Trade data can yield crime clues

In recent months, Iraq has become one of the world's top five exporters of copper, though it has no copper mines. That anomaly reflects widespread looting of copper from the Iraqi telephone and electrical systems, according to sources in the copper industry.

Tracking such trade discrepancies is one way to detect criminal activity, and the Homeland Security Department is looking to boost its tracking tools.

The department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau uses the Numerically Integrated Profiling System to crawl through dozens of trade databases looking for clues to money laundering by terrorists, drug smugglers and other criminals. Soon, ICE will buy new tools that can tackle wider and more diverse data.

ICE plans

ICE, an arm of the department's Border and Transportation Security Directorate, plans to acquire 14 copies of LeadMiner, an improved version of NIPS.

ICE plans to use seven of the systems in Washington and seven in Bogota, Colombia.

ICE's predecessor, the Customs Service, began using NIPS in the early 1990s to investigate financial crimes.

'DataMining International is a new company started by the original programmer who wrote NIPS,' ICE spokesman Marc Raimondi said. That programmer, Mark Laxer, now is chief technology officer for the company.

Raimondi said LeadMiner has the same look and feel as NIPS. LeadMiner's custom algorithms and artificial intelligence methods can tease out relationships in both structured and unstructured data, according to an ICE announcement.

The data-mining software, which can search multiterabyte Oracle and other relational databases, will scan records in more than 25 databases available to ICE. In contrast, NIPS is limited to databases of about 100G.

LeadMiner automates comparisons of federal trade data with records from foreign governments' databases, searching for clues such as Iraq's copper exports.

LeadMiner has Visual Basic and Java versions, and analysts can use either or both versions under Microsoft Windows NT, Win 2000 or XP.

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