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Disconnect the Dots
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Thu, 20 Sep 2001 04:18:38 -0500 (CDT)
Forwarded by: William Knowles <wk () c4i org>
By Joel Garreau
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 17, 2001; Page C01
The essence of this first war of the 21st century is that it's not
like the old ones.
That's why, as $40 billion is voted for the new war on terrorism,
35,000 reservists are called up and two aircraft carrier battle groups
hover near Afghanistan, some warriors and analysts have questions:
In the Information Age, they ask, how do you attack, degrade or
destroy a small, shadowy, globally distributed, stateless network of
intensely loyal partisans with few fixed assets or addresses?
If bombers are not the right hammer for this nail, what is?
Bombers worked well in wars in which one Industrial Age military threw
steel at another. World War II, for instance, was a matchup of roughly
This is not true today.
That's why people who think about these things call this new conflict
"asymmetric warfare." The terrorist side is different: different
organization, different methods of attack -- and of defense.
"It takes a tank to fight a tank. It takes a network to fight a
network," says John Arquilla, senior consultant to the international
security group Rand and co-author of the forthcoming "Networks and
Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy."
He asks: "How do you attack a trust structure -- which is what a
network is? You're not going to do this with Tomahawk missiles or
"It's a whole new playing field. You're not attacking a nation, but a
network," says Karen Stephenson, who studies everything from
corporations to the U.S. Navy as if they were tribes. Trained as a
chemist and anthropologist, she now teaches at Harvard and the
University of London. "You have to understand what holds those
networks in place, what makes them strong and where the leverage
points are. They're not random connections," she says.
Human networks are distinct from electronic ones. They are not the
Internet. They are political and emotional connections among people
who must trust each other in order to function, like Colombian drug
cartels and Basque separatists and the Irish Republican Army. Not to
mention high-seas pirates, smugglers of illegal immigrants, and rogue
brokers of weapons of mass destruction.
But how 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
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
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
"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.
There is no precise heart or head that can be targeted, Arquilla says.
Even if you take out an Osama bin Laden, his organization, al Qaeda
("The Base"), still has the resilience of a classic human network. Bin
Laden's, for instance, is made up of an estimated two dozen separate
militant Islamic groups in the Philippines, Lebanon, Egypt, Kashmir,
Algeria, Indonesia and elsewhere, with hundreds of cells, some of them
located in Western Europe and even the United States, as we've
discovered in the past week.
On the 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 terorrists, 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
"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."
This is why Arquilla is dubious about some traditional
intelligence-gathering techniques, and enthusiastic about new ones.
For instance: You can talk about turning one of the network members
over to your side, but "that's problematic," he says. "You don't know
if they're playing you as a double agent or are simply psychotic." He
is also dubious about the value of satellite reconnaissance in
determining what we need to know about these networks.
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."
Much of this is hardly new, of course. Divide and conquer has worked
for a long time. Whenever the police got a Mafia wiseguy -- Joe
Valachi, for instance -- to betray the others, no Mafiosi could trust
another one as much anymore. Machiavelli, in "The Prince" of 1505,
wrote about the strategic deployment of betrayal to undermine trust.
What's different is our technological ability to track groups in real
time and see patterns that may be invisible on the surface. "Our
technology is sufficient that you can now handle realistic-ized
groups. We can deal with 30 to several thousand," says Carley. "You
couldn't do that before."
In 1996, 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 defense agencies.
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.
Adds Manuel 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
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."
"Communications without intelligence is noise; Intelligence
without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
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- Disconnect the Dots InfoSec News (Sep 20)