Why Web Intelligence Promotes Collaboration
December 17, 2013 • Pat Ryan
The following interview is with Pat Ryan and is from our Web Intelligence Perspectives Series. Pat is founder and president of Praescient Analytics.
What is it about Web intelligence that is such an important opportunity to you?
Between the massive proliferation of new forms data on the Web and the emergence of powerful analytic platforms to parse and understand this open source information, there has never been a more exciting time to be an analyst examining the world’s hardest problems. At Praescient, where we strive to be integrators and curators of data, we are always trying to identify new ways in which Web intelligence can advance our clients’ and partners’ critical missions.
What drives interest in Web intelligence in your community? What hole in your world does it fill?
Leaders across the defense, intelligence, and law enforcement communities are becoming increasingly confident in the value of Web data and open source analysis. In many cases, these leaders are looking to Web intelligence resources to gain new insights on historically intractable problems.
Sentiment monitoring and social media analysis, for example, can enable improved understanding and anticipation of social, political, economic, health, and demographic trends in fragile states prone to crisis—especially those in which U.S. and allied government assets are constrained or absent. We need only to look at the ongoing conflict in Syria and the earlier events of the Arab Spring to understand the value of information emerging from embattled populations with access to the Web.
This lesson will not be lost on national security leaders in the years ahead.
What does a critical insight from Web intelligence look like?
Praescient is pleased to partner with a number of organizations in the think-tank community whose work represents the leading edge of open source analysis. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), in particular, has produced some incredibly compelling studies drawing principally upon web intelligence.
ISW analysts, for instance, were able to very thoroughly map the structure and composition of the Free Syrian Army using information gathered from the many videos released on YouTube by groups of fighters as they joined the rebellion. Such insights—which created a significant impact in the national security community—could only be generated through the savvy use of Web data and a powerful analytic platform.
What’s your vision of how Web intelligence could be used?
One of the most exciting elements of Web intelligence is the opportunity it creates for collaboration among international military and law enforcement organizations. By its nature, Web data is free from many of the classification constraints that can at times inhibit information-sharing among international allies and coalition partners. A joint reliance on Web intelligence can enable allies to more rapidly develop a common understanding of new threats, challenges, and opportunities as they emerge.
With that in mind, Praescient’s analysts have done a lot of thinking about how open-source data can be leveraged to combat transnational threats—those that cut across international jurisdictions and boundaries and call for coordinated action.
One example we’re fond of: international trade and shipping data readily available online (including real time ship locations, manifests, and other information), when integrated with international law enforcement resources and examined by a clever analyst, has the potential to shed light on illicit activities such as the global trafficking of weapons, narcotics, people, and commodities.
Will Web intelligence become a standard piece of tradecraft in your community? Will it “go viral”?
Whether Web intelligence “goes viral” within the defense, intelligence, and law enforcement communities will depend in large part on the work of analysts that are trained and equipped to serve as curators of data—rapidly collecting, organizing, and validating new and emerging forms of open source information, then integrating that data with more traditional classified materials.
Praescient is thrilled to be working with technology partners like Recorded Future to cultivate a new generation of analysts who are prepared to radically expand the boundaries of their tradecraft.