Defense Update - News Analysis by David Eshel

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The Role of Technology in Counter-Terror Warfare
(Terrorism- part III)

A recent study by retired Brigadier General Uzi Eilam, published by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies (JCSS) , shed some interesting focus over Israeli thoughts on global terrorism. Eilam, former head R&D , MOD chief scientist and head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission is also a leading authority on non-conventional terrorism.

According to Eilam, the "persistent suicide bombings in Iraq and Israel in the aftermath of the US actions, signals clearly that terrorism is not a passing phenomen". The loose way those cells are spread and organised around the world obliges those fighting terror to adopt innovative thinking. The challenge is one of assymetric confrontation. On the one hand, terror organisations are operating successfully with relatively simple means, shrewdly manipulating brain washed volunteers to act as highly lethal 'human precision bombs', a simple method for a rather sophisticated weapon. On the other, states are failing to protect themselves even with their superior military power and highly advanced technology, due to democratic constraints, which hamper their full use.

Terrorists enjoy an intrinsic advantage, that even isolated attacks, which succeed can achieve their aim, namely to spread panic and fear, even by their very threat to strike. Recent examples are not lacking: Following the failed SA-7 launch at the Arkia airliner taking off from Mobassa, commercial aviation is about to invest billions of dollars in sophisticated defence equipment. Threat warnings over potential terrorist attacks have virtually paralysed Israeli inter-urban traffic for hours on end, while the similar warnings nearly stopped air traffic to the USA over the last holidays.

Thus, while many of the attempted terrorist attacks are successfully foiled, their strategic aim can nevertheless be achieved by creating psychological panic in the target area. General Eilam advises to seek a force multiplier in developing advanced technology to overcome this prevailing deficiency. While, he stresses, that even the highest grade of technology cannot promise total immunity against terrorist attacks, it can substantially reduce existing vulnerabilities, by focusing on the most menacing threats, identify the options for counter terrorism activities specify the requirement priorities for necessary technological effort, to furnish efficient means for the defence against the growing terrorist threat.

There is no single technology, nor is there a single line of defence, that will render a comprehensive reply to combat post-modern terrorism. Rather the construction of a 'layered defensive' model, would be pointing in the right direction. Layers of defence around air travel should include biometrics confirming identity of travellers, fortifying aircraft cockpits against hostile penetration, arming aircrews, or introduce mandatory air marshals, equip civil airliners with effective anti-missile systems and use sophsticated electronic surveillance to guard airport perimeters against Manpad missiles.

The defence of naval ports and waterways would dictate an extended security zone. Security should start already at high sea approaches, so that suspect vessels could be intercepted while still out of range. Stringent measures will have to be introduced to check containers, similar to pre-flight airport baggage. Sophisticated long-range radar systems and sensors must be developed with advanced science specialising in this new discipline. A superior sea and air defence against terror would only become effective once a fully integrated network of global intelligence sharing will become norm.

Border security is another problem which has to be addressed. Especially throughout the 'open border' system in the European Union free traffic zone, can become a 'safe haven' for potential terrorists. Moreover, the dormant networks of al Qaeda in Europe pose a constant challenge to security agencies, which require intimate exchange of intelligence over their movements. Sophisticated database technology will become imperative for counter-terror agencies in this field. When fully developed data mining will be used to detect automatically every unusual pattern in the movement of suspected terrorists, as well as monitor and intercept secret funding channels, rapid reaction can be put in force to foil these. Multimedia technology is a promising field which could in future place substantial means at the disposal of counter terrorist agencies.

One of these means could involve stand-off range detection and warning of explosives before they can be activated by suicide bombers. One of those systems which is about to be used in Israel will include special sensors on bus doors, providing warning of potential bomber about to enter. Remote sensing for distances up to 100m could become crucial in foiling suicide bomber attacks into crowded places, such as shopping malls, theaters or playgrounds.

Cyber terrorism is another threat that must be countered effectively by new supertechnology. The ability to identify cyber attackers is no longer a luxury against youthful hackers, but a real threat from highly sophisticated specialists in terrorist organisations. To defend against this threat will become a first priority target for all developed nations depending on vital computer networks for survival. Finally defence against what is now called "superterrorism" involving weapons of mass destruction will become the major challenge of all international counter-terrorist activities.

The threat of bio-terror is by far more acute than nuclear terrorism, the latter is requiring a much more sophisticated, state sponsored, infrastructure. But bio-terror is not only a poor man's weapon, but one which has incredible potential for spreading mass panic causing virtual national paralysis.
National assets to develop sophisticated biotechnology should be mobilised to find active defensive means against biological warfare threats.