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Applied competitive behavior: al Qaeda humint targeting

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Memo outlines al-Qaida terror plans and Al Qaida planning memo excerpts offer a grim forecast of target priorities against Western individuals -- not infrastructure -- here and abroad. Signed by the al Qaeda leader in Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz Al-Mukrin, the list appeared in a webzine frequented by al Qaeda militants. While there is some tradecraft, the bulk of the note is a very personal list that goes beyond infrastructure and religious targets to include specific nationalities and occupations.

For example, 'Christian' targets are prioritized as Americans, British, Spanish, Australians, Canadians, and Italians; while 'category' targets are businessmen, diplomats, politicians, scholars, analysts, scientists, military, and tourists. This becomes personal if you are within reach.

Should this escalation hold, what will be our response under Gresham's Law of Competitive Behavior? This could be Pontecorvo's "The Battle of Algiers" writ large as the excerpts detail:

  • Targets Inside Cities - "Targets inside the cities are considered a sort of military diplomacy. Normally, this kind of diplomacy is written with blood and decorated with body parts and the smell of guns."
  • Faith Targets - Missionaries in Islamic countries, any Moslem religious scholar who cooperates with the enemy.
  • "The purpose of these [individual] targets is to destabilize the situation and not allow the economic recovery such as hitting oil wells and pipelines that will scare foreign companies from working there and stealing Moslem treasures."
  • Human Targets - "We have to target Jews and Christians. We have to let anybody that fights God, his prophet or the believers know that we will be killing them. There should be no limits and no geographical borders."
  • The Purpose for Human Targets - "To stress the struggle of the faiths… To show who the main enemy is. To get rid of the renegades and to purify the land and to use them as examples for others. To spread fear in enemy lines… To lift the morale of the Islamic nation. To destroy the image and stature of the targeted government."

On one hand, there is nothing specific in the targeting so that the note joins the "chatter" background; on the other it provides guidance and esprit to the jihadists thus moving some events forward and reordering priorities.

Memo outlines al-Qaida terror plans
Document lists preferred economic, religious and individual targets

By Lisa Myers
Senior investigative correspondent
NBC News
Updated: 11:29 p.m. ET April 01, 2004

Al Qaida planning memo excerpts
Note details priority list of human targets for terrorists

Updated: 8:10 a.m. ET April 02, 2004

Gordon Housworth



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Gresham's Law of Competitive Behavior

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I coined Gresham's Law of Competitive Behavior years ago as a corollary to Gresham's Law. Economic policy gave rise to Gresham's Law (Bad money drives out good money), now generalized to 'Inferior goods, services, or behavior drive out the good goods, services, or behavior.'

My corollary became Gresham's Law of Competitive Behavior: "You must descend to the behavior of your adversary to defeat him."  If that law is true, it poses some somber questions in dealing with either conventional or asymmetrical terrorist threats. 

In a private note, 'Weaponized anthrax, preemption, and other sticky thoughts,' I cited Richard Preston’s visceral description of weaponized anthrax in "The Cobra Event" and then asked readers to consider someone wanting to bring that to our shores and how they would react to preempt had they the chance. My point was that their answer would concentrate their mind one way or the other as to where they wanted to fight the battle and to the degree to which they wanted to fight it.

In response to aggressive measures by ASEAN states -- Singapore's aggressive Internal Security Act first among equals -- to halt a terrorist effort to create a regional Islamic state, I asked those who disdain aggressive interrogation and police powers to consider that most likely the only reason that 10 to 12 US flag airliners did not drop into the Pacific was an intense Philippine search and subsequent interrogation that flushed the details of the plot.

We then moved to the general argument over preemptive use of deadly force occasioned by an unmanned CIA Predator drone strike (forgetting that a man is controlling the drone from a ground station) in Yemen that killed six al-Qaeda suspects including a US national. Under what conditions will the US initiate lethal operations away from a recognized battlefield? What is a recognized battlefield these days? Under whose authority can such an attack be issued? Does Director CIA now have an automatic license to kill? Can US nationals lose their constitutional protections, possibly their life, on an agency’s decision?

Pam Hess wrote that the attack "may not have violated the U.S. ban on assassinations, but the Bush administration's new rules on America's right to self-defense in the uncertain battlefield of the war on terrorism need to be sharply defined, according to former intelligence officials and experts." Condoleezza Rice said that, "I can assure you that no constitutional questions are raised here. The President has given broad authority to US officials in a variety of circumstances to do what they need to do to protect the country" and he is "well within the balance of accepted practice and the letter of his constitutional authority."

At the time, I commented that, "We are going to have to make increasingly difficult decisions to resolve the survival of our national wellbeing and polity in the face of increasing aggressive adversaries armed with potent weaponry and waging a war unlike any that we have experienced." I returned to this theme in a later private note, "Life is indelicate when one’s continued existence is at odds with one’s ethics, especially when the foe is assuredly not a Geneva signatory and feels that he can torture and kill you at will to achieve his aims. And better to fight it there than here -- and enlist the governments in question to assist lest they themselves fall."

We are now on the eve of what appears to be a systematic massed human target attack by al Qaeda.  I feel that if we were not then, we are now firmly on the glide slope of Gresham’s Law of Competitive Behavior and that the art will be to recover a larger humanity if and when it is over.

Gordon Housworth



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Timely revisiting of Jeffrey Record's Bounding the Global War on Terrorism

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On the eve of Condi Rice's sworn testimony before the 9/11 Commission and in the aftermath of the Falluja mosque strike, it is valuable to look again at Jeffrey Record's essay "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism" published in the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) in December 2003. While the article carries the standard disclaimer as to "the views expressed" the SSI director recommended it and the commandant of the Army War College approved it.

Record examined three features of the current war on terrorism:

  • Administration’s postulation of the terrorist threat
  • Scope and feasibility of U.S. war aims
  • War’s political, fiscal, and military sustainability

Record's central criticism is that the administration has overreached itself and has not kept its "enemies to a manageable number." Lest anyone dismiss Record as they have Clarke, Record's writings were quite critical of the Clinton administration while he was on staff at the Air War College.

I submit that it is worthwhile reading, done far away from a media spotlight, and could help us select the best path out of our current condition on the ground.

Summarizing his conclusions (Note that 'GWOT' stands for the Global War on Terrorism):

  • Deconflate the threat. (Treat rogue states separately from terrorist organizations, and separate terrorist organizations at war with the US from those that aren't.)
  • Substitute credible deterrence for preventive war as the primary policy for dealing with rogue states seeking to acquire WMD. (Shift US focus from rogue state WMD acquisition to rogue state use of WMD.)
  • Refocus the GWOT first and foremost on al-Qaeda, its allies, and homeland security.
  • Seek rogue-state regime change via measures short of war.
  • Be prepared to settle for stability rather than democracy in Iraq, and international rather than U.S. responsibility for Iraq.
  • Reassess U.S. force levels, especially ground force levels.

Record closes with Frederick Kagan's argument that the reason why

"the United States [has] been so successful in recent wars [but] encountered so much difficulty in securing its political aims after the shooting stopped" lies partly in "a vision of war" that "see[s] the enemy as a target set and believe[s] that when all or most of the targets have been hit, he will inevitably surrender and American goals will be achieved."

"If the most difficult task facing a state that desires to change the regime in another state is securing the support of the defeated populace for the new government, then the armed forces of that state must do more than break things and kill people. They must secure critical population centers and state infrastructure. They have to maintain order and prevent the development of humanitarian catastrophes likely to undermine American efforts to establish a stable new regime."

Gordon Housworth



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Building a COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf Technology) cruise missile Part II

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See Part I for Background and my Ground rules for acquisition.

Results were very successful. Some highlights:

Ability to assemble an R/C craft that could launch conventionally, switch over to GPS autopilot, fly a course either to a target or a race track round trip and allow it to again be taken over by another user for terminal homing or landing. Some small autopilots and telemetry systems will squeeze into a .20 or .40 size sport plane, but anything goes once you reach a .40 or .60 sized trainer, medium sized sailplane, jet, and certainly any 1/4 to 1/3 scale models on up.

Many PC simulators for a variety of fixed wing and rotary wing R/C models.

Nose video cameras that could superimpose imagery over a heads-up cockpit display based on telemetry sent back from the bird. If the ground pilot was properly trained, it was possible to fly something onto the target just like the big boys.

Moderate to large piston engine-aircraft capable of moving substantive payload. In case a reader is thinking of tiny balsa wood items, I found piston engine craft at the larger end of the R/C spectrum at 13 foot wingspan and 70 pounds. On the lighter end, I could find electric helicopters, some of whom could out fly their gas powered competitors. All could, of course, mount video cameras.

Model jet engines producing 30 pounds of thrust from a 6 pound unit.  While there are jet kits, there are also excellent sites such as the United States Radio Controlled Jet Command (USRCJC) whose "sole interest is in flying Radio Controlled models of jet aircraft including those that are turbine-powered, piston engine, and electric ducted fans."

TX-RX (transmit-receive) units for R/C control that used synth (synthesizer) frequency generation so that users can select any frequency on-the-fly within the R/C band - beneficial in an RF confused area such as an urban or industrial area.

Availability of both analog and digital control channels that could respond to voltage, amplitude, pulse variations in order to control and monitor payload release and aircraft performance.

Smoke systems intended for demonstration flying are intriguing as a dispersal mechanism for other agents. Certain smoke pumps use one TX-RX channel to toggle on/off. More investigation is needed but the sprayer function is strong.

Conversations with one producer of high-end CNC machined landing gear systems (all machined from solid stock so as to dispense with weldments and seamed tubing in order to approximate the strength of the forgings of their big brothers), included a story that a military UAV producer had hard-landed a prototype using their gear set and had merely bent the strut back instead of breaking it off. That was one of many examples of superb R/C components that are already being harvested by mainline defense contractors. Dual use indeed.

Summary:

One of the things one learns from cruise missile defense is that merely disabling the warhead or the bird is not enough as the kinetic impact and secondary ignition of remaining fuel is often enough to substantially harm the target. Depending upon the intended use, it might not be necessary to create a conventional warhead for an R/C attack vehicle.

If the intent is to surveil or deliver/spray a payload, then an R/C aircraft can be launched, perform its mission, and subsequently be recovered -- if for no other reason than to forestall discovery of the means of an attack or that an attack had occurred. The cost of the systems is low enough and simple enough that it could be produced in a quantity that would satisfy the redundancy needs of groups like al Qaeda.

Initial results of my one-day field trip and a bit of follow-up research showed that it is feasible for a diligent and reasonably agile individual or small group to create a COTS hunter-killer and surveillance R/C model fleet, a poor man's Predator.

Did I mention R/C boats and submarines?

Follow-on Part III

Gordon Housworth



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Building a COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf Technology) cruise missile Part I

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A field trip to the 50th Annual Toledo Radio Control Exposition on 2 April with the goal of assembling a COTS fleet of attack and surveillance UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) was a glowing success.

I am not an R/C pilot so I could start clean as would any other reasonably technically inclined individual. My ground rules were:

  • Could pay cash for everything
  • Could buy everything in-country and so not have to bring items across a border
  • Could buy all items in a population-dense environment not immediately likely to be surveilled
  • Could obtain PC-based simulators in order to covertly learn how to pilot either fixed wing or rotary wing aircraft, i.e., before I tried to fly a physical device
  • All essential components were either genuinely plug and play or already available in kitted form
  • Could obtain functional schematics and instructions for all installs/add-ons
  • Ability to install GPS autopilots with ground pilot override
  • Ability to install real-time video cameras and their RF links
  • Ability to install digital camera triggering
  • Ability to carry payloads (and either release, spray, or otherwise distribute the payload)
  • Option for stealth/noise abatement
  • Ability to do it at modest cost in comparison to anything a military unit would field and, labor costs aside, be within al Qaeda's frugal pocket book

Background:

I follow both the UAV and the micro-UAV (MAV or MUAV) segments and have been watching the deployment of what are called "back-able" as in backpack-able small UAVs for the marines and army. I was aware of Yamaha's superb RMAX commercial UAV helicopter, the latest in a series of fine AVs (Autonomous Vehicles) and am familiar with the collaborative work between R&D and computational science groups at NASA Ames Research Center. I was also aware of the PRC's effort to build its own version of the RMAX, called the "air robot."

If any reader is a follower of Japanese technology development, about the best we have is David Kahaner, now at ATIP (Asian Technology Information Program). Kahaner was writing on the control logic for the Yamaha R-50 (predecessor to the RMAX) back in the mid-90s, concluding that it was "An excellent case for "dual usage" technology."

I felt that it was time to see what a COTS assembly would produce as my assumption was that US homeland security might not be thinking asymmetrically as to what aerial threat profiles a perp could produce inside CONUS. (Remember that al Qaeda has had a focus on 'controlling the flight deck' and delivering a payload. The first attempt was converting twin engine passenger craft into 'crop dusters.' Only when that failed did al Qaeda shift to taking control of airliners.)

Results in Part II

Gordon Housworth



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SoCom and Special Forces formally assume spy and intel collection duties

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The assumption of spying and intel collection duties by SoCom and Special Forces has, of course, already started and has interesting effects that have been discussed in sidebar conversations:

(1) As SoCom ops go deeper, both in terms of geography and clandestine relations, their dress will look (already looks) increasingly like irregular soldiers of, say, the Taliban or the Chechens. (The SF soldier in the photo that accompanied this article wore a pawkul, the flat, brown felt cap with a narrow circular brim common to most Afghans, atop more traditional military attire. Look at the Delta folks protecting Paul Bremer. Etc.) When do these US forces lose their military distinction and pass into enemy combatant status?

(2) Use of SoCom/military forces overcomes the reticence of DO civilians to 'get dirty' and live a life of privation. (Rightly or wrongly, Langley and Meade both regarded the various service intelligence arms as 'cheap hired help' during my tenure.) We will get farther "in country," stay longer, and build more realistic relationships. (Fewer glib and erroneous Chalabi-like creations are possible.)

(3) Humint collection goes up. While it is difficult to penetrate terrorist cells, one of the best alternatives is to be close to those that can or that know were they pass or congregate as that makes it easier to interdict or eavesdrop.

(4) We may regain a counterbalance to our overwhelming reliance on "national technical means of collection" that the Church Committee and the subsequent Levi guidelines dismantled. Useful early warning goes up.

(5) Your mileage may vary on the merit of this, but a US administration will not have to submit a "finding" or notification to Congress as is would if it uses DO staffers.

(6) And we will be able to have a lot more folks covertly in-country here and there. Your mileage may again vary, but I would prefer that to large, targetable (both from hostile fire and congress) US troop deployments.

Green Berets take on spy duties
By Rowan Scarborough
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published February 19, 2004

Gordon Housworth



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Increasing the pressure on Spain: new device under track is similar explosive

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Saying that the 12 kilo device was "made of the same type of [Goma 2 Eco] explosives used in last month's Madrid terror bombings" is not the same thing as a marker analysis, so 'same' could instead be 'similar.' Once marker analysis is completed, they will know if it is from the same lot that was stolen by the unemployed miner and sold to the Moroccan "miners."

Saying that "No train was near the site when the bomb was discovered" may be correct but is not meaningful as the device "failed to detonate because it wasn't properly connected." That could indicate that detonation was attempted during a previous train's passage over the device. The fact that it was put under a track often used by high-speed trains strikes at national pride, hits home at all those able to use it, and would presumably cause even greater casualties by virtue of a high speed derailment. (Think of an Atocha-scale blast at high speed. The secondary casualty figures would be substantial.)

The fact that this device was triggered by a 450-foot-long cable and not a cellular phone means that the bad guys were up close to this attempt. As it appears to be a recent placement, it also indicates that more perpetrators are still at large to operate. (Placement was recent due to differential wetness of device and ground.) 

Whoever is actually doing this is intelligently pressuring the Spaniards, already an 'underbelly target' with promises of more attacks against their diplomatic missions in North Africa and the Mediterranean, many of which would be soft targets as well.

Spain Confirms Matchup of Bomb Materials
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
April 3, 2004
Filed at 7:44 a.m. ET

Gordon Housworth



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Missile defense, not terrorism, was Rice's topic for aborted 11 September speech

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I like to say that the hole is as interesting as the donut, perhaps more so in intel terms. The 11 September speech that Condi Rice never gave was on missile defense as the cornerstone of a new US national security strategy.

"The text also implicitly challenged the Clinton administration's policy, saying it did not do enough about the real threat -- long-range missiles."

The mention of terrorism was one of the rubrics of the day, a WMD threat from rogue nations. It made no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups.

That focus was an administration constant.  Just four months earlier, in June 2001, the president's five top defense interests in his first speech to NATO heads of state in Brussels were, in order:

  1. Missile defense
  2. NATO's relationship with Russia
  3. Common US-European working relationship
  4. Increased NATO defense spending
  5. NATO's enlargement with former East European countries

Al Qaeda operatives were, at that time, in flight training and final preparations for 11 September.

Rice did give her postponed speech in April 2002, but missile defense was gone. In its place was international terrorism -- the stateless kind.

We should expect more materials to emerge and for them to figure in Rice's questioning under oath before the 9/11 Commission.  Rice is a gifted speaker.  She will need to put those skills to use.

