Gene Lu's Portfolio

The Hamburg Cell

The Hamburg Cell, a group of radical Islamists, executed the 9/11 attacks under the guidance of Osama Bin Ladin, Atef, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed. The following is a network diagram illustrating the formation of the Hamburg Cell prior to this tragic event.

Objective
Create a network diagram to show the relationships among 9/11 hijackers using the information provided in the 9/11 Commission Report.

Initial Sketches
My research focused mainly on “The Hamburg Contingent” [pg 160-169] in the 9/11 Commission Report along with some additional digging on the interwebs to fill in some gaps. While going through the report and familiarizing myself with the stories of each terrorist, my initial ideas centered around the timeline of each of the core members of the Hamburg Cell. The core members were Mohamed Atta, Ramzi Binalshibh, Marwan al Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah.

Initial sketches after my first pass through the reading

Initial sketches after my first pass through the reading

After reading and rereading “The Hamburg Contingent,” I wanted to illustrate the months after the formation of the Hamburg Cell leading into the 9/11 attacks. Fortunately, this focus eliminated a lot of the extraneous information presented and simplified the amount of data required to present a meaningful story through a network diagram.

First Version
In this first version, I wanted to focus on the story by de-emphasizing on the quantatitive aspects such as time and place. I also wanted to experiment with a hand-drawn version of the network diagram in order to evoke a stronger reaction.

1st version hand-drawn network diagram - I agree, it's a bit overboard

1st version hand-drawn network diagram - I agree, it's a bit overboard

First Version Feedback
Some people thought that the diagram went a bit overboard in telling the story while others thought that it lacked key information at each of the nodes. I agree.

More Sketches
In order to make this diagram a bit more meaningful, I decided to factor back in time and place, which meant, more research. What I found to be most useful on this second try was to sketch the diagram as I reread the relevant sections of the 9/11 report. Googling each of the members also helped to clarify the individual stories.

Remapping the node network diagram on a whiteboard

Remapping the node network diagram on a whiteboard

A couple of parts of the diagram get pretty complex such as when the core members enter Pakistan and then into Afghanistan.

Once 3 of the 4 core members enter Pakistan, things get complex

Once 3 of the 4 core members enter Pakistan, things get complex

Final Version
Below is the final version of the network diagram. Although the illustration is not as literal as the first version, the concept is still embodied in this final version (albeit it’s a bit more abstract). I’ve also “enhanced” certain areas to show some of the complexity involved in the connections between the nodes. [Download the high res version of the diagram below (PDF)]

Final version of the Hamburg Cell Network Diagram

Final version of the Hamburg Cell Network Diagram

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  • 26 Mar 2010

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