(Contact Info: larry at larryblakeley.com)

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Major Roy James Blakeley (December 10, 1928 - July 22, 1965) - USAF (KIA)

When I was young my dad would say
Come on son let's go out and play

No matter how hard I try
No matter how many tears I cry
No matter how many years go by
I still can't say goodbye

- "I Still Can't Say Goodbye," Performer: Chet Atkins

MP3 audio file/lyrics http://www.royblakeley.name/larry_blakeley/songs/still_cant_say_goodbye.htm

For a larger image click on the photograph.

[This is a summary by Larry Blakeley - go here for the full DjVu copy]

Many of the US strategic processes, models and doctrine employ a reductionist and linear analytical methodology, which attempts to reduce an adversary’s capabilities and strengths into component parts. The global terrorist structures of today are not machines or nation states whose component parts are constrained by organizational structures and processes, which can be analyzed with linear reductionist methodologies. Indeed, networks appear to be highly resilient and evolve specifically to survive destruction of its seemingly most vital component parts. Reductionist models and tools used by today’s senior leaders may not by themselves sufficiently clarify the pervasive ambiguity and complexities presented by the threat of anti-American global terrorism. Conversely, alternative theories that bring into focus networks and dynamic systems may help inform a US strategy to defeat global terrorism.

The alternative theory this paper examines is Complexity Theory. Complexity Theory views behaviors and actions as the interrelationship between a great many components parts. It refers to these interrelationships or systems as complex, because it is impossible to fully understand these systems by reducing them to an examination of their constituent parts. Instead, Complexity Theory holds that interactions produce collective behaviors and characteristics that are not exhibited when the components parts are examined individually. This is in contrast with reductionist theories, which seek to comprehend a phenomenon by examining its individual attributes and are insufficient to understand complex networks. Using Complexity Theory as a guide, this paper analyses al Qaeda as part of a global anti-American Islamic terrorist network and develops recommendations to improve the US strategy aimed at defeating terrorists from perpetrating further catastrophic acts against the United States homeland.

What is "Complexity Theory?" it is the study of self-reinforcing interdependent interactions and how much such interactions create evolution, fitness and surprise. - "Complexity Theory and Al-Qaeda: Examining Complex Leadership," Russ Marion and Mary Uhl-Bien, Leadership”, Presented at Managing the Complex IV: A Conference on Complex Systems and the Management of Organizations, Fort Meyers, Florida, December 2002.

Complexity Theory views behaviors as the constantly changing interdependent interactions. These interactions of evolving systems or networks are very different from traditional hierarchical top-down systems, as emergence, self-organization and resilience become the three fundamental characteristics of complex networks.

Marion and Uhl-Bien, experts in the field of complexity and organizational theories, described emergence as a phenomenon by which networks are generated from need seeking entities -- called agents. These agents are driven by local assessments and motivated by necessity to couple with other agents forming interdependent relationships to the mutual fulfillment of their individual requirements. Therefore, complex dynamic networks spontaneously propagate and are not created by central deterministic intelligence. Emergence also consists of the phenomenon in which interrelationships between large numbers of disparate agents create collective novel behavior and act as a single purposeful entity. The network exhibits behavior that the constituents could not attain individually.

Simply described, a complex dynamic system is always greater than the sum of its parts.

Stuart Kauffman, a biologist and complexity theorist, determined that self-organization is the fundamental characteristic of complex dynamic networks. Five fundamental elements of self-organizing networks are adaptation, correlation, coupling, aggregation and recursion. Complex networks are referred to as “adaptive” or “dynamic”, because they are constantly changing their interrelationships based upon the needs of individual agents and environmental impacts. John Holland, a pioneer in the field of complexity, coined the term “complex adaptive agents” to describe the constantly evolving nature of complex systems. Individual agents within the network are constantly reassessing their need preferences and the degree to which they will compromise to bond with other agents.

Consequently, the network adapts through the process of compromise and competition, called correlation, in which each entity accepts, rejects or changes its relationship with other agents based upon its needs and the changing environment.

Kauffman referred to the interdependent bonding of agents as “coupling,” and Marion categorized these relationships as loose, moderate or tight.

Tightly coupled agents display high degrees of interdependence, while other sets of agents are described as moderately or only loosely coupled due to low degrees of interdependence.

Holland referred that these sets of agents bond through the process of correlation and are united by shared purpose or interest as “aggregates”. Aggregates may accumulate with many other sets of agents or structures to form meta-aggregates and further connect with yet other structures that accomplish diverse functions or roles to then form meta-meta-aggregates. This accumulation of aggregates does not imply hierarchy or fixed structures. Instead complex networks are said to be recursive, meaning that through the process of aggregation and correlation the network develops redundant multi-way chains of causality to accomplish its collective interests and contribute to the network’s resilience.

