Network theory is a Warfighter’s best friend. Model networks include nodes and links. Nodes can be measured based on the number of connections they have and the volume or relative importance of traffic carried on their links. The earliest battlefield applications brought about the modern COMSEC (Communications Security) practices. As a US Army Platoon Leader, I frequently held a company radio in one hand, and a Platoon radio in the other. Good practice and sound judgment encouraged short transmissions to prevent interception, but knowledge about the message isn’t required to determine how important each node is. It wouldn’t take a trained analyst to determine that my frequent communications with nine other vehicles, and periodic transmissions to another, would give me away as a battlefield leader, and also reveal the identity and location of the Company Headquarters.
Sophisticated Law enforcement agencies apply these theories to create drug distribution maps and develop a street gang’s organization chart. The CIA, FBI, and other Department of Justice agencies use electronic data to identify al qaeda operatives. Once a node is identified law enforcement or combat units will search for communication traffic with other nodes and determine if attached nodes are peers, subordinates or leaders.
In Afghanistan US Forces can combat insurgent attacks by mapping the physical network. Unfortunately, it’s not an instant process, and insurgents must be ID’d, then followed. Global Hawks and other airborne surveillance assets are used to track the locations of known operatives. Once they enter a building, the location is marked and as others come and go, they are tagged and tracked too, to build a map of locations frequented by operatives over time. Through this process US Forces are able to locate an enemy that fights with guerrilla tactics that make traditional battlefield intelligence gathering practices obsolete.
Temporal overlay is another technique that provides information about enemy activity. When events, separated by time, are mapped at once or at an accelerated pace on a map, intelligence analysts can draw conclusions that are not apparent from single events. See this time lapse map of IED’s in Afghanistan for a demonstration of this effect. Another resource, The LA Times, does a terrific job cataloging homicides and you can find their map here.
Network Theory affects you and is being applied to your movements and communications. Global citizens are being monitored, measured and evaluated by news organizations and Government agencies through programs established to reveal connections among them. The National Security Agency, NSA, established a research center for this purpose and it’s likely that intelligence about future terror operations will be captured in real time by this organization.