley

A 250-fold improvement in obfuscation

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

In Superfreakonomics, the sequel to their first book, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner write that in the United Kingdom, Muslim names would turn out to be one of the strongest demographic markers for the algorithm” to identify people who might be terrorists.

A person with neither a first or last Muslim name stood only a 1 in 500,000 chance of being suspected a terrorist. The likelihood for a person with a first or a last Muslim name was 1 in 30,000. For a person with a first and last Muslim names, however, the likelihood jumped to 1 in 2,000.

All this suggests that if a budding terrorist wants to cover his tracks, he should go down to the bank and change the name on his account to something very un-Muslim (Ian, perhaps). [Superfreakonomics]Evidently, Daood Gilani, 49, a US citizen of Pakistani extraction, knew his freakonomics. His chances of being suspected went down from 1 in 2000 to 1 in 500,000, perhaps even lower given his US citizenship, when changed his name to David Coleman Headley.

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