Network Topography, Key Players and Terrorist Networks
Everton, Sean F.
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In recent years social network analysis (SNA) has enhanced our understanding of how terrorist networks organize themselves and has offered potential strategies for their disruption. To date, however, SNA research of terrorist networks has tended to focus on key actors within the network who score high in terms of centrality or whose structural location (i.e., their location within the overall network) allows them to broker information and/or resources within the network. However, while such a focus is intuitively appealing and can provide short-term satisfaction, it may be putting the cart before the horse. Before jumping to the identification of key actors, we need to first explore a network’s overall topography. Research suggests that networks that are too provincial (i.e., dense, high levels of clustering, an overabundance of strong ties) too cosmopolitan (i.e., sparse, low levels of clustering, an overabundance of weak ties), too hierarchical (i.e., centralized, low levels of variance) and/or too heterarchical (i.e., decentralized, high levels of variance) tend not to perform as well as networks that maintain a balance between these extremes. If these dynamics hold true for terrorist networks as well, then the key player approach may be appropriate in some circumstances, but may lead to deleterious results in others. More importantly, it suggests that analysts need to consider a network’s overall topography before crafting strategies for their disruption.
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