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"Nuclear attribution" or post-event forensics


"Nuclear attribution," or post-event forensics, described in Addressing the Unthinkable, U.S. Revives Study of Fallout is a new form of nuclear deterrence and is the term for strike option determination by quickly identifying where the fissile materials came from, possibly who designed, and who exploded the device. It is a revival of a nearly lost scientific art of the cold war: fallout analysis. Call it a precursor step to second strike.

"As the terrorist threat rose in the 1990's, the government began to consider the quandary that would arise if a nuclear weapon exploded on American soil. In 1999, Dr. Davis, then head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at the Pentagon, began an effort to address the identification problem by financing research at the nation's weapons laboratories, many of them run by the Energy Department."

In order for deterrence to be viable, potential actors must know that it exists and believe it accurate -- or at least the sovereign states that harbor the actor must know it exists and is credible. It is easy to see the step where we extend preemption to say that you are guilty if you harbor, aid and abet. You are a willing coconspirator and will be held accountable. That is certainly the process that the British used under the Raj and in Central Asia (and which the Pakistanis are using now to force handover of al Qaeda operatives).

My assumption is that we are already at the implicit point of holding a harboring state responsible, but post-even forensics allows us to reduce the window of guilt and thereby increase the risk calculus of a sovereign state or entity that might be harboring or abetting a perpetrator.

Detection likely depends upon the provenance of the device, i.e., is the device drawn from, or diverted from, someone's nuclear stockpiles (for which classified sampling libraries will be brought into play) or is it a 'homebrew' never before seen or tested device. And if theft is involved, how does one define the thief and ultimate perp. They made not be one and the same and you would want to step on the entire supply chain as a matter of suppression as well as making an example for others.

"In a drill this year, dozens of federal experts in fallout analysis met at the Sandia laboratories in Albuquerque to study a simulated terrorist nuclear blast. Mr. Worlton said they were broken into teams and given radiological data from two old American nuclear tests, whose identities remained hidden, and were instructed to try to name them. Some teams succeeded."

An unfortunate sign of the times. As I have said before, better to have the FEBA (Forward Edge of the Battle Line) as far out in front as possible, and as deep into the supply chain as possible.

Gordon Housworth

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Europe's value after Atocha


In response to Atocha's impact I had been discussing the value of the European bloc with a colleague.

It is my opinion that Europe is now more valuable than ever. The Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigade put them in play and they must now work out a means to engage (hopefully that over capitulation). It is most valuable to have the FEBA (Forward Edge of the Battle Line) on their soil instead of ours. (Ask any German in the pre-Soviet collapse period. They knew perfectly well that a NATO-led war with the Warsaw Pact would be fought on their soil.)

As the Europeans engage, their security services will pick up intel on a wide spectrum of mutual interests. As it taxes the most disciplined fighter to sustain two fronts, the terrorists are likely to get careless in their communication and emcon (emission control). That will offer US intel an opportunity to gather additional items so that we can interdict the terrorists' wider infrastructure, logistics, and command & control.

A certain amount of US antipathy towards the French could even drain away if the French intel services engage in earnest. (Remember that the French government has its own quite significant issues with its Muslim minorities.) Despite France's public comments about liberty and democracy, the French security forces and national police are ruthless beneath the surface. The French have never endured a Church Commission and its aftermath, and its security services never suffered the equivalent of the "Levy Guidelines" as did the FBI. Notable groups are:

  • General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) (France’s MI6)
  • Directorate of Territorial Security (DST) and its public interface, the Central Directorate Judicial Police (DCPJ)
  • National police under Ministry for the Interior, and the national gendarmerie (military police) under Ministry for Defense
  • Companies for Republican Security (CRS)

These folks do not miss around. Remember that the predecessor to the DGSE (the SDECE) attempted to hijack Nigeria and its oil supply from the UK and US in 1967 by arming the Biafran secession that was suppressed at the cost of a half-million dead. A DGSE/SDECE arm, the Action Service, is used for assassinations, sabotage, aggressive interrogation, terrorist group infiltration, and "neutralization" of nettlesome folks. The DGSE was responsible for blowing up the Greenpeace vessel, Rainbow Warrior, in New Zealand.

The DGSE/SDECE Action Service and the 10th Paratroop Division were responsible for the military suppression of the FLN in Algeria at the cost of a half-million to a million Algerian dead -- along with some French anti-war protesters. A member of the 10th remarked that, "We make the Gestapo and SS look like children." There is excellent reason to believe that the Algerian excursion was approved by Guy Mollett's socialist government, including the Justice Minister, and France's ruling police and judicial establishment. Just no one made public mention of it.

