Open Source Warfare and the Networked Republic

Global Guerillas is John Robb's blog, expounding the theory that the asymmetrical warfare practised in Iraq and elsewhere is organised along the same lines as open source software.  Intertwined technological and political innovation is a house theme at SSR, so let's pause and contemplate this for a moment, or at least string together jargon in an appealing but fragmentary way.


Parallel Lines Will Always Meet
This post from September breaks down the parallels between the insurgents and the humble developers of the GCC compiler.  John has also graphed the insurgent attacks; they follow roughly the same long tail distribution as book sales on Amazon.com.  He treats recent Al-Qaeda franchise terror attacks using the same framework.
This kind of sucks for advocates of open source software - we were only just getting over being called communists.
The Sovereign Mob
Of course open source insurgency sucks even more for the unfortunate people being killed and maimed by their local warfare entrepeneur.  
Open source and long tail approaches are both made possible by a dramatic deflation in the price of information and shipping, in real terms, over the last 150 years.  Anyone who's read the Art of War will recall how obsessed Sun Tzu was with knowing the movements and motivations of the enemy, so it should be no surprise to find parallels.
Parliamentary democracy as such doesn't deal with this problem.  The genius of constitutional democracy is in its slowness and deliberation, inclusiveness and due process tempering the dangerous weight of collective decisions.  These insurgents - and the smart policing mobs being grown to combat them - are by contrast highly flexible and autonomous groupings within the state.  The instinctive response of rich world governments to these recent terrorist acts has been to try to lock down and track its citizenry further.  This effectively raises the cost of information, shipping and the actions of everyday life for everyone, while giving everyday citizens less power to stop the attacks.
((Those Iraqi insurgents who are part of the Al-Qaeda franchise, rather than more conventional civil warriors, are in the bizarre position of insurging in order to establish a "caliphate" - far removed from the political autonomy they now possess.  Please, hand me my straightjacket - I can't be trusted!))
The networked terrorist is a new, cheap and successful piece of military tech.  Historically, responses to new military tech with old - especially when the new tech is cheap - fail.  Democracies instead need smart policing mobs able to inform and if needed act to protect their own communities from threat.
((More analysis and the original heads up for Global Guerillas is at the addictive uber-development blog Worldchanging)).

Scrymarch 2005-07-31 20:27:51.0
cam : John Robb has convinced me: Makes sense to my eyes. So how does a nation-state combat it. Using the nation-state over-whelming monopoly on violence, domestically and on the world stage, is not working. The national security state will fail against these attacks, the expeditionary military attack is also failing, witness Iraq.You ask the question can we have crowd wisdom in policing, a kind of neighbourhood watch with statutory teeth? That may not be necessary in Australia, nor even the UK or the US; but Iraq is probably ripe for that kind of innovation. Security is incapable of covering everything there, so a civil-militia/police would be the right kind of civil innovation to self-manage community and collective security.If the Iraqis manage a self-sustaining flash-mob-police-force there will be serious future repercussions. Iraq is now representing the failure of the nation-state. If they manage to create sustainable self-policing structures then hello direct democracy and anarchy. Greg Egans "Stateless" might not need the water rich environment of the Pacific, and instead will flourish in the deserts of the Gulf.So how do you establish a smart-mob, anti-terror force, that is civilly focussed and tyrannically restrained?The bazaar needs a doer first. These are the yellow data points in the cloud graph. Do they register on a community equivalent of sourceforge; with a result, an idea, or a project? A blog can serve this function well enough. Or do they need a fund raising environment like globalgiving? Where communities, companies, nations, individuals (from anywhere in the world) can fund a local anti-violence program.Unfortunately nation-states have attacked terror in the private space (not public) and used intelligence forces, special forces, secrecy etc to combat it without exposing the process to the citizenry. If it was in the public space, we would have a better idea of what is needed.cam
cam : Fragmentation vs Monoculturalism: Gary Saeur-Thompson has been commenting on how the conservatives response to this has been to start fighting for the nation-state to be mono-cultural. There can be no fragmentation of the nation-state as the vehicle and legitimate source of power, as the people are consolidated into a unitary society, culture and state.It is interesting to note that Scrymarch's first response to was to advocate for a decentralised and asymmetric response to terror by creating a smart-mob for defeating it. My initial response was the same. On John Robb's website there is an entry on the vulnerability of the electrical system. This vulnerability goes away when the system is decentralised, as any disruption becomes local, not national.There are competing philosophies here. It is decentralised vs centralised. The centralised system is proving incapable of reacting to, or controlling the decentralised system. It is at its most violent in Iraq, but even in more benign centralised systems, the large central authority is incapable of reacting. Look at the legislation that stable nation-states such as the US and Australia have managed to produce relating to the internet and intellectual property.The unitary nation-state is dead. The centralised nation-state still has value, but only in capital intensive areas where decentralised systems are still cost prohibitive. Once the technology becomes commoditised, the nation-state, or in fact any centralised system, is incapable of innovating as fast as a centralised system. Witness the Soviet Union, it got out innovated by capitalism, which led to higher individual prosperity and choice.Australian politicians and commenteriat that are trying to push for a unitary Australian nation-state that is mono-cultural, defined domestically by the "national security state" are like Michael Palin faced with a disgruntled John Cleese. They are "peeyining for the fyords" and convincing themselves, and others, that the parrot they sold is not dead.cam
Scrymarch : Yellow nodes: I'm suddenly reminded of how many abandoned or single-person projects there are on sourceforge.  Until a project gets momentum, the leadership is not just crucial - it's also developers, beta testers, and userbase all in one.  So the US targeting yellow nodes isn't so crazy - except the insurgency has a big lurker community by now.I think some of the private space stuff can probably help - experts are great - but I don't think they'll be enough.My intuition is that the Iraqi neighbourhood watch would need not just teeth but also flak jackets and good intel :)  Seriously I think they'd need some access to information feeds in return for registering, not necessarily everything but routine stuff.  Leading to a problem of identity and tracking terrorist-trolls.  Maybe it would look more like meetup.com or k5 than sourceforge to start with.
Scrymarch : Trackback (in Russian): Annutka