One of the greatest ironies of the 9/11 Era: while politicians, generals and journalists lined up to denounce al-Qaida as a brutal band of fanatics, one commander thought its organizational structure was kind of brilliant. He set to work rebuilding an obscure military entity into a lethal, agile, secretive and highly networked command — essentially, the U.S.’ very own al-Qaida. It became the most potent weapon the U.S. has against another terrorist attack…

The network McChrystal built, McRaven enhanced and Votel inherits comes in stark contrast to the rest of the U.S. security bureaucracy, which Priest and Arkin call “Top Secret America” and which remains disconnected, bloated and expensive. Priest and Arkin bluntly conclude that McChrystal turned JSOC around “by outright rejecting at least four of Top Secret America’s defining characteristics: its enormous size, its counterproductive duplication, its internal secrecy, and its old-fashioned, hierarchical structure.” What the post-9/11 reforms failed to accomplish across the sprawling national security apparatus, McChrystal did in miniature.

“We had to figure out a way to retain our traditional capabilities of professionalism, technology, and, when needed, overwhelming force,” McChrystal recalled in Foreign Policy, “while achieving levels of knowledge, speed, precision, and unity of effort that only a network could provide.” It didn’t work in Afghanistan with conventional forces. But now it’s up to the secretive, lethal network that McChrystal established to finally destroy the terrorist network that inspired it.