The Pentagon’s premiere research agency announced last week that it is seeking to build a better science of social network analysis, a relatively new field of research that many believe could be used to deliver a fatal blow to terrorist and insurgent groups. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is seeking proposals for a new program called GRAPHS, short for Graph-theoretic Research in Algorithms and the Phenomenology of Social networks program. The goal is to get researchers to come up with “revolutionary” ways to model—and predict—social networks.
The relatively esoteric field of social network analysis, which looks at the relationships between people and groups (and popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point) has become an area of increasing Pentagon interest, and is even being credited with helping key military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Recent successes in apprehending high-value individuals demonstrate that elementary methods of analysis can have a large operational impact when applied in this setting,” says DARPA.
The idea behind this research program is not entirely new; DARPA in fact is already operating a hush-hush program, called Nexus 7, which employs social network analysis in Afghanistan to help track insurgent networks. While it’s not clear whether this new research program is directly connected to Nexus 7, it does appear to affirm the Pentagon’s commitment to expanding this research into a formal program.
DARPA isn’t specifying exactly what it wants out of social network analysis, other than saying new research should propose ways to make it useful to the military. The agency does suggest, however, that such research could be used to forecast “major critical events, emergence of unusual trends, critical vulnerabilities in terrorist and adversary networks.”