Earlier analysis (see the "The Optimal Size of a Terrorist Network" for more) indicates that the disruption of al Qaeda network mega-hub in Afghanistan has put strict limits on the size of the surviving virtual network elements. This size limitation may represent a barrier to attacks on the US, but is likely well within the capabilities of what is necessary for limited regional attacks. However, new innovations in group dynamics and the emergence of new unaffiliated guerrilla networks in Iraq may provide a method for regaining strategic capability.
The decentralized, and seemingly chaotic guerrilla war in Iraq demonstrates a pattern that will likely serve as a model for next generation terrorists. This pattern shows a level of learning, activity, and success similar to what we see in the open source software community. I call this pattern the bazaar. The bazaar solves the problem: how do small, potentially antagonistic networks combine to conduct war? Lessons from Eric Raymond's "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" provides a starting point for further analysis. Here are the factors that apply (from the perspective of the guerrillas):
- Release early and often. Try new forms of attacks against different types of targets early and often. Don’t wait for a perfect plan.
- Given a large enough pool of co-developers, any difficult problem will be seen as obvious by someone, and solved. Eventually some participant of the bazaar will find a way to disrupt a particularly difficult target. All you need to do is copy the process they used.
- Your co-developers (beta-testers) are your most valuable resource. The other guerrilla networks in the bazaar are your most valuable allies. They will innovate on your plans, swarm on weaknesses you identify, and protect you by creating system noise.
- Recognize good ideas from your co-developers. Simple attacks that have immediate and far-reaching impact should be adopted.
- Perfection is achieved when there is nothing left to take away (simplicity). The easier the attack is, the more easily it will be adopted. Complexity prevents swarming that both amplifies and protects.
- Tools are often used in unexpected ways. An attack method can often find reuse in unexpected ways.
Scaling the Bazaar
The bazaar dynamic -- replete with stigmergic learning and entrepreneurial ventures -- is vibrant enough to keep Iraq in a state of chaos. The statistics speak for themselves. However, can the bazaar be exported to regional nations or strategic targets? Can it serve as a post Afghanistan (post al Qaeda) model for global guerrilla warfare? Yes. Here's why:
- Leveraged attacks. As we see in Iraq, if appropriately planned, small attacks can have amazing impact. The reason behind this are the system dynamics that amplify results. ROIs (returns on investment) in excess of one million fold have been measured in Iraq. This means that smaller groups can have tremendous impact at the strategic level if they adopt the Iraqi method.
- Swarms vs. single group activity. The bazaar offers the potential of many smaller attacks that can in aggregate have an impact equal to several large attacks. Many hands make light work. Combined with system leverage, this could reduce a nation to economic chaos in short order.
- Rapid innovation. The bazaar's demonstrated ability to provide rapid innovatation makes defense much extremely difficult. Rather than a single 9/11 style attack, we may see small attacks (less planning and training, fewer people, less support) against a plethora of targets. With a sufficient number of guerrilla networks unearthing vulnerabilities (particularly ones with system's leverage), security forces will likey be outmatched.