Newsblast Volume 5 Issue 4


In the current issue of the Network Science Center’s Newsblast Luke Gerdes discusses the possible significance of correlations between youth gangs and social media in ‘Exploring Crime and Social Media’. To learn more about this project, click here and read the full article in this issue of the Network Science Center’s Newsblast.



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Big Data Fest In New York City


The Network Science Center at West Point (NSC) was a key sponsor and participant for the first Big Data Fest held in New York City on 28 March. ‘The term “Big Data” is frequently used to describe everything from how social media are used to gather information about consumers, to how data affect political, environmental and economic decision-making, to data that address security and health concerns. Yet although we might know that Big Data affects our daily lives, its exact nature – what Big Data is, and how it works – remains a mystery to most of us’ (from website).


CDT Matt Shockley guides a group through how to use ShockNet, the app he is developing for the NSC. The app will be a tool used to introduce network components and ideas. CDTs Mason Adams, Lewis Black, Jake Moffatt, Kraig Sheetz, and Raoul Valencia explained this and two other hands on activities to visitors.

Six cadets and two faculty members participated in Big Data Fest by offering three activities: A hands-on Konigsberg bridge activity introducing the foundation of network science – Graph Theory; building a small scale network to look at basic components and properties of networks using ShockNet, a cadet developed iPad app; and visualizing individual ego networks as a means to discuss structures commonly found in social networks. This outreach opportunity gave cadets involved in network science projects and the Social Network Analysis Club (SNAC) a chance to introduce and discuss network science to the broader community. Over a thousand people of all ages attended Big Data Fest, the first of its kind. Fernando Maymi from the Army Cyber Institute gave a talk on ‘Oh the places your data will go’ , a discussion of data security. Other participating organizations included MIT’s Media Lab, Rutgers University, Data Driven Detroit, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Sloan Digital Sky Survey, NYU, and the Beacon Institute.



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CompleNet 2015


25-27 March 2015 the Network Science Center at West Point (NSC) co-hosted the 2015 International Workshop on Complex Networks (CompleNet) at the New York Hall of Science. CompleNet is one of the three largest conferences on network science held worldwide and brings together researchers and practitioners to share their publications and work in this fast growing field of study. Complex networks are becoming pervasive in many fields of science, from biological systems to computer science, and from economic to social systems. To learn more on current areas of research, NSC took 19 cadets down to NYC to attend one day of the three day conference along with 8 faculty members and researchers.

Cadets Astrid Colon-Moreno, CDT Eric Warren, CDT Sooji Park, CDT Dajah Davis, and CDT Adam Tapia attended CompleNet as part of their course, MA490 (Applied Problems from Math, Science, and Engineering) with Dr. Chris Arney. CDTs Sooji Park and Adam Tapia are also part of the Social Network Analysis Club (SNAC), a club started in 2011 that meets every Monday during lunch to share knowledge on Network Science and work on problems. The conference offered cadets an opportunity to speak with many prominent researchers including Mark Newman, Reka Albert, Cesar Hidalgo, Arun Sundararajan, Albert-László Barabási.

Kathryn Coronges delivers her keynote address titled “Structures of influence: Formal and Informal Leadership Dynamics.” Dr. Coronges is a Research Fellow at the Network Science Center and a Program Manager at the Army Research Office. Her research explores the effects of social and organizational network structures of groups (from teams to societies) on communication patterns and performance outcomes. She was selected by the committee to be a keynote speaker contributing a social sciences perspective on network science, and in particular, team dynamics. Chris Arney, Kate Coronges, Dan Evans, and Lori Sheetz also presented research: ‘Categorical framework for complex organizational networks: understanding the effects of types, size, layers, dynamics and dimensions’, ‘Developing and analyzing entrepreneur networks: an analysis of the tech entrepreneurial ecosystem of six African cities’, and ‘Netsci High: bringing network science research to high schools’. CDT Adam Reynolds leads a group discussion on the best ways to visualize and analyze a network. One thing unique to this conference is that in conjunction with the conference, the organizers hold a juried art exhibition.


