Intelligence: We Love Cell Phones


April 25, 2007: The Taliban have been easier, than expected, to track down because of the flourishing opium trade in Afghanistan. The drug business represents several billion dollars of revenue for Afghans, accounting for about a quarter of the GPD. Most of this money goes to a relatively small number of people who spend a lot on luxuries. Among the more popular gadgets bought are cell phones and satellite phones. While cellular phone coverage is now only found in five major cities, these are the places where a lot of drug and terrorism related business is done. In Afghanistan, you use GSM phones, which use SIM cards. American intel agencies are very good at taking captured SIM cards and extracting a lot of information. Not so much from the SIM card, but from the traffic that has passed through that phone. Satellite phones are even more vulnerable, and captured SIM cards often identify specific sat phones being used by the bad guys.

The Taliban and drug gangs know of their vulnerability, but cannot run their operations without these communications tools. Gangsters in other parts of the world have developed ways to lessen SIM card vulnerability, and the Afghans are learning as fast as they can. In the meantime, it's getting them killed or captured, along with tons of opium and heroin.


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