Counter-Terrorism: Fear of Phoning


December 19, 2005: Fear of Western technological espionage capabilities appears to have caused al Qaeda serious communications problems. Apparently some personnel and operations have been compromised because of hi-tech monitoring of telephone (both wire and cell), radio, and internet communications, even when relatively complex encryption techniques have been used. As a result, al Qaeda appears to have fallen on less sophisticated means of keeping in touch, such as couriers. This has slowed al Qaeda activities considerably, since couriers may take months to move from place to place, particularly if they are traveling from some wild remote area, such as from the Northwest Frontier region of Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding, or trying to enter or leave a war zone.

Although al Qaeda is a "flat" organization, with its tentacles largely autonomous, the central leadership plays an important role in providing guidance, funding, and coordination. Osama bin Laden's apparent inability to curb some of the anti-Moslem violence perpetrated by Abu Musab al Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, is perhaps partially attributable to the organization's increasing communications difficulties. Even the couriers are not safe, and there has been a considerable effort to track down and capture them. Some have apparently been caught, which results in a valuable trove of intel information.


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