By Michael Cunningham
Carnegie Mellon University alumnus Ian Kloo is helping to fight terrorism by following the money.
As a Presidential Management Fellow, Kloo developed an innovative app for the Center for Army Analysis that helped analysts at the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) find links between known and unknown money launderers that support terrorism.
Money laundering is the process of creating the appearance that money obtained from serious crimes, such as drug trafficking or terrorist activity, originated from a legitimate source. The World Bank estimates that approximately $3.61 trillion is laundered annually worldwide, and the practice involves transfers involving foreign banks or legitimate businesses.
Kloo’s app has had a monumental impact at USCENTCOM, enabling government officials to seize and interdict what Kloo described as a “significant” amount of money from known terrorist organizations.
For his efforts, Kloo was awarded the 2016 David Rist Prize by the Military Operations Research Society. The Rist Prize recognizes the practical benefit operations research can have on “real life” decision-making.
“USCENTCOM had a lot of data that had been subpoenaed through various legal actions,” said Kloo, who received his master’s degree in public policy and management from CMU’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy in 2014. “We came up with a methodology to go through and create some visualizations based on all of that data.”
The key to developing this groundbreaking technology, which was unprecedented in financial counterterrorism, was something called “entity resolution,” the practice of determining whether two similar names in a financial transaction data set are the same person.
“We were trying to answer the really hard question of, ‘which two people in this data set are actually the same person, but using different names or different monikers,’ so getting after that is where I think we had the greatest impact,” Kloo said. “We created an interface for analysts to use, where they could go through and create some relatively complicated rule sets to do some fuzzy matching of these names.”
Using Kloo’s app, an analyst could determine they wanted to create a data set where everyone who has the same date of birth, and similar names based on some key metrics, is considered to be the same person.
“In a typical data set, it would be several hundred million pair-wise comparisons to do that by hand, which is impossible,” Kloo said. “But the analysts had the intuition to do it. So we were able to leverage the analysts’ insight and the power of computers to fit where appropriate instead of trying to shoehorn one into the wrong place.”
In addition to the Rist Prize, Kloo’s work to counteract terrorist financing landed him a job. With his two-year Presidential Management Fellowship set to expire next month, Kloo was hired by the Center for Army Analysis to continue leading data science projects that make a positive impact on society.
Kloo is developing an app to optimize space in the Arlington National Cemetery and creating tools to help Army analysts predict which digital news stories will attract the most public attention.
“Being able to use data science to have a positive impact on society is very fulfilling, and it’s one of the main reasons that I wanted to get involved in government work in the first place,” Kloo said.