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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Social Networks and the Fight Against Terrorism

In an earlier post ("Facebook, Social Networking and Social Network Analysis") I distinguished between social networking and social network analysis. I noted that social network analysis (SNA) is a collection of theories and methodologies that analysts use to better understand and predict social behavior. A key assumption of SNA is that our behavior is affected by our ties to others and the networks in which we are located. And it isn’t just our direct ties that affect our beliefs and behavior; our indirect ties affect them as well. Indeed, social network theories assume that our structural location (i.e., where in a social network we find ourselves – center, periphery, member of core group, social isolate, and so on) affects what we say, do and even believe.

In recent years SNA has been used to track and disrupt terrorist and criminal networks. If there has been a trend in this research, it has been that many have used SNA metrics to identify central players, who can then be targeted for capture or elimination (a.k.a., the whack-a-mole approach). What one of my co-authors (Nancy Roberts) and I have been concerned about is stressing that there are a number of ways to disrupt terrorist networks, many of which that use non-coercive approaches and may provide longer term success. We have written an article to this end, which you can read if you are so inclined ("Strategies for Combating Dark Networks"). The abstract of the article reads as follows:
Our goal in this paper is to explore two generic approaches to disrupting dark networks: kinetic and non-kinetic. The kinetic approach involves aggressive and offensive measures to eliminate or capture network members and their supporters, while the non-kinetic approach involves the use of subtle, non-coercive means for combating dark networks. Two strategies derive from the kinetic approach: Targeting and Capacity-building. Four strategies derive from the non-kinetic approach: Institution-Building, Psychological Operations, Information Operations and Rehabilitation. We use network data from Noordin Top’s South East Asian terror network to illustrate how both kinetic and non-kinetic strategies could be pursued depending on a commander’s intent. Using this strategic framework as a backdrop, we strongly advise the use of SNA metrics in developing alterative counter-terrorism strategies that are context- dependent rather than letting SNA metrics define and drive a particular strategy.
P.S. The social network "map" that appears above is of the Noordin Top Terrorist Network (it appeared in the earlier post as well).

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