We commonly use GIS for mapping fires and planning land use projects. And on the TV show Numb3rs they can do magic my manipulating combinations of zeros and ones in a computer to find the bad guy. But finding Osama? Hmmmm.
Here's what the professors say in the abstract of a paper they just published:
We use biogeographic theories associated with the distribution of life and extinction (distance-decay theory, island biogeography theory, and life history characteristics) and remote sensing data (Landsat ETM+, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, Defense Meteorological Satellite, QuickBird) over three spatial scales (global, regional, local) to identify where bin Laden is most probably currently located.They take some great leaps in making some assumptions on which their conclusions are based. For example, here are Osama's characteristics which then led them to search for particular attributes of structures where Osama must be hiding.
Life History Characteristics/Physical Structure Attribute
Is 6’4” tall/Tall building
Requires a dialysis machine that uses electricity/Electric grid hookup or generator
Prefers physical protection/Walls over three meters high
Enjoys personal privacy/space between structures
Retains a small number of body guards/More than three rooms
Prefers to remain protected from aerial view/Trees for cover when outside
(Are they sure he's in a structure?)
They also based the search on Osama's last known location in 2001, the Tora Bora region of Afganistan--assuming that he was still in that general part of the world.
And in case you're wondering if we're giving up any classified data here, they professors said in an interview on the Rachel Maddow show tonight that they gave the information to the FBI before they published the paper.