By analysing the social networks that exist between known terrorists and suspects and even innocent bystanders, military leaders hope to open a new front in the “war on terror”.
They plan to amass intelligence on a large range of people, even those who seem obscure or irrelevant, and feed it into a computer which will use an algorithm to investigate associations or connections that could be missed by a human.
The intelligence agencies are gleaning the raw data from multiple sources including information from interviews with suspects captured in the field and telecommunications data collected from emails and telephone calls.
When the information is fed into the computer programme it can help identify key figures in terrorist organisations and predict attacks before they happen.
Dr Ian McCulloh, a US Army major at West Point Military Academy in New York, told The Independent that he has used social network analysis to work out relationships between the many hundreds of videos of American deaths filmed by insurgents in Iraq.
“The rationale for how they were related is classified so I can’t give away methods [but] the interpretation was that the cluster of videos were likely to have been done by the same group… It allowed us to look at the structure between terrorist groups and actual attacks,” he said.