Disrupting Dark Networks

Disrupting Dark NetworksAuthor: Sean F. Everton
Publisher: Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 482p.
Reviewer: Anita Lavorgna | July 2013

This book promises to provide an introduction to social network analysis and to embed it in the larger strategic framework of countering so-called “dark networks,” a term which includes networks of terrorists, criminals, and insurgents. The book’s aim is “to bridge the gap between [the] theory and practice” of social network analysis in the context of rogue, illegal phenomena (xxxiii). Especially after 9/11, social network analysis has been increasingly employed as a method for understanding and disrupting dark networks (xxv). According to Sean Everton, however, despite this growing attention and the amount of useful data available, social network analysis has not yet been developed to its full potential.

Disrupting Dark Networks delivers much of what it promises. Indeed, it provides a clear and updated overview of social network analysis for intelligence purposes. It not only presents the basic concepts and strategies, but also illustrates how to choose and use the main metrics and the most important software packages for social network analysis without dwelling excessively on the technicalities. The book has the merit of explaining complex issues with accessible language, so that it can be utilized not only by specialized audiences but also by graduate students approaching social network analysis for the first time. The chapters build upon one another in a consistent and logical way, and this facilitates the book’s value also as a manual.

The major contribution of Disrupting Dark Networks is to specify the full potential of social network analysis in crafting strategies to tackle terrorist and insurgency networks; for instance, it stresses the importance of non-kinetic approaches in combating terrorism (such as the use of informants and tracking and monitoring).

The book also offers a thoughtful discussion of the limits of social network analysis, which should not be considered a “silver bullet” for countering dark networks (45), but rather as a tool for informing decision-making by law-enforcement agencies. Furthermore, in the final chapter, the author also explores the ethical dilemmas inherent in using this approach to disrupt dark networks. According to Everton, the “just war tradition” provides sufficient guidance for deploying social network analysis in making targeting decisions.

There is, however, a major shortcoming with the book. Dark networks are defined throughout in a broad way, but in practice Everton considers only terrorist networks in his analysis. There is virtually no reference to the growing use of social network approaches in the criminological literature on organized crime. This may be because the author uses the Asian terrorist network Noordin Top as a running example throughout the volume. Although this example is extremely useful for illustrating the practical aspects of social network analysis, it inevitably limits the scope of the book. Moreover, the title does not adequately reflect the book’s content and may confound readers’ expectations: the book is more a manual on the use of social network analysis than an analysis of dark networks in general. Indeed, it is part of the series “Structural Analysis in the Social Sciences,” which is designed to bring together the works of scholars from different backgrounds employing structural approaches in different subject areas. An explanatory subtitle would have been helpful for someone contemplating buying or otherwise utilizing this volume.

Overall, Disrupting Dark Networks offers not only a critical and well-informed overview of social network theories and techniques, but also a critical reflection on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. It is certainly a valuable reference for scholars in the field.

Anita Lavorgna, School of International Studies, University of Trento (Italy)

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