Talk of networks and "network theory" has become almost ubiquitous in the field of counterterrorism. Terrorist organizations are networks. Terrorists have been empowered by the Internet, ethnic diasporas, and cell phones—networks all. Many of the putative targets of terrorists—electrical grids, oil pipelines, and transportation systems, to name a few—are themselves networks. And, perhaps less often mentioned, terrorists are increasingly hampered by national and international laws that foster cooperation and coordination among states—a network of laws.
From "smart mobs" to "net wars," from narco-trafficking to the Internet, network theory has provided insights into decentralized social organizations and their coordinated action. Both sides in the "War on Terror" are networked and are themselves networks. This essay is the tale of two networks: what happens when the network of terror and the network of law collide.
Part II will briefly introduce the network theory and use it to describe the mechanisms of al Qaeda's terror network. Part III will turn to how network theory has affected counterterrorism strategy, particularly emphasizing intelligence analysis and the use of legal regimes to leverage strengths. Part IV will return to network theory more broadly and ask how the network of law can be adjusted to be more effective in disrupting the terrorists' network. This essay concludes that, despite the hostility of the Bush Administration to international law and that Administrations' efforts to circumvent existing domestic legal regimes, the network of domestic and international laws, including the protection of civil liberties, is a crucial component to a successful counterterrorism strategy.