Welcome to the GBS-MGI research program 

"You may be looking for a fish. We may be able to tell you where it might be found."

Social network analysis approaches focus on following the proverbial fish and/or analyzing its connections to other actors.  But a good fisherman does not jump into water chasing a particular fish.  A good fisherman knows where to cast the nets.  This is the basis of our approach and the philosophy behind our research.  

No area around the world is ungoverned; it may not be controlled by a recognized government, but it certainly is governed by a social structure of some sort (it could, for instance, be an organized crime group, a warlord, or a terrorist organization). 

We re-draw maps of the world attempting to look through the eyes of criminals/terrorists based on their perceptions of areas of operations, turfs, or Black Spots.  The reason is that the law-abiding citizens see political maps of the world in a very different way than the criminals/terrorists do.  Law-abiding citizens recognize international frontiers and, mostly, respect them.  Global criminals and terrorists see international frontiers as lines of opportunity, significant legal or price differentials.  They see (and use) them also as the outer limits of law enforcement and, sometimes, intelligence agencies' zones of effectiveness.  The frontiers that criminals/terrorists do recognize are different; these are the ones of criminal turfs, of organized criminal influence zones, of neutral points in different locations around the world, and of safe havens where negotiations with other crime or terrorist groups may take place.  For example, within the Horn of Africa the international bouondaries (seen as clean lines on a map) portray a false sense of security, since most politics in Africa is local and ethnic boundaries trump the political ones.

We define Black Spots as parts of the world that are (1) outside of effective governmental control, (2) controlled by alternative, mostly illicit, social structures, and (3) capable of breeding and exportation of insecurity (e.g., illicit drugs, conventional weapons, terrorist operatives, illicit financial flows, strategic/sensitive know-how etc.) to faraway locations.  Similarly to the astronomical notion of black holes that are invisible unless detected due to gravity anomalies surrounding them, we scan the world for Black Spots by following and analyzing anomalous security events and processes.  Based on open-source information we research and analyze suspect areas, offering holistic assessments of Black Spots to aid in understanding of our most difficult transnational and national security challenges.  


The Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs located in the Maxwell School and the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT) of Syracuse University’s College of Law and Maxwell School joined forces in the GBS-MGI research program focused on the development of a new approach to international security analysis.  This collaborative project builds on an initiative begun by the two Institutes in the fall of 2007 with the help of members of the Student Association on Terrorism and Security Analysis (SATSA).  The GBS-MGI program is directed by Professor of Practice, Stuart S. Brown, Senior Research Associate at the Moynihan Institute.  

Based on research conducted so far, this project aims to detect, map, and analyze Black Spot areas, seeking to understand the ways in which they export insecurity.  We aim to develop an early warning system for alerting governments and international organizations of possible dangers, and to provide guidance on how Black Spots may be managed to prevent or minimize the harm they may cause.

E-mail contact: ssbrown@maxwell.syr.edu