It has been said that no nation can become great until it masters the art of hypocrisy. By the token, the French are ready to go. Here is a personal example: I have a friend, an American national with legal Parisian residence, that was disappeared for some days for interrogation as to why the address book of a dead Palestinian operative had her name and address in it. This event was some fifteen years ago. Yes, she was a red diaper baby of socialist parents so was seen as a likely fellow-traveler, but her story started off like the French interrogations in Algeria. She told me that she assumed that she would be violated, then killed. Luckily, she was returned to the street and released.

It should also be remembered that only the French and the Russians ended the kidnapping and killing of their nationals in Lebanon. Each informed the pertinent authorities that they would decide who was guilty (note that I said 'decide' not 'adjudicate') and then kill the grandparents, children, and grandchildren before the perp went. A few instructive examples were carried out. For men who were willing to die themselves, this variation of the Columbian "Leave no seed" killing stopped matters cold.

As grisly as it is, I had said that it was only a matter of time before Europe got its 11 September, and that time is now. They, certainly the French, will pursue matters in ways that we might not.

FYI, Mollett's Justice Minister was Francois Mitterrand, a later French President. No wonder Mitterrand was critical of the intel services.

For more on the "war without a name" and the book, Special Services, Algeria: 1955-1957, see:

French general on trial over Algeria

The Battle of Algiers

Gordon Housworth

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European extortion masquerading as a peace plan


The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades has offered to halt further operations in Europe to see if Spain makes good on its withdrawal from Iraq. It implied that the cease-fire could become permanent. I have been tracking the major press on this side of the pond during the day (NYT, WP, WSJ, etc) yet none are reflecting it.

In light of traffic elsewhere that speaks of the Ball, the Bat, and the Glove (respectively Bin Laden, Pakistani and Iranian pressure, and US forces), this could be another inspired gambit to reduce pressure on al Qaeda and its allies, split the alliance, and further isolate the US. As I write this, the AP is reporting that Pakistani troops think that they bottled up al Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahri. Whether they get him is not at issue in this note, but as the effort has been underway for three weeks (along with US SoCom forces operating covertly inside Pakistan), it is reasonable to assume that the faithful would do what they could to distract or degrade our efforts.

This ploy is remarkably thoughtful as no one related to al Qaeda has ever asked for anything save for unilateral withdrawal from anything declared to be Muslim lands. Now they have placed an extortion plot on the table masquerading as a peace deal. It is quite extraordinary and goes to show what good asymmetrical thinking can do against superior forces and technology.

Not being able to make effective inroads on US soil or produce mass casualties among deployed US forces, they have gone down the list of soft targets: coalition states, civilian contractors, NGO staff, Iraqi police and administration, and Iraqi and Arab civilians. Now they have carried the game onto Western European soil.

The peace card will attract some Europeans that dislike US Iraqi policy and even lead them to advocate Spain’s follow-through. It is not out of the question as even the UK once buckled under less direct pressure under Neville Chamberlain.

I had sent out an earlier, limited version of this note in response to a colleague's sending me a general trading report that we class as one that makes you 'better educated but unable to act." The only value to the missive was a "Don't be there" location list, which included such guesses as the Euro 2004 soccer matches in Portugal and the Olympic Games in Greece. Not to be unkind but your admin could have guessed those choices -- but folks have to fill up their "ink hole" by whatever means.

I would be more interested in your board of directors meeting, supervisory board meeting, staff retreat, the marriage of the CEO's son or daughter, or annual customer convention, et al, as softer targets.

The threats from the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades are dire. In November 2003, they were promising "cars of death" to Europeans in news caught by Agence France-Press, New York Times, and AAP:

"The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade statement also drew up a list of demands of the US and its allies, and called on militants to join the anti-US resistance in Iraq. "This is a golden opportunity for them [the allies] to understand the message and withdraw from the coalition of the Crusades against Islam and Muslims," it said. "If they have not understood the language of words, that of the cars of death could explain it to them."'


"The statement also defended the November 8 suicide bombing, which the Saudis blamed on al-Qaeda, of a housing compound in Riyadh that killed 17 people, most of them Arabs."

'"We have warned Muslims more than once that they must not go near the places where the infidels are to be found, and we renew our warning."'

