America’s strategy to combat terrorism, resulting from Al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks, falls short of its intent to defeat transnational terrorism. While the tenets of the current counterterrorism strategy were written broadly to enable global employment, this template approach proved ineffective. While focusing its efforts on dismantling terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and Iraq, America neglected parts in Southeast Asia that provided sanctuary to Islamic terrorists.
Such sanctuaries facilitated the regrouping, recruiting, and training of Al-Qaeda operatives to conduct subsequent attacks against America and its allies throughout the world. The central research question is: What strategy can I employ to eliminate Al-Qaeda’s influence throughout the Southeast Asian countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines? Recommended strategy changes were generated from applying a three-step analysis approach. First, analyzing the adversary established a foundation from which to develop recommendations to counter Al-Qaeda’s operations.
Second, analyzing three Southeast Asian governments’ responses to terrorist threats within their country assisted in the formulation of a counterterror strategy for the region. Finally, the analysis of the current counterterror strategy resulted in recommended adjustments to each of America’s instruments of national power–diplomatic, informational, military, and economic-to facilitate elimination of Al-Qaeda’s influence in Southeast Asia. As mentioned, some of the most detailed information on the military structure of al-Qaeda has come from a training manual found in a computer file seized in Manchester, England by the FBI.
The introduction of this document defines the three main principles of the al-Qaeda military organization: 1. Military Organization commander and advisory council. 2. The soldiers (individual members). 3. A clearly defined strategy. Immediately, these three components can be viewed as being bound to one another as a network. While the manual does implicate some form of ranking (the commanders and advisory councils), these individuals are not required for the network to function. The clearly defined strategy is stated as: “The overthrow of the godless regimes and their replacement with an Islamic regime. is the driving force of the entire network. The claim made in my article is that terrorist networks act as “peer-to-peer” (P2P) networks, and the best candidate for study is the thriving file sharing network known as the Gnutella network. The Gnutella network is an excellent network to study for many reasons. Most importantly it is relatively small in comparison to the greater Internet, yet it is extremely powerful and effective at transferring information. Second, the Gnutella network is what is known as an open-source software project.
This means that all of the code and techniques used to develop the network’s software are readily available online and are freely distributed. Finally, just as the al-Qaeda uses its network to disseminate information and resources to conduct criminal activities, the Gnutella network is primarily used as a means for distributing copyrighted material. For this reason many security features have been built into the Gnutella network to preserve the anonymity of its users. This can be directly applied to the al-Qaeda network’s desire to operate in secrecy.
The focus of this piece then becomes the application of known methods for disrupting the Gnutella network to the development of defense polices for dismantling the al-Qaeda terrorist network. I believe that Hacking Networks of Terror has been unsuccessful with respect to devising real policy perspectives because the focus was too broad (looking at the Internet as a whole, instead of observing niche networks). Now, we must consider why the Gnutella network the best network to use as a basis for comparison.
As we will see, there are many other, large, and more established networks that are available for study. All al-Qaeda members are indoctrinated with this ideal; therefore, the soldiers are as well prepared strategically as higher-ranking officials. Like those servers connected to Gnutella that only assist in the dissemination of information and not the actual transfer of files, al-Qaeda’s leadership make crucial decisions about how the network will function but do not attempt to alter the purpose of the network.
Also, just as destroying a server would do little to affect the performance of Gnutella, because the strategy of al-Qaeda is so well defined within the network, a commander or member of the advisory council could be quickly and easily replaced if killed or captured. The commanders are expendable managers, rather than the highest ranking members of a command and control structure-this is what gives this terrorist network its sustainability and power. Further into the manual a number of requirements are prescribed to assist in accomplishing the mission. Two of hese essentials are a means of communication and information. Following this list is a related list enumerating the subsidiary missions required of the military organization to accomplish its main goal. The fifth mission listed is, “Spreading rumors and writing statements that instigate people against the enemy. ” In both cases we see that al-Qaeda has recognized itself as a network, and is seeking to exploit the strengths of this structure to complete its mission. Computer networks are simpler than human networks because the only thing they can transmit is information.
This information can take many forms, but in the end it is always simple packets of binary data. Human networks transmit information, but they can also transfer separate resources such as money, food, and weapons. Al- Qaeda is, however, stating that the main components of a computer network are required within their military organization; that being some “valuable” information and a means to transmit it. Without these requirements built into al-Qaeda it could no longer function as a network, but because they are required the organization quickly takes the form of a network.
Similarly, by making one of the missions to spread rumors and inflammatory statements, al-Qaeda has recognized itself as a network within the greater network of modern society, capable of connecting and transmitting on the modern social network when it sees fit. To relate this to Gnutella one must simply look at the technology Gnutella uses to transfer information. The next and most notable section of this manual for our discussion comes under the heading of “Methods of Communication Among Members of the Organization”.
