The Graveyard of Empires and Big Data

Founded in 1958 to help the United States win the space race, DARPA is best known for its role in futuristic technology, be it driverless cars or implantable brain chips. During the Vietnam War, DARPA had led a counterinsurgency research program that spanned the globe from Saigon to Tehran and employed hundreds of personnel, but the agency has been largely forgotten.

However, DARPA’s interest in the potential of open-source information came at a critical juncture in Afghanistan. In January 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, the war in Afghanistan was in its eighth year, and a resurgent Taliban, whose regime had rapidly collapsed after the American invasion in 2001, was challenging the central government’s tenuous authority in the provinces. Counterinsurgency, the doctrine that had been promoted in Vietnam decades earlier, was back in vogue.

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