Now they would represent themselves as guarantors of European wellbeing. Yet there are suckers born every minute that would grasp 'peace in our time.'

Gordon Housworth

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Bioterrorism Drill TOPOFF 2 -- Failing to think like al Qaeda & relearning old lessons


A fictional terrorist group, GLODO, carries out a simultaneous attack again Chicago using pneumonic plague and Seattle using a radiological bomb. Such was the premise of a May 2003 public safety exercise known as TOPOFF 2 -- for "Top Officials 2" -- and designed to test and improve US domestic response to terrorist incidents including WMD.

DHS and State sponsored the 5-day, $16 million full-scale exercise and simulation event in an effort to improve upon the results of TOPOFF 2000 held in Denver and involved a fictitious germ warfare attack. While Chicago and Seattle volunteered for exercise, these cities were chosen for TOPOFF 2 due to their proximity to Canada as one of the goals of the simulation was to test coordination between the two countries.

Although no explosives or harmful substances were used, real first responders worked simulated crime scenes and treated volunteers pretending to be victims. Although both cities were expecting an "attack," many details remained secret so that first responders and government officials would be surprised. GLODO had clandestine bioweapons labs in each city.

Nineteen Federal Agencies, the American Red Cross, State and Local Emergency Responders from the states of Illinois and Washington, as well as Canada were involved. The exercise provided valuable lessons, including the realization that multiple control centers, numerous liaisons, and increasing numbers of response teams only complicated the emergency effort. (Programmers will recognize the "mythical man month" syndrome.)

DHS released its unclass summary of TOPOFF 2 in late 2003. Performance improvements were noted over TOPOFF 2000, but communications, local coordination, and timely information transfer remain a sharp problem. In each city of each event, we learn that the diseases are fearsome, hospitals and first responders are overwhelmed and interagency and intra-agency coordination is pummeled.

The difficulty with this exercise, and those who planned it, is that whoever GLODO is modeled on, it is not al Qaeda. Yes, disaster preparedness is valid; yes, the Chicago pneumonic plague simulation was fierce in terms of fatalities -- 70 % is common and it is more contagious than smallpox; and yes, the Seattle radiological device was more disruptive than fatal -- authorities had predictable difficulty in estimating the size and direction of the plume.

TOPOFF missed the lessons that al Qaeda learned between its two attacks of the World Trade Center, 1993 and 2001: Redundancy and Delivery. Despite the achievements of TOPOFF 2, there is still too much "feel good" security and too little asymmetrical thinking. TOPOFF 2 only succeeded in highlighting the FEMA mass dislocation problem and the strains that this placed on local authorities.

While such attacks can certainly occur, the risk that a TOPOFF 2 attack would be discovered is high. Al Qaeda is the most rational and fiscally conservative of terrorists. They would lean to using technologies that enables use of multiple attacks and wait until enough payload had been assembled for a unprecedented multiple WMD or conventional attack. Neither TOPOFF 2000 nor TOPOFF 2 has simulated these more logical scenarios.

Few politicians and disaster planners in either the US or Canada have much experience in sorting out the credible from fanciful risks. This is not to fault them as it requires much specialized training in the mindset of this particular enemy. In the absence of understanding the asymmetrical attack of al Qaeda -- or the IRA for that matter, these TOPOFF events smack of "feel good" security and a means to prove that officials are ‘proactive’ in domestic security in an otherwise expensive test whose advertised $16 M cost did not cover person-hours, cost to local jurisdictions, or economic disruptions.

While the two most deadly attacks on US soil were a fertilizer bomb in Oklahoma and low tech air piracy in NYC and DC, major dollars and attention has been lavished on the most high-tech scenarios. Events like TOPOFF 2 encourage a focus on the improbable with spending to match, while ignoring more probable threats and appropriate dedication of resources.

For example, a program dubbed BioWatch would install monitoring systems in major US cities to provide early warning for pathogen release. Such a system only succeeds if the released pathogen is on its ‘detection list,’ release is outdoors rather than indoors -- such as in a major building’s HVAC system, and the release is either near a detector or released in great quantity.

Where is the attention to the fact that both Chicago and Seattle have large urban hubs immediately adjacent to harbors where boats can anchor -- not to mention smaller adjacent airports? One does not need the complexity of GLODO having created full scale bioweapons labs in each city. Simple high explosives and modestly refined anthrax would have done just fine.

