PolySciFi Blog

Friday, July 15, 2005


From today's Cryptogram:

Bruce Schneier points out an alarming paragraph from Newsweek in today's Cryptogram newsletter:
This Newsweek article on the insurgents in Iraq includes an interesting paragraph on how they adapt to American military defenses.
"Counterinsurgency experts are alarmed by how fast the other side's tactics can evolve. A particularly worrisome case is the ongoing arms race over improvised explosive devices. The first IEDs were triggered by wires and batteries; insurgents waited on the roadside and detonated the primitive devices when Americans drove past. After a while, U.S. troops got good at spotting and killing the triggermen when bombs went off. That led the insurgents to replace their wires with radio signals. The Pentagon, at frantic speed and high cost, equipped its forces with jammers to block those signals, accomplishing the task this spring. The insurgents adapted swiftly by sending a continuous radio signal to the IED; when the signal stops or is jammed, the bomb explodes. The solution? Track the signal and make sure it continues. Problem: the signal is encrypted. Now the Americans are grappling with the task of cracking the encryption on the fly and mimicking it-so far, without success. Still, IED casualties have dropped, since U.S. troops can break the signal and trigger the device before a convoy passes. That's the good news. The bad news is what the new triggering system says about the insurgents' technical abilities."
The CIA is worried that Iraq is becoming a far more effective breeding ground for terrorists than Afghanistan ever was, because they get real-world experience with urban terrorist-style combat.
One man's flypaper is another man's training field, I guess. Usual disclaimers apply w/r/t but of course we should be in Iraq and so on. The speed at which terrorists are developing better battlefield tactics is a problem. Schneier also writes the following, w/r/t the London bombings.
I would also like to urge everyone not to get wrapped up in the particulars of the terrorist tactics. We need to resist the urge to react against the particulars of this particular terrorist plot, and to keep focused on the terrorists' goals. Spending billions to defend our trains and buses at the expense of other counterterrorist measures makes no sense. Terrorists are out to cause terror, and they don't care if they bomb trains, buses, shopping malls, theaters, stadiums, schools, markets, restaurants, discos, or any other collection of 100-plus people in a small space. There are simply too many targets to defend, and we need to think more intelligently than simply protecting the particular targets the terrorists attacked last week.

Smart counterterrorism focuses on the terrorists and their funding—stopping plots regardless of their targets—and emergency response that limits their damage.
That seems right on to me, especially given the above example of quickly adapting battlefield tactics in Iraq. It's a bad variant of the old joke: Doc, they keep shooting me when I attack their subways! So don't attack their subways.

On the other hand, it seems a stretch of the imagination to think that the terrorists will give up New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston as targets in order to focus on Wyoming. Which means I think this New York Times editorial is right about Susan Collins and Joseph Lieberman's craptacular fight to increase anti-terrorist and disaster recovery funding for small states. To some extent, the terrorists will go where the money isn't; but the thing to remember is that they want to cause panic on a national scale. Hitting a symbolic target like New York or D.C. has much more value to them on the world stage than hitting a high school football game in Nebraska, even if the casualties would be similar.


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