Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Invulnerable Networked Insurgency

Is it is practical — or even possible — to damage a networked insurgency like al-Qaeda? Is it in fact true that fighting al-Qaeda only makes it stronger? I examine the question at Pajamas Media. Morton Doodslag and Robert Mayer make some pretty interesting comments.

Nothing follows.


Blogger RWE said...

Well, what about when the “nodes” effectively unplug because they no longer want to communicate with the rest?

In his book Citizen Soldiers, Stephen Ambrose describes a frequent occurrence during the Allied invasion of Germany in WWII. A convoy of trucks would be going down a road and suddenly a few shots would ring out from somewhere. The trucks would stop and a thousand M-1’s would fire back. Shortly thereafter a couple of bedraggled Hitler Youth or Whermacht troops would emerge from cover, hands over their heads. The trucks would start moving again, without even bothering to disarm the Germans. They were no longer a “node” and thus no longer a problem.

Bin Laden’s latest message certainly must be making some of Al Queda “unplug.”

One reason the USSR folded was the realization among the elites that the Evil Empire would have to change to meet the challenge of the Information Age, and the necessary changes would destroy the old order. Making the leaders send out messages such as Bin Laden is another way to do that.

10/24/2007 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

And when our door kickers snatch a link man and his laptop, just how many rights do we want to afford him? How squeamish should we be in exploiting his knowledge of the network?

Success builds upon success. Roll up the link men and get actionable intel out of them quickly for the next snatch. Put panties on their heads, make big dogs growl at them, make 'em spill their guts. I don't really care what interrogation technique the Good Guys use. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I only care that the technique works.

Let the professionals get on with it. Whining about how mean they are in violating the civil rights of terrorists who shouldn't have any just slows us down.

10/24/2007 11:39:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

After 9/11 I saw the following problem for AQ:

AQ is like a franchise whose name and logo any one can use. When the name is sure to bring you business, you use it. When the name will likely bring you ruin, you stop.

AQ, with its CEO's and top managers in hiding, has no quality control. Any three slobs can become a "node," and for AQ slobs are worse than Sociopaths. This will ruin the value of the Trademark. Then the local Sociopaths will claim, "Hey, I'd never stoop so low as to join AQ. I only rape infidels!" And the thug networks will find value in not drawing the kind of attention that AQ draws.

It's possible the entire Sunni Arab Jihad will have to establish a new brand, and hope the entire Jihad sector of their economy has not suffered from the burst of the AQ Jihad Bubble. Even worse than Enron, in my opinion.

Of course they are now busy making enemies in Pakistan, so perhaps it is the upper management that is incompetent. They are suppose to provide a useful "destabilizing service" for their clients, but insist on destabilizing the very destabilizers who sponsor them. What a chisel!

I wonder if tribal chiefs will be hiking into Afghanistan to talk to American Colonels: "Can you take care of these idiots for us? We put a Tom-Tom Go in their SUV so you can Tomahawk-Tomahawk them."

10/25/2007 06:01:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Here's an additional two cents worth for a total of, I think, four.

In complicated electronic gadgets, the intermittent short circuit can be frustrating. You know there is a problem, but where?

It is possible for a "hub" to experience a catastrophic failure and the maintenance crew be unaware of the event. If an important node has "flipped" to the allies, for instance, this could be unapparent for weeks or months--with communication from the hub tagged and tracked to light up much of the network. Of course the blame should then be laid on "reliable nodes." Get them killing each other, less work for you.

There's a "who can you trust" problem. The Jihad is like a cult: 99 percent of the members will be reliable as long as they receive reinforcing stimuli. Take away the stimuli and the failure rate may soar. In an Afghan camp it may be ten on a scale of ten. If you can keep them on the Berkley campus, nine. If they live off campus, six. Let them get a job at Starbucks, five. Target, four. Fall in love with an infidel three (depends on the infidel--a Women's Studies Professor may bump it back up to ten).

When foreign Jihadist went to Iraq I thought the "who can you trust" question argued for blowing them up as quickly as you can. Any who came back to France would be suspect. If you're so hot why ain't you dead?

10/25/2007 07:41:00 AM  
Blogger John Aristides said...

Generally, I hate guys who say, "I mentioned all this a long time ago." A good point is a good point.

That said, I did mention all this a long time ago.

'Tis here.

10/25/2007 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

The best book out there on networks (IMHO) is "The Starfish and the Spider" by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom.

From the jacket cover:
If you cut off a spider's head, it dies; if you cut off a starfish's leg it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish. Traditional top-down organizations are like spiders, but now starfish organizations are changing the face of business and the world.