I found it interesting that although DHS released its event summary in late 2003, a succinct version much more to the point was published months earlier in ‘Police and Security News’ titled, "Communicating at TOPOFF 2: A Keystone in Terrorism Response."

If you are interested in the lessons learned from TOPOFF 2, Go to Police and Security News. Look in the archives for the JULY / AUGUST 2003 issue and you will find "Communicating at TOPOFF 2: A Keystone in Terrorism Response."

Gordon Housworth

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Preemption and the Treaty of Westphalia


I submit that the 17th century principal of nonintervention in the domestic affairs of other states enshrined in the Treaty of Westphalia has been more respected in the 20th century than in earlier generations. The treaty was, after all, borne in part by the accumulated fatigue of the ghastly casualties of earlier wars.

In the late 20th century, preemption has been something ascribed to the Japanese or the Israelis. In what I call "Geopolitik with a grudge," I am not alone in seeing the growth of preemptive strikes as an accepted national instrument of force projection. (Publicly formalizing it is another matter.) It is a two-edged sword if a "Use it or lose it" mindset takes over strategy in the minds of usually defensive nations, much less the normally belligerent ones. Any state could then move to the position of aggressor such that the international scene comes to resemble Dodge City with guns blazing.

I make this reservation even though I regrettably feel that action was needed with respect to Iraq. As I have noted in other venues, Saddam Hussein was the product of a culture in which respect is synonymous with fear, in which revenge is a social mechanism by which an extended clan maintains its position and power -- and the failure to exact revenge is a sign of weakness and therefore loss of respect. I feel that he had been humbled by the US, and was seeking a means to extract his revenge under the cover of plausible denial.

Whatever verdict will be delivered on the Iraqi incursion and the reshaping of US foreign policy, the precedent implicit in its use is not a comforting one.

Gordon Housworth

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Terrorist attempts to win a nuclear weapon -- and what is that weapon anyway?


The diversion of nuclear materials and the definition of what constitutes a "dirty bomb" in terrorist terms require two important definitions:

Under the US-USSR nuclear weapons preparation and operations scenarios, a "dirty bomb" was a fissile package (nuclear weapon) having an extra layer of Cobalt-60 isotope whose half-life was extraordinarily long. Sometimes that was buttressed with an additional Iodine isotope that had a short but intense half-life so that the near term and long term survival rates of the target region -- and it is the entire footprint of the downwind plume -- was compromised. (Of course, a surface or sub-surface burst of any fissile package has far more radioactive, 'dirty' output than an airburst due to the increased rate of contaminated soil drawn into the cloud.)

Under the modern terrorist scenario, a "dirty bomb" can be as simple as conventional explosives packed inside or adjacent to nuclear materials, i.e., there is no fissile package here, merely a ‘tainted’ conventional explosive. The primary value of this device is twofold: long term contamination via the included nuclear materials and simplicity in design, i.e., the learning curve to produce a device is vastly eased and shortened.

Under the terrorist scenario, a dirty bomb can be produced by delivering conventional explosives onto or into a reactor complex or its usually less well guarded spent fuels storage facility -- or even a research or hospital facility containing radioisotopes. For example, a conventional explosives attack against the spent fuels stored at the Hanford, Washington or Oak Ridge, Tennessee complexes would unleash much of the accumulated spent nuclear materials from fifty years of US weapons production.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Vienna added a fifth day Special Session on Combating Nuclear Terrorism (2 Nov 2001) to their Nuclear Safeguards symposium. Some comments from attendees and speakers:

A retired CIA psychologist with expertise in terrorism offered profiles based on interviews with numerous terrorists, "They have no ‘redline’ when it comes to casualties. The more the better, and suicide and death is an honor."

Another speaker picked up on this comment, noting that, "Most nuclear [reactor] safety is based on danger to the perpetrator. If they don't care about dying, it does not work. Truck bombs are much easier than planes, and they have a good record with truck bombs."

Speaking at IAEA Vienna on 29 October, 2001, Charles B. Curtis, President and COO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative noted:

"The worldwide system of security for nuclear materials is no stronger than the system of security at the weakest, worst-defended site, which in many cases amounts to no more than a poorly-paid, unarmed guard sitting inside a chain link fence. The theft of nuclear materials anywhere is a threat to everyone everywhere. This has been a difficult point to get across. One of the most important efforts we made when I was in the Department of Energy was convincing Members of our Congress that funds spent securing nuclear materials in Russia was not solely for the security of Russia; it was for our own national security as well. If terrorists want nuclear materials, and they do, they are going to go where it’s easiest to get them.

