The Dynamics of Terrorist Networks: Understanding the Survival Mechanisms of Global Salafi Jihad

Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Authors: Jie Xu, Daning Hu, Hsinchun Chen

Today terrorists usually work in network forms to conduct attacks. Terrorist networks remain active and can still function even after being severely damaged by authorities. Analyzing terrorist networks from a dynamic point of view can provide insights about the mechanisms responsible for the survival of terrorist organizations. This paper studies the dynamics of a major international terrorist organization over a 14-year period – the Global Salafi Jihad (GSJ) terrorist network. We found that a scale-free topology gradually emerged as new members joined the GSJ network based on operational needs. In addition, since the network has been experiencing member losses while it grows, we also studied the robustness of the GSJ network. We used a simulation approach to examine its vulnerability to random failures, targeted attacks, and real world authorities' counterattacks. We found that authorities' counterattacks have been rather ineffective in disrupting the terrorist network.

Intelligence for an Age of Terror by Gregory F. Treverton

During the Cold War, U.S. intelligence was concerned primarily with states; non-state actors like terrorists were secondary. Now the priorities are reversed. And the challenge is enormous. States had an address, and they were hierarchical and bureaucratic. They thus came with some “story.” Terrorists do not. States were “over there,” but terrorists are there and here. They thus put pressure on intelligence at home, not just abroad. They also force intelligence and law enforcement – the CIA and the FBI – to work together in new ways, and if those 700,000 police officers in the United States are to be the eyes and ears in the fight against terror, new means of sharing not just information but also analysis across the federal system are imperative. The strength of this book is that it underscores the extent of the change and ranges broadly across data collection and analysis, foreign and domestic, as well as presenting the issues of value that arise as new targets require collecting more information at home.

Beyond Bullets: Strategies for Countering Violent Extremism

Author(s): Dr. John A. Nagl, Kristin M. Lord, Seth Rosen, Daniel Benjamin, Larry Diamond, David Kilcullen, Camille Pecastaing, Harvey M. Sapolsky, Alice E. Hunt (Editor)

Center for a New American Security Report: 06/10/2009 Download Full Report (PDF) ISBN: 978-1-935087-02-1

To counter the threat from violent Islamist extremism more effectively, the Center for a New American Security launched a strategy development process modeled after President Eisenhower’s Project Solarium. CNAS asked five experts to recast the effort to defeat al-Qaeda in sustainable terms consistent with American values. The result is a series of essays, produced in this report, that recommend a rich array of counterterrorism tools and strategies for the new administration.

The series begins with Kristin Lord, John Nagl, and Seth Rosen, who present a comprehensive strategy to counter violent extremism backed by a realistic vision of success, guiding principles, and specific ways and means involving intelligence, diplomacy, military operations, strategic public engagement, law enforcement, finance and development, and homeland defense (this essay is available as a separate publication, view it here). David Kilcullen recommends a “balanced response” that disaggregates disparate Islamist groups and recalibrates the civilian and military tools of U.S. power. Larry Diamond then focuses on democratization in the Arab world as a vehicle to staunching the supply of violent extremists and the grievances that inspire them. Camille Pecastaing suggests that the U.S. government dismantle the “war on terror,” relegate counterterrorism to the jurisdiction of technical government agencies, and better educate the American public about the true nature of the threat. Harvey Sapolsk proposes a reduction of U.S. military deployments in order to neutralize sources of extremist propaganda and to conserve limited resources. Finally, Daniel Benjamin presents a counterterrorism strategy that would recommit the U.S. to international legal standards and to expand civilian tools of government, while continuing to track down al-Qaeda.

CNAS then convened the authors, along with leading experts and stakeholders from the U.S. government, to debate the merits and challenges behind each approach. From these discussions, CNAS composed a broad document to support national security policymakers as they pivot to a new approach for combating violent extremism. This capstone paper proposes a series of principles and instruments to shape a new U.S. counterterrorism strategy and to enhance the nation’s security.

After the Fire: Shaping the Future U.S. Relationship with Iraq
Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Inside the Surge: One Commander’s Lessons in Counterinsurgency

Terrorists Can Think Strategically: Lessons Learned From the Mumbai Attacks

By: Brian Michael Jenkins, RAND Corporation

Testimony presented before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on January 28, 2009.

