Friday, August 24, 2007

Viral Transmission of Information on Explosives

Here's another post from Douglas Farah that's well worth the time. The threat from terrorists is quickly evolving, allowing them to rapidly learn how to use deadly technologies more effectively.

One of the most alarming things about the new transnationalism among terrorist groups is the rapid ability to transfer knowledge and technology, both through the the Internet and through individual training.
A possible point of relevance: In a post last week I wondered if it's reasonable to conclude that travel overseas is necessary before a jihadist can become an operational threat. Farah's piece lends credence to the idea that, from a technological perspective, overseas in-person training is becoming less necessary.

In this case, the more significant reason for overseas travel seems to be to take the last steps toward ultimate allegiance to the cause - a finding which the recent NYPD report on the radicalization process also indicated.

Farah again:
[W]hat is making the current situation different is that, instead of having to travel and hold clandestine meetings to trade information and methods, much of the information can now be transferred in the blink of an eye or the touch of a computer key.

Military sources say that the switching from low tech Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to high tech back to low tech is mirrored almost in real time between insurgents in Iraq and those fighting in Afghanistan.

What's becoming clear is that the operational information that permits someone to learn the terrorist trade is becoming commoditized:
With decentralized networks, sort of like Napster in the music world or Skype in the computer/telecommunications world, once a technology is invented to solve a certain problem, it is put out there with no strings attached. People can take it, improve it, merge it, and it belongs to no one and everyone.

In reality we are fighting a viral network that can be disrupted, hurt, but which has a regenerative capacity that is only limited by the number of people wanting to wage jihad against us.
Farah's last point is instructive. Strategic success in the war against jihadists is determined by the number of people wanting to wage jihad, because it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep a lid on the operational knowledge required to commit a terrorist act.

The operational knowledge for committing terrorism is becoming a commodity.

However, developing the motivation for committing terrorism is still entirely reliant on social networks. It is this aspect of the terrorist threat (and here I'm extending terrorism beyond jihadist terrorism) that provides a real vulnerability for the terrorist and a real opportunity for those seeking to prevent terrorism.

Final thought: Are we sharing information as well as the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan?

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