As the people in this room know, the theft of potential bomb material is not just a hypothetical worry, but an ongoing reality. This includes the attempted theft -- by a conspiracy of insiders -- of 18.5 kg of HEU from a weapons facility in the Urals. It includes nearly a kilogram of HEU in the form of fast reactor fuel pellets seized last year in the Republic of Georgia. It includes 600 grams of HEU found by police in Colombia in April. Authorities still do not know the source, but no Latin American nation has a facility that uses or is capable of producing such material. The IAEA illicit trafficking database has recorded more than 550 reported incidents of trafficking since 1993. The great majority do not involve weapons-usable material, but 16 cases have involved plutonium or enriched uranium. Sixteen cases is a disturbing number, but it also may not tell us what we really need to know: what percentage of the actual thefts do we uncover? Is it close to one hundred percent -- or closer to five or ten percent? We simply do not know. Nor can we ever know with absolute certainty. But we can considerably narrow the window of vulnerability by strengthening physical protection as we strengthen diversion safeguards."

Gordon Housworth

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Apache back to Iraq with new tactics


It is interesting to see the Apache returning to Iraq with the lessons of Vietnam relearned, i.e., the use of rapid maneuver and firing on the move over a battlespace that has hostile, massed ground fire. Just as armor works with mech infantry on the ground, the Apache will work with ground forces as well as with a Kiowa in a hunter-killer team. The Kiowa is a much slower helicopter so one can expect the Iraqis to exploit that differential in sorties outside of urban areas. Still, the duo will be able to operate in a much more autonomous manner than heretofore permitted. Also of note, the lessons learned by Apache helped cancel the Comanche program as it was realized that the newer craft would demand substantial overhaul in order to survive in such an environment. If we learned all those lessons from the Apache in Iraq and Kosovo, it was cheap at the price:

Heading Back to Iraq for Round 2
March 1, 2004
New York Times

FOOT HOOD, Tex. — During the American military's push to Baghdad last spring, attack helicopters from the 1-227 Aviation Battalion had one of the war's roughest missions. The unit's AH-64D Apache helicopters were sent deep into Iraqi territory searching for enemy armor only to run into a wall of small-arms and antiaircraft fire.

Of the 30 helicopters that took off on that mission March 23, 2003, largely without benefit of reconnaissance or support from warplanes, virtually all suffered some battle damage and one was shot down, its two pilots captured. That mission proved to be a shock to Army leaders, and the service has been rethinking its helicopter tactics ever since.


War is a process of constant adaptation… And the Americans have been adjusting. The First Cavalry's commander, Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, has studied British experience in counterinsurgency operations and taken American officers to Austin, Tex., to get a sense of what it is like to try to manage a large city, a skill set that the American troops who captured Baghdad had to learn on the fly.

The 1-227, however, has some unique experience to draw on — its own. While turnover is a fact of life in the military, more than 70 percent of the battalion have participated in the war in Iraq. The unit has also studied recent downings of American helicopters there to develop new tactics that it has practiced on training ranges in the United States.

Gordon Housworth

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Social-engineering attacks bypass more than your virus checker


The following is good tradecraft and good countermeasures. Nothing new per se, but something that needs constant training and vigilance. (3M, for example, long ago got on the band wagon and has been hard to penetrate in this manner.) Just as with virus attacks which depend upon Homo Boobus being lured to open the attachment, this penetration attack bypasses the network by working the people manning it.

Understand that it is human nature to want to help others (and you often train for this very behavior) but that this instinct can sidestep your security practices. As a security consultant wisely observed, there is "No common sense without common knowledge." Until your employees, contractors, and even suppliers, are aware of the dangers in leaking seemingly trivial corporate information, outsiders will be able to wangle through to areas you thought them barred.

FYI, the 'janitor' link takes you to the Winter 94-95 issue of 2600-The Hacker Quarterly. The article is "Janitor Privileges." We are not dealing with new things here.

Insure that your security policy includes social-engineering attack prevention. And if you put in place a corporate alert system using a simple e-mail address (#10 below), please be sure to have someone actively monitoring it for response. You would not believe how many of those lines never answer or draw a response:

Why firewalls aren't always enough
By Robert Vamosi: Senior Associate Editor, Reviews
Friday, March 12, 2004

Like con men and grifters, criminal hackers (a.k.a. crackers) are talented people. The infamous Kevin Mitnick, for example, conducted most of his corporate intrusions by using the telephone, relying on the gullibility and friendly helpfulness of real people to gain access to corporate networks.

