Counter-Terrorism: Speed Becomes A Weapon


September12, 2008:  In the first six months of this year, Al Qaeda carried out 28 attacks in Iraq, killing 125 civilians. That's in sharp contrast to the first six months of 2007, where there were some 300 attacks and over 1,500 dead civilians. What made the difference was the growth of information on who and where the terrorists were. This was something that had been going on for over three years, and it hit a critical mass a year ago as U.S. forces gained enough traction (in terms of knowing who and where the terrorists were) to go in and strike a devastating blow.


Counter-terror operations in Iraq are increasingly concentrating on chasing down specific terrorists and their organizations. The amount of intelligence residing in databases, plus the daily flow of new information makes it possible to track terrorist cells and chase after them with high confidence that they will be caught. There are still a lot of Islamic terrorists out there in Iraq, but now they have to spend most of their time on OpSec (operational security, making sure that they, or their bomb making workshops, are not discovered.)

Every night in Iraq, about a dozen known bad guys are hauled in. Some of these guys give up their buddies, or incriminating documents or other evidence (often fingerprints) will do it. For the last three years, U.S. troops have been fingerprinting every suspicious character they have come across. The guy they turned lose three years ago for lack of evidence, may be on a wanted list today because his prints were found all over some warm weapons or bomb making materials. Prints can even be lifted off some fragments of exploded bombs.

The army and marines have been doing the same thing police forces and corporations have been doing for over a decade; taking data from many different sources and quickly sorting out what all the pieces mean. It's called fusion and data mining, and it's a weapon that is having a dramatic impact on what many thought was an unwinnable war.

The final factor in this trend was the parallel growth of raiding and command techniques. American troops have developed organization, equipment and tactics that enable them to rapidly and safely (for both the raiders and suspects) go after suspects in dense residential areas (or farms in rural areas). You don't hear much about this, because these raids do not generate casualties or the kind of violence that grabs headlines. American commanders and headquarters have also learned how to plan and execute these raids very quickly (sometimes within minutes of new information being discovered.) This means, that after a terrorist hideout is raided, information found there can generate additional raids in less than an hour. The new raids often catch terrorists who have not yet heard of the earlier raid that turned up the data putting them on the American radar. Speed is a weapon, and it takes years to develop a superior amount of it.



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