John Robb Interview

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

John Robb made a name for himself explaining how global guerrillas could use open source warfare to bring down powerful foes:

Back in 2004, the US military was getting trounced in guerrillas in Iraq. Worse, the US military establishment didn’t know why. Didn’t have a clue. To correct this, I began to write about how 21st Century warfare actually worked on my blog, Global Guerrillas. Essentially, I concluded that guerrilla groups could use open source organizational models (drawn from the software industry), networked super-empowerment (freely available high tech tools, network information access, connections to a globalized economy), and systems disruption (the targeting of critical points on infrastructure networks that cause cascading failures) to defeat even the most powerful of opponents, even a global superpower.

The new theories of warfare I developed on the blog proved both predictive and very popular. As a result, I spent a lot of time on the speaking circuit in Washington DC (DoD, CIA, NSA, etc.).

Making your name by explaining how ruthless thugs can extort vast wealth from the civilized world raises some moral red flags:

Of course, since my work was on a blog everyone could read it, even the guerrillas themselves.So, it was a little surprising although not unexpected when I got an e-mail in 2009 from Henry Okah, a leader of MEND (the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta). He invited me to Nigeria and stated that he was an avid reader of my blog.

It was a moment out of history, as if the UK’s General Liddell Hart (the originator of blitzkrieg armored warfare) got a note from Germany’s tank General Heinz Guderian in 1939, thanking him for his work. Here’s why: MEND’s campaign against Shell (the oil company) and the Nigerian government between 2006 and 2008 was a great example of how I thought 21st Century warfare would be fought. The organization structure was loose and organized along the lines of an open source movement. Lots of small autonomous groups joined together to take down the country’s oil infrastructure by targeting vulnerable points in the network (Nigeria is a major global oil exporter). During 2007, they were able to take out one million barrels a day of oil production. This shortfall was the reason oil prices rose to $147 a barrel. Those high prices had a negative global economic impact: the start of a global recession and a spike in default rates in US sub-prime mortgages (due to higher driving and food costs). That spike in sub-prime mortgage default rates radically accelerated the demise of our grossly over leveraged global financial sector, which in turn led to the financial panic of 2008.

In short, MEND’s disruption campaign, yielded tens of trillions of dollars in global economic damage for tens of thousands of dollars spent on making the attacks. That’s a return on investment (ROI) of 1,000,000,000%. How do nation-states survive when an unknown guerrilla group in a remote corner of the world can generate returns on that magnitude? They don’t.

Um, thanks, Robb. You’re a genius. The global guerrillas couldn’t have achieved that amazing destruction-ROI without you.

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