ASAP: Connecting The Dots

RAND Designs Concept for a Computer System and Database to Help Intelligence Community “Connect the Dots” (RAND)

A RAND study issued today announced the development of the concept for the Atypical Signal Analysis and Processing (ASAP) network and database that could serve as a central clearinghouse for intelligence data.

The study outlines how the ASAP design could use some of the same “mental rules” that intelligence analysts use to quickly analyze huge volumes of information to identify unusual and suspicious activity – similar to the way Internet search engines like Google find information by searching vast amounts of data.

“An information search that could take dozens of intelligence analysts days to complete could be carried out within hours by ASAP,” said John Hollywood, a RAND researcher who is the report’s lead author. “This is like giving someone who is looking for a needle in a haystack an incredibly powerful magnet.”


A network of computers would then use the database to process and filter the raw data. The network would look for out-of-the-ordinary signals that deviate from typical patterns of behavior and might indicate terrorist activity – such as target casing, training, clandestine communications, smuggling and buying weapons.

Computers would then examine the data that was flagged for scrutiny to identify and prioritize information, using factors such as how “out of the ordinary” the data is, and how related it is to information and patterns pertaining to terror attacks. The computers would develop and test scenarios that direct intelligence analysts to the most relevant and important discoveries for further investigation.

Here is an example of how ASAP could work: Harbor officials report the sudden arrival of 18 fishing boats, all registered to the same foreign company. By itself, this means little. However, the officials note that – based on routine inspection – there is no increase in fishing demand in the area, the boats have extremely powerful engines for fishing vessels, the boats give off an odd smell, and the captains have no prior experience with fishing or sailing. Then other import-export officials note the shipment of the high-speed boats by the same foreign company – but that the boats appear at a port other than where the company said they would be, and the company declares 24 boats, not 18. ASAP would detect these unusual observations, detect the relationships between them and alert analysts to investigate further.

Rest here.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, National Security, , ,
Kate McMillan
About Kate McMillan
Kate McMillan is the proprietor of small dead animals, which has won numerous awards including Best Conservative Blog and Best Canadian Blog. She contributed nearly 300 pieces to OTB between November 2004 and June 2007. Follow her on Twitter @katewerk.


  1. Herb Ely says:

    We have heard this before. I recently posted a comment on another searching algorithm from the Denver Research group. My inner skeptic is always at war with my near lust for better search and retrieval tools. I’ve used some of the best, particularly Pathfinder. Still, there is the old version of Moores law. No system, no matter how good, will help if the institution does not want to hear a new analytical perspective.