• Journal Article

Can data mining turn up terrorists? Probably not, but operations research can still play a role in helping to uncover terrorist plots

Citation

Hollywood, J., Strom, K., & Pope, M. (2009). Can data mining turn up terrorists? Probably not, but operations research can still play a role in helping to uncover terrorist plots. OR/MS Today, 36(1), 20-27.

Abstract

Several months after the 9/11 attacks, the New York Times ran an article about a mysterious new Department of Defense program, soon to be known as "Total Information Awareness" (TIA) [1]. The ostensible purpose of the program was to capture vast amounts of electronic data and conduct data mining on it to find potential terrorist activity. The program became extremely controversial — its vision of analyzing large amounts of data on individuals' activities and transactions raised major privacy concerns — and was soon cancelled by Congress [2]. However, the dream of using data mining techniques to detect "patterns of data" and flag would-be terrorists has lived on for obvious reasons, given the horrific consequences of the 9/11 attacks. The National Research Council (NRC) has recently released a major report examining the use of data mining for counterterrorism purposes [3], making this a natural time to examine the questions — can you actually find terrorists with data mining? If not, why not, and what can be done instead?