Intelligence: Silence Is Survival


April 28, 2011: Back in the 1990s, al Qaeda was scary because of how this group of Islamic radicals was adapting modern communications technology to aid in the planning and execution of terror attacks. Over the last decade, you heard less and less about this. The reason is simple, the al Qaeda use of the Internet, cell phones and other modern communications tech, backfired badly. Western police agencies had, for decades, been developing methods to eavesdropping on these forms of electronic communication. Military intelligence was quick to adapt all this stuff for the war on terror. This was accelerated in Iraq, where many reservists, who were cops in civilian life, got sent there and quickly realized that there was a lot of police work to be done, and pushed for using familiar eavesdropping techniques. The U.S. NSA (National Security Agency) also took the lead in developing ways to eavesdrop in Internet message traffic. The U.S. Air Force also had lots of eavesdropping tech for all sorts of wireless communications.

Thus the Islamic terrorists found that they couldn't even depend on walkie-talkies and short-wave radio for secure communications. Using codes didn't help much either, since the NSA had a large tool kit for that sort of thing. The surviving Islamic terror groups adapted. The most astute dropped the use of Internet, phones and radio almost entirely. Messages were delivered by courier. Leaders accepted the fact they cannot depend on rapid communications, and instead concentrate on building up local intelligence networks, that collect information over weeks or months, and plan local terror attacks, or scare campaigns to keep the locals from talking to the government or foreign troops.

As far as anyone can tell, there was no al Qaeda master plan to cope with the Western counter-intelligence effort. Too many al Qaeda operatives disappeared too quickly. But the news of these disasters did spread throughout the web sites that catered to al Qaeda fans and supporters. The slow learners perished, but the more astute Islamic terrorists learned to keep critical communications non-electronic. Western intel also learned that few of those Islamic terrorist fans on the web sites actually crossed the line and committed terrorist acts. But some did provides forms of support (information, cash or at least encouragement). The web sites were, and still are, a good source of information on what Islamic terrorists are up to. These sites are the source of a lot of the "chatter" so often referred to when reporting what might be happening out in terrorist land. These web sites are a decidedly mixed blessing for the Islamic terrorists.

More useful for the terrorists is paying, or threatening, local media to be cooperative. With that, and some adroit exploitation of Western media, it's possible to make the Islamic radicals look far more powerful than they actually are. When you are playing a weak hand, you grab any advantage you can.





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