A Tale of Two Networks: Terrorism, Transnational Law, and Network Theory

26 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2009 Last revised: 13 Jul 2014

See all articles by Christopher Borgen

Christopher Borgen

St. John's University - School of Law

Date Written: February 20, 2009


It has become a standard conceit in counterterrorism policy to describe al Qaeda and similar such transnational organizations as networks. At the same time, among a scholars focused on topics such as cross-border regulatory regimes, transnational litigation, and the structures of public international law, there has been an increasing consideration of law and legal institutions as being a part of one or more networks. This essay, prepared for the Oklahoma City University School of Law symposium, "Military Commissions and Congress's Role in the War on Terror," is thus the tale of two networks: what happens when the network of terror and the network of law collide.

After and introductory section, 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.

From "smart mobs" to "netwars;" from narcotrafficking to the Internet, network theory has provided insights into decentralized social organization and coordinated action. Both sides in the "War on Terror" are networked and are themselves networks. This article attempts to grapple how social organization is evolving in the 21st century and how this evolution affects counterterrorism.

Suggested Citation

Borgen, Christopher, A Tale of Two Networks: Terrorism, Transnational Law, and Network Theory (February 20, 2009). Oklahoma City University Law Review, Vol. 33, 2008, St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-0169, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1346934

Christopher Borgen (Contact Author)

St. John's University - School of Law ( email )

8000 Utopia Parkway
Jamaica, NY 11439
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics