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Belmont Club

No Such Agency, No Such Enemy

June 30th, 2013 - 1:38 pm

Nearly 9 years ago, when Belmont was still hosted at Blogspot, I wrote a post titled Dark Networks. “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 Post has some of the details.”

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. …

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.

Sean Everton at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California has just finished writing a book titled Disrupting Dark Networks which describes how social network analysis (looking at the traffic pattern of communication among persons) was used to dismantle the Noordin Toop network. Understanding the concept of Dark Networks is vital to understanding the debate over the uses — and abuses — of the NSA data surveillance system. Professor Everton describes the key and unstated dilemma on his website. “Dark networks… are [any] covert and illegal networks (Raab and Milward 2003), that is, groups that seek to conceal themselves and their activities from authorities. Although the term is typically reserved for groups such as terrorists, gangs, drug cartels, and so on, it can refer to benign groups as well, such as the various resistance groups that sought to undermine the Nazis during WWII.”

Al Qaeda is a Dark Network, but so too were the patriots who organized the war of independence. To some extent groups ostensibly protected by privacy laws are also “dark” in that they are supposed to be concealed from authorities or opaque to them under legal guarantee. And therefore the very same tools which have proved so effective in stopping terrorism are also capable of stopping dissent if improperly used.

Table of Contents of Professor Everton’s book.

Software Update
Preface and Acknowledgements
Chapter 1: Social Network Analysis: An Introduction
Chapter 2: Strategic Options for Disrupting Dark Networks
Chapter 3: Getting Started with UCINET, NetDraw, Pajek, and ORA
Chapter 4: Gathering, Recording, and Manipulating Social Networks
Chapter 5: Network Topography
Chapter 6: Cohesion and Clustering
Chapter 7: Centrality, Power, and Prestige
Chapter 8: Brokers, Bridges, and Structural Holes
Chapter 9: Positions, Roles, and Blockmodels
Chapter 10: Dynamic Analyses of Dark Networks
Chapter 11: Statistical Models for Dark Networks
Chapter 12: The Promise and Limits of Social Network Analysis
Appendix 1: The Noordin Top Terrorist Network
Appendix 2: Glossary of Terms
Appendix 3: Multidimensional Scaling with UCINET
Appendix 4: The Just War Tradition

Perhaps the most vital issue in examining the use of information weapons like social network analysis is legitimacy. This issue appears to be touched on by Professor Everton in his Appendix 4, “The Just War Tradition” and is the key element in the current NSA controversy. That the NSA ought to have the ability to penetrate and decrypt networks is part of its job, just as it is part of the Air Force or Navy’s job to be able to incinerate any given part of the planet with a nuclear weapon. But just because the USAF can bomb Chicago doesn’t mean it ought to be allowed to.

The legitimacy aspect of dismantling Dark Networks is so important that cannot be overlooked as a mere detail any more than the old SIOP (the nuclear targeting plan) belonged in a mere appendix. The SIOP, which listed all the targets the military would in fact target, was the heart and soul of nuclear weapons employment, it was the cornerstone of its legitimacy since it encapsulated all the reasons for which the plan was prepared.

But the Cold War was different from the War on Terror in that there was no doubt who the “enemy” was. The Enemy was the Soviet Union. That stands in stark contrast to the present conflict, which the administration declines to even characterize its activities as war, preferring to treat it as mere crime. There is no “enemy”. There is only workplace violence or the activity of “lone wolves”. There are no state sponsors, no large scale conspiracies, no enemy infrastructure that these information weapons are directed against. There are only misguided individuals.

This new characterization is supposed to provide the public with reassurance. But it’s  immediate consequence is opacity. Since there is no defined enemy the foe can be anyone. All warheads are labeled “to whom it may concern”. And while the public is assured that the blanks in the target forms are filled in by sober and sagacious Judges at a FISA court, how can such judges authorize what amount of operations of war against an enemy. That was a process that was supposed to have been under the control of the voter.

With no enemy in sight, the political processes which regulate warfare are bypassed. Congress never has to go on record to stay who is being fought. Consequently the voters are never directly consulted. The entire process of information warfare itself becomes a dark network, “covert” groups that seek to conceal themselves from the political process because it is too dangerous for the public to know what they are up to.

But this is in many ways akin to arguing that the public had no right to know who was targeted by the SIOP.  While it is true that the public had no right to know the individual target details contained in it,  they had an unambiguous right to know in general terms whose country was going to be hit in the event hostilities commenced. They had a right to know, at any rate, that one of the targets was not Chicago, or Wakima.

Legitimacy is so much a part of the process of dismantling dark networks that it really can’t be employed without addressing the issue. Legitimacy is part of the operational process. It cannot be dissociated from the use of the information weapon itself. Who you point a gun at is the most important part of firing it. Fortunately for America the Presidents of the Cold War period understood the need for legitimacy and used it not only to hold together the domestic political consensus but overseas allies as well. But recently the Presidents have failed to carry this task forward. They’ve assured us there is no enemy and the last wars are behind us. They’ve acted as if they don’t need legitimacy to wage this information conflict. All they need apparently, is secrecy.

This is a big mistake. “Trust me” doesn’t work in a context where the political leadership has shown a propensity to lie at the drop of a hat.  Without legitimacy there will be a crisis, as there is a crisis now.

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, poof. He’s gone.” And the role of political leadership at all events, is not to give the devil a helping hand.


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Top Rated Comments   
Personally I am getting really tired of thread jacking by X dragging out for the umpteenth time his beefs with other bloggers. Why don't you pay for your own soapbox?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't think I am competent to make an assessment, although obviously some suspicions lurk in my mind. But it seems quite clear that the process of correctly identifying the enemy, even if we decide not to openly speak out the name, should be entrained.

Ninety nine percent of winning a conflict is correctly deciding who you are up against. Because that's where you derive grand strategy, where the center of gravity comes from. Unless this is done correctly nothing will work.

The reason the War Power is vested in the lowest and most representative branch of government is because the founders clearly knew the importance of threshing this out. When lives, fortune and sacred honor are at stake, the people who are actually going to pay must be asked and asked clearly.

What is this nonsense about "leading from behind"? Where the dickens did that abomination of an idea come from? First define your objective function and then you can optimize. You can't optimize if you don't know which way is up.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well the question of who the enemy should be worthy of discussion at least. The amazing thing is that it is not: that a searching examination of the question has been fobbed off by the simple assertion that the whole thing is just "a law enforcement problem" as if that provided any answers.

I think they pulled off the switch by making it sound that whoever thought in those terms was enlightened. In reality they were merely fooled.

Julius Caesar once said "the greatest enemy will hide in the last place you would ever look." We have moved on from that to the almost religious belief that "it is hateful to look".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (40)
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I have purchased Everton’s book on Kindle and am looking forward to giving it a very close read as time allows. However, when looking at Bryan Preston’s post today over at PJ Tattler, one must consider the question of what to do if “we” are the target of an SNA effort. There is little doubt that the little Gramscian thugs planning swatting attacks against Texas Republicans, among others, are using Social Network Analysis to provide targets for their own political efforts.

The Gramscians have been working from the top down, subsuming the agencies of government to increase power and influence, provide a shield against political attack, and to screen both their activities and strategy from the general public. They are now in the process of destroying key members of the set of larger, extra-governmental institutions that oppose their goals such as the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts to name two conspicuous examples. The holdouts will be fragmented into smaller groups and individuals who will seek to reintegrate into new networks. The third phase of attack by the Left will be to identify, characterize, and destroy these smaller and more vulnerable networks in detail, using a decentralized attack. These means will undoubtedly include relatively small, self-directed groups using basic SNA techniques and simple metadata due to both ready availability and the need to maintain a short OODA cycle. Boys and girls, we are going to be in the Left’s crosshairs, and soon. Take a hard look at “Piltdown Man’s” post here and think about it. This is as good an illustration of Modern Intel 101 as I have seen.

