From Jim Gilliam's blog archives
Virtual al-Qaeda

July 22, 2003 4:27 PM

From The Age of Sacred Terror by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon:

A more salient question is whether al-Qaeda will make the leap from bricks-and-mortar statehood to virtual statehood. In Afghanistan al-Qaeda was, in truth, a state. It controlled territory, maintained an army and waged war, forged alliances, taxed and spent, and enforced a system of law. The de facto sovereignty it enjoyed in Afghanistan offered great advantages: a territorial base, training facilities, and a secure headquarters. But given the possibility that the United States would do in Yemen, Somalia, or Lebanon what it did in Afghanistan, virtual sovereignty holds fewer hazards than reestablishing camps and training facilities where they will attract the terminal guidance sensors of American bombs.

Virtuality has its own advantages. A dispersed group is harder to locate and attack. Some elements will inevitably be identified and arrested, but other parts of the network will not be affected. With their Macintosh laptops and encrypted communications, stolen credit cards, access to Internet cafés and disposable cell phones, false passports, and comfort with long distance travel, jihadists can be everywhere and anywhere. With businesses and charities as fronts, they have adequate cover for their money transfers, fax transmissions, and shipments of matériel. To move large sums of money, they can avoid the banking system by using hawala money movers or couriers. Able to move quickly over long distances, the leaders of individual networks can relocate under pressure, or to keep adversaries off balance.

Networks - supple, malleable, invisible - have the advantage over hierarchical organisations, like law-enforcement and intelligence agencies. A virtual enemy is nimble. Moreover, networks can swarm. Their well-developed communications enable them to come together for short periods to launch an offensive, then disperse. It is not only antiglobalization protesters who can use the Net effectively to coordinate the arrival of large numbers of people in the same place at the same time. If al-Qaeda, or its successor, makes this transition, the danger it poses will be vastly greater.

More from the archive in Emergence, Terrorism.

Virtual al-Qaeda (07.22.2003)

Next Entry: You were warned! (07.22.2003)
Previous Entry: Grass is always greener - and colder (07.21.2003)

Read the 1 comments.


Yes, excellent, and frightening, description of what we face. We need to build a [better] network to fight a network. Hierarchies, even though they win many battles, eventually lose against nimble and adaptive networks.

Tue Dec 30 2003 10:45 AM

Jim Gilliam
Jim Gilliam


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