Last week was another banner week for that JV squad also known as ISIS. From Turkey to Bangladesh to Iraq, the streets ran red with innocent people’s blood. So much (again) for Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim that we’re “winning” the War on Terror.
But what if the concepts brought forth in professional baseball by people like Bill James and Billy Beane, and memorialized by Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball, were employed in the War on Terror? Could these principles be used by the U.S. and other countries to reduce the number of terrorist attacks and make our public gatherings safer? And if it could, would our leaders in Washington, D.C. have the guile, guts, and political will to give it a try?
To oversimplify, this would mean to use modern baseball as a model to fight terrorism by collecting deep data sets and using the power of sabermetrics and computers to determine the proper course of action. If all this sounds farfetched and like science fiction, may I present a company called Predata founded by James Shinn who served both in the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense. He believes his company can predict future terrorist attracts by monitoring social media and using sabermetrics to spot danger points, or as Predata’s website states, “Our algorithms monitor digital conversations across open-source social and collaborative media, extracting metadata indicators like interest level and intensity of discussion.” In an interview in Bloomberg, Shinn draws a direct analogy to Moneyball by saying, “By carefully gathering lots and lots of statistics on their past performance from all corners of the Internet, we are predicting how a large number of players on a team will bat or pitch in the future.”
Data sets can be used in monitoring not just social media but all sorts of other sources of information. Once you have the data, the goal is to let the numbers dictate the tactics you employ, even if that means bucking conventional or political wisdom. The U.S. military has already stuck its toe in studying the Moneyball mentality, and this concept has support from both current and former members. James Schneider, who taught Military Theory at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, assigned the book Moneyball to his students as did Dr. Erin Simpson at the U.S. Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia. Col. Gregory Fontenot (Ret.), director of the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies, told the New Republic: “What we liked about Moneyball is that on the face of it, they looked at baseball and said, ‘The things we believe we know are based on mistaken premises, and if we take a look at baseball differently, we will see solutions we would not see.’”
Some even believe American Counter Insurgency Theory (COIN) shares a lot of commonalities with Moneyball theories. According to the U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Guide, COIN can be defined as “comprehensive civilian and military efforts taken to simultaneously defeat and contain insurgency and address its root causes.” It is like Moneyball in that it is heavy in statistics, sabermetrics, and its willingness to embrace unconventional wisdom if that is what the math dictates.
Obviously none of this will defeat the Jihadist by itself, but if it helps reduce the carnage incrementally it would be worth pursuing. But it is where this rubber meets the road where our national leaders are likely to blink. In using data compiling to try to predict the future there is a matrix report-like quality to it. Data may be colorblind, but you can see the politically correct problem crop up if the data suggests, for example, monitoring select young American Muslim men between the age of 16 and 39 who engage in certain legal activities, but have yet to commit any crimes.
The whole concept of political correctness takes on a surreal quality in Washington, D.C. How many terrorist attacks must we suffer through in America where the proponents are Muslim radicals, and our leaders are loath to use words like Muslim or Islam and would rather discuss gun control or use misleading terms like “lone wolf” to describe the core elements of the attack? The whole concept of Moneyball is to let the data suggest pathways to victory based on real statistics that may have not been apparent before crunching the numbers. Unfortunately, one gets the impression that too many of our elected leaders value being politically correct more than stopping terrorist attacks or understanding their root causes.