Do leadership strikes against terror networks make them more resilient?

Since 9/11, targeting terror networks has become a national priority. However a decade of fighting such groups has taught us that they can easily regenerate new leaders once such individuals are caught or killed. Based on techniques from mathematical sociology, we measured a terror network’s vulnerability to leadership strikes. We then created an algorithm that allows us to pre-select certain individuals for targeting *before* a leadership strike to make the whole organization more vulnerable. We call this “shaping.” While our new approach is shown to increase the vulnerability of such organizations, traditional centrality measures normally used for targeting can actually decrease the vulnerability of the organization. This implies that traditional means of targeting – without first “shaping” the terror network – may actually make some of these groups more resilient to future leadership strikes.

MAJ Callahan will be presenting our paper on this work at the 2012 Social Informatics conference in Washington D.C. on December 14th. This project was worked on by a team of NSC Researchers including MAJ Devon Callahan (EECS), MAJ Paulo Shakarian (EECS), Cadet Jeffrey Nielsen (MATH) and MAJ Anthony Johnson (MATH). It was funded under the Army Research Office.

For more information, contact MAJ Shakarian, Ph.D. at or 845-938-3642.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the funders, the U.S. Military Academy, or the U.S. Army.

About Us

The Network Science Center (NSC) brings together service members, civilians, and cadets to research and develop significant contributions in the study of network representations of physical, biological, and social phenomena leading to predictive models. The NSC is a thought-leader in this emerging discipline and addresses Army-specific and related Network Science challenges. The NSC also provides relevant educational opportunities for current and future Army leaders.