In a paper in the SIAM Journal on Discrete Mathematics, researchers suggest that terror networks have a hierarchical structure similar to companies and some social networks, where information tends to flow in one direction among members.
By mapping the pathways of information flow, they say, it’s possible to pinpoint key nodes in the communication structure of a terrorism network where the flow could be disrupted most efficiently. The model is based on the two-player outdoor game “Seepage” in which an agent attempts to block the movement of an intruder.
While the model seems reasonable in theory, the actual process of collecting, databasing, and analyzing the communication among members in a terrorism network is a challenging one. At the same time, however, terrorists are increasingly moving their communications to the Internet – meaning opportunity for counter-efforts to employ new methods of surveillance, and the potential for more data points overall.
The Internet is an ideal platform for terrorist activity, given its easy access, lack of regulation, and potential for huge audiences.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, terrorists use the Internet to recruit and train members as well as raise funds and incite followers to commit acts of terrorism.
In the case of the Boston bombers, for example, investigators speculate that at least in part, the “outlook they developed likely was crystallized for them via online wanderings through radical websites.”
In fact, investigators were able to piece together information from public social networks including YouTube and Twitter, where it seems both the brothers were active in posting information about themselves and those whose beliefs they followed.
Hat tip to Science Daily.