Top Focus Before 9/11 Wasn't on Terrorism
Rice Speech Cited Missile Defense
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 1, 2004; Page A01

Gordon Housworth



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Profiling the Amerithrax perpetrator(s)

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The FBI linguistic and pre- and post-offense behavioral assessments of the person responsible for mailing anthrax letters on September 18 and October 9, 2001, paints a picture of a lone male domestic terrorist, a loner with a grudge, or possibly a bioevangelist ("someone with experience in the bioweapons arena who believed the U.S. government and public were oblivious to the magnitude of the potential threat from bioterrorists").

But profiling is an approximating science. I am reminded that the profile in use by the Unabomber Task Force in 1991 was substantially revised years later based on the Unabomber’s writings. While the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, was said to have "startling similarities" to the FBI profile at capture (male Caucasian, highly educated, quiet, antisocial, meticulous) there were (had been) significant variances:

Much older (by more than a decade).
Quite unkempt in appearance (assumed to be very neat as well as meticulous).
Underestimated intelligence (revised sharply upwards by the Manifesto).
Modus operandi (Manifesto pointed to non-reliance on, or rejection of, technology).
Residence (Montana as opposed to assumed Northern California).

Perhaps the Amerithrax profile is spot-on this time.  It would appear that a foreign terrorist or multiple terrorists are not being considered at least in the official, unclass press. There is a blizzard of pro and con commentary on this profile, along with claims of investigative bias and discounting of Muslim-related terrorists. I admit to a great curiosity as to the justification of FBI's apparent focus on a single individual.

Renaldo A. Campana, then Unit Chief of the FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Countermeasures Unit, said at an emerging bio-threat seminar sponsored by GWU and the Potomac Institute on 16 June, 1998:

"The closest I've ever come to biological-chemical issues is when the toilet on the 37th floor gets backed up. So let's keep it in the right kind of perspective. The job of the FBI is really to deal with the crisis when it involves weapons of mass destruction… [What] do you consider to be… the largest and most important threat to the United States today? Please. Who do you think? Foreign-directed terrorist, individual, white extremist, black extremist?... Let me tell you. Let's get back to reality. It isn't the Middle Eastern people. It isn't white supremacists. It is the lone individual, lone unstable individual. That, statistically, from the cases that we have, is the biggest threat right now."

Leave aside how frighteningly wrong that was, even back in 1998, and how clearly unskilled that FBI agents were in dealing with bioagents during the 2001 anthrax investigations. Authorities may have valid reasons for adhering to this profile, but I am still struck by the continued attachment to the domestic loner to the exclusion of all other candidates, foreign and domestic.

And then there is the question as to where did the perp or perps go, why did they stop, and if they didn't stop, why were they deflected and when will he/they strike again?  Richard M. Smith spoke to some of the possible reasons why the anthrax attacks stopped after October 9, 2001:

Fear of capture.
Lapsed access to supply and weaponized production equipment.
Achieved goal in the 2001 attacks.
Failed to achieve goal and is seeking other means of delivery.
Dead after accidental infection.
US anti-terror operations affected ability to conduct future attacks.
Planning for a larger-scale attack.

I am struck by similarities to investigators’ theories over a six-year Unabomber silence: "He'd committed suicide, was serving time for an unrelated charge or was busy perfecting his technique."

I will be one among many following the FBI's progress between now and June/July. If a single individual -- domestic, foreign-resident, or foreigner -- did produce a genuinely world class weaponized anthrax, he will have pulled off a project worthy of a state sponsored anthrax program.

Gordon Housworth



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UK ammonium nitrate fertilizer device

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In reading British Arrest 8 in Anti-Terror Raids, once again, we have to be lucky every time and they only occasionally. All eight suspects are British nationals and while no religious affiliation had been released, a press statement did speak to the fact that "[We] in the police service know that the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community are law abiding and completely reject all forms of violence."  That is a UK police code phrase for Muslim suspects.

Add fuel oil to a thousand pounds of ammonium nitrate and it is ta redux of the Oklahoma City federal building, the Bali nightclub, and the Istanbul bank blast all over again.  If this group has modeled al Oaeda properly, there will be redundnacy, i.e., additional devices.

It will be interesting to see what security measures enter UK agribusinesses. In the US there are already growing rules for delivery of fertilizer, agrochemicals and fuel to farms, not to mention rules to prevent grain and food supply tampering. (Recreational pharmaceutical production has also added strictures to try to stem items like methamphetamine.)

British Arrest 8 in Anti-Terror Raids
By Michael McDonough
Associated Press
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; 6:33 AM

Gordon Housworth



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