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Newsblast Volume 5 Issue 3


In the current issue of the Network Science Center’s Newsblast Jeffrey Julum discusses the idea of an ungoverned space and why it is important to have tools such as network science to begin to understand them.  To learn more about the newest NSC project, click here and  read the article in this issue of the Network Science Center’s Newsblast.

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Network Science at IEEE Integrated STEM Education Conference


On Saturday, 7 March, Lori Sheetz presented at the IEEE Integrated STEM Education Conference held at Princeton University. The purpose of the conference was to provide an opportunity to share cutting-edge research and experiences with integrated approaches to the study of science, math, and technology through experiences and activities based in engineering and other design disciplines. Her presentation on, ‘Professional Development for Network Science as a Multi-disciplinary Curriculum Tool’ generated a lot of conversation and positive comments providing an opportunity to broaden awareness of the field of network science and its application to curriculum as early as high school.

The conference also organized a poster session for high school and undergraduate students to share some of their research. Through NetSci High the Network Science Center at West Point has mentored teams of high school students doing network science research for three years. Three NetSci High student teams had posters accepted to be presented at the conference. This experience was very beneficial to the high school students who are in the process of applying for scholarships and admission to college. It also brought great exposure to West Point and the Network Science Center for some of the cutting-edge work they have done in the field of network science education at this level.

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#NetworkScience and Ungoverned Spaces, Part 3


Jeff Julum, Network Science Center Research Fellow

Ungoverned spaces are complicated and difficult to understand.  Many of the various entities that compete to fill the power vacuum of that space are usually trying to conceal their identities, structures and relationships.  Even the ones who aren’t may have conflicting facades, such as undercover police and criminal “snitches”.  The US military and intelligence community has routinely faced this intricate challenge over the last decade and a half.  From the horn of Africa to the streets of Peshawar, they had to sift through the mounds of data to ascertain the “ground truth”.   Differing languages and cultural norms only exacerbated the situation.

“Old School” Police Link Diagram

One of the key tools they developed to attack this challenge is network analysis. Network analysis has been around a long time.  In some old movies or history programs one can see scenes of photographs and string depicting the connections.  From its simple beginnings, network analysis has become an incredibly powerful tool in understanding the complexity of anything from a battlespace to an emerging market.

By carefully examining the organizations, influential people, and other actors and the linkages between them, we can make sense of the “control” of an ungoverned space.  For example, let’s say we have slum outside of Tegucigalpa contested by two rival gangs and various government agencies.  Using a more traditional approach, you could measure the power of the players and their interconnecting roles if any to estimate who could exert more power and at what times.  You could even do some predictive analysis to create a strategy for the police to exploit the rivalry.

Honduran Soldiers looking for Gang Tattoos

Now we discover in this same example, that the police have little to no influence and the gangs have even cooperated to provide some social services to the populace to keep them on their side.  Only by taking a deeper look at the networking would we discover that they had attended a large and influential church and the priest of that church had influence over those to rival leaders – a linkage that enabled a pattern of cooperation not expected in a traditional model!

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Newsblast Volume 5 Issue 2


In the current issue of the Network Science Center Newsblast Dr. Chris Arney discusses how cadets are using Twitter and other big data tools to study the social sciences. To learn more read the article, ‘Using Twitter and its friends (big data, networks, and cyber) as a Microscope for the Social Sciences’, in this issue of the Network Science Center’s Newsblast click here.




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Network Science and Ungoverned Spaces, Part 2


Threats from Ungoverned Spaces are nothing new.  From Robin Hood’s safe haven in the Sherwood Forest to Somali Pirates taking shelter in the poorly governed coast of Northeast Africa, these threats have been around as long as mankind.  

