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Editor Login

Convener in chief:

David Lazer
(Methodology, Networked Governance)


Stanley Wasserman
(Current Trends, Methodology, Social Networks)

Guy Stuart
(Economic Sociology, Finance)

Allan Friedman

Nathan Eagle
(Technology, Social Computing, Powerlaws, Current Trends)

Ben Waber
(Technology, Social Computing)
Ines Mergel
(Knowledge Sharing, Social Computing, Social Software, Current Trends)

Maria Binz-Scharf
(Qualitative Methodology, Knowledge Sharing, eGovernment)

Alexander Schellong
(Admin, eGovernment, Citizen Relationship Management)



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« March 14, 2007 | Main | March 16, 2007 »

15 March 2007

The Venn diagram of "terrorist" and "network"

Alex's recent post on Dark Networks started me thinking about how and why network structures evolve. This turned into a conversation with my friend and colleague Jon Lindsey, a PhD candidate in Political Science at MIT and an intelligence officer in the Navy soon to deploy in Iraq. He suggested that the network form is actual quite fragile with respect to organizational forces: given the opportunity, many of these organizations will grow quite hierarchical with the standard bureaucracies we would expect to see else where.

Sure enough, from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point comes a project called "Harmony and Disharmony: Exploiting Al-Qa'ida's Organizational Vulnerabilities". The full report (116 pp, pdf) makes for an interesting read, but I am fascinated by the translated original sources that are included. I was particularly drawn to the Al-Qaeda employment contract, with details as mundane as:

The bachelor Mujahed qualifies for a round trip ticket to his country after one year from
joining the organization. He can take a one month vacation. He doesn't get reimbursed if
the ticket is not used, but he has the right to change it to a ticket to perform
the pilgrimage. This period starts from the date of joining AL-QAEDA.

The married Mujahed and his family qualify for round trip tickets to their country of origin
after two years, and one month vacation. Tickets can not be reimbursed if unused.

This seems as bureaucratic as any employment agreement that I've signed, with the exception of the organizational goals. This document was discovered in Afghanistan, where the the administration of the organization appears to have become more mundane that the "4th Generation warfare" theory might suggest. Absent the constraints of a hostile, ubiquitous surveillance and law enforcement state, Al Qaeda starts to look a little like The Office.

At the same time, the demand for a network analysis approach for understanding and combating terrorism might be coming even more important. The Washington Post reports that

With new plots surfacing every month, police across Europe are arresting significant numbers of women, teenagers, white-skinned suspects and people baptized as Christians -- groups that in the past were considered among the least likely to embrace Islamic radicalism.

The demographics of those being arrested are so diverse that many European counterterrorism officials and analysts say they have given up trying to predict what sorts of people are most likely to become terrorists. Age, sex, ethnicity, education and economic status have become more and more irrelevant.

Absent the ability to use profiling to detect targets of interest, the type of data that the NSA was accused of collecting (albeit illegally) might be very useful for prevention and threat containment.

Posted by Allan Friedman at 11:44 AM