“Networks and Netwars, The future…

“Networks and Netwars, The future of terror, crime, and militancy”

This somewhat ponderous book from the Rand Corp, available online in PDF format for free, discusses how underground and militant groups are organized as networks while the governments who wish to know more about them, are organized as hierarchies. And that this poses problems for governments.

The book discusses the network organization of such disparate groups as terrorist organizations, organized crime, and protestors such as the International Committee to Ban Landmines (who won a Nobel Peace Prize) and the anarchists and anti-glob forces who participated in the Battle of Seattle.

One key insight here is “hierarchies have a difficult time fighting networks”. This is because they don’t understand them. You often see this confusion in articles and government announcements about Al Qaeda. The unspoken assumption is that Al Qaeda is hierarchical, that bin Laden is at the apex, and that if we chop off the head, then Al Qaeda will cease to exist.

This is almost certainly not the truth. Networks aren’t organized that way. There is no head to chop off. Plus, if you take out one node, another node will take over.

Three important characteristics of networks are:

1) Communication and coordination is determined by the task at hand and will change.

2) The network is complemented by links outside the organization.

3) Internal and external ties are enabled by shared norms, not by rules.

ANSWER L.A. is an excellent example of a networked organization. ANSWER called most of the recent antiwar demos in L.A. They immediately asked the other major coalitions if they wanted to join in as equal partners on the steering committee. The others did, so then we had a coalition of coalitions organizing a demo, with no one really “in charge”. The steering committee selected the date, place, and speakers, and that was about it.

The hardcore get-the-word-out push was done by the individual coalitions with no direction needed from the steering committee. Each coalition also did their own signs and banners and organized their own people. Very little hierarchy was involved in the organizing, but lots of networking was.

In the words of the book, this is an example of a SPIN, which is – take a deep breath now – a Segmented, Polycentric, Ideologically centered Network! Yessirree, they study us very carefully, even to the point of having acronyms to categorize our organizations. I guess we should be flattered.