NSA-grade surveillance software: IBM i2 Analyst’s Notebook (Really?)

I stumbled across Revealed: Denver Police Using NSA-Grade Surveillance Software which had this description of “NSA-grade surveillance software…:”


Intelligence gathered through Analyst’s Notebook is also used in a more active way to guide decision making, including with deliberate targeting of “networks” which could include loose groupings of friends and associates, as well as more explicit social organizations such as gangs, businesses, and potentially political organizations or protest groups. The social mapping done with Analyst’s Notebook is used to select leads, targets or points of intervention for future actions by the user. According to IBM, the i2 software allows the analyst to “use integrated social network analysis capabilities to help identify key individuals and relationships within networks” and “aid the decision-making process and optimize resource utilization for operational activities in network disruption, surveillance or influencing.” Product literature also boasts that Analyst’s Notebook “includes Social Network Analysis capabilities that are designed to deliver increased comprehension of social relationships and structures within networks of interest.”

Analyst’s Notebook is also used to conduct “call chaining” (show who is talking to who) and analyze telephone metadata. A software extension called Pattern Tracer can be used for “quickly identifying potential targets”. In the same vein, the Esri Edition of Analyst’s Notebook integrates powerful geo-spatial mapping, and allows the analyst to conduct “Pattern-of-Life Analysis” against a target. A training video for Analyst’s Notebook Esri Edition demonstrates the deployment of Pattern of Life Analysis in a military setting against an example target who appears appears to be a stereotyped generic Muslim terrorism suspect:

Perhaps I’m overly immune to IBM marketing pitches but I didn’t see anything in this post that could not be done with Python, R and standard visualization techniques.

I understand that IBM markets the i2 Analyst’s Notebook (and training too) as:

…deliver[ing] timely, actionable intelligence to help identify, predict, prevent and disrupt criminal, terrorist and fraudulent activities.

to a reported tune of over 2,500 organizations worldwide.

However, you have to bear in mind the software isn’t delivering that value-add but rather the analyst plus the right data and the IBM software. That is the software is at best only one third of what is required for meaningful results.

That insight seems to have gotten lost in IBM’s marketing pitch for the i2 Analyst’s Notebook and its use by the Denver police.

But to be fair, I have included below the horizontal bar, the complete list of features for the i2 Analyst’s Notebook.

Do you see any that can’t be duplicated with standard software?

I don’t.

That’s another reason to object to the Denver Police falling into the clutches of maintenance agreements/training on software that is likely irrelevant to their day to day tasks.


IBM® i2® Analyst’s Notebook® is a visual intelligence analysis environment that can optimize the value of massive amounts of information collected by government agencies and businesses. With an intuitive and contextual design it allows analysts to quickly collate, analyze and visualize data from disparate sources while reducing the time required to discover key information in complex data. IBM i2 Analyst’s Notebook delivers timely, actionable intelligence to help identify, predict, prevent and disrupt criminal, terrorist and fraudulent activities.

i2 Analyst’s Notebook helps organizations to:

Rapidly piece together disparate data

Identify key people, events, connections and patterns

Increase understanding of the structure, hierarchy and method of operation

Simplify the communication of complex data

Capitalize on rapid deployment that delivers productivity gains quickly

Be sure to leave a comment if you see “NSA-grade” capabilities. We would all like to know what those are.

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