Abstract for: Innovation and Learning in Terrorist Organizations: A Complex Adaptive System Framework

Academics, military strategists, policy analysts, and law enforcers increasingly describe terrorist organizations in terms of complex adaptive systems. While the paradigm is useful as a concept and has generated an abundance of models, in-depth theoretical analyses using first-principles of complex adaptive systems to understand terrorist organizations remain few. Of those that do exist, the majority focuses on understanding the inherent structural strengths and weaknesses of the organizations with the ultimate goal of disruption and defeat. In doing so, most experts acknowledge the key role that innovation and learning play in providing terrorist organizations with the capacity to adapt, yet there is a paucity of systematic treatment of the topic. This paper will review the organizing principles, behavior characteristics, and mechanisms of these concepts; how other authors have applied them to understanding terrorist organizations; and supplement the existing literature with a theoretically grounded framework for understanding innovation and learning within terrorist organizations, drawing on first principles of complex adaptive system dynamics.