Sunday, October 30, 2011

Defeating Terrorism with Network Theory

The study of networks was not the easiest concept of the semester to understand. According to Amelia Arsenault in “Networks: Emerging Frameworks for Analysis,” one of the predominant reasons for this is the confusion of networks as a social construct versus networks as a form of network technology. But looking at networks as a way that people connect is an interesting way to examine the connections that bind different groups together.

One of the most interesting groups Arsenault applies Network Theory to is a terrorist group. Much criminal activity can now be classified as Netwars. This means the strength of the relationships or connections within the network are what decide the outcome. If a terrorist group has a star-format network, the hub will have to be taken out to defeat the cell. If they are built as a mesh network, meaning all the nodes are interconnected to each other and not just to a few central nodes, it becomes infinitely more difficult to take down a terrorist group. The government and military should use this information to be better equipped to take down terrorist organizations. This information can show them where to strike to eliminate the most important nodes in a network.

Another way networks can be used to battle terrorism is by tracing and connecting the nodes of a network to find the next node. In a 2006 New York Times magazine article, Can Network Theory Thwart Terrorists?, Patrick Radden Keefe examines how the National Security Agency uses Network Theory to make connections between terrorists to locate other members of a cell. Keefe writes about a Cleveland consultant, Valdis Krebs, who created a network map connecting all of the 19 terrorist involved in the 9/11 attacks within just a few links, using shared addresses, phone numbers, frequent flier numbers, etc. Most of these men were linked to each other through one leader. In retrospect, it has more of a reflective value, but if found beforehand, this time of work could provide preventative measures.

An issue that occurs with this kind of network mapping though is surveillance of everyone, even just innocent, everyday citizens. Because we are all supposedly linked within six degrees of separation, most of us are probably surprisingly close on network maps to people we wouldn’t expect, such as terrorists and criminals. That means many innocent people will end up being watched because of such linkages. This topic quickly morphs into the much-discussed, hot-topic battle of national security vs. individual privacy. 

1 comment:

  1. Jessica,right! Understanding what networks is really hard in academic field :)

    It is interesting to see how terrorists also use the networks in their own way. After the 911 terror incident happened in US, US army was suffered to find Osama bin Laden who moved through Al Qaeda network.Netwar is so right because network with other Isamic governments were required to find out where he is. Therefore, the victory was depend how many network you have.

    This is also related to the Google Earth matter in that how to manage the gap between information flow and private protection.

    Well, these kind of complicate matters give us the reason why we need to study communication as well as why studying network is hard :)