Traffic Spikes on This YouTube Video Might Help Predict IS Attacks

By Matt Novak on at

Do you ever listen to a particular song to get psyched up for something? Maybe it’s a morning run or a sick day of surfin’ the ‘net. Well, Islamic State (IS) fighters apparently do the same thing. But in this case, they’re all watching the same video on YouTube. So much so that when traffic on the video spikes, US intelligence agencies take notice.

The video is called “Black Flags of Islam and Imam Mahdi,” and Patrick Tucker from Defense One talked with people from the predictive analytics firm Predata about it. The company has seen a correlation between heavy traffic to the video and terrorist attacks that follow.

Scott T. Crino, an exec at Predata, calls the video an IS fighter’s version of “listening to AC/DC before weight-lifting”.

“It gets them psyched up,” Crino explains. “So, often there’s a big spike in that particular [YouTube video], prior to an event occurring.”

And it’s not just YouTube. Other simple activity bumps on social media and user-generated sites can help predict IS attacks, according to Predata.

From Defense One:

In the months before November’s Paris attacks, the French-language ISIS Wikipedia page saw particularly heavy changes, said Joshua Haecker, Predata’s director of business development.

“You can see a huge spike up in likelihood of terrorist attacks, at 60%, in France on September 11, 2015, and then it drops back down for a few days and then steadily clumps from 28% up to 49%, the day before the attack,” Haecker said.

Obviously, Predata has a product to sell. So the company has every incentive to make strong links between online activity they can monitor and real-world terrorist attacks. But the use of big data for surveillance purposes is nothing new to folks in the intelligence community.

And Predata is far from the only company using these techniques to predict IS unrest. In fact, the CIA’s venture capital arm In-Q-Tel has invested in one of Predata’s competitors, Recorded Future. The Pentagon is starting a trial with Predata later this month.

When put on the spot, the NSA couldn’t point to a single terrorist attack that was stopped by its questionable “collect-it-all” surveillance program. But obviously the intelligence community is now working on an attempt for quality rather than quantity.

The question then becomes: what you do with this information? If you know that IS fighters are planning an attack but have no indication of where or how, what good is the information? I guess that’s the Intelligence Community’s puzzle for the latter half of the 2010s. [Defense One]