Dark networks as organizational problems: Elements of a theory

H. Brinton Milward, Jörg Raab

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


In this paper, we try to understand and interpret why and how dark networks manage to survive despite massive control efforts by nation states, thus demonstrating a high degree of resilience. We approach this question from an organizational perspective looking at the (organizational) changes dark networks undergo in adapting to attempts to destroy them. We draw on insights based on the analysis of how Al Qaeda changed after the massive control efforts by some of the world's most powerful nation states since their attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. In order to develop more general propositions, we contrast the Al Qaeda case with the development of the organizational structure behind the cocaine trade from Colombia to the United States after it had become the object of massive control efforts by the U.S. during the 1990s. Through the analysis we inductively develop a theoretical framework for the analysis of dark networks. Central to this framework is the assumption that dark networks, which are resilient, manage to rebalance differentiation and integration mechanisms in their internal structure and adjust to the new requirements in their task environment based on the actors, their linkages and resources available in order to persist and maintain some capacity to act. We further identify drivers and facilitators stemming from larger societal and political problems that create the motivation for new people to join dark networks. The analysis shows that control efforts that are directed towards the organizational extinction of dark networks will be likely to fail as long as the central problems behind their existence are not tackled. We conclude by sketching out an agenda for future organizational research on covert and illegal networks and organizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-360
Number of pages28
JournalInternational Public Management Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Public Administration


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