Resilience is the capability of complex networks to absorb or recuperate from assaults on its constituent parts. The resilience of complex systems can be attributed primarily to its self organizing characteristic.

The elements of self-organization enable a complex network to behave like viruses that spontaneously seek opportunities to spread and adapt in the face of adversity to form more virulent strains.

In complex networks adaptation is spontaneous, because innovation emerges from the constituent parts rather than a single directing intelligence.

Complexity Theory implies that hierarchical organizations can never be as resilient as complex networks, because the power of complex networks resides not within its leadership or a few capabilities, but within its ability to spontaneously adapt to changes in the surrounding environment.

Consequently, multidirectional and redundant pathways of interdependent relationships allow networks to survive assaults on its constituent parts.

Furthermore, agents change their levels of dependencies (tight, moderate, or loose coupling) with other agents and aggregates to further enhance their resilience.

Loosely coupled networks can absorb changes in the environment and assaults on the network due to the low interdependence levels.

Conversely, tight couplings enhance close coordination and cooperation, but are highly interdependent and as a result they are more vulnerable to

In summary, complex networks adapt and self-organize to seek the optimal balance of all three types of coupling to enhance their individual and collective performance and resilience.

The fitness of a network is proportional to its degree of emergence and resilience, or said another way, its ability to self-propagate and recuperate.

A fit network has to have three main elements:

• first it must have a multitude of individual entities;

• second those entities must be compelled by a need to interact; and

• third the network must possess a balance of loose, moderate and tight coupling appropriate to its needs.

The more broad, urgent and widely accepted the need or interest, the larger and more fit the network. Therefore, fit networks can emerge from common need preferences that are neither attainable individually nor provided through other alternatives.

A multitude of loose and moderately coupled interrelationships allows the network to dissipate the impact of assaults or environmental changes.

Conversely, tightly coupled networks are vulnerable for disruption, because damage to one part of the network can easily surge across numerous linkages causing network wide damage.

Likewise, network fitness is vulnerable to alternative structures or other networks that more efficiently or effectively compete for the need preferences of its agents. Faced with other alternatives, some loose and some lesser number of moderately coupled agents will choose to bond with structures that require fewer sacrifices or compromise of their individual need preferences.

This paper will now examine al Qaeda’s behavior using the three characteristics of Complexity Theory described in the previous section to demonstrate that al Qaeda is a complex dynamic network.

Analyzing the 9/11 terrorist plot, terrorist financing and al Qaeda’s broader organizational behaviors will show that al Qaeda exhibits the characteristics of emergence, self organization and resilience.

The formation of 9/11 terrorist cells as described by the CIA Director, George Tenant, in Congressional testimony provides a clear example of the emergent nature of the al Qaeda network.

The 9/11 terrorist cells originated from the ordinary friendship between Muhammad Atta and two other foreign students in Hamburg, Germany in the 1990s. The three were university students from different Middle East countries, and one had been studying aircraft design at the Hamburg School of Applied Science. They met at mosques, coffee houses and local gathering places.

Although neither they nor the mosque they attended were known for extremist views, these students were nonetheless drawn together by their increasingly disenchantment with the West in general and the US in particular.

They met with other like minded Muslim men in an ever-widening circle of acquaintances, which eventually led them to a German-Syrian named Muhammad Heydar Zammer who was active in Islamic extremist groups since 1980.

About this same time, the terrorists Ramzi Yousef and the Abu Saif group were planning to place timed explosives on passenger airliners bound for the US and use airliners as weapons to fly into the World Trade Center and the CIA headquarters.

Yousef discussed his ideas with his uncle Khalid Shaihk Muhammad who was associated with al Qaeda.

The ideas and concepts for a massive attack on the US using airliners were now emerging among various terrorist groups, and Muhammad Atif, a key associate of Osama bin Laden, studied the idea and discussed it with bin Laden.

Thinking the concept had merit, they communicated the idea and provided various resource contacts to several other associates around the globe including Khalid Shaihk Mohammad.

About the same time in 1997, through a wide web of acquaintances Mohammad met with Atta and Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker.

Coupled with Muhammad and armed with this new idea and some financial and technical contacts, Atta and his associates emerged from a small group of disenchanted university students into a terrorist cell.

In total, the plot expanded to include three cells of 19 hijackers with members originating from seven different countries.

All but two of the hijackers had no previous associations to religious extremism or terrorist organizations as Tenet lamented that 17 of the 19 plotters were“absolutely clean.” - “Testimony Before Joint Inquiry Into Terrorist Attacks Against the United States”, George Tenet of the CIA, June 18, 2002, http://www.cia.gov/cia/public_affairs/speeches/2001

The 9/11 terrorist cell was not created or directed by a central node or
hierarchical apparatus. Instead, the entities within the network were coupled together by loose informal associations forming mutually dependant interrelationships with an ever-widening group of like-minded Muslims.

