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Terrorism and Technology
December 3, 2008 12:38 PM   Subscribe

They navigated by GPS. They used Blackberrys to check on the police response via the Internet. They carried cellphones with switchable SIM cards. The practiced using images from Google Earth. They called VOIP numbers to communicate with their leaders. They used a re-mailer to claim responsibility for the Mumbai attacks anonymously. Terrorism in the digital age.
posted by up in the old hotel (31 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Clearly, then, GPS, Blackberrys, mobile phones, Google Earth, VoIP, and e-mail must be outlawed.

OK, ok, ok... *monitored*. Happy?
posted by LordSludge at 12:42 PM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


omg h4x.
posted by pyrex at 12:43 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


They also had a good connection.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:43 PM on December 3, 2008


Right, and the other side of this is how quickly information about the attack was disseminated . Astro Zombie's monitoring of the Twitter feeds was a better source of news that evening than CNN was.
posted by andromache at 12:48 PM on December 3, 2008


Barack Obama uses a Zune.
posted by 3.2.3 at 12:53 PM on December 3, 2008


> the Twitter feeds was a better source of news that evening than CNN was.

But the terrorists could have monitored that too. In battle, information is power. Cell interference of some kind is hopefully part of our response plan. But how do you stop satellite phones?
posted by up in the old hotel at 12:54 PM on December 3, 2008


And they wore Versace!
posted by DreamerFi at 12:58 PM on December 3, 2008


Astro Zombie's monitoring of the Twitter feeds was a better source of news that evening than CNN was.

It didn't hurt that I had been injecting cocaine, steroids, and LSD.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:06 PM on December 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


Thank God they didn't use custom maps on first-person shooters to practice, or Valve would never bring out Half-Life 2 Episode 3.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:12 PM on December 3, 2008


At the begining of the movie "Black Hawk Down" there's a shot of helicopters flying towards Mogadishu, they pass over a hill on their way. On top of the hill are a dozen kids with cell phones they are holding in the air, transmitting the sound of the helicopters to whoever might like to know.

At that instant I recognized how mutable technology really was and our ideas about it often have only the most tenuous relations to reality.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:30 PM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Does this mean we'll refer to it as a "terrorism hack" now?

'Cause I will seriously put the HURT on someone if I hear that phase uttered...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:30 PM on December 3, 2008


I hear the IRA also used to study English and posessed maps of the Tube. Perhaps they still do...
posted by GuyZero at 1:36 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Their use of technology really doesn't surprise me, one of the more interesting (and troublesome) things about terrorism as a tactic is that in order for it to be really effective, it needs to be extremely flexible. Making use of the readily available resources to better prepare themselves makes perfect sense.

I think what makes it noteworthy is that it begins to dissolve that perception that a lot of people may have, where they believe that men like these are being trained in dirty caves using 30 year old technology.
posted by quin at 1:40 PM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


You probably should have used a sock puppet instead your regular user name to post this.

one of the more interesting (and troublesome) things about terrorism as a tactic is that in order for it to be really effective, it needs to be extremely flexible.

I don't know that it has ever been "really effective" from a strategic sense. I'd argue that these fools set back their cause years. It is going to be harder for Pakistan to press its position on Kashmir after this.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:47 PM on December 3, 2008


I hear they were pretty wired, too.
posted by fixedgear at 1:48 PM on December 3, 2008


At that instant I recognized how mutable technology really was and our ideas about it often have only the most tenuous relations to reality.

"our" Ideas? Speak for yourself. None of those uses require any reevaluation of my connections to reality. They all fall into the "obvious" or "smart" boxes.

Also all GSM phones have switchable SIM cards.
posted by delmoi at 1:57 PM on December 3, 2008


I don't know that it has ever been "really effective" from a strategic sense. I'd argue that these fools set back their cause years. It is going to be harder for Pakistan to press its position on Kashmir after this.

