Collecting and analysing secondary covert social network data 2

Covert networks

A covert network is a social network which has one or many elements of secrecy about it. Network members may try and keep their identities secret (as with criminal organisations); the network may form around activities which have to be kept secret because they are illegal or dangerous (such as covert social movements like the Suffragettes or spies), or for other reasons.

Although a lot of work in this area focuses on terrorist and criminal networks, we are interested in all types of secret networks.
These could include Freemasons, needle-sharing drug users, groups of people with unusual sexual practices, protest movements like Critical Mass, or many others.

Covert networks are objects of study for researchers, politicians, policymakers, and many other groups. Because politicians and law enforcement agencies need to minimise the risk to the population from criminal and terrorist groups, much of the work in the area has been about the structure and disruption of these types of networks.

Many of the theoretical claims made about covert networks are drawn from work on these types of networks. For example, it is claimed that networks have to be organised so as to facilitate the efficient achievement of their aims (efficiency) but this demand is often overridden by their concern to keep their identities, activities and connections hidden (secrecy), a trade off which shapes a network in quite specific ways.

This project aims to address some of these issues.

We will:

  • collate existing theories about covert networks;
  • compile an archive of relevant and meaningful covert network data for researching and testing these theories;
  • develop and test new methods to analyse, and theorise about covert networks.

Project website


  • Leverhulme Trust

Grant amount


Manchester people

  • Martin Everett
  • Nick Crossley
  • Dr Gemma Edwards
  • Dr Johan Koskinen
  • Kathryn Oliver
  • Chiara Broccatelli

Affiliates and partners

  • Paul Gill - Lecturer in Security and Crime at UCL
  • Paolo Campana - Fellow in Sociology at Oxford University
  • Robert Street - Programme Head: Organised and Cyber Crime Research
  • Richard English - Professor at St Andrews
  • Mike Harper - Associate Director - Irregular and Expeditionary Warfare, US Office of Naval Research Global.