Army employs visualization software to uncover procurement fraud

i2's Analyst Notebook software helps visualize hard-to-pinpoint cases

When it comes to understanding government procurement, any tools that can help make sense of the inherent complexity of contracts can be hugely helpful.

So, not surprisingly, integrator SRA International, which has a contract to help the Army Criminal Investigation Command investigate potential procurement fraud, uses data visualization software from i2 to help root out cases of bribery, money laundering or conspiracy.

"The contracting arena is just so large [and] there are so many government personnel, bidders, contractors, employees and their families. Data visualization software really helps clarify the big picture," said Amanda Post, an analyst for SRA.

On a daily basis, SRA's team of 10 analysts search through evidence collected from search warrants.

"We're scanning everything out there to find evidence to support our investigation against criminal fraud," Post said. Evidence might consist of an e-mail that states that a certain amount of money has been transferred from one account to another, or a bank receipt of a wire transfer.

To make sense of this data, the investigative team often uses the i2's Analyst's Notebook, which allows users to graph data elements onto a visual palette.

Each case has a large chart, created with the i2 software, which details how all the entities in a case relate to each other. Whenever analysts finds a piece of evidence worth noting, they enter it onto the chart and then draw a line to other related pieces of evidence. The user interface for i2 software, which is installed on each analyst's desktop computer, resembles a drawing board. The user is given a palette of tools with a wide array of icons that can be dragged onto the drawing board. A link button is provided to connect entities to one another.

"We use the software to show the flow of money, the subject relationships," Post said. "It allows our team at SRA to support investigation by producing visual aids that’s how the relationships between people, businesses and events."

The resulting charts can be used for a variety of tasks. The team will print out and post the chart on a wall so they can keep track of the big picture. Or a prosecuting attorney can use it as courtroom exhibit. It also helps outside agencies personnel up to speed quickly on a case. And when interviewing subjects, an analyst can refer to the chart to clarify complex relationships.

Of course, investigators have been using whiteboards for decades as a way to map information. However, i2's software offers advantages over this manual approach, Post said. Managing the complexity is one: An average case may have 200 entities or more. With the software, entities can easily be erased and moved around, and multiple data points about an entity can be layered onto the chart. Also, the charts will need to be redone, as new facts are unearthed. "The charts that we have are always a work in progress," Post said.

The SRA team still enters the data by hand, although the software has options to import data directly from relational databases or spreadsheets, according to Chriss Knisley, i2 assistant vice president. The company recently released version 8 of this software, which features additional analytical tools.

"The uses are pretty broad," Knisley said about the software. "They cover everything from commercial fraud to intelligence analysis. [It can be used] where you are trying to make sense of large sets of disparate data."

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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