Such "social-engineering attacks"--often precursors to computer-network attacks--are still real threats, which is why they were a hot topic at this year's RSA Conference in San Francisco. That's why I thought it would be good to further explain what social-engineering attacks are and offer some pointers on how to protect yourself from them.


ASIDE FROM using the telephone, Winkler cited other ways crackers score information. Among them: good old dumpster diving, shoulder surfing (literally reading typed passwords over someone's shoulder, say, on the train), outright theft (stealing a backup tape, a notebook, a PDA, or a prototype model), and finally, getting hired into a low-level job at the company. It's common, said Winkler, for criminal hackers to apply for jobs as janitors or mailroom assistants within a targeted company.


(1) Activate caller ID at work. Calls within my company, for example, display the name of the person calling.

(2) Set your company's outbound caller ID to display only the front desk's phone number, not individual phone extensions.

(3) Implement a company call-back policy. If someone calls asking for information about the company, say you'll call them back, then dial the number from within your corporate directory or go through their company's switchboard operator.

(4) Be mindful of information posted in out-of-the-office messages. For example, don't leave the full name of your supervisor. A skilled cracker could now call another department and say that your supervisor is on his back because you're out on vacation and the cracker really, really needs access to this one particular account. In this case, a little knowledge can go a long way.

(5) Never allow anyone you don't know to piggyback physical access into a room on your security ID card.

(6) Confront strangers. Ask if you can take them to someone's office or help escort them outside.

(7) Get to know your IT support staff. That way, if someone else calls saying they're from IT and needs your network password, which you should never give out anyway, you can say no and hang up with confidence.

(8) Never write down your network password on a Post-it Note or tape it to the bottom of your keyboard; crackers, if inside the building, know where to look.

(9) Periodically perform a Google search on your company and scrutinize whether sensitive company information is available outside your corporate firewall.

(10) Institute a companywide security alert system. Have anyone who receives a suspicious phone call report it to a simple e-mail address, something like securityalert@company.

Gordon Housworth

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RF networks under assault


The use of cell phones as a remote detonator noted in the WSJ Terror's Latest Trigger: Cell phones is only the beginning of a wave of impacts from a variety of devices with embedded microprocessors. While authorities are focused on cell phones, terrorists can move on to, say, PDAs, pagers, and PCs at a WiFi hot spot. GPS-enabled phones and devices could be triggered when they arrive at the right place regardless of the time. The telematics installations in vehicles could be engaged so that a device could be triggered either by a phone call, timer, or position -- or even altitude.

The critical path remains available RF spectrum. Should nations move to the unlikely prospect of disabling their cell phone networks, the perpetrators can just move on to WiFi. The very reasons that these RF enabled tools are so popular make them an ideal trigger in a soft target areas such as a coffee shop or a stadium.

"But short of shutting down a country's cell phone network, there isn't much that can be done to reduce this risk. Indeed, the proliferation of radio devices -- in everything from cell phones to garage openers to hand-held devices that remotely unlock car doors -- means much of the modern world is virtually blanketed with wireless radio-wave technology."

If nations can not respond or suppress, how will local sites respond? Many facilities have already responded with illegal jammers, albeit for non-terrorist related reasons.

Many offices, hospitals, secure and/or military installations, places of public entertainment, and -- in Scotland -- hotels, are using illegal jammers to overpower a base station over a tunable spectrum. Some jammers are sophisticated enough to produce an interfering signal long enough to disable and then shut down. Others simulate a base station in order to establish communications with a phone with instructions to go to an inactive channel. The upshot is that the phone cannot communicate with the original base station.

Legal passive cell phone detectors can scan cellular-frequency bands and sound an alarm on detecting a cell-phone signal. The facility can then restrict entry if it so desires.

Note that the jammers themselves can be a target, i.e., if I want your facility as opposed to one next door, I get the device close enough to detect your jamming signal as a trigger.

A good primmer on jammers is Jam that ringing cell phone? by Warren Webb, EDN.

The impact on commerce, on the very backbone of enabled RF devices is mind boggling. We could see individual buildings or stores elect to take themselves out of the net(s) creating dark pockets in RF networks. A decade of infrastructure has been built to embed RF technology in every aspect of our life.

