Summary of How Technology Almost Lost the War: In Iraq, the Critical Networks Are Social – Not Electronic

By Noah Shachtman.

This article discusses about winning a war, comparing techniques using technology versus communities. Both techniques uses networks, but in a slightly different way.


It started with Cebrowski and Garstka. Together they realized the power of computer networks in a successful warfare. (After all, networks came out of a military project) They named it Network-Centric Warfare.

The result is “ten of thousands of warfighters would act as a single, self-aware, coordinated organism.” Better communications from better info-management would let troops act with accurate intelligence. Battlefield sensors identify targets and polish them off accurately. The advantages are less people and less time would be needed to get a job done. There will be less mistakes made on civil casualities.

This idea appealed to all the geeks out there and even President Bush put the idea to use in the Iraq war. An Office of Transformation was installed and Cebrowski was asked to head it. The Army spent more than $230 billion on the networking technology out there, and the warfare was a huge success. It was a huge success at the war but it couldn’t do crack down the Al Qaeda. The reason was because the Army couldn’t connect with the local population and thus have no way of finding the enemy.
William Prior, commander in China, understands the need to work with the local population and began to recruit civilians to watch the streets and the neighborhoods and to report some leads. He spends time getting to know the local leaders and built a critical network or more than 1,400 “alligators” or “civilian watchers”. The positive aspect of this ‘local networking’ is that once Prior convinces one, the rest automatically follows. His counterinsurgent methods of cracking down the insurgents includes no violence and aims to stabilize a government and to persuade people to cooperate. The counterinsurgent methods were written by John Nagl.

Joe Colabuno was another man who understood that to subdue the insurgents, the work begins in immersing oneself with the culture and environment. Involved in psychological operations, he re-cultured himself to perceive shame and honor as the Arab society regard as important; he did propaganda to recruit alligators and win the hearts of the civilians. Like Shachtman said, “the idea is to have as many eyes and ears on the streets” as possible. Persuading in person is his strongest tactic.

The author mentioned several other leaders in the military such as Jim Kanzenbach and and General David Petraeus who are pro-tech and Steve Fondacaro who is pro-social.

The problem with network-centric warfare is it is useful for killing but not for a different task such as maintaining security, cracking down insurgents, and rebuilding a nation. Troops are also required now to perform these tasks other than combat.
At the end of the article, after Cerowski had passed away, Garstka, the co-founder of Network-Centric Warfare was ready to recognize his model is not the only answer to military warfare. Now, the Army has set up Human Terrain Teams (HTT) consisting of social scientists, software geeks and culture experts to assist in military units in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the future, the HTT will be equipped with technology to analyse communities and mark timeline of events. Shachtman ends off with the never-ending cycle of connectedness between networks (in the form of society) and technology (in the form of data).



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