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Covert or Convenient? Evolution of Terror Attack Networks


  • Scott Helfstein

    () (Combating Terrorism Center, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, USA)

  • Dominick Wright

    (Combating Terrorism Center, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, USA)


The concept of networks has become synonymous with terrorism in recent years. Despite the abundance of material engaging the concept of terrorist networks, there is a paucity of research that applies analytic network methods to the empirical study of observed data. This article fills that void by comparing two arguments about terror network structure using a newly released attack network data set. One account suggests that terrorists purposefully structure their networks to maximize operational security (OPSEC) by minimizing connections, while an alternate proposition relies on findings in network sciences showing that many networks have a few well-connected individuals (referred to as scale-free structure). Empirical analysis of six evolving attack networks produces results contradicting both assertions. This article then looks beyond structure to examine whether there are any causal relationships between network characteristics and output, specifically attack casualties. The article concludes by examining possible drivers of network structure and pertinent policy implications.

Suggested Citation

  • Scott Helfstein & Dominick Wright, 2011. "Covert or Convenient? Evolution of Terror Attack Networks," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 55(5), pages 785-813, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jocore:v:55:y:2011:i:5:p:785-813

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    Cited by:

    1. Virginie Masson & Kelsey Wilkins, 2013. "The Small World of 9/11 and the Implications for Network Dismantlement Strategies," School of Economics Working Papers 2013-08, University of Adelaide, School of Economics.


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