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John Robb had a great post at Global Guerillas entitled “CATASTROPHIC BLACK SWANS“. An excerpt:

“If we follow this trend line, the path in development is clear. First, over the next decade, the size of the group necessary for global warfare will continue to decrease and decentralize (through a near term shift to systems disruption and open source organizational forms). Second, we will eventually reach a point when the weaponry available to these groups will enable them to initiate a catastrophic black swan (an event that is impossible to predict). “

I would argue that the devolution is really toward the emergence of superempowered individuals, Ted Kaczynskis on steroids, who realize that their total anonymity and lack of prior activity or membership in known networks, renders them the best possible secret first-strike weapon.

On the other hand, there are factors that mitigate such risks. The number of individuals with the requisite intelligence, knowledge base of systems, resources and sufficient degree of alienation and task persistence to carry off a singlehanded 9/11 are relatively few. Moreover, the only way these potential superempowered individuals can be ” activated” by al Qaida and retain their capacity for stealth, is by inspiration. This elevates the premium on IO, cyberpropaganda, symbolic terror operations and efforts by al Qaida to reach beyond their narrow popular base to non-Salafi or even non-Muslim demographic groups that might share al Qaida’s anti-American strategic goals for their own reasons.

9 Responses to “”

  1. Daniel Griffin Says:

    Theoretically a superempowered individual could be acting on their own, or simply not at all connected with Islam (and especially when all the fingerpointing will go in the usual directions).

  2. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    Mark and Daniel:

    Together, the two of you are approaching a consideration of 5GW.


    On mitigations: I wonder to what degree intelligence corresponds with benevolence or non-violent activity, particularly as the benefits of globalization become more and more apparent and opportunities for self-fulfillment increase.

    On the other hand, now that I think of it, I recently read some article discussing a study of senior citizens that found those with the most intelligence also tended to be the most ‘cranky’.

    Well…I suppose multiple factors might determine whether a highly intelligent individual turns to mass murder — and that maybe we ought to consider taking those factors quite seriously.

  3. Larry Dunbar Says:


    I am not so sure it will be a 5GW as you have written about in the past. I think it will have an internal or civil war looks about it. It will take on much of the 5GW attributes because many will not understand why they are fighting and whom they are fighting. I think this happens when the conservative, or so-called, conformity enforcer element in a society also becomes the liberal, or so-called, diversity generators of the society.

    One of the benefits of globalization is that it knocks down walls built around a nation-state. This releases a worldwide complex adaptive system. This worldwide complex adaptive system conforms to the laws inside three domains called ethics, logic and physics. This sets off an inter-group tournament for the most adaptive set of ethics, logic and physics inside the worldwide complex adaptive system. What the conservative and Right-wing elements inside the old nation-state of the USA assumes is that these rules will conform to the old laws laid out by the Constitution of the USA and Judo-Christian ethics.

    This is not necessary the case, as seen by a national movement to get Wal-Mart to pay for the health care and a living wage for its employees. The locals are deciding that they know what is best for the workers of Wal-Mart and are creating laws to handle this injustice. In later years, the workers, in a movement for equality, would have accomplished this. The local effort should be applauded, but at the same time the laws that they create take on the logic of a benevolent ruler. In this case the rulers are the local community, which knows best. However, their action represents what can be seen as a national movement. This movement will ultimately fail, unless it can be extended globally, because Wal-Mart is a part of the worldwide complex adaptive system. Luckily, the logic of a benevolent ruler is prevalent in many parts of the world, so these rules, unlike independents and freedom for all, could prevail in the worldwide complex adaptive system.

    As for Wal-Mart, they will conform to the ethics, logic and physics of a corporation. Maybe they will simply double their profits by restricting those in other areas of the world and demand more resources from the locals by way of higher prices, or they could become benevolent rulers.

    In the USA, the 5GW as I believe you understand, will be between the conformity enforcers and the diversity generator, over which is which, much like the independent-loving South and freedom-for-all North during the Civil War, except without boarders. Now throw in the logic of a brotherhood and you have most of the groups of the inter-group rivalries.

  4. Valdis Says:

    >> … who realize that their total anonymity and lack of prior activity or membership in known networks, renders them the best possible secret first-strike weapon.

    Hmmm… someone with a Google Number < 1 ?

  5. BillSaysThis Says:

    This is definitely in line with what I’ve been saying for years now, from before 9/11, and not that I claim its brilliant and/or original: every year it gets cheaper and easier for ever-smaller groups to deliver more destruction.

  6. mark Says:

    Hi everyone,


    Certainly, you are correct. There are some who would like the opportunity to pull off an act of catastrophic terrorism while misdirecting the blame (5GW as Curtis and also John Robb indicated)


    While we can posit an outcome-based theory that most superbright people are pretty nice or benevolently disposed, it may be that most are simply too integrated into society and the enjoyment of their pursuits to risk throwing these away. Kaczynski, who seems to have been brilliant, was exceptionally disconnected as well as a little mad.

    You can be only reasonably bright and still wreck havoc with the knowledge gleaned from equivalent of high school physics and chemistry. Launching a real system perturbation with events anticipated to the fourth or fifth tier of a decision-tree requires an altogether higher level of smarts ( or blind luck).


    Has his eye on the correct scale :o)


    Anonymity is relative. You don’t need to be a cipher -in fact, it is better if you aren’t trying to be- all you need to be is someone “normal” who “snaps”.


    True. Market forces are making superempowerment cost-effective instead of, say, something done by a crazed billionaire in a James Bond movie.

  7. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:


    From one side of the 5GW perspective (and scale), an individual or handful of people acting along might well try to shift focus to another group, such as toward al-Qaida. This would serve two purposes. First, it’d keep the heat off the individual/group, allowing them to remain operating in secret. Second, there would be a corresponding ‘success’ of influencing the target of the terrorist act to focus its energies and resources on that scapegoat, possibly initiating a downward spiral (loss of resilience, being painted into a self-made corner — i.e., crossing the wrong rubicon.)

    From the other side of the perspective, an organization such as al-Qaida or even a small nation state could influence the brilliant individual or handful of people to commit the acts while believing they operated alone. This would also be 5GW and would lead to similar benefits of distraction and sapping of resources. This, in fact, is the type you somewhat describe in your post; whereas the first type is the type described by Daniel.

    Sorting out which is which might be difficult, particularly if neither is clearly seen and a third group receives all the blame!

  8. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    Addendum: BTW, tying this into GG might be quite prescient, since a ‘GG world’ would offer so many distractions, so many potential scapegoats who 1.) may in fact believe they are operating independently when they have been influenced to act, and 2.) would present so many potential faces to be see behind acts that targets would have a difficult time sorting out what to do with resources, etc., and sorting who is truly to be blamed.

    So now that I think of it, my criticism of John Robb’s general perspective — that these non-aligned groups somehow form a coherent movement nonetheless; and, that they are described as ‘demons’ with nothing but destruction in mind — is becoming less of a criticism when I consider the development of a largely 5GW world, in which the operation of many disparate groups lays the groundwork and build the milieu that 5GW organizations can tap into and utilize. Hmmm.

  9. Outlandish Josh Says:

    This is an old dilemma too… faced by the US founders when they realized that their newly freed (read: empowered) class of farmers might quickly turn on them if they weren’t invested in the new order. So they gave away land. Problem solved.

    Currently the general “globalization” process is doing the same world-wide.

    At the dawn of the 21st Century, the new order is about 3-billion stakeholders short, and unfortunately this can’t be solved by running some indiginous peoples off their land.

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