In this section the manual defines the methods by which covert communication will be conducted and the manner in which members of al-Qaeda will interact with one another. The section describes cell methods: “Cell or cluster methods should be adopted by the Organization. It should be composed of many cells whose members do not know one another, so that if a cell member is caught the other cells would not be affected, and work would proceed normally. ” This is the essence of a network.
To translate this into the terms of a computer network, these terrorist cells are acting as independent nodes. By blindly connecting these terrorist nodes to the network an added layer of security prevents that network from breaking down in the event that a node is captured and questioned. Also, because all of the nodes are connected to one another in some way on the network, the removal of one node has no affect on the ability of the rest of the nodes to communicate with one another.
Comparing this structure to Gnutella is simple. Each client node connected to the Gnutella network is simultaneously able to acquire information from the network and is passing on information to other nodes connected to the network about the status of the network as a whole. All the while, the actual identity of each computer (in this case the I. P address) of all computers connected to the network is encrypted. Therefore, any individual connecting to the network with the intention of identifying users fails.
An individual wishing to attack Gnutella can attempt to isolate known computers and disable them, but just as in al-Qaeda (more likely to a greater extent) this would do little to degrade the performance of the network. Finally, answering the question of whether a computer network can accurately represent a human network is somewhat more subjective. As I will explain later in this piece, technologies have been developed from the beginning of time to mimic and replace the actions of humans. Information technology is the most recent class of technologies to accomplish this task.
Since information technologies and information networks in particular, have advanced so quickly and become so good at emulating a human information network I believe they more than qualify for comparison. It could be said that because computer information networks have no “human” element, any conclusions drawn from this theory should be regarded as flawed because a computer cannot simulate all aspects of human interaction. In most cases I would concede this fact; however, in the case of terrorist networks these aspects of human interaction need not be held in such high regard.
A computer connected to a network will execute an instruction immediately and without question. Some might doubt that such obedience could be sustained inside a human network. But, in fact, in the case of terrorist networks, we have observed behavior much closer to that of a machine than a rational human being. Hundreds of terrorists have willingly and proudly taken their own lives in the name of their network, without question and without reservation. Many people have described the kind of training given to al-Qaeda members as “programming”, and so in these terms the terror networks certainly emulate a computer network.
Al-Qaeda is an enemy for which America has no previous frame of reference. Its history, development, ideologies and goals require policy makers to view al-Qaeda as a new and unique threat. Al-Qaeda is clearly organized as a network, and this association is not simply one of convenience. The structure laid out in the al-Qaeda training manual brings the terrorist network quickly into view. Using many elements that can be directly linked to the structure and function of a computer network, al-Qaeda has embraced the network model for its organization because it is the most effective structure for accomplishing their goal.
Also, as we have just discussed, computer networks do lack a human element, but terrorist networks appear to also lack this element in many ways. This reinforces the utility of representing them with computer networks. Understanding and Attacking the Al-Qeada’s Networks structure poses a serious problem for policy makers who wish to combat the threat with traditional techniques. I will show why the Internet as a whole is not an appropriate model for study. A diffused network, like al-Qaeda, sacrifices speed of information transmission for the maintenance of structural integrity in the event of a node being destroyed.
Destroying a node (or in the case of al-Qaeda, a cell) is precisely what we do not want to do. This would send the network into a defensive position, making manipulation of the network much more difficult. Social networks, like al-Qaeda and other networks of terror have developed in a similar way, digging out a niche within a culture, and thriving within the open and free structure of modern society. So, the question then remains as to what kinds of information technology networks exhibit qualities worth studying and comparing to networks of terror.
Despite America’s shortcomings, with regards to a timely, effective counterterrorism strategy, bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda organization failed to accomplish their initial goals of rallying Muslims worldwide to take up arms against America. In fact, the 11 September attacks managed to alienate some moderate Muslims while strengthening a coalition to rid the world of Al-Qaeda’s brand of terrorism. The numerous attacks by Al-Qaeda operatives in the Middle East before, during, and after Operation Iraqi Freedom have had the opposite effect.
Instead of dislodging the American armed forces out of the region, the US has established a larger presence. At home and abroad, the US has hardened itself from future attacks. Al-Qaeda’s miscalculations have them reeling, forcing the group to adapt new ways of fighting. Unfortunately for America, its current focus is on containing the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its neglect of Southeast Asia will inevitably open a new front on the war against terrorism. Our strategy for defeating terrorism must include a concerted information campaign to educate the American people of the nature of the threat that we still face.
We must accept the reality that we will be engaged in a brutal war for the foreseeable future. We no longer have the luxury of decrying acts of aggression with moral outrage, followed by little or no application of our national power. A return to the policies of the pre-9/11 will surely mire us deeply in a morass of violence. Embracing the policy of preemption is the only prudent response to the inherent advantages that the terrorists have against our open society.
References “Al Qaeda Training Manual. ” United States Department of Justice. Feb. 23, 2004. http://www. usdoj. gov/ag/trainingmanual. htm