Iraq's insurgency is both growing and innovating quickly. A good way to understand this speed is to dive into how epidemics spread and cascade in social networks. In this first brief on this topic, I will look at how the innovation spreads through the global guerrilla network in Iraq -- the epidemic spread of information to individuals/groups that are highly susceptible (those that have already opted to join the insurgency). In the second brief, I will examine how the insurgency infects the general population -- is it an epidemic or not? As always, I am open to ideas on how to improve this analysis.
Iraq's insurgency has demonstrated that their decentralized process of innovation (open source warfare) can yield effective methods of system disruption. These innovations appear to be spreading quickly. A good way to understand why, is to treat this tactical innovation as an informational epidemic. The spread of an epidemic to susceptible individuals is determined by its reproduction rate (the ability to infect others). The equation for this is:
Rate of reproduction = (duration of contact) x (likelihood of contact) x (duration of infectiousness)
Tactical innovation travels quickly in Iraq's guerrilla network because the rate of reproduction is extremely high. The primary reason is that the "likelihood of contact" is large relative to the other factors due to the topology of its decentralized network structure. Three topological features of Iraq's insurgency feed this high "likelihood of contact" are:
- Small cohesive cells. These small organizational units exhibit high degrees of structural cohesion (Menger's Theorom). Every member knows all the other members (this is different than the 9/11 operational network). Each cell is composed of family members, friends, and neighbors.
- Small world properties (Milgram). Cross connections between members of the insurgency radically reduce the mean path length (the mean distance between any two members) of the network. Baath party membership, military experience, etc. provide these short-cuts. Further, a modern road network makes it easy to make physical connections.
- Scale free properties (Barabasi). The guerrilla network in Iraq is likely scale free. Early entrants, such as the Fedayeen and al Qaeda are highly connected hubs. As the network grows, they become more central and powerful.
How this works
The spread of tactical innovation in Iraq's guerrilla network is a combination of the overt (direct communication via personal connections in the bazaar) and passive (stigmergic environmental signals). The process by which this works follows this pattern:
- Innovation. Small groups (clusters) innovate within the open source model of guerrilla warfare we see in Iraq. They are independent and therefore able to make decisions based on their own decision making processes. Innovation is often incentivized by the reward of funding and other profit opportunities (as with any entrepreneurial activity).
- Adoption. An innovation is widely dispersed when a network hub adopts it. Hubs are influenced through a combination of stigmergic and overt communication. If the innovation works, the hubs typically adopt the innovation.
- Propagation. Hubs directly influence other groups through economic incentives in the bazaar (they have influence over sources of funding in their roles as violence capitalists). They also have a high number of overt connections to entrepreneurial guerrilla start-ups.
Breaking the Connections
One objective of counter-insurgency should be to lower the rate of reproduction of the epidemic. Effectiveness in this area would slow the aggregate decision making of the group (Boyd) and make it easier to beat. Here are some ideas (note: some of the ideas here are only valid given that it appears that the US has given up the moral war against the Sunni insurgency, and has opted for a military only approach that targets other psychological factors that impact decision loops):
- Reduce the duration of the contact. Indirectly, this was an objective of the Fallujah operation. The collapse of the Fallujah TAZ hinders ongoing face-to-face high duration contact. Unfortunately, the requirements of this operation are so excessive in terms of effort and personnel, we are limited to a single TAZ at a time. A better method must be found given our limited resources. Additionally, the Fallujah TAZ was less important to the insurgency than the military assumes.
- Eliminate connections by isolating cells (hubs in particular). Iraq's state of emergency is aimed at this. However, phone networks and Internet connections are still available in the region. One method would include reducing the insurgent areas to older means of communication. Another would be a strict limit the on physical movement between cities and towns.
- Limit the duration of the infectiousness. This requires rapid adaptation on how we defend targets in Iraq. Early detection of an innovation against a class of targets, should be countered. This will require a real "strategic corporal" (not merely one that avoids moral mistakes through good judgment) and new ways of sharing innovation horizontally.
A general note on many of these tactics: they contribute to a moral loss. They also indirectly undermine the government's moral legitimacy by disconnecting the economy from globalization (which is a goal of global guerrillas).