Information Warfare: Islamic Terrorists Caught Using Carrier Pigeons


May 11, 2016: Jordanian border guards recently intercepted a carrier pigeon carrying messages for ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Jordan has a 375 kilometer border with Syria and has been