TIDE is the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment. Over the last four years it has quadrupled in size, from fewer than 100,000 files in 2003 to 435,000. A giant dumping ground for bits and pieces of information from spies, reports for allies and random gossip, it generated watch lists for airlines, law enforcement and US consulates. Once someone is on a watch list, it’s nearly impossible to get off. The guy who runs the program acknowledges that the program is less than perfect, but that we’re never going to have perfect information – DNA and fingerprints of 6 billion people across the world.
Trying to prevent a terrorist attack by collecting more and more data points is looking at the problem through the wrong end of the telescope. If the goal is to identify potential terrorists, then go out and look for potential terrorists – don’t spend your time looking at grannies getting on airplanes with knitting needles. If terrorism is defined as global then attempts to collect information about everyone in the world would make sense, and we face a worldwide war without end. But if terrorism is seen as something that happens under a very specific set of circumstances – as it is in Jihadists in Paradise – then it is entirely possible that we might one day see an end to the war on terrorism.