Best Defense

Crumpton’s picks (4): Sometimes you just need a network, not just a hierarchy

'The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations,' by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, outlines how networks function on and off the battlefield.

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By Henry A. Crumpton
Best Defense guest columnist

4. Networked WarThe Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, outlines how networks function on and off the battlefield.

Hierarchical structure is essential, especially for national forces, but often insufficient. In complex environments dominated by non-state actors, we must also recognize, support, and even create dynamic, local, networked, open systems to defeat the enemy. Messy, opaque, unfamiliar, bottom-up solutions may trump clear, orthodox, top-down plans. This may require less permanent unity of command and more transactional unity of effort.

During the Afghanistan campaign 2001-02, in only three months, 110 CIA officers and 300 Special Operations Forces partnered with a shifting array of diverse, networked tribal armies to overthrow the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda’s command-and-control. For the previous two years the CIA had identified friends and foes, and built interlocking local alliances that proved crucial for the rapid victory. U.S. operatives also shared risk with their local allies, often leading from the front, but always cognizant and respectful of their allies’ preferences. There are many other examples of networked warriors, from 18th century American frontiersmen to 19th century Apaches to modern-day hackers.

Ambassador Henry A. Crumpton, who led the CIA’s Afghanistan campaign 2001-02, retired from government service in 2007. He is the author of The Art of Intelligence.

(To be continued)

Photo credit: Gustavo Veríssimo/Flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1
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