Somali Pirate, Puntland Coast

So if these threats have been around a long time, why is this concept just now gaining popularity and why is it so important?  The answer lies in four major factors that have impacted the world:

1. Population growth and, especially, urbanization.  In the small towns and villages in which most of humanity lived for most of its modern history, normative “governmental” control was relatively easy – regardless of what diverse form it took.  Everybody pretty much knew what everyone else was doing and with whom.  From 1987 until 2012 global population grew from 5 billion to 7 billion and most of this growth took place in urban settings.  Whereas less than 30 percent of the world’s population was urban in 1950, according to UN projections, more than 70 percent will be by 2050.[i]  This is a relatively new phenomenon for the planet (though certain areas of Europe and Asia had these issues well before today).  In the crowded conditions of packed cities, slums and third world shanty towns, individual and group anonymity become much easier.  Moreover, the accompanying poverty of many of the residents leads to high crime and lack of police and other governmental institutions.  Rio de Janiero’s favelas are prime examples of these.  Criminal gangs, local thugs, and even terrorist groups can more easily dominate and thrive here.  Worse still, roughly nine out of ten children under the age of 15 live in developing countries.[ii]  Thus, almost all of the population growth is occurring in the world’s least governed spaces — a factor that will not change anytime soon.

Lagos, Nigeria Street Scene

2. The global span of infrastructure.  Robin Hood, referenced above had weapons relatively equal to that of his opponents, but his sphere of influence was local, not regional or global.  There simply wasn’t a transportation network to support that.  Up until the 1980’s, few non-governmental actors disrupted societies outside of their locality.  In contrast, the economic lure of resources to fuel the population boom noted above has led to infrastructure almost all over the earth.  Rainforests, savannahs and deserts once so remote as to have almost no visitors, now have transportation networks that connect even the most far flung areas of the planet.  Similar to the factor of population discussed above, strange vehicles and people are now the ignorable norm, rather than the exception.  This and the boom of cellular phone networks mean that non-state actors that would have remained local or regional threats can much more easily transform into national and trans-national threats.

3. The wealth of non-state actors.  Criminal gangs and terrorists are able to use the factors above to obtain drugs, illegally produced or pirated products, weapons and trafficked human beings from remote areas or impoverished slums and sell them in more affluent areas of the globe.  This wealth give these non-state actors more power than they have ever had.  Mexico’s ability to govern itself is severely undermined by narco-terrorist groups that have the ability to pay far more to buy off law enforcement ages, judges, and politicians, than the government can give them in salary.  For example, the Sinaloa drug cartel of Mexico has an estimated 3 billion dollars in annual income just by itself. The fact that a criminal organization has wealth is not new, but the extremely vast scale and reach is. Moreover, the internet provides easy ways to move and conceal this money

4. Technology. This is the most dangerous factor.  Governments have almost always had a monopoly on legitimate power and, in many cases, a step ahead of “the rabble” in technology.  Today’s rapidly changing technology is challenging that fact.  The internet has been around for only about two decades.  In that time, we have transformed from clumsy dial up modems to high speed fiber optics. Cyber cafes can be found all over the world.  That means the non-state actors who fill ungoverned spaces have access to knowledge, technology and weapons like never before.  They have the ability, using the monies discussed above, to purchase or create, however crudely, disruptive technologies.  Cell phones, email and social media allow to them to connect, communicate and execute hostile activity much more efficiently.  Twenty years ago the idea of a terrorist group emerging in a Jakarta slum and executing a catastrophic terrorist attack in Los Angeles would have been considered far-fetched.  Now it falls in the realm of the conceivable.

Understanding the increasingly complex variables highlight the need for network sciences and the vast analytical capability it holds.  By understanding which threat factors are interconnected and by what degrees of strength, one can discern the pattern hidden in the complexity.  Moreover, the process also provides vehicle to mitigate or at least ameliorate that threat.

[i] The New Population Bomb by Jack A Goldstone,  Foreign Affairs JAN/FEB 2010

[ii] The New Population Bomb by Jack A Goldstone,  Foreign Affairs JAN/FEB 2010

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Strengthening Networks In East Africa


I was recently invited to present at Theater Security Cooperation workshop hosted by Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) Regional Engagements Branch at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

The Task Force is attempting to better understand its relationships with partner nations (and their militaries), non-Department of Defense US Government organizations, NonGovernmental Organizations (NGOs), as well as other organizations operating in, and around the East Africa region. The workshop was designed to improve integration between the Security Cooperation Teams at US Embassies and the CJTF-HOA staff.

CJTF-HOA African Theater Security Cooperation Workshop

Specifically, the staff would like to designate a desired state in which the CJTF is less central to the security cooperation network and the regional partners take more of a leadership role. During the conference, I presented a scenario in which network analysis techniques could help the staff better understand the current situation, build a desired end state model, and then identify the type of local engagements that strengthen the network. This “strengthening” includes the evolution to a more distributed network than the one that currently exists.

