U.S. embassies around the world have shored up security in the wake of last week's attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and ongoing protests in Cairo, but critics question whether security has been adequate at diplomatic compounds in the first place. Going forward, it's clear the security plan for the U.S. diplomatic presence abroad must include well-developed strategies to both detect and prevent an assault like the one in Libya before it occurs. This will require responding to unforeseen events.
One prevention strategy is to use social-media analytics to help predict attacks. In the Arab Spring uprisings, the earliest on-the-ground reports and pictures came from citizens with smartphones and access to the Internet. Social media is an agile reporter of the news before it becomes news. The current issue of New Scientist describes this phenomenon, but the idea has been around for a while. Cornell University professor Jeff Hancock and colleagues used linguistics to analyze tweets sent from Libyans during last year's revolution, providing a profile of public sentiment during that period. Such work could be part of a larger effort to position the U.S. government to be more prepared in the future. Social media can provide early indications of pending violence; we just need to harness the analytical tools to help us see it.