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
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.