Friday, March 7, 2014

Social Network Analysis: Advances in CBRN Threat Reduction

Bio-weapons present a greater geopolitical WMD threat than any chemical weapon arsenal. While horrible, chemical weapons fall into the temporary territorial denial, and mass casualty category. Bio-weapons are not temporary territorial denial and mass casualty weapons, they are transnational weapons of genocide that are designed to spread through both time and space and modern modes of transport put us all at risk, regardless of where we are on this planet. 

Gram-for-gram biological weapons are the deadliest weapons ever produced (NTI). Although the number of Middle East states who may actually be producing BW is low, the ability to do so remains a real and present risk to international health security.
Our ability to intervene at a much earlier stage in the proliferation process is essential in countering rapid advances in BW programs.  Unlike chemical or nuclear weapon stockpiles, which are largely identifiable, even in a standoff environment, biological weapons for the most part are not. This is an aspect of both their dual-use characteristics as well as advances in the life sciences which make stockpiling BW obsolete. Intervention requires identification and it is not always possible to identify the program, particularly if that program is nested in a clandestine military research lab or a cave in the Maghreb. It is however possible to identify people who may be contributing to a program and to monitor and or intervene in their activities. A recent example is the arrest of Samir Abdul Latif al Baraq, currently held in administrative detention. Al Baraq has a lengthy list of terrorist offenses. He is also trained as a biological expert by Al Qaeda. His internment most certainly reduces the risk of BW deployment.  His detention should well be seen as a threat reduction success. 

The prevention of proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and particularly biological weapons has been the focus of US, EU and UN threat reduction and non-proliferation efforts for decades. Identifying potential proliferators requires understanding the composition of the infrastructure in which proliferation is likely to occur.  Social Network Analysis, provides the theoretical foundation to analyze non-cooperative organizational structures in a standoff environment. Non-cooperative organizations are defined as those trying to hide their structures or unwilling to provide information regarding their operations, research, studies, trials; examples include clandestine military BW programs, academic and civilian institutes involved in both legitimate biological defence research and offensive BW research. (reference

Non-proliferation and threat reduction,specifically with relation to biological weapon programs and persons involved in said programs,  incorporates a number of activities undertaken not only by the United States, but European and NATO allies as well. Historically, such efforts have involved attempts to ensure compliance with international Non-Proliferation Treaties such as the Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention, the submission of Confidence Building Measures and inspections such UNMOVIC and UNSCOM. Within the scope of non-proliferation and threat reduction, substantial tools have been developed and utilized over the past two decades across a range of weapon classes. However, most if not all of these efforts require some degree of cooperation by the suspect party possibly under threat of war as was the case with Iraq. Social Network Analysis is a tool in the threat reduction kit, often overlooked as a valuable application for intercepting would be bio-terrorists. One of the noted experts in SNA theory is Vladis Krebs. His study of 911 terrorist social networks is an outstanding example of the power of SNA applications in identifying early on terror networks. In Kreb's analysis of the 911 terrorists, Yazid Sufaat, the former head of Al Qaeda's biological and chemical weapon directorate discovered network relationships with a number of 911 terrorists prior to their multi-target attack on the United States. See: 

Indepth reports and analysis available: 
Next article: Yaszid Sufaat: Al Qaeda's Biological Weapon Directorate
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