London, Aug 19: Intelligence agencies are building up a Facebook-style databank of international terrorists in order to sift through it with complex computer programs aimed at identifying key figures and predicting terrorist attacks before they happen.
According to The Independent, the aim is to amass huge quantities of intelligence data on people - no matter how obscure or irrelevant - and feed it into computers that are programmed to make associations and connections that would otherwise be missed by human agents, scientists said.
The doctrine is already being actively pursued in Iraq and Afghanistan where thousands of people have been arrested and interrogated for information that could be fed into vast computerised databanks for analysis by social network programs.
In addition to information gleaned from interviews with suspects captured in the field, intelligence agencies are also mining the vast amounts of telecommunications data collected from emails and telephone calls with the same surveillance technology. In the US alone, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on developing the data-mining techniques.
Professor Kathleen Carley of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one of the civilian scientists hoping to benefit from the new military funding earmarked for research into social network analysis, said: "Facebook and Google are doing social networking, which is the technology for helping you find out who to talk to and for finding out what your friends know about a person."
"What social network analysis is about is giving me the whole of the 'Facebook-style' data and saying that I'm going to analyse it mathematically to tell you who the critical people are," she added.
Critics say such a doctrine is time consuming, wasteful and counterproductive. They have also suggested that it has led to gross violations of human rights, with hundreds and possibly thousands of innocent people being detained and interrogated for longer than necessary to provide social network information.
Dr Ian McCulloh is collaborating with Professor Carley on 'metanetwork' analysis, a more sophisticated form of social network analysis. He hopes to be able to monitor terrorist networks in real time and detect any changes to indicate that an attack is imminent.