Sunday, November 20, 2005

ON TERRORIST NETWORKS

I have been studying the work done by Valdis Krebs in mapping covert networks using open source data. Krebs has done some outstanding analysis on the terrorist network behind the events of September 11, 2001. According to Krebs’s analysis, the 9/11 terrorist network operated like a project team, like a team of lawyers handling a case, or a team of engineers working on a building. Like a project team, a terrorist network has:

1. Chores to complete. Before an attack there is a series of duties that needs to be completed, this include: securing a place to meet, getting vehicles for transportation, purchasing plane tickets, acquiring train schedules, explosives, weapons, and other logistic and material needs necessary to accomplish the main objective. A terrorist group has to be effective at achieving its main objective, but it must also be able to successfully complete a number of tasks prior to the execution of the main attack.

2. Information to share. The terrorist organization must find an efficient and secure method of distributing information among its members. Security is particularly important for terrorist groups. Terrorist organizations have a wide array of places where they can get information to accomplish their missions, ranging from personal contacts, to open Internet sources. Once in possession of a piece of information the organization must effectively distribute it to the appropriate people within the group. Depending on the character of the terrorist or insurgent network information can spread within the community like an epidemic. Witness how information spreads between the different groups of insurgents in Iraq. At a different level, not all of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers had the same level of knowledge of their mission, nor was the sequence at which they were receiving information equal with the group. The flow of information in a scale-free network like al Qaeda is dynamic though and usually not constrained by the verticality of a hierarchy. At the strategic level, an organization like al Qaeda can spread information and influence terrorists groups sympathetic to their cause using television broadcasts of their messages. At the operational level, in a geographically contiguous area like Iraq the spread of information is epidemic between the different terrorist and insurgent groups operating in the country.

3. Funding to obtain and disburse. Currently, terrorist networks are more likely to be self-funded than state-funded. A terrorist network can be tied to a criminal network for its funding. A financier of terrorism can provide funds for a group based on past successes using innovative means. Terrorism is becoming more and more an entrepreneurial activity.

4. Schedules to meet. Terrorist groups often choose a significant, symbolic date for their spectacular attacks, however, because of their relatively small size, there are inherently flexible and can move, with relative ease, the date of an attack to an earlier of later date than originally planned.

5. An objective to accomplish. A terrorist group sees itself as part of a much larger community. They see the successful completion of their act of terror as part of a total effort.

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