been a lot written about our military limits, as if it were impossible
to combat a network.
we've learned a great deal in the last ten years about how to degrade,
detach and destroy human trust networks (as distinct from electronic
networks). Ironically, it's the flip side of what we've been furiously
learning about how to make ours work better.
an article in The Washington Post on September 17th about destroying
networks after I got a chance to talk to a lot of smart people, from
Manuel Castells to John Arquilla to Karen Stephenson. The whole piece
is at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41015-2001Sep16.html.
key excerpts follow:
Maybe We Can't Cut Off Terror's Head, but We Can Take Out Its Nodes"
By Joel Garreau
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 17, 2001; Page C01
to establish a target list in a network?
The good news is that in the last decade we have developed a whole new
set of weapons to figure that out.
An industry has arisen to help corporations build new networks and junk
old hierarchical bureaucracies in the age of merging and emerging companies,
says Kathleen Carley, director of the Center for Computational Analysis
of Social and Organizational Systems at Carnegie Mellon University.
New tools have been developed that analyze how an organization interacts,
yielding a kind of X-ray that shows where the key links are.
There is a general set of principles to any network, says Stephenson,
whose company, NetForm, has developed software that mathematically analyzes
She points out that typically a network is made up of different kinds
of nodes pivotal people.
The critical ones are "hubs," "gatekeepers" and "pulsetakers," she believes.
Hubs are the people who are directly connected to the most people; they
know where the best resources are and they act as clearinghouses of
information and ideas, although they often are not aware of their own
importance. Gatekeepers are those connected to the "right" people. They
are the powers around the throne, and often they know their own importance.
Pulsetakers are indirectly connected to a lot of people who know the
right people. They are "friends of a friend" to vast numbers of people
across widely divergent groups and interests.
The classic example of how to use this analysis is "finding the critical
employee in the company the lone expert who knows how to fix
the machine," Carley says. Ironically, without network analysis, managers
frequently don't recognize who that is and the nature of his importance.
"But there's no reason it can't be turned around in the opposite way,"
she says. There's no reason organizational glitches, screw-ups, jealousies
and distrust that slow and degrade performance can't be intentionally
introduced." A network's ability to adapt to new challenges can be degraded.
Carley says: "One of the things that leads to the ability to adapt is
who knows who and who knows what. The higher that is, the better the
group's flexibility. But you can reduce the number of times the group
can communicate or congregate. Or you can rotate personnel rapidly."
And in war, this may have to be done by capturing or killing them. "You
can also segregate the things people are doing, so they learn only on
a need-to-know basis. The more isolated the tasks are, the more you
inhibit their ability to function as a team.
"Imagine in your office if you knew who went to whom for advice," Carley
says. "If you found a set of people who gave out more advice than anyone
else and then removed them from the network, so they can't communicate
with others, you would infringe on the ability of the network to operate."
In the case of terror networks, people are linked by family ties, marriage
ties and shared principles, interests and goals. They thus can be all
of one mind, even though they are dispersed and devoted to different
tasks. They "know what they have to do" without needing a single-central
leadership, command or headquarters.
other hand, depending on the structure of the network, removing a few
key nodes can sometimes do a lot of good, says Frank Fukuyama, author
of the seminal work "Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity"
and now a professor at the School of Advanced International Studies
at Johns Hopkins University.
"Some are so tightly bound to each other that they are not embedded
in other networks. Kill a few nodes, and the whole thing collapses.
Take the case of the Sendero Luminoso [Shining Path] in Peru. It couldn't
have been that hierarchical. It was designed for the mountains of Peru.
It couldn't have been terribly centralized. It had a scattered cell
structure. It was hard to infiltrate. It was dispersed. And yet when
you got [Shining Path founder and leader Abimael] Guzman and a few top
aides, the entire thing fell apart.
"The idea that there is no end of terrorists, no way to stamp them all
out, that if you kill a hundred, another hundred will spring up
I would be very careful of that assumption. The network of people who
are willing to blow themselves up has to be limited. Sure, there are
sympathizers and bagmen and drivers. But the actual core network of
suicide bombers is probably a much smaller population. It is also tightknit
and hard to infiltrate. But it is limited. It is not obvious to me that
there is an endless supply."
Another tactic: advancing the cause of the weakest link.
"Suppose I've got a really powerful pulsetaker," says Stephenson, "vying
for a position of dominance. But I also know that a member of the blood
kin group is moving forward who is weaker. If you arrange an accident
to eliminate the pulsetaker, and let the weaker family member come in,
you've helped corrupt the network."
The beauty of seeding weakness into an organization is that you can
degrade its effectiveness while still monitoring it, and not causing
a new and potentially more efficient organization to replace it. "You
don't want to blow away the organization. You want to keep some fraudulent
activity going on so you can monitor it. If you blow them away, you
lose your leads," says Stephenson. "Better the devil you know. Like
[Moammar] Gaddafi. Keep him alive, because you know him. Who knows what
sort of clever mastermind might replace him."
