How 'Facebook page' helped capture Saddam Hussein

U.S. soldiers reportedly used social-networking theory--"the same theory that underpins Facebook"--to locate the one bodyguard with whom Hussein was in contact.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

You'll never guess who Saddam Hussein's friends were.

Well, for a time, he actually had quite a few friends in the U.S. You know, folks who sold him guns. And other folks who have always been fond of men in uniform.

However, it now appears that it took a rather sophisticated analysis of the dictator's social network, a sort of trawling through his metaphorical Facebook page, to track him down to the hole in the ground where he was ultimately found.

According to a deeply intricate series of articles in Slate, beginning Monday, U.S soldiers created a Facebook page for Hussein before there was even a Facebook. Col. James Hickey, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, needed to understand Hussein the dictator as far more than someone who ruled a nation with pounding fists and a trim mustache.

This was a man who, like all men, needed to trust at least some people. The issue was, with Hussein on the run, which people?

Yes, he had friends. CC Dyobmit/Flickr

Hickey seems to be a rather clever soldier. The more information he accessed, the more it became clear that Hussein didn't structure things along a hierarchical basis. The members of his government were not the people who would lead the U.S forces to him. The members of his tribe might be.

The shape of his social network, just like your own Facebook page, didn't have Hussein at the top with everyone beneath him. Rather, he was at the center with all sorts of connections having been created around him.

In order to track down Hussein, Col. Hickey knew that it wouldn't be any of the supposedly obvious, public connections that would lead him to Hussein. It would be the more intimate, more tribal relationships--ultimately one with a trusted bodyguard--that would give him away.

The series of articles, which Slate will publish on successive days this week, promises to be fascinating, especially as the author claims he will show why social-networking theory will not lead to Osama Bin Laden.

However, perhaps one other thought might already have crossed your mind. If U.S. soldiers could construct a Facebook-like page of Hussein's relationships three months before Facebook was even launched, what kind of information is now laid bare for much less sophisticated minds to enjoy? Information about you, I mean.

At least Hussein seems to have had some privacy settings. Many people, often thanks to the opt-out rather than opt-in methods so beloved by certain large companies, have no idea how much of their lives and their closest relationships are exposed for everyone to see if they choose.