U.S. Faces Evolving Threat Networks, DoD Says

01.23.17 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Transnational threat networks pose increasingly complex challenges to U.S. interests, according to a new doctrinal publication from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Networked threats are highly adaptable adversaries with the ability to select a variety of tactics, techniques, and technologies and blend them in unconventional ways to meet their strategic aims,” the document said. See Countering Threat Networks, Joint Publication 3-25, December 21, 2016.

The new DoD publication is focused on networks that are engaged, often clandestinely, in violent or criminal activity, and that may challenge U.S. forces or undermine national or regional stability.

However, the description of threat networks lends itself to — and, in light of current events, almost invites — a broader reading applicable to political disruption of other types.

“These threat networks jeopardize the stability and sovereignty of nation-states, including the US. They tend to operate among civilian populations and in the seams of society and may have components that are recognized locally as legitimate parts of society,” the document said.

“Collecting information and intelligence on these networks, their nodes, links, and affiliations is challenging, and analysis of their strengths, weaknesses, and centers of gravity (COGs) differs greatly from traditional nation-state adversaries.”

“Understanding a threat network’s motivation and objectives is required to effectively counter its efforts. The issues that drive a network and its ideology should be clearly understood. For example, they may be driven by grievances, utopian ideals, power, revenge over perceived past wrongs, greed, or a combination of these.”

“Many threat networks rely on family and tribal bonds when recruiting for the network’s inner core. These members have been vetted for years and are almost impossible to turn.”

“Threat networks… can be composed of criminal, insurgent or terrorist organizations, each of which may have different motivations for operating outside of societal norms. [But] they can also be government entities, legitimate legal organizations, or anyone who opposes the achievement of friendly objectives.”

“Transnational criminal organizations are self-perpetuating associations of individuals that operate to obtain power, influence, monetary and/or commercial gains, wholly or in part by illegal means.”

“Transnational criminal networks are not only expanding operations, but they are also diversifying activities, creating a convergence of threats that has become more complex, volatile, and destabilizing. These networks also threaten US interests by forging alliances with corrupt elements of national governments and using the power and influence of those elements to further their criminal activities. In some cases, national governments exploit these relationships to further their interests to the detriment of the US,” the DoD document said.