Counter-Terrorism: The Threat You Can Hold In Your Hand


March 27, 2009: In Pakistan, the Taliban are trying to halt the spread of cell phone service into the tribal territories along the Afghan border. The Taliban know, from the experience in Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq and Gaza, that cell phones are a deadly menace for them.

Cell phones have radically changed the way warfare, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping, is conducted. This was most recently noticed in Iraq, where cell phone use went from nearly zero in 2003, to over a third of the adult population today. A similar revolution is underway in Afghanistan, and it already played a role in crushing Islamic terrorism in Algeria. While cell phones gave the bad guys better communications, it also made them vulnerable to eavesdropping. It gets worse. Cell phones enabled people to express their dislike for terrorist violence by quickly and discretely reporting the location and activity of local terrorists. The bad guys have found no countermeasure for this. Trying to collect all the cell phones in the vicinity, or blowing up cell phone towers, merely makes terrorists more hated, and drives more people to risk their lives fighting the terrorists. This is what happened recently in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have made themselves even more unpopular by trying to halt the spread of cell phone service.

The problem is that people like cell phones, a lot. Moreover, while the Islamic radicals can make a religious point in trying to halt the use of music and video, there is no such excuse for going after cell phones. It's purely a matter of self-preservation. So far, the terrorist groups have been unable to stop the spread of cell phones, only slow it down.



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