Electronic Weapons: Hand Signals Can Save Your Life


May 3, 2007: In Iraq and Afghanistan, the enemy knows that their communications can be overheard, but are willing to risk that. Operating without wireless commo (cell and satellite phones, or walkie talkies) is seen as more dangerous. Knowing this, the terrorists resort to some pretty effective countermeasures. The most common on is using code words. They know that the enemy has to rely on translators, which will slow them down in attempts to translate the code words.

Some of the older Taliban and al Qaeda operators were exposed to communications security training when the Soviet Union still existed (and regularly sent Arabs and Afghans to these schools). They caution the younger fighters to be careful with codes. The old guys know about traffic analysis, and techniques for quickly breaking simple codes. The old guys are right, and the young guys are regularly getting stung by Western communications intelligence teams.

The traffic analysis identifies the various users, and the time and location when they broadcast. Small teams of intel operatives will operate equipment in hostile territory, or leave untended devices that monitor traffic, and report back to a central station. Computers and software have gotten much more powerful in the last few decades. Collect enough information on who has said what, when via cell phone or walkie talkie, and you know a lot about the users (where they are, what they've done, and what they can do next).

The old timers were right about cracking the codes. There's now software what can take spoken Arabic and translate it, and put it in a database, apply some powerful algorithms, and crack the code. But these tools are not available everywhere, or all the time. So the chatter on terrorist web sites is mixed as to the existence of such kafir (non-Moslem) magic and, if it does exist, how powerful it is. But the magic is out there, and there's never enough of it. The codes are not always cracked in time, and the traffic analysis sometimes comes up with something too fuzzy to be useable. But when it does work, the terrorists would be better off sending scribbled notes, or using hand signals.


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