By overlapping history, open-source mass data collection, and classified data, the CIA is able to predict “social unrest” 3 to 5 days out. This helps give Washington the leverage it needs to quickly intervene in international conflicts in the most advantageous way possible.

The resulting information could then be used as leverage in many ways: investors could be tipped-off to pull out of an unstable country, troops could be sent to protect US resources such as nuclear facilities, weapons could be easily sold to a government on the verge of social unrest. The information itself could be traded with other countries for more data. The possibilities are endless.

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How does it work?

Intelligence analysts take patterns observed throughout history then add open-source and classified data.“What we’re trying to do within a unit of my directorate is leverage what we know from social sciences on the development of instability, coups and financial instability, and take what we know from the past six or seven decades and leverage what is becoming the instrumentation of the globe,” said Andrew Hallman, Deputy Director for Digital Innovation, at the The Next Tech event hosted by Government Executive and Nextgov. Hallman’s speech was just one small part of a 4 day technology and intelligence conference called Fedstival.

Where does the data come from?

The open-source data is information available to essentially everyone. This likely includes Google search trends and browsing habits. It could also include other public data like population and income levels. The classified data on the other hand includes everything collected through government agencies like the NSA and CIA. “Having the ability to leverage those – the open source environment and the open source tools — and bring it together with your clandestinely acquired information is just so enriching in terms of how we’re able to understand and create new knowledge,” CIA Director John Brennan said in July. By putting the two types of data together analysts then have a solid amount of information to work with. By adding historical trends, analysts have a constant to compare with current data figures and ultimately: predict when social unrest will hit and possibly much more.

How is the data analyzed? 

If this seems like too much data for a human team to analyze, that’s because it is. But that’s no problem because for the past 3 years, Amazon has been creating custom cloud-computing software for US intelligence analysts. In April, Amazon even launched an alternative classified marketplace for intelligence communities– mostly the CIA and its affiliates. Surveillance and intelligence experts from the CIA, DIA, or NSA can even test out different software before making a purchase.


By predicting “social unrest” before it happens, the United States could easily exploit vulnerable countries and conflict areas. Domestically, this type of algorithm could be used for making policy decisions or unfairly targeting minority groups. Bills with public disapproval could be fast-tracked through congress before dissent grows too strong; or the national guard could be sent to cities before a rebellion begins.

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