#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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Twitter Networks in Iraq and Syria


On Friday 30 January, Dr. Jytte Klausen, the Lawrence A. Wien Professor of International Cooperation at Brandeis University, traveled to West Point to meet with representatives of the Network Science Center and discuss extremists’ use of social media.  Dr. Klausen discussed her recent work assessing Twitter usage by Western jihadists operating in Iraq and Syria and presented her original data on the same topic.  Given that her data is relational, the conversation focused on how to combine innovative network approaches with Dr. Klausen’s subject matter expertise in order to offer new insights on social media usage among Westerners participating in the ongoing conflict with ISIS.  Six representatives from the Network Science participated in the conversation: LTC Tony Johnson (MATH), Dr. Luke M. Gerdes (BSL), Dr. Jocelyn Bell (MATH), MAJ Dan Koban (MATH), MAJ George Hughbanks (MATH), and CPT Pat Brundage (MATH).

To read Dr. Klausen’s latest article, please follow this link: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/1057610X.2014.974948

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German Networks on the Third Crusade


As we are increasingly confronted with actors operating outside “normal” state-centric networks, studying a period when states paradoxically consisted of non-state networks can be very enlightening. I have mentioned the study of medieval England in a previous post. My third historical network analysis is that of the medieval German Empire, in particular during the crusades.

One of the largest military undertakings of the Middle Ages was mobilization of the Third Crusade, the prelude to which was the subject of the film Kingdom of Heaven 2005. In July of 1187, Saladin, ruler of Syria and Egypt and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, had destroyed the armies of the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin. When confirmation of this defeat reached the western European powers, they began preparations for a campaign to aid the kingdom, and continued with greater urgency when confirmation arrived of the loss of Jerusalem. What audiences today remember most about the Third Crusade is the military contest between Saladin and Richard “the Lionheart” of England, usually as the backdrop to Robin Hood fiction.

However, armies from the German empire played a significant, if ultimately truncated, part, in the counter-offensives that were launched in 1189 and 1190. The main imperial army, under Emperor Frederick I, is thought to have numbered about 15,000 fighting men, and marched overland through the Balkans and modern-day Turkey, surviving multiple enemies until the emperor accidentally drowned within a couple weeks of Syria (it ranks as one of the most ironic deaths of the Middle Ages). Other groups sailed from North Germany, or from Italy, and arrived in time to join the fighting around Acre, in modern-day Israel.

German scholars have long recognized that networks determined the nature of power and its application in the medieval German empire–we have some brilliant monographs on the elite who had dealings with the German emperors, and what the patterns of these associations mean. [1] However, to date no one has shown much interest in using network science to analyze this data, although several long-standing debates revolve around the very questions network science is designed to answer. For example, in the German realm especially, political power was contested and particularly influenced by faction and interest. It follows, then, that any German monarch leading a large army out of Germany would use troops drawn from his own lands particularly, and not so much troops from his rivals or those dissatisfied with the power or behavior of the emperor’s family.

Continue reading

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Newsblast Volume 5 Issue 1


In the current issue of the Network Science Center Newsblast Dr. Daniel Franke discusses a project he is working on, sifting through personal testimony and official reports to create command networks during the Civil War. He is studying the Overland Campaign in 1864 and he will subsequently be exploring the command networks of the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863.  To learn more read the article, ‘Networks of Command: The Battle of the Wilderness, 5 May 1864′, in this issue of the Network Science Center’s Newsblast click here.


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Networks and Command in the American Civil War


How might Network Science impact the study of the Civil War? One way, which I have been exploring this fall semester, is by analyzing the transmission and reception of information by commanders at key moments in the military events of the war. In particular, the Overland Campaign of May 5 to June 7, 1864, could yield interesting facts once the parameters of information flow have been categorized and organized in a way interpretable by analysis programs such as Gephi and ORA.

“Overland” was perceived at the time as a titanic, horrific event in American history, and it still engenders controversy today. Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the armies of the United States, launched his c. 120,000-strong armies against the c. 60,000-strong army of Robert E. Lee with the aim of destroying the Confederate army as an effective fighting force, or at the very least taking the initiative away from the intimidating rebel general. The opening rounds of the ensuing contest took place in the vicinity of the old Chancellorsville battlefields, at the Wilderness on May 5-6, and at Spotsylvania Court House on May 8-21. In both instances, the Union Army came very close to breaking the Confederates completely, but in the end Lee’s army held while inflicting heavy casualties on its Federal enemy. By the end of the campaign at Cold Harbor in early June, Confederate casualties had surpassed 30,000, and Union casualties were upwards of a shocking 55,000.