While at the workshop, I participated in country-specific working groups in order to better understand the process and then developed a proposed way-ahead that would better integrate the country specific events into a more cohesive regional effort. My suggestions were met favorably and the Network Science Center will continue our relationship with the CJTF staff. In fact, in the upcoming months, we will assist in the development of a prototype model and methodology to improve the Theater Security Cooperation planning process.

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Network Science and Ungoverned Spaces, Part 1


The Network Science Center is initiating a new project supporting the Army Studies Program that will use breakthroughs in network analysis to enable deployed organizations to better understand how the complex political machine inherent to the Ungoverned Spaces functions, and the potential consequences of their decisions.

Jeff Julum a new member of the Network Science Center Research Staff has authored a series of blog posts defining the challenge and illustrating why a network approach is the best method  to assist policy makers and decision makers on the ground.

In wake of the recent terror attacks in Paris, an insightful analyst on MSNBC was commenting on the development of one of the terrorists.  He had been radicalized in the French prison system, an institution which “has surprisingly little police presence”.  This comment highlights the importance of one of the newer and invaluable theoretical frameworks in networking and social science — that of Ungoverned Spaces.  In traditional security analysis, there was an assumption that states, non-state actors, and/or other institutions “controlled” all spaces capable of hosting a threat.  While not entirely true, the model was basically accurate.  Even “lawless” places, like Pakistan’s frontier states on the border of Afghanistan had tribes and clans imposing their own form of control.  However, globalization and rapid technological change have created a need to add nuance to the old model.

A potential Future Operating Environment

There have been attempts to define ungoverned spaces.  One of the more comprehensive ones comes from a 2008 Department of Defense report.  It defines an “ungoverned area” as:

“A place where the state or the central government is unable or unwilling to extend control, effectively govern, or influence the local population, and where a provincial, local, tribal, or autonomous government does not fully or effectively govern, due to inadequate governance capacity, insufficient political will, gaps in legitimacy, the presence of conflict, or restrictive norms of behavior… the term ‘ungoverned areas’ encompasses under-governed, misgoverned, contested, and exploitable areas as well as ungoverned areas.”[i] 

This definition is good, especially the introduction of contested and exploitable areas.  In the example of the French prison system above there is no doubt the government controls the prison itself, but there are spaces inside that prison that are not fully controlled and, indeed, exploitable.

In an insightful article published on the Small Wars Journal web site this past fall, Daniel Fisher and Christopher Mercado expand on the definition above to discuss competitive control as way to better evaluate these ungoverned spaces.  They point out the tremendous benefit in looking at how government, criminal organizations, and/or institutions compete for control of space at any given time.  A good example of this is parts of inner cities in America.  Yes, government provides infrastructure and security (police and fire services), but the lack of strong state presence leaves a power vacuum that is often filled by gangs and drug cartels.  However, the vacuum is not complete.  If the state deems threats serious enough they can mobilize enough resources to more completely feel the void, it is simply a matter of priority.

Fisher and Mercado point out another valuable aspect of ungoverned spaces, the role of technology. The internet, mobile phone technology, and social media have created a new void for threats to take advantage of.  From organizational coordination to the raising and distributing of funds, threats have more ability than ever to hide and strike when they are ready.  A person or group can only physically hide and disguise themselves in a limited number of ways.  There is no end to virtual identities, anonymous accounts, and hidden or “dark” networks.

The Ubiquitious Mobile Phone Tower in the Developing World

No matter how we define them, however, one thing is certain. Ungoverned Spaces will be an increasing problem for states in the 21st century.  The complexity of changing technology and a shrinking planet make that a certainty.  That’s why the Network Science Center is creating innovative frameworks to not only assess, but scientifically measure the factors involved in mitigating the threats from ungoverned spaces.  Using cutting edge network analysis tools, our goal is to identify and deal with threats before they become a problem.

[i] Lamb, Robert D. (2008) “Ungoverned Areas and Threats from Safe Havens – Final Report of the Ungoverned Areas Project.” Prepared for the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning.


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