Intelligence is crucial to analyze the network's weak links so you can
"You're talking about what amounts to a clan or a tribe or brotherhood
of blood and spilled blood. That is really tough to crack. Trying to
infiltrate it we're talking years," says David Ronfeldt, a senior
social scientist at Rand. However, from outside the network you can
also look for patterns that stand out from the norm, like who talks
to whom, e-mail exchanges, telephone records, bank records and who uses
whose credit card, says Ronfeldt.
"I would attack on the basis of their trust in the command and control
structures by which they operate," says Arquilla. "If they believe they
are being listened to, they will be inhibited. If we were to reduce
their trust in their infrastructure, it would drive them to non-technical
means force them to keep their heads down more. A courier carrying
a disk has a hell of a long way to go to communicate worldwide. If you
slow them down, interception is more likely."
Human networks are distinct from electronic networks. But technology
is the sea in which they swim.
"What made nets vulnerable historically is their inability to coordinate
their purpose," says Manuel Castells, author of "The Rise of the Network
Society," the first volume of his trilogy, "The Information Age."
"But at this point," he says, "they have this ability to be both decentralized
and highly focused. That's what's new. And that's technology. Not just
electronic. It's their ability to travel everywhere. Their ability to
be informed everywhere. Their ability to receive money from everywhere."
However, Arquilla likes the idea of understanding how the network works
by using clandestine technical collection. For instance, he says, when
any computer user surfs on the Web looking for travel tickets,
say more often than not a piece of software, called a cookie, is
transmitted to his computer. The device monitors his every move and reports
back to some database what he's done.
Now, Arquilla says, "think of something much more powerful than cookies."
They exist, he says. One way to use them is by creating "honey pots."
This involves identifying Web sites used by activists or setting up a
Web site that will attract them, and seeding them with these intelligent
software agents. When the activists check in, they can't leave without
taking with them a piece of software that allows you to backtrack, getting
into at least one part of the enemy network. "That likely gives you his/her
all channel connections, and maybe even some hints about hubs or the direction
of some links," says Arquilla.
There are other possibilities.
"You know those little cameras that some people have on top of their monitors?
Let me just say that it is entirely possible to activate those and operate
them and look through them without the machine being turned on," he says.
Software also exists that "allows you to reconstruct every single keystroke.
One after the other. Why is that important? If you do find the right machine,
you can reconstruct everything that happens. Even with unbreakable encryption,
you have all the keystrokes.".
Arquilla and Ronfeldt wrote a slim but highly prescient volume called
"The Advent of Netwar" for the National Defense Research Institute,
a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the
Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the
It predicts that in a war between human networks, the side with superior
intelligence wins. It also makes some tactical suggestions about countering
human networks with counter-networks that actually have been used to
combat computer hackers.
Find a member of the enemy group who is clearly a harmless
idiot; treat him as if he were the most important figure and the only
one worthy of being taken seriously.
Single out competent and genuinely dangerous figures; write
them off or call their loyalty to the cause into question.
Control the stories people tell each other to define their
reason for living and acting as they do. The terrorist story, says
Ronfeldt, "gives these people common cause us versus them.
Right now the U.S. would seem to have the edge at the worldwide level.
But within the region, there was the dancing in the streets in Palestine.
Part of the story is that America's evil, and that America's presence
is to blame for so many of the problems in the Middle East. We have
to attack that part."
Find the list of demands extorted by the network; grant some
that make no sense and/or disturb and divide their political aims.
Paint the enemy with PR ugly paint so that they seem beyond
the pale, ridiculous, alien, maniacal, inexplicable.
Destroy their social support networks by using "helpful" but
differently valued groups that are not perceived as aggressive.
Divide and conquer; identify parts of the network that can
be pacified and play them against former allies.
Intensify the human counter-networks in one's own civil society.
Castells: "We should be organizing our own networks, posing as Islamic
terrorist networks. We should then demand to join one of these networks
and then destroy the trust structures. Only way to infiltrate. Oldest
technique in the world."
Few of these ideas involve flattening Kabul, all of these analysts note.
Stephenson worries that massing the Navy near Afghanistan is "a symbolic
show of old-fashioned strength. It's not about that anymore. This whole
playing ground has shifted."
"In order to do anything, you cannot be blind," says Castells. "The
most extraordinary vulnerability of the American military is it looks
like they do not have many informants inside Afghanistan. It also looks
like the majority of the components of this network do not relate directly
or essentially to nation-states. That is new. Unless we have a fundamental
rethinking of strategic matters, it's going to be literally, literally
exhausting and impossible. It will be desperate missile attacks at the
wrong targets with a lot of suffering. Massive bombardments turn around
the opinion in many ways."
"Basically," says Ronfeldt, "you have to find somebody to wipe out."
© 2001 The Washington Post Company