To Build a Network
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The fundamental dynamic of the Cold War era was an arms race to build nuclear weapons. But in the long, often covert, “cool war” against al-Qaeda and its affiliates that began in earnest after September 11, 2001, the driving force has been – and continues to be – an “organizational race” to build networks. It has grown increasingly apparent that the latest advances in information technology have greatly empowered flat, essentially leaderless groups unified more by pursuit of a common goal than any kind of central control. In the elegant phrasing of David Weinberger, co-author of a key contribution to the emerging information-age canon, The Cluetrain Manifesto, networks, particularly web-enabled ones, are comprised of “small pieces loosely joined.”1 Weinberger’s language offers a particularly apt description of al-Qaeda today, as the group’s original concentrated core, formed around Osama bin Laden and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, has long since given way to a far flatter, much more widely dispersed set of relatively independent cells and nodes.
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