Currently I am working on three major historical questions that can be addressed through network analysis. One, not surprisingly, is “who were the central nodes” in the Wilderness and Spotsylvania? By this I mean both who had the greatest amount of information pass through their hands, and who made the key decisions in the battles. Second, what was the commanders’ state of knowledge at any given time during these battles? And third, how did the leadership of the Union’s Army of the Potomac change during the campaign, from the regimental leadership up?  A very pertinent fourth question would be how our understanding of the campaign is altered as a result of network analysis.

Establishing the parameters of the data set is fairly challenging, both because the data by its very nature is incomplete and because the data that is chosen depends largely on one’s assumptions going into the project–historical data is not always clearly defined. It also underscores the discussions and debates among historians about how Civil War generals actually received and transmitted information. [1] By way of brief example, if we examine the opening of the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864, we are confronted with the immediate question of whether every message from one headquarters to another should count as an edge connecting headquarters’ nodes (which, depending on the question asked, could be a valid approach), or whether every person who handles the message should count as a node. The latter is both more precise and, as Civil War historians would agree, more reflective of the fact that the commander himself could well have been absent from headquarters when crucial messages arrived. It also allows us to notice anomalies, such as the famous instance when George Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, bypassed the chain of command, including his own chief of staff, to issue orders directly to a division commander. To complete this kind of network, however, requires a close mining of memoirs and letters as well as official reports, not to mention some deductive reasoning, such as determining if a meeting of commanders had to have taken place even though there is no actual mention of it anywhere. And then there is always the question of how to graph Grant’s relationship with Meade, summarized so succinctly by Meade’s staff officer Theodore Lyman in his letters “General Grant had his station with us (or we with him).” [2]

The issue of how high casualties affected unit cohesion is a somewhat different and larger issue, and one that will occupy much of my spring term of 2015. In the mean time, we keep moving “by the left flank.”

[1] Significant studies of command and control in the Civil War include R. Steven Jones’ The Right Hand of Command: Use and Disuse of Personal Staffs in the Civil War (2000); Richard L. DiNardo’s “Longstreet and Jackson Compared: Corps Staff and the Exercise of Command in the Army of Northern Virginia,” in Longstreet: The Man, The Soldier, the Controversy, ed. R. L. DiNardo and A. A. Nofi (1998); and Archer Jones’ Civil War Command and Strategy: The Process of Victory and Defeat (1992).

[2] COL Theodore Lyman, Meade’s Headquarters 1863-1865, Boston 1922, page 91.

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Tech Hub Sustainability in Africa #HubSustainability

Researcher Dan Evans continued to participate in a series of Google Hangouts partnering with AfriLabs and AfriHive discussing tech hub sustainability in Sub-Saharan Africa. The most recent occurred on 5 December.

The main focus of these discussions have been the following question: “Is it possible for tech hubs to strike a balance of achieving their mission and ensure sustainability?”

I’m probably oversimplifying a bit, but a common story among discussants is:

  1. There was a great deal of optimism when the hubs were established.
  2. The hubs developed business/growth plans that aggressively assumed that after the initial funding from a typical traditional Development Finance Institution (DFI), the hub would soon be incubator/accelerator-like and the revenue from start-ups working out of the hub would quickly allow the hub to achieve sustainability.

Now, we are a few years down the road and reality is hitting. Based on the local ecosystems, some of the hubs have executed the dreaded “pivot.” In some cities, the community really needed an organization that allowed tech enthusiasts to congregate and interact, as well as receive tech training-an important mission, but not an activity that leads to near-term sustainability. Simply, the expected start-up ecosystem has not emerged-yet.

It seems from speaking with hub management teams, that the original funding organizations are now looking for expected returns but they are not forecasted until sometime in the future. We recently saw this situation during our August visit to the Mara hub in Dar es Salaam when the sponsoring funding agency radically modified the business model.

As part of my ongoing research project, I am attempting to ascertain if there are business models that are more effective than others. For example, the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) in Accra, Ghana is well-funded by the Meltwater Foundation, while hubs in Tanzania and Rwanda have official government backing, and other hubs across the continent are founded by traditional DFIs. Because we are still early in “the story,” we don’t know the answer-time will tell.

My next blog post will discuss some ideas that might assist in finding this balance for future “hub and funder” partnerships.

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