Blown To Bits

Neil Entwistle’s digital crumbs, and the CIA’s

Thursday, May 29th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

After moaning about surveillance and privacy a few days ago, I wanted to acknowledge the other side. The electronic traces we now routinely leave behind during our daily lives are also left by criminals, and the data is now valuable for solving crimes.

Neil Entwistle is the British-born man who allegedly killed his wife and 9-month-old daughter in Hopkinton, Massachusetts with a gun in 2006. As the notorious case moves to trial, some aspects of the prosecution’s evidence are being published. Entwistle Googled how to kill with a¬†‚Äúknife in the neck‚Äù and also visited service-providing web sites with names such as¬†blondebeautyescorts, halfpriceescorts and hotlocalescorts. Based on previous reporting, it appears that this information was culled from Entwistle’s home computer, rather than from Google. (Check your web browser’s “History” menu on your own computer to see how this information might have been retrieved.)

In other news, the Italians have again proved that they are smarter about tracing digital breadcrumbs than Americans are at hiding them. In Blown to Bits, we explain how an Italian blogger managed to uncover sensitive military information from the official US Army report on the shooting by American troops of an Italian intelligence agent, Nicola Calipari. Today, Italian security experts reveal that they were able to link the CIA to the abduction in Milan of radical Imam¬†¬†Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, simply by noting which cell phones were in use in the vicinity of the site of the kidnapping. (Sorry, of the “extraordinary rendition”; that’s the official US term.) The cell phones reported their location to nearby cell phone towers, as cell phones are constantly doing, and the Italians were able to sort through the stored location data after the fact to identify the culprits. The Italians seem almost contemptuous that the CIA would provide so little challenge to their electronic sleuthing abilities.

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