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The Importance of Networks in Terrorist Structures
One think I find particularly missing in the current look at several important terrorist-related areas-Somalia, the role of the international Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda's growing efforts in Africa, Viktor Bout-is the discussion of the networks that connect different Salafist/Islamist groups that make them so lethal and so important.

While there is some discussion of networks and their importance in the structures of non-state actors in intelligence and policy circles, there is no broad recognition that networks are what make non-state actors threats of the same order of magnitude or greater, than most states.

This is not a new concept. Jonathan Winer and others in the mid-1990s began to seriously push policy and intelligence to focus on networks, leading Winer and others to do the first serious studies of the Muslim Brotherhood's financial links to different groups. Bout, in his weapons supplies, was viewed through the same lens, making him, in the waning years of the Clinton administration, a high-value, multi-agency target.

Networks are also vitally important in the newly-emerging "self-starting" Islamist groups. Most of these groups, in Spain, Great Britain etc. that are known have received significant help from the existing jihadi networks, in developing concepts, obtaining material and ideological orientation.

Networks also provide the ability to move across national bounderies, find expertise, share knowledge and exploit the existing strengths of each group. The lack of understanding of networks, for example, that led to the long-standing belief that Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims could not work together. But they did, repeatedly, and by the admission of in their own writings.

Al Qaeda's diamond buyers did not set up their own pipeline in West Africa, they simply plugged into Hezbollah's existing structure. The other examples are endless. Networks also explain the interaction between terrorist and criminal organizations, for mutual benefit, and how and why the lines often blur.

Somalia, Bout or other issues do no pose security threats by themselves, in isolation. What makes Somalia important in strategic terms is not just the Islamist state it will create, but that it will add another important link in a web of connections that are part of the Salafist efforts to attack the West. On its own, it is not much of a threat. But plug Islamist Somalia into the network of jihadists moving from Africa to Pakistan, from Pakistan to Iraq etc., and its importance become clear.

Networks made Bout far more important that he would have been otherwise. Without the Russian organized criminal networks and the GRU networks, he would have been one more small-time arms trader in Africa and Afghanistan. But he became far more than that.

The argument over the importance of Somalia is particularly telling. The argument that it is of no strategic value because it is a relatively worthless piece of real estate is one of the same arguments used by those who chose not to confront the Taliban in Afghanistan early on. Over time the networks, developed during the war against the Soviets, re-routed and brought in money, recruits and trainers from the Arab penisula and elsewhere. The network expanded in the Balkans and spread through Southeast Asia.

With the increasing fragmentation and specialization within the intelligence community, there are very few analysts and policy makers looking at the networks that make possible the individual acts they focus on. That is a mistake.

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