Killer App

Have a bunch of Silicon Valley geeks at Palantir Technologies figured out how to stop terrorists?

  1. On the afternoon of February 15, 2011, Jaime Zapata, a 32-year-old special agent with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was shot to death by members of a drug cartel as he drove along a four-lane highway in Mexico. Zapata’s partner, 38-year-old Victor Avila, who survived the attack, later said that as many as 15 gunmen opened fire with automatic rifles, even though Zapata had identified himself as a diplomat and the armored SUV in which the pair was riding bore license plates identifying it as an official vehicle.

    Back in Washington, senior administration officials wanted revenge for what they saw as the deliberate killing of a federal agent and the attempted murder of another. Michele Leonhart, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and a veteran of the drug wars, asked, “What can we do to make an immediate impact against the cartels, to send a message?” recalls Derek Maltz, the special agent in charge of the DEA’s Special Operations Division. “We decided to do a law-enfor...

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