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Posted: 9/24/2004 12:47:20 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 9/24/2004 12:57:10 AM EDT by ArmdLbrl]
Facinating reading fromThe Belmont Club

Vladis Krebs has a case study page examining how mapping social networks and understanding their properties can be used to take down of terrorist networks. Network analysis was used to take down Saddam Hussein. The Washington Posthas some of the details.

The Army general whose forces captured Saddam Hussein said yesterday that he realized as far back as July that the key lay in figuring out the former Iraqi president's clan and family support structures in and around Hussein's home city of Tikrit.

Following a strategy similar to that pioneered by New York City police in the 1990s, who cracked down on "squeegee men" only to discover they knew about far more serious criminals, Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said his analysts and commanders spent the summer building "link diagrams," graphics showing everyone related to Hussein by blood or tribe.

While U.S. forces up to then had been preoccupied with finding "high value targets" from the Bush administration's list of the top 55 most-wanted Iraqis, Odierno said those family diagrams led his forces to lower-level, but nonetheless highly trusted, relatives and clan members harboring Hussein and helping him move around the countryside.

And the rest as they say, is history. John Robb took at look at the September 11 network and analyzed its characteristics. The Mohammed Atta network had evolved under Darwinian pressure until it reached the form best suited for its purpose: to conduct strategic attacks against the United States of America. Robb concludes that a cell of 70 persons will answer to the purpose, yet be sparse enough to allow its members to remain in relative isolation. For example, no one member of Atta's cell knew more than five others. Moreover, the average distance between any two members was more than four persons. Crucially, but not surprisingly, this disconnected network of plotters maintained coherence by relying on a support infrastructure -- probably communications posts, safe houses, couriers -- to keep themselves from unraveling. Because security comes at a price in performance and flexibility, Robb arrives at an astounding conjecture: you can have small, operationally secure terrorist groups, but you can't have large, operationally secure cells without a state sponsor.

Distributed, dynamic terrorist networks cannot scale like hierarchical networks. The same network design that makes them resiliant against attack puts absolute limits on their size. If so, what are those limits?

A good starting point is to look at limits to group size within peaceful online communities on which we have extensive data -- terrorist networks are essentially geographically dispersed online communities. Chris Allen does a good job analyzing optimal group size with his critique of the Dunbar number.

His analysis (replete with examples) shows that there is a gradual fall-off in effectiveness at 80 members, with an absolute fall-off at 150 members. The initial fall-off occurs, according to Chris, due to an increasing amount of effort spent on "grooming" the group to maintain cohesion. The absolute fall-off at 150 members occurs when grooming fails to stem dissatisfaction and dissension, which causes the group to cleave apart into smaller subgroups (that may remain affiliated).

Al Qaeda may have been able to grow much larger than this when it ran physical training camps in Afghanistan. Physical proximity allowed al Qaeda to operate as a hierarchy along military lines, complete with middle management (or at least a mix of a hierarchy in Afghanistan and a distributed network outside of Afghanistan). Once those camps were broken apart, the factors listed above were likely to have caused the fragmentation we see today (lots of references to this in the news).

His last paragraph is crucial to understanding why the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the toppling of Saddam Hussein may have cripped global terrorism so badly. Without the infrastrastructure of a state sponsor, terrorism is limited to cells of about 100 members in size in order to maintain security. In the context of the current campaign in Iraq, the strategic importance of places like Falluja or "holy places" is that their enclave nature allows terrorists to grow out their networks to a larger and more potent size. Without those sanctuaries, they would be small, clandestine hunted bands. The argument that dismantling terrorist enclaves makes "America less safe than it should be in a dangerous world" inverts the logic. It is allowing the growth of terrorist enclaves that puts everyone at risk in an otherwise safe world.

Here's a link to a database of terrorist incidents called, MIPT Terrorism, via the Neophyte Pundit. I'll look into the site later today or this week, but it seems useful enough to put on my blogroll.

Digital Bear Consultinghas a very useful set of links to software tools in aid of social network analysis. It's an area I discovered by accident, having "rolled my own" link analysis software as a private utility. My motivation was to keep track of the burgeoning network of events, persons and other entities related to the Global War on Terror. The products listed out at Digital Bear are far removed from my own amateurish attempts. For one thing, they are founded on sound mathematical theory. I haven't had the time to look at each closely, but they range from the Analyst's Notebook, a professional law enforcement and military package whose claim to fame was helping track down Saddam Hussein at the high end to Agna and NetVis Module, which are freeware. There are also libraries and toolkits which can be adapted to custom purposes. Other resources include INSNAand its directory of relevant software tools. Valdis Krebs describes the motivation behind social network analysis.

