They clarify that “in contrast to hierarchies, networks lack top-down command and authoritative dispute settlement” (2008: 11). While they acknowledge the commonly cited advantages of networked actors – efficient communication and information processing, scalability, adaptability, resilience, and learning capacity – they rightfully caution that all of these may not apply to every type of network. Eistrup-Sangiovanni and Jones identify three kinds of networks: the chain network, the wheel network, and the all-channel network. Illicit networks are primarily of the first two variants and many, if not most, suffer from “inefficiencies and short life-cycles” (2008: 17). The scholarship on networks, they claim, pays scant attention to historical evidence and extant studies of terrorism, insurgency, and organized crime.
Dark networks suffer from information limitations and communication failures, poor decision-making and excessive risk-taking, restrictions on scope and structural adaptability, collective action problems due to (lack of) coordination, frequent security breaches, and learning disabilities (2008: 19-33). Using these limitations as an analytical framework, Eistrup-Sangiovanni and Jones examine the organizational structure of the al-Qaida, which appears to be a robust network-based threat in the 21st century. The al-Qaida’s potency draws a lot from a hierarchical organization, which has been increasingly difficult to maintain as the group comes under sustained international pressure. Its capacity to undertake major operations – like the “9/11” attacks – dwindles as it more closely resembles a loosely structured network of actors; indeed, there have been more failed attempts than successful attacks since 2001 (2008: 35-40).