How Terrorist Groups Survive: A Dynamic Network Analysis Approach to the Resilience of Terrorist Organizations   [open pdf - 707KB]

"The purpose of this paper is to explore the question of how modern terrorist groups manage to survive in the face of aggressive counterterrorist operations by security forces. Al Qa'ida survives to this day, despite the destruction of their Afghanistan sanctuary, the loss of countless key personnel, and continuous pressure by the United States and their allies. Why has al Qa'ida survived? Since much of the literature on terrorism focuses on how to eliminate them, this research paper focuses on why they still endure. In other words, instead of asking, 'How do we kill them,' this research asks, 'Why don't they die?' This research employs a dynamic network analysis approach to explore the primary research question of terrorist survival. This analysis combines aspects of traditional social network analysis with a new multi-agent model that describes how terrorist groups raise agents through the organization to positions of prominence. The key to this process is the radicalization of members based on time, connectivity, and belief intensity. The testing dataset comes from the 1998 Tanzania Embassy bombing, expressed in the form of a meta-network. After four testing program iterations, the author concludes that terrorist organizational survival is based on the internal dynamics of leader selection and growth within the group as new members advance. These findings imply a number of recommendations for counterterrorist operations and intelligence activities in order to disrupt the growth and development of new leaders. Additionally, these results imply that current Joint and Army doctrine on network analysis insufficiently addresses the dynamic processes that network diagrams are intended to depict. American military counterinsurgency and counterterrorist operations can be greatly enhanced by moving from a network analysis approach based on structure to one based on dynamics."

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