We don't know what their cause was. If they were trying to stir up hatred between India and Pakistan to derail the ongoing peace talks, then it probably did them a lot of good.
posted by delmoi at 1:59 PM on December 3, 2008


Interesting. I thought it was standard anti-terrorism practice to shut down, or restrict, cell towers at an active site. Did they really leave them active for 48 hours?
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:18 PM on December 3, 2008




> Clearly, then, GPS, Blackberrys, mobile phones, Google Earth, VoIP, and e-mail must be outlawed.

No, but you'll probably see more CCTVs.

posted by up in the old hotel at 2:26 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Eponysterical.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:27 PM on December 3, 2008


You know who else used technology successfully last month to achieve his goals?
posted by gman at 2:38 PM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


This could be one of the most tragically eponysterical posts ever.
posted by sfts2 at 2:44 PM on December 3, 2008


This makes me feel that much lamer that I have never even sent a text message, let alone used twitter or a Blackberry.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:31 PM on December 3, 2008


I also would hazard a guess that the organization that claimed credit for the attack, Dekkan Mujahideen, used some kind of onion router or a proxy when they sent their email—which some news organization eventually traced back to a Russian IP address.

All this other technology seems to further the likelihood of that for me.

Which is why it's so annoying to hear experts like Maria Ressa—who was a former CNN correspondent for two decades and wrote Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia—go off and suggest that the Russian IP address “at the very least [displayed] a global connection,” as if the terrorists needed more help making this look like the work of a spooky 'global network.'

[I touched on this briefly for a blog post I did at MTV Iggy. My pet theory is that this has more to do with internecine D Company conflict in Mumbai's underworld than say, Al Qaeda. Not to toot my own horn. It's my first work for MTV and I am just still warm and fuzzy about it.]
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 4:33 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Black Hawk Down reference is interesting, in that a major theme of Bowden's book (on which the movie is based) is the way that information overload -- the Army's simply having had way too much to process -- was a significant contributing factor to the fiasco in Mogadishu. Bowden's implicit claim is not that "information is power," but that managing information is power, which certainly seems applicable in this case as well.
posted by vitia at 4:36 PM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


I have not been following the press accounts closely enough to know, but is there any evidence that all of this "technology" played any serious role in the attack? Seems to me that this was mainly just 20 or so guys shooting at crowds of people with AK-47s. It's unclear to me how a GPS helps with that.
posted by Mid at 6:35 PM on December 3, 2008


OK, I just read the first article (sorry) and the only real uses of technology cited seem to be:

1. They trained using satellite pictures of streets/targets. OK, fine, but old fashioned maps would have worked pretty well.

2. They navigated their boat using GPS. Hmm -- so do guys fishing in Wisconsin.

3. They used cell phones to talk to each other during the attacks. Not a lot here, as far as I can tell, but I suppose this is the main "advance."

4. They sent an email claiming responsibility and somehow haxxored the headers. Not much of a big deal.
posted by Mid at 6:46 PM on December 3, 2008


What many posters seem to be missing is that the Mumbai operation has stood traditional understanding of terrorist networks on its head. The Mumbai attackers clearly had a familiarity with technology and understood how to use it and exploit it. In essence, they used terrorism as a weapon.

A 2007 RAND report on terrorism and technology concluded the opposite:

"The best use of resources for those attempting to counter terrorist operations would seem to be developing ways to exploit the network technologies that terrorists will continue to use and that offer the highest payoff. As is the case with most people who use cell phones and computers, most terrorists do not have detailed knowledge of how those devices work or their security arrangements."
posted by up in the old hotel at 6:48 PM on December 3, 2008


The article really sounds like it was fishing pretty hard to find a pattern of "oooh technology". It doesn't seem any more odd to me than four teenagers in Wisconsin might use Google Maps, cell phones and GPS to meet up at a party. They didn't use hacker-cool-cutting-edge anything, they just used the generic tools of our time.

Those ff ligatures in uitoh's comment, though... THOSE blow my mind.
posted by rokusan at 9:28 PM on December 3, 2008


Even if they turned the mobile phone networks off in the area, the terrorists could use walkie-talkies. You know, like combatants have for more than sixty years.
posted by Devonian at 3:23 AM on December 6, 2008


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