Simply stated, the 9/11 cells emerged from the bottom-up.

The global terrorist network appears decidedly resilient to attacks against its component parts, and it is not simply “on the run”.

The popularity of al Qaeda’s goals combined with the lack of alternatives provides for its continued emergence, while its diverse levels of interdependencies provide for its resilience.

The global Islamic anti-American terrorist network is tremendously fit.

Al Qaeda has three sources of fitness:

• first, several of al Qaeda’s objectives are shared by a multitude of Muslims and Arabs;

• second, al Qaeda is comprised of a variety of tight, moderate but primarily loosely coupled aggregates; and

• lastly, al Qaeda benefits from the absence of effective alternatives to extremism.

Although most Middle East experts unequivocally state that few Muslims accept the legitimacy of terrorism, they nonetheless concede the broad support for the bin Laden’s goals.

Bin Laden articulated these goals in his 1998 manifesto which said,

“America must know that that the battle will not leave its land, God willing,

until America leaves our land,

until it stops supporting Israel,

until it stops the blockade [now occupation] against Iraq.”

President Bush and many within his administration repeatedly emphasized that the al Qaeda represents a small minority of Muslims that hate freedom and the American way of life.

The reality is much more sobering, as many of bin Laden’s objectives are not extreme but mainstream. Several of al Qaeda’s interests coincide with those of a great multitude of Arabs and Muslims who oppose to US Middle East policies.

The four common interests that fuel the emergence of al Qaeda which are now covered in greater detail are:

• opposition to US military presence in Saudi Arabia,

• US support of repressive regimes in the Middle East,

• US policies toward Iraq and perceived US support of Israel at the expense of Palestinians.

Several US supported regimes throughout the region are identified by Amnesty International as human rights violators.

Most Arabs clearly see the hypocrisy of US policy of promoting democracy while bolstering repressive regimes. Yousef al Khoei, the head of a moderate Islamic foundation concluded that terrorist organizations “appeal to the disenfranchised Muslims everywhere who see the double standard of the United States.”

Many Muslims and Arabs believe that the US and UN imposed sanctions against Iraq following the first Gulf War only resulted in the suffering of the Iraqi people rather than punishing Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The United Nations children’s organization (UNICEF) reported that thousands of Iraqi children died each month as a result of sanctions against Iraq while they seemed to have little effect on the regime.

The US has provided military, economic and political support to Israel for decades. Even moderate Arabs and Muslims perceive the US support of Israel as having an anti-Arab and Muslim bias.

Several Middle East experts agree that the strong US support of Israel over the Palestinians has created an equally strong anti-Americanism among Arabs.

Terrorist expert and author of “Inside Al Qaeda”, Rohan Gunarata, concluded that although most Muslims do not support political violence there is nonetheless “wide spread resentment” of America’s role in the Middle East and “especially political, economic and military support of Israel.”

The US national strategy to defeat terrorism recognized that finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a central component in combating terrorism.

The demography of Islamic based terrorist organizations provides evidence of the board acceptance of the four pan Islamic and Arab interests articulated by bin Laden.

The profile of today’s terrorists is as broad as the Muslim world as they are young, Muslim, male, and come from a variety of cultures and nations.

Many are highly educated doctors, lawyers, and engineers representing a cross section of the socio-economic strata.

Diversity among its members suggests an expansive base of popular support for al Qaeda’s objectives.

Worse yet,the CIA concluded that its potential pool of recruits is growing.

Over the next 25 years the Middle East population is projected to double, thereby providing al Qaeda with an expanding pool of potential supporters.

Estimates on the number of al Qaeda operatives range from a few thousand to tens of thousands, but this represent a small fraction of the total population.

Support for terrorism also includes a multitude of loosely coupled activities and a lesser number of moderately coupled activities ranging from:

• willful negligence,

• passive resistance to local authorities,

• non-cooperation with US and coalition forces,

• monetary support of dubious charitable organizations, extremist schools and Mosques,

• direct financial donations,

• resistance to banking reforms,

• drug trafficking,

• sanctuary for individual operatives,

• logistical support, and

• an exhaustive list of other non-violent activities that either directly or indirectly support the terrorist networks.

These larger segments of loosely and moderately coupled aggregates are characterized by lesser degrees of correlation and interdependence. Furthermore, as evidenced by the emergence of the 9/11 plot, the tightly coupled terrorist cells emerge from the ranks of the loosely coupled sympathetic.

It is the variety and size of these moderate and loosely coupled segments that provides al Qaeda with its recuperative and propagative fitness.

Sources of Emergence

• US forces in Saudi Arabia

• US support of repressive regimes

• US policies toward Iraq

• Israeli-Palestinian issue



The goals and objectives articulated in the current US strategy are all necessary elements to disrupt future acts of catastrophic terror against the US homeland.

