Open Source Warfare

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search


"Open source warfare, like what we see in Iraq and increasingly in other locations, relies on networks of peers rather than the hierarchies of command and control we see in conventional militaries. This structure provides an open source movement with levels of innovation and resilience that rigid hierarchies can't match. Unfortunately, these attributes are likely not constrained to merely local tactical activity. Open source movements can exhibit emergent intelligence that guides the movement's collective actions towards strategic goals."

"Open source war is a byproduct of globalization. It different than conventional guerrilla warfare in that the guerrillas don't have a center of gravity (a unifying ideology). In open source war, the guerrillas aren't loyal to a single group but rather dozens of different groups, each with their own motivations for fighting. The benefits of this organizational type, once it reaches critical mass, are numerous (and once it is entrenched, it is almost impossible to defeat). The good thing is that it is difficult to initiate, cross the chasm in adoption, and reach critical mass."


John Robb:

"Open source warfare is a form of warfare seen in a world without compelling ideologies. A world where lots of small groups, each with their own motivations for fighting (from criminal to religious to nationalist to ethnic), can join together to take on a much larger enemy (usually, a nation-state). In many cases, the groups involved don't even know what they are doing when they engage in it. They just do it naturally, out of weakness.

Open source warfare is a form of warfare where any group that wants to fight can participate. Every group can innovate. They can try out new methods of attack. New targets. If the technique works, every other group copies it (as in, release early and often). Groups share info between each other freely since the other groups are co-developers of the war. The list goes on.. It's very similar to open source development, but with lots of twists and some new rules." (


John Robb:

"Some examples? In a violent conflict: Iraq and Mexico. Semi-violent with lots of system disruption: Nigeria. Non-violent (at least early on): Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Barhain, Syria, etc. (wrote lots about this, and its amazing that it played out as anticipated)." (

How to start an open source war

John Robb:

Plausible promise.

An open source war is built on an idea that has wide acceptance. The key is finding the idea (eject the occupation or force a government to abandon an egregious exploitation of a target area -- see my notes on Indonesia in the post below). Once it is found, it needs to be turned into a plausible promise. This is accomplished by making successful attacks, an alpha release if you will, on the target. If done correctly, this proves that the target is vulnerable and the war has the possibility of being won.

Crossing the chasm.

The key to moving from a foco to a viable movement is to adopt open source behaviors. This includes sharing, trading, collaboration, and coordination with groups that are willing to participate but do not share the same motivations or loyalties as the initiating group. This is a very tough step, particularly for authoritarian groups. However, if it is accomplished the chasm in adoption is crossed very quickly. Operative tenet: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Critical mass.

The final step is gaining sustainability, where the movement renews itself as a natural byproduct of its operations. The best method I've discovered is to disrupt critical infrastructure (see State Failure 101 for more). The disruption of infrastructure damages the economy in a way that forces new groups to develop, by driving people to primary loyalties in order to survive. Groups formed by these primary loyalties will actively participate in the conflict (either in support of the government as paramilitaries or against it as guerrillas). The interaction of these groups, particularly their excesses, provides a useful dynamic. Finally, it also fosters the development of a micro-economy (a bazaar) of guerrilla freelancers that provides a large pool of expertise that can be drawn upon to scale operations (transnational crime is a great way to pay for this)." (


John Robb

Global Guerillas on how Open Source Warfare takes on a "Bazaar" format:

The decentralized, and seemingly chaotic guerrilla war in Iraq demonstrates a pattern that will likely serve as a model for next generation terrorists. This pattern shows a level of learning, activity, and success similar to what we see in the open source software community. I call this pattern the bazaar. The bazaar solves the problem: how do small, potentially antagonistic networks combine to conduct war? Lessons from Eric Raymond's "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" provides a starting point for further analysis. Here are the factors that apply (from the perspective of the guerrillas):

  • Release early and often. Try new forms of attacks against different types of targets early and often. Don’t wait for a perfect plan.
  • Given a large enough pool of co-developers, any difficult problem will be seen as obvious by someone, and solved. Eventually some participant of the bazaar will find a way to disrupt a particularly difficult target. All you need to do is copy the process they used.
  • Your co-developers (beta-testers) are your most valuable resource. The other guerrilla networks in the bazaar are your most valuable allies. They will innovate on your plans, swarm on weaknesses you identify, and protect you by creating system noise.
  • Recognize good ideas from your co-developers. Simple attacks that have immediate and far-reaching impact should be adopted.
  • Perfection is achieved when there is nothing left to take away (simplicity). The easier the attack is, the more easily it will be adopted. Complexity prevents swarming that both amplifies and protects.
  • Tools are often used in unexpected ways. An attack method can often find reuse in unexpected ways."


Sean Gourley

Via [1]:

  1. Many body: There are many more autonomous insurgent groups operating within conflicts than we had previously thought. For example there are 100+ autonomous groups operating in Iraq (as of 2006).
  2. Fluidity: The insurgents are loosely grouped together to form fluid networks with short half-lives. This is very different from the rigid hierarchical networks that have been proposed for insurgent groups.
  3. Redundancy: If we remove the strongest group from the system another group will rise to replace the previous strongest group
  4. Splinter: When a group is broken it does not generally split in half but instead shatters into multiple pieces
  5. Redistribute: When a group is broken the components are redistributed amongst the other groups in the system. The redistribution is biased towards the most successful remaining groups.
  6. Snowball: The strongest groups grow fastest
  7. Tall poppy: The strongest groups are the predominant targets for opposition forces Internal competition: There is direct competition amongst insurgent groups for both resources and media exposure. They are competing with each other in addition to fighting the stronger counterinsurgent forces.
  8. Independent co-ordination: Autonomous groups act in a coordinated fashion as a result of the competition that exists between them.
  9. Emergent structure: Attacks in both Iraq and Colombia become 'less random' and more coordinated over time
  10. Evolution: The strategies employed by the groups evolve over time where successful groups/strategies survive and unsuccessful strategies/groups are replaced.
  11. High dimensional: Connection occurs over high dimensions (i.e. Internet, cell phone etc) and is not dominated by geographic connections.
  12. Non-linear: It is approximately 316* times harder to kill 100 people in an attack than it is to kill 10 people. (*Results for a conflict with alpha=2.5).
  13. Independent clones: the fundamental structure and dynamics of insurgent groups is largely independent of religious, political, ideological or geographic differences."


More Information