Security networks and counter-terrorism: a reflection on the limits of adversarial isomorphism

The growing body of knowledge on the structure of terrorist networks, their flexibility to adapt to very hostile environments and their resilience in the face of law enforcement disruption, has spawned the idea that “it takes a network to fight a network”. A number of counter-terrorism strategies have resulted from this new philosophy, which attempt to leverage the network paradigm in order to improve the responsiveness and effectiveness of security bureaucracies. However, this chapter argues that some of the risks (or costs) inherent to the adoption of this nodal approach have been underestimated – or plainly ignored, despite their serious implications on the democratic governance of security. Three crucial dilemmas (the trust, information and legality dilemmas) faced by counter-terrorism networks will help explain why adversarial isomorphism should be considered with great caution and why bureaucracies should not be discarded from the counter-terrorism toolbox.

This content has been updated on July 16, 2015 at 13 h 32 min.