When I think of RFID tags, I think of assassination tools that detect the pre-scanned and identified RFID chip in a credit card, vehicle, or other device known to be on or near the targeted individual. The device is triggered when the target comes into range, and as that is generally a few meters, lethality is almost assured.

While there have been notable successes, such as in Switzerland, the sale of untraceable cell phones and SIM cards continues to climb outside the US where "almost 90% of users have contracts that require extensive application processes, including a credit check." Outside the US it is easy to obtain cell phones via prepaid subscription systems.

Using cell phones as triggers is only the beginning of an unpleasant and prolonged collision of our modern infrastructure with terrorists.

Gordon Housworth

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Atocha’s Impact


The Madrid Atocha train blast is being vastly underrated here in the US, and to a degree in much of Europe. The threat level is nothing short of the ability to paralyze European metropolitan centers as well as changing public perception of risk, disrupting coalition formation and cohesion.

The decision to target trains is inspired as it is a preeminent form of transit in Europe. Train/metro/mass transit systems are virtually indefensible. (See recent articles in WSJ and Washington Post among others.) When citizens abandon mass transit for their cars, creating debilitating traffic jams, it will be time for simplistic WMD, mainly simple biological and radiological devices -- or even devices that resemble WMD in their characteristics. Depending upon the agent used, disruption is as valuable as lethality, although attacks have increasingly focused on achieving mass casualties. The impact on business will, of course, be significant.

Atocha displayed a level of logistics, tradecraft (operational skills), command & control, and explosives common to the best of al Qaeda confederacy: simplicity wherever possible, elegance where necessary. Low tech and high impact. Al Qaeda, much like the IRA, plans two to three steps in advance so we would expect the next European targets to be in pre-selection. (Actual order will depend on local opportunity or, conversely, police presence.)

For example, the cell phone detonation technique originated with the RAF (Red Army Faction) in Italy, migrated to Hamas and Hezbollah, then into al Qaeda. Note that this remote detonation process sidesteps the martyr and so allows recruiting to ramp up by removing an inhibitor to growing the operational base.

Atocha reflects the al Qaeda’s ‘lessons learned’ between World Trade Towers 1993 and 2001, i.e., Al Qaeda now understands redundancy and delivery. Where one device would have grabbed headlines, al Qaeda used thirteen. We will see more of that using low tech or the lowest tech suitable to the task. Al Qaeda is attentive and patient, learning from each success and failure and monitoring the weaknesses displayed by current and future targets.

It is interesting that much commentary focuses on the exposure of the English and French by virtue of their Muslim populations but few mention Italy which has received the brunt of certain North African migrations, or Germany which prosecuted Muslims related to 11 September. In fact, some of the best Intel on the Atocha perpetrators is coming from Italian sources. The Atocha operation reflects a trans-European planning and delivery mechanism.

Europe is a densely populated area with many soft targets that do not enjoy the protection due airports and essential government buildings. As has happened in the US, governments will have to spend heavily to ramp up security measures, but there will not be enough to uniformly cover all possible targets.

Firms representing US interests, or seen as symbols of US presence, will increasingly be targets as anti-US and anti-Western grievances merge within the mostly have-not mentality of many European Muslims, fueled in part from increasing persecution by their non-Muslim majorities.

Remember that Pan American Airways (Pan Am) was once a global target by all manner of terrorists long before Lockerbie as it was considered the US flag carrier and a national symbol. Still today, few foreigners or Americans know that Pam Am was NOT a flag carrier, or that the US never had a flag carrier, but was merely a significant, private world airline. Perception was everything and Pan Am was a common, often the sole, target of the day.

Major US firms will be seen as ‘national symbols’ either because of their overall size or the relative size to a local al Qaeda confederate who has some operational freedom to select their targets.

Such firms also make soft targets in terms of people and infrastructure and, as such, are predictable targets. It takes training, monitoring, assessment and planning to remove oneself from a soft target group, which is the only effective way to deal with these threats. In other words, you do not want to stay on their list of promising targets so you move through a series of actions that moves the perpetrators along to a less defended target.

The level of sophistication of this attack coupled with the election results in Spain has only emboldened the threat groups. Soft targets now have less time to prepare. It's a grim perspective but that is the reality of the current environment.

For many reasons, Atocha is far more threatening than it appears to be.

Gordon Housworth


InfoT Public  Infrastructure Defense Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


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