When the Men in Black came calling, Dan Haught was ready. He knew that they didn’t know what they needed to know about who knows who in the global network of terror, so he wasn’t surprised by the knock on his company’s door. Ever since 9-11, Dan and his colleagues at FMS Advanced Systems Group had been testing their advanced social networking analysis software by mapping contacts among members of Al Qaeda. Their website trackingthethreat.com had already become popular with the media and he knew the intelligence services couldn’t be far behind.
Back while still watching the Pentagon burn, Dan had began to search for clues to who these terrorists were by looking at every news and information source he could find, and was appalled at the lack of connected knowledge he could find. Names would come up associated with other names, but not connected to other names that showed up in other connections. It was classic network analysis paralysis, and Dan knew he could do better.
As a self-professed data jockey (going back to his first 1K Timex Sinclair), Dan had been working for years on a stealth project designed to highlight the connections that exist in standard data tables but that are usually obscured by the endless rows and columns. His tool – which eventually became the Sentinel TMS Threat Management System – uses proprietary algorithms to parse the data and draw it up in charts where the connections visibly rise to the surface.
While this is standard social network analysis stuff in many
ways, the real breakthrough came in applying this academic domain to the
analysis of what Dan refers to as Anti-social
networks: groups who intentionally keep a low profile, who generally eschew
publicity and who absolutely positively don’t want to be found out. Using the SNA
basics of “closeness”, “between-ness” and “recursivity”, he and his colleagues
have only just begun to explore the murky world of the who’s-whos who don’t
want you-know-who to know.
Although he can’t openly cite either most of his TMS sources or clients, Dan says it’s not really all that hard to construct insightful social network diagrams from commonly available information. “Give me a copy of your Outlook pst’s and I can give you a map of your network in no time. Sure, knowing who you send e-mails to tells me a lot, but who you BCC’d is where the real juicy stuff appears.”
Hmm... I think I’d better pass. Any takers?