Data mining has increasingly played a role in U.S. intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism efforts, said John Parachini, director of the RAND Corp.'s Intelligence Policy Center. In the Cold War era, the focus was on monitoring changes in missile fields or large armies, but since the Sept. 11 attacks, in particular, there has been more monitoring of individuals' behavior.
While applying the technology to a group like Lashkar-e-Taiba could help shed new insights on its behavior, some said a human touch is still needed to make reliable predictions on future actions. Counterterrorism efforts also focus on police-style methods of interviewing, collecting clues and following promising leads to learn of planned attacks, experts said.
Using the past to predict future behavior can be particularly tricky when it comes to terrorist groups, which often look for new tactics to surprise their enemies, said Daniel Markey, senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"It's an imprecise science," Parachini said of behavior prediction. More open-source data like the kinds Subrahmanian used is available than ever, but "the question is, can you exploit it in ways that give you insight on people's behavior. That's the hard part."
Still, many recognized the research is worth exploring to gain as many counterterrorism leads as possible.
"These are complex problems," said Stephen Tankel, an assistant professor at American University who focuses on jihadist violence in South Asia. "There is merit in looking at them from different angles."
Subrahmanian and Mannes are not working directly with any counterterrorism agencies, but said they hope their research helps inform future strategies and can be applied to other terrorist groups.
Lashkar-e-Taiba, though, remains a particular danger, given the tension it can cause between Pakistan and India, two nations with nuclear capabilities. The group is thought to have the support of Pakistan's intelligence agencies and military. It also is working with the Taliban in Afghanistan, the researchers said.
"They are still active," Mannes said. "They have had a lower profile since 2008, but they are by no means out of business."