, Volume 93, Number 6

Damien Van Puyvelde, Stephen Coulthart and M. Shahriar Hossain
This article explores the role big data plays in the national security decision-making process. The global surveillance disclosures initiated by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have increased public and academic discussions about big data and national security. Yet, efforts to summarize and import insights from the vast and interdisciplinary literature on data analytics have remained rare in the field of security studies. To fill this gap, we explain the core characteristics of big data, provide an overview of the techniques and methods of data analytics, and explore how big data can support the core national security process of intelligence. Big data is not only defined by the volume of data but also by their velocity, variety and issues of veracity. Scientists have developed a number of techniques to extract information from big data and support national security practices. We find that data analytics tools contribute to and influence all the core intelligence functions in the contemporary US national security apparatus. However, these tools cannot replace the central role of humans and their ability to contextualize security threats. The fundamental value of big data lies in humans’ ability to understand its power and mitigate its limits.

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