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Great moments in Osama speculation: Biogeographic data edition

This post was a big hit for Passport back in 2009 and seems to be getting traffic again today:  Geography Professor Thomas Gillespie of UCLA has employed a technique typically used for tracking endangered species in order to pinpoint the most likely location of the world’s most wanted terrorist. In a paper (pdf) published in ...

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This post was a big hit for Passport back in 2009 and seems to be getting traffic again today: 

Geography Professor Thomas Gillespie of UCLA has employed a technique typically used for tracking endangered species in order to pinpoint the most likely location of the world’s most wanted terrorist. In a paper (pdf) published in the MIT International Review Gillespie describes how he used biogeographic data including bin Laden’s last known location, cultural background, security needs, declining health, limited mobility and height to create a mathematical model that he claims will show where the terror mastermind is hiding.[…]

More specifically, he found a 90 percent chance that bin Laden is in Kurram province in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, most likely in the town of Parachinar which gave shelter to a larger number of Mujahedin during the 1980s.

Gillespie’s technique got him a lot closer than Stephonopolous and Ahmadinejad — Parachinar is about an 8-hour drive from Abottabad according to Google Maps — and it turned out he was right that bin Laden would be found, not in a cave, but in a compound that that could accommodate "security, electricity, high ceilings to accommodate his 6ft 4in frame and spare rooms for his bodyguard."

On the other hand, you didn’t exactly need biogeographic data to tell you that bin Laden was probably in Pakistan. Gillespie’s main argument is that the ailing terrorist would not have gone far from the Afghan border region, his last known location. His final home turned out to be much closer to the Kashmir side of Pakistan.

This post was a big hit for Passport back in 2009 and seems to be getting traffic again today: 

Geography Professor Thomas Gillespie of UCLA has employed a technique typically used for tracking endangered species in order to pinpoint the most likely location of the world’s most wanted terrorist. In a paper (pdf) published in the MIT International Review Gillespie describes how he used biogeographic data including bin Laden’s last known location, cultural background, security needs, declining health, limited mobility and height to create a mathematical model that he claims will show where the terror mastermind is hiding.[…]

More specifically, he found a 90 percent chance that bin Laden is in Kurram province in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, most likely in the town of Parachinar which gave shelter to a larger number of Mujahedin during the 1980s.

Gillespie’s technique got him a lot closer than Stephonopolous and Ahmadinejad — Parachinar is about an 8-hour drive from Abottabad according to Google Maps — and it turned out he was right that bin Laden would be found, not in a cave, but in a compound that that could accommodate "security, electricity, high ceilings to accommodate his 6ft 4in frame and spare rooms for his bodyguard."

On the other hand, you didn’t exactly need biogeographic data to tell you that bin Laden was probably in Pakistan. Gillespie’s main argument is that the ailing terrorist would not have gone far from the Afghan border region, his last known location. His final home turned out to be much closer to the Kashmir side of Pakistan.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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