Social Science for Counterterrorism. Putting the Pieces Together

This monograph surveys social-science literature relating to counterterrorism. It also takes first steps toward integrating the knowledge reflected in that literature and suggesting theories and methods to inform analysis and modeling.

Computational Methods for Counterterrorism

Editors: Shlomo Argamon, Newton Howard

Modern terrorist networks pose an unprecedented threat to international security. The question of how to neutralize that threat is complicated radically by their fluid, non-hierarchical structures, religious and ideological motivations, and predominantly non-territorial objectives. Governments and militaries are crafting new policies and doctrines to combat terror, but they desperately need new technologies to make these efforts effective.

This book collects a wide range of the most current computational research that addresses critical issues for countering terrorism, including:
  • Finding, summarizing, and evaluating relevant information from large and changing data stores;
  • Simulating and predicting enemy acts and outcomes; and
  • Producing actionable intelligence by finding meaningful patterns hidden in huge amounts of noisy data.

The book’s four sections describe current research on discovering relevant information buried in vast amounts of unstructured data; extracting meaningful information from digitized documents in multiple languages; analyzing graphs and networks to shed light on adversaries’ goals and intentions; and developing software systems that enable analysts to model, simulate, and predict the effects of real-world conflicts.

The research described in this book is invaluable reading for governmental decision-makers designing new policies to counter terrorist threats, for members of the military, intelligence, and law enforcement communities devising counterterrorism strategies, and for researchers developing more effective methods for knowledge discovery in complicated and diverse datasets.

The Sunni-Shia Conversion Controversy

by Israel Elad-Altman Foreign Policy

Sunnis have converted to Shiism in the past, and their conversions neither attracted much attention nor generated heated public debate. The current debate is indicative of the current state of politics in the region. For the rising Shi'a, religion has become an important political tool, and Sunni Islamist reactions to this fact differ from one arena to another, depending on the degree to which religion has become politicized. But the more the Sunni-Shi'a issue is framed as an Iranian-Arab contest, the more Arab Sunni forces now aligned with Iran will come under pressure to change their strategy. Arab Shi'a communities in Sunni-majority or Sunni-ruled countries, like those of the Gulf Cooperation Council, may also well become the target of growing Sunni suspicion and animosity, possibly pushing them to radicalization in a kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Top 50 Homeland Security Blogs

The Madrasa Myth

by Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das, C. Christine Fair, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja
Foreign Policy

Milestones by Sayyid Qutb

The Taliban: An Organizational Analysis

Article published in Military Review, May-June 2008

Authors: Major Shahid Afsar, Pakistan Army; Major Chris Samples, U.S. Army; and Major Thomas Wood, U.S. Army

Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam

Dr. Tawfiq Hamid is able to explain why extremist Islam is far more prevalent and poses a far more serious threat than most Americans and the West in general appreciate; to our economy, ecology, and national security.

INSIDE THE MIND OF A TERRORIST" Part 1 - Dr. Tawfik Hamid, an ex-member of Al Gama Al Islamiya, a terror group based in Egypt talks about suicide bombers and how he was recruited into a terrorist organization.
INSIDE THE MIND OF A TERRORIST" Part 2 - How Tawfik met and prayed with Ayman Al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2 man.

2009 National Intelligence: A Consumer's Guide. ODNI

"To Our Great Detriment": Ignoring What Extremists Say About Jihad

by Major Stephen Coughlin

In comments made at the National Defense University on 1 December 2005, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace explained to his audience the importance of “understand[ing] the nature of the enemy” if we hope to defeat jihadi extremists. Comparing our situation today, with that faced by an earlier generation who had to deal with the reality of the Nazi threat, General Pace suggested a simple solution to complying with his injunction: “read what our enemies have said. Remember Hitler…. He said in writing exactly what his plan was that we collectively ignored to our great detriment (emphasis added).” Just as we ignored Hitler’s articulation of his strategic doctrine in Mein Kampf, so too are we on the verge of suffering a similar fate today, if we fail to seriously assess the extremist threat based on jihadi strategic doctrine.