Beauty and Terror: Does Mathematics Have a Role to Play in Winning the Shadow War?

Reuben W. Hills Conference Room
  • Jonathan Farley

How do you stop a terrorist?

You can work hard: Post men and equipment at every street corner, every port, every bay, every slip of beach, every straight stretch of asphalt long enough to land a plane.

You will spend billions, and your lines will be thin. All you've done is build the "impregnable" Atlantic Sea Wall--which the Allies punched through in hours on D-Day.

You've got to work smarter, not harder.

The opening line of the Oscar-winning movie A Beautiful Mind is "Mathematicians won the war." During World War II, the mathematics underlying cryptography played an important role in military planning.

Thereafter came a new kind of war. After the first frosts descended in the Soviet East, perhaps $2 billion were spent in the development of Game Theory.

Now again we face a new kind of war. And we need a new kind of mathematics to fight it.

Since 2001, tremendous amounts of information have been gathered regarding terrorist cells and individuals potentially planning future attacks. There is now a pressing need to develop new mathematical and computational techniques to assist in the analysis of this information, both to quantify future threats and to quantify the effectiveness of counterterrorism operations and strategies. Concepts and techniques from mathematics--specifically, from Lattice Theory and Reflexive Theory--have already been applied to counterterrorism and homeland security problems. The following is a partial list of such problems.

1. Strategies for disrupting terrorist cells

2. Data analysis of terrorist activity

3. Border penetration and security

4. Terrorist cell formation

Jonathan Farley is a CISAC science fellow and a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica. His work focuses on applying lattice theory and other branches of mathematics to problems in counterterrorism and homeland security.

In 2001-2002 he was one of four Americans to win a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar Award to the United Kingdom. In the calendar years 2003 and 2004 he taught as a professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2004 he received the Harvard Foundation's Distinguished Scientist of the Year Award, a medal presented on behalf of the president of Harvard University for "outstanding achievements and contributions in the field of mathematics." The City of Cambridge, Mass., declared March 19, 2004, to be "Dr. Jonathan David Farley Day."

He obtained his doctorate in mathematics from Oxford University in 1995, after winning Oxford's highest mathematics awards, the Senior Mathematical Prize and Johnson University Prize, in 1994. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1991 with the second highest average in his graduating class.

Farley's work includes the solution of a problem posed by universal algebraist George Gratzer that remained unsolved for 34 years, and the solution (published in 2005) of a problem posed in 1981 by MIT mathematics professor Richard Stanley.