However, attacking the constituent parts of the al Qaeda network will not by itself defeat it.

The elements of Al Qaeda’s fitness ensure that it will survive even the deaths of its most celebrated leaders and loss of its sanctuaries.

Other than recognizing the importance of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict in “winning the war of ideas,” the US strategy does not address the other three sources of emergence, nor does the strategy recognize the criticality of the loosely coupled aspects of the network to al Qaeda’s overall fitness.

Although the current strategy proposes strengthening the ability of weak states to battle terrorism and coercing the cooperation of states unwilling to support the war on terrorism, the strategy has no provisions for strengthening legitimate alternatives to terrorism in achieving popular pan-Islamic interests.

The current US strategy must expand its goals and objectives to directly address the elements of al Qaeda’s fitness.

A strategy that diminishes the multitude of loosely coupled agents and aggregates that support the al Qaeda network will make it less fit.

A strategy to diminish the loosely coupled segment of the terrorist network will have to accomplish two objectives:

• first, the strategy must identify, foster and enable alternative structures or networks that compete against terrorism; and

• second, the strategy needs to redress the four sources of anti-American sentiment.

The US must identify, foster and enable any structures that provide non-violent alternatives to terrorism. Proliferating and strengthening non-violent alternatives to terrorism will constrict the al Qaeda network.

Alternative non-violent networks capable of effectively satisfying common need preferences of Muslims will attract more constituents than a terrorist
organization for the simple reason that interrelationships with the terrorist network poses greater individual risk and requires higher levels of correlation.

Alternative structures could include a variety of different organizations such as:

• multilateral and international organizations,

• moderate Islamic religious groups,

• non-governmental agencies and national governments.

The essential quality of these organizations is their individual or combined ability to employ political, economic or informational powers to redress the sources of al Qaeda’s emergence.

The US should quietly support and connect these structures as a network to compete against al Qaeda.

Although it is unlikely that such structures would dissuade the relatively few “true believes” who are committed to violence against the US, it would make them more vulnerable to attack.

Military and economic aspects of the current deterrence strategy in turn would increase the risks of supporting terrorist organizations and contribute to the attractiveness of alternative nonviolent structures.

To accomplish the second strategic objective of reducing the four sources of anti-American sentiment, the US must focus all its elements of power together with the international community to establish policies that diminish the sources of al Qaeda’s emergence.

Specifically, the US and its allies must work to find a solution to the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. The current US strategy to combat terrorism recognizes, “that no other issue has so colored the perception of the United States.”

The US cannot afford unconditional support for repressive regimes in return for cooperation in fighting terrorism. Unconditional support for repressive regimes increases emergence of new terrorist entities and is counterproductive to the goal of defeating the network.

The US should continue to support the counter terrorism efforts of its Middle East allies, while simultaneously strengthening

• political reform,

• economic assistance, and

• educational programs.

These policies will:

• increase the legitimacy of the governments in the region,

• serve to further isolate the terrorist network, and

• establish these governments as alternatives to terrorism.

Finally, the establishment of a stable Iraqi government, which has the willing support of its population and a subsequent withdrawal of US forces from both Iraq and Saudi Arabia, will help ameliorate anti-American ideology.

Combined with the current aspects of US strategy, these four strategic objectives will form a more holistic strategy to defeat the anti-American global network of Islamic terrorism.


The evidence provided by this examination of al Qaeda’s behaviors clearly supports the proposition that global terrorism is a complex dynamic network.

Al Qaeda is more accurately described as part of a global network of interdependent agents who display emergent, self organizing and resilient characteristics.

Al Qaeda’s fitness is fueled by a multitude of Muslims and Arabs who are sympatric to its goals and arrayed in a variety of tight, moderate, but primarily loosely coupled entities.

The lack of effective alternatives to terrorism contributes to this network’s fitness.

The current elements of the US strategy to directly defeat the efforts of
terrorists are necessary components in limiting or disrupting the terrorist network.

However, no US counter terrorism strategy will long succeed without reducing the sources from which the terrorist network emerged and without diminishing the loosely coupled aggregates that support it.

To defeat al Qaeda the US must diminish the loosely coupled segments of the network to attack the network’s emergent, self-organizing and resilient characteristics.

To accomplish this goal the US must strengthening alternative structures that effectively compete against al Qaedai n meeting the need preferences of Arab Muslims.

This strategy combined with policies aimed at diminishing the four sources of ant-Americanism, will increase the networks isolation and make it more vulnerable to the elements of the current strategy.

- "Observing Al Queda Through the Lens of Complexity Theory: Recommendations for the National Strategy to Defeat Terrorism," Lieutenant Colonel Michael F. Beech, United States Army, Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College, July 2004.

This publication and other CSL publications can be found online at http://www.carlisle.army.mil/usacsl/index.asp