What's the hidden power behind the success of Wikipedia, craigslist, and Skype? What do eBay and Al Quada have in common with the abolitionist and women's rights movements? After five years of ground-breaking research Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom have discovered some unexpected answers, gripping stories, and a tapestry of unlikely connections.

"The Starfish and the Spider" argues that organizations fall into two categories: traditional 'spiders,' which have a rigid hierarchy and top-down leadership, and revolutionary 'starfish,' which rely on the power of peer relationships.

The Starfish and the Spider explores what happens when starfish take on spiders. And it will teach you:

How the Apaches evaded the powerful Spanish army for 200 years
The power of a simple circle
The importance of catalysts who have an uncanny ability to bring people together.
How the Internet has become a breeding ground for leaderless organizations
How Alcoholics Anonymous has reached 20 million members with only a shared ideology and without a leader

The Starfish and the Spider is the rare book that will change how you understand the world around you. You'll never see things the same way again.

10/25/2007 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger dobson said...

First of all, I do not subscribe to the clear cut starfish vs spider analogy. Sometimes high-tech armies rout networked guerrillas.

Sometimes the guerrillas win.

It's not just a matter of how your army is structured but also whether you win the hearts and minds of the civilian population who might otherwise give shelter to insurgents.

Success builds upon success. Roll up the link men and get actionable intel out of them quickly for the next snatch. Put panties on their heads, make big dogs growl at them, make 'em spill their guts. I don't really care what interrogation technique the Good Guys use. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I only care that the technique works.

After the 2nd world war the allied nations developed a wide range of interrogation techniques that were shown to be a great deal more effective than the kinds of brutal torture that Stalin's communist forces became so famous for.

One of the reasons we knew that the communists were not the "Good Guys" was that they tortured and we did not.

I think it is a legitimate concern that these "enhanced" torture techniques may be the source of poor quality intelligence that endangers the lives of soldiers, plus if an enemy knows that they will be treated harshly they will be less likely to surrender and more likely to fight to the death - also increasing the risk of injury to American forces.

Torture seriously harms American prestige abroad and will leave a bad stink in the gulf, one that future administrations will find costly to clear up.

10/26/2007 04:50:00 AM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

The Open Source Intelligence available to us from the public intelligence service known as the main stream media is a psychological operation designed to define ANY interrogation technique that involves physical discomfort as torture. That's just another attempt to paralyze us through political correctness. AQ training manuals instruct jihadis to claim they were tortured to give their allies in the West grounds to initiate lawfare.

dobson, I have no doubt Team America are the Good Guys. I don't wring my hands over legitimacy. The risks we have run and the losses we have sustained to keep "innocent" Muslims alive absolves my side of any guilt if we've been mean to jihadis in squeezing actionable intelligence out them quickly.

I want to win. I want to keep my guys alive. If bad guys suffer in the process, tough.

10/26/2007 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Robert Mayer said...

hdgreene's comment is fairly salient with me. At the 2007 Leadership Forum held at Bentley College, the worldwide president of TIME magazine Edward McCarrick remarked to me a very interesting point about his job when it came to bloggers. He doesn't read them because he believes that they lack credibility (and believe most people believe this as well), and also that TIME isn't interested in employing any kind of bloggers that are not already well established in the media, professional, and political spheres. But why would they employ someone like Ana Marie Cox who, despite her raunchy wit, does not stand up to the intellectual and writing capacities of someone like Wretchard whose blogs is one of the biggest out there?

The reason: the main purpose of his job is to protect and nurture the TIME brand. That's it, the main goal, above everything else. That is what he works tirelessly to preserve.

This all becomes relevant when we look at what hdgreene said, somewhat in conjunction to a comment I wrote on the article itself.

By disrupting the network in critical places (like Osama bin Laden going into hiding and Zarqawi being shot dead), it forces the network to evolve in a way that is partially directed by the United States rather than its own free will. When it was operating in a vacuum, Al Qaeda was able to take on a state-like hierarchical structure unlike most terrorist groups will ever be able to achieve.

The organization was forced to evolve rapidly, with AQ's popping up everywhere, disconnected from the original central leadership. Unfortunately for the radical Islamists, global jihad and AQ are synonymous with one another in many ways. When the brand name is tarnished by idiots blowing up other Muslims, AQ's prominence goes way down alongside the idea of violent jihad. Populations turn, agents and cells and leaders are singled out, and the network evolves into its own self-destruction essentially.

Hopefully this means that one day AQ and global jihad will be about as popular in the Muslim world as McDonald's is in France!

10/26/2007 03:45:00 PM  

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