Social network analysis [SNA] is the mapping and measuring of relationships and flows between people, groups, organizations, computers or other information/knowledge processing entities. The nodes in the network are the people and groups while the links show relationships or flows between the nodes. .. A method to understand networks and their participants is to evaluate the location of actors in the network. Measuring the network location is finding the centrality of a node. These measures help determine the importance, or prominence, of a node in the network.

While it sounds like something that would be extraordinarily useful in the war on terror, I suspect the actual utility of many models and the tools based on them will be quite limited by the quality of the data and its volatility. All the same, there was never a tool without a use and while I don't expect that these tools are used in the field to target Zarqawi's minions scuttling around in Iraq, the concepts of "social networks" are probably never far from mind.

The spiritual leader of a militant group that claimed to have beheaded two American hostages in Iraq has been killed in a U.S. airstrike, and his Jordanian family is preparing a wake, a newspaper and Islamic clerics said Wednesday. Sheik Abu Anas al-Shami, 35, was killed when a missile hit the car he was traveling in on Friday in the west Baghdad suburb of Abu-Ghraib, said the clerics, who have close ties to the family. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

Al-Shami was a close aide to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of the militant group Tawhid and Jihad. The al-Qaida-linked group is blamed for some of the biggest attacks in Iraq, including the bombing of the U.N. headquarters last year, and the beheadings of foreign hostages -- including two Americans this week.

Link Posted: 9/24/2004 12:51:41 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 9/24/2004 12:54:01 AM EDT by Winston_Wolf]
... Great analysis and most excellent thread ArmdLbrl!

... Makes one wonder if the Central Intelligence Agency reads these bloggers.

... It's an evolving environment folks!
Link Posted: 9/24/2004 1:35:48 AM EDT
Update: The Enemy in Iraq
Dan Darlinghas more detailed breakdown of the enemy order of battle in Iraq. A sample:

Zarqawi's coalition

In addition to his own al-Tawhid wal Jihad organization, Zarqawi has also formed an impressive coalition of Iraqi and foreign Islamist groups under his direction to challenge US control of Iraq. Ansar al-Islam is a nominal part of this coalition, but they are far more autonomous than these others that I'm about to list because they've been established in Iraq longer and have equal or greater clout with Zarqawi's erstwhile allies in the IRGC. Based on what I know, Zarqawi's coalition is made up of Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah, Jaish-e-Islami al-Iraqi, Jaish Mohammed, Harakat al-Salafiyyah al-Jihadiyyah, Takfir wal Hijra, Kateebat al-Jihad al-Islamiyyah, Islamic Resistance Front, Saad ibn Abi Waqqas, Kateebat al-Mujahideen, Kateebat al-Zilzal al-Mujahid, Kateebat Salah al-Din, and Jund al-Sham as well as the international brigades of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat ul-Jihad-e-Islam, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

It would be good to diagram.

Link Posted: 9/24/2004 2:13:55 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 9/24/2004 2:14:35 AM EDT by rayra]
ArmdLbrl, you're familiar with the work of Aaron at Internet Haganah? He's been busting and disrupting jihadi websites all over the world. Private Cit. and he's routinely harassed by FedGov for bumping their rice bowl.
Read up on him, fascinating stuff.
Link Posted: 9/24/2004 2:21:31 AM EDT

Originally Posted By rayra:
ArmdLbrl, you're familiar with the work of Aaron at Internet Haganah? He's been busting and disrupting jihadi websites all over the world. Private Cit. and he's routinely harassed by FedGov for bumping their rice bowl.
Read up on him, fascinating stuff.

Oooh he is good, thanks for the heads up, he is now bookmarked.
Link Posted: 9/24/2004 2:32:44 AM EDT
Link Posted: 9/24/2004 4:38:08 AM EDT
Link Posted: 9/24/2004 4:47:54 AM EDT
Like most things American, I have no doubt we have the ability to do 99% of the job. That last 1% that involves letting the leash off our troops and kicking in doors and heads is where the US has trouble.

I think it's the willingness to take the steps to go that last 1% that leads to the "kill em all" debates around here. 30 years ago we knew our enemy was staging from Laos and Cambodia - you saw how that went. Nowadays, everything points to Bin Laden being in the borderlands of Pakistan/Afghanistan. Really wanna kill him? The one way to get him would be to send in the B-52s and nuke that area. We can't do that.

It still comes down to supporting the brave men on the ground who have to work within constrtaints, to find these fuckers.
Link Posted: 9/24/2004 7:37:27 AM EDT
The only way to find Al Qaida is to find their people, interrogate them, steal their documents, and use them to uncover these networks. You only kill those you cannot get any other way because dead men do not talk
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