Social networks, intelligence, and homeland security


Some of the more discreet applications of social network analysis that have greatly intensified over the last years are in government intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security. On one-level “network-centric warfare” (see for example the US Department Defence report to Congress on this) has grown to prominence – or even predominance – in military strategic thinking over the last four years. Leading network analyst Valdis Krebs published an interesting analysis of the terrorist networks involved in the tragedy of September 11, 2001. However social network analysis has been applied by intelligence agencies and law enforcement for decades. If you can uncover and analyze the relationships between people, places, organisations, transactions, and more, rather than just data on each of them individually, anomalies and intriguing connections rapidly come to the surface.

Interestingly, two Australian software companies are world leaders in applying social network analysis in these domains. Netmap Analytics emerged from work done in the 1980s by Dr John Galloway, who received his PhD in 1974 from Michigan State University for some of the early ground-breaking work on social networks, cybernetics, and systems theory. Netmap is used extensively by intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world, in applications such as tracking money laundering and insider trading, as well as more covert applications. The software excels at processing extremely large data sets of relationships, and picking out the anomalous or interesting relationships. Insurance and retail fraud are other important applications. The Distillery has provided software primarily to the intelligence, defence, and law enforcement communities for around seven years, and now has around 70 employees. Its new Interquest Analytics front-end can be used by intelligence analysts to extract “entities” and “relationships” from the vast array of public (so-called “open source intelligence”) and non-public information, providing a deep and rich pool for analysis. The Interquest platform itself helps integrate disparate data sources to enable effective network analysis. Lockheed Martin has an extremely sophisticated tool for extracting relationships from text, called Aerotext. Netmap has the Australian and Asian distribution rights for this product, as it provides fantastic input for its high-powered network analytics engines. As companies with highly complementary offerings, Netmap Analytics and The Distillery often collaborate in showcasing and implementing their products.

In a world increasingly based on networks, social, technological, and otherwise, intelligence – government or commercial – must be based on understanding the relationships and connections in the world around us. This is a field set for massive growth.

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