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UC Berkeley students create class to combat terrorism




UC Berkely's new class devoted to developing new technologies to combat terror.
UC Berkely's new class devoted to developing new technologies to combat terror.
Courtesy of Tyler Heintz and Anjali Banerjeei

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Last July, two UC Berkeley students were killed while traveling overseas. One in the terrorist attack in Nice, France and another in an attack in Bangladesh. 

Their deaths shocked students across the campus, including two friends of the victims, who were in Nice as well when the incident happened. 

"We didn't know exactly what happened until a couple hours later when we saw it on news reports," said UC Berkeley student, Anjali Banerjee. She didn't know that her friend, Nicolas Leslie was killed in the attack until three days had gone by. Getting details on what had happened was not easy.

"We felt just like our hands were tied and we didn't have any agency in the situation. There was just nowhere we could go for help. It was scary to see what happens to a city and how everything shuts down after an attack like that."

After Nice, Tyler Heintz became more interested in creating more tools to keep track of terrorists. He partnered with Banerjee and fellow student Alice Ma to create a class that would help him do that. It's made up of mostly engineering Heintz and Banerjee's fellow engineering students. The class is split up into teams to work on specific areas.

"The theme for this semester is that help analysts in DC gather information and solve problems in the illicit finance space," Heintz said.

"For example, one team ... built a tool that allowed analysts to see networks of charity as sort of charities are often used as a front for disguising funding for illicit organizations."

The team also built online tools that help track flight histories to determine where terrorists might be traveling. Heintz says that they are conscious of the risks that come with making that sort of information public

"We made a very intentional effort to make these tools open source," Heintz said. "So we're not going to be deciding who is going to be using them and for what cause. We want to stay out of that argument. But we want to create tools that make information more freely available."

To hear the full conversation, click the blue player above.



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