What can be done to “shape” a network to not only increase resiliency and harden it against attack, but perhaps more importantly to reduce its signature—a “Gray Network?” I can think of possible parallels with electronic warfare. Decreasing the footprint to limit “signal,” increasing “noise,” and figuring out vulnerabilities within the opposing sensor system(the mind of the analyst) that can be used for deception efforts, “stealing the range gate” or perhaps generating a multitude of false targets. Such efforts would be hopeless against an NSA –level opponent, but they are not the true threat. Our immediate threat lies with Gramscians armed with some knowledge of SNA, but likely no real-world knowledge or training of techniques currently being used in, say, counterinsurgency efforts. Due to the available resources and operational goals and needs of the Left, their level of analysis would be necessarily rudimentary. They may be vulnerable to intelligent, active countermeasures. What would such a “defensive suite” look like? The long-term survival of Western traditions, Judeo-Christian morality, and the other foundations of a civil, moral, and truly liberal society may well depend on that answer someday.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thinking outside the box a bit (per usual) there might be an alternative to state sponsors. That would be corporate sponsors, criminal sponsors, union sponsors, etc. In other words a relatively large/legitimate intermediary group that does enjoy state protection/validity. The complexity of the organization would justify intra-net, encryption, self-defense measures that would otherwise be out of place in a smaller organization. The challenges come down to 1) hiding from the NSA search programs followed by 2) hiding from the thermal imaging scopes. Have to do an end around the tech to cross the threshold from terrorist cell to mover and shaker.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
By not naming the Enemy you then can collect data on everyone, including your political enemies! 0bama has already been caught using the illegal data collection tools to suppress his political opposition, “Leading from Behind” is just that, No Orders came from 0bama to delay and/or suppress the “Tea Party” groups it came from his minions, 0bama gave the signals straight out in the open, in public speeches, orders given in plain sight, so direct that it is taken by all but his radicalized minions to be just “Political” tough talk, but in reality it is “Leading from Behind” with a “Wink, Wink, Nod, Nod”, as mentioned here before, Hitler had his most evil deeds done without one signature. Now it is coming out that the methods to “One World” international elites are all there, the NSA, Google, Facebook, etc. etc. (the list goes on) are all working with all governments, US, EU, Chinese, etc. it goes on and on! Liberty and Freedom have been slain, it was in the name of “Equal Rights” and “Security” it was all of us, by our hands that it died!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Very entertaining and also potentially a good instructional tool on the methods and the power of even simple social network analysis.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This was to be in response to Piltdown Man. Apologies for any confusion.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The left sure as hell doesn't have a problem naming the enemy...and it ain't Islamists but the more tolerant conservatives. Go figure.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
like we say, " trop d'infos tue l'info"

too much energy is wasted at following idiots conversations, I didn't see that the intelligence services were more effective since the NET spread everywhere. They offen misss the right info. It's after one terrorist action happened that the protagonists' computors are investigated.

It's a bit laughable, or is it a excuse for spying Industry secrets?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Crisis? What crisis? (At least that's how people seem to be behaving.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Total trust/dependence on the gubmint will do this to you. “Some one(s) in the government will take care of everything.”

General thought is “This” is not a crisis, a mere ‘inconvenience’. And that's how we got to this sorry point.


1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
...and yet, at the same time, everything that is NOT really a crisis is CALLED a crisis. Witness healthcare, immigration, gay marriage, free birth control, etc. Go figure.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Personally I am getting really tired of thread jacking by X dragging out for the umpteenth time his beefs with other bloggers. Why don't you pay for your own soapbox?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Right. He trolls a guy who isn't even a BC commenter on just about every BC post, then gets pissy when he thinks the guy shows up? Nobody else here gives a s h i t about your internet slapfight except you, X.

X, maybe you're just obsessed with the dude, but you're acting more like a classic disruptor/griefer with a mission. It's severely dragging down the S/N in here.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Name the Enemy? Now there is a challenge!

The Enemy is certainly not the broad religion of Islam. Islam is not a monolith. Indeed, the schisms within Islam make Europe's several hundred years of bloodshed over Christian Catholic versus Christian Protestant seem like a children's squabble.

Individual Muslims are, well, individuals. Some of them are truly devout in an inspiring way; most of them are the equivalent of "Sunday Christians". A few of them are out to punish the non-believer. The dangerous ones are the tiny minority who aim to use their religion to grab personal temporal power. They are the Enemy.

But how does that Enemy differ from those individuals in a country like the USA who seek to set citizens against each other? Who ignore the law? Who manipulate elections? Who waste lives & treaure in Afghanistan for no purpose? Who destroy jobs through regulation? Who destroy the future through money-printing?

The real Enemy does not carry the flag of a single religion or a single country. We face a disseminated Enemy, internal & external. An Enemy whom we ourselves have empowered. How do we put a name to that Enemy?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
By all means name the enemy for the love of god. Your friends aren't your friends if they can't be distinguished from your enemies. Who exactly are we going to piss off? Iran, Pakistan? Saudi Arabia you say? While the criminals in charge of pissing on the heads of Americans choke off oil, coal, and natural gas for, as someone aptly put, unicorn farts? The Sauds have been pretty good to us but they don't own us and our government croniesI are wrong to sell us out for 30 pieces of silver and a barrel of oil.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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