Saturday, October 29, 2005
Network vs. Network
I strongly believe that in the fight against terrorist our government needs to run itself like a hybrid between a business and a terrorist network. The overwhelming majority of people in government want to do the best job they can, but for the most part they work under strict organizational limits that severely limit their effectiveness.
A terrorist organization like Al Qaida is characterized by certain qualities that allow it to operate very effectively in the Information Age by quickly responding to changes in their mission space (what they do: from day-to-day operations, to actual attacks), and their environment (where they do it, and under which conditions):
- Regional and decentralized decision-making. The leaders on the field have extensive decision-making authority. Even if some leaders are removed (captured or killed), budding leaders rapidly ascend to central positions by activating links that are already in place. Each emerging leader usually comes into the organization equipped with a pre-existing 'mini-network" of his own.
- Horizontal management structure. Dealings within the network aren't dictated by strictly allocated hierarchical relationships. Interaction between the members of the organization is founded on teamwork to achieve a desired goal.
- Rising above turf battles. To be sure there is considerable organizational friction when it comes to relations between the different terrorist networks, however, to achieve a common goal, they are mostly able to put those differences aside and work towards an objective, be it a spectacular terrorist act like 9/11 or attacking coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- An overarching sense of mission. Terrorist and insurgents are encouraged to incur in bold action at the right time; when conditions are met that maximize the effects of those actions. Marching orders from the leadership to the "foot soldiers" is usually given in clear and unequivocal terms. Fighters within the networks believe theirs is the worthiest, noblest of causes.
- Use of all information networks, to include the Internet. Al Qaida and other terrorist organizations really like the Internet; in a post-9/11 world where physical terrorist camps are, for the most part, a thing of the past, the Internet provides terrorist networks a virtual training camp/facility that is less vulnerable to American "eyes in the sky" and precision-guided munitions. However, Al Qaida also extensively uses couriers and face-to-face communications to coordinate operations. As mentioned above, each emerging leader comes into the organization with his own set of contacts, his own mini-network. This mini-network is plugged-in into the whole organization and a whole new set of relationships are created. As Michael Shrage, author of the book Serious Play states, "The surest way to add value to a network is to connect it to another network".
I'll continue expanding on these topics. The above is not intended as praise for Al Qaeda as an organization. Al Qaeda is the most despicable organization in the world. The tragedies inflicted by Al Qaeda go beyond the violence against innocent noncombatants. Al Qaeda is an example of leadership, organizational skills, and youth squandered for a violent and counter-productive cause. However, because of the environment in which Al Qaeda operates and the adversaries they faced they have been able to create and adapt their organization to the challenges of the Information Age.
You can find out more information about networks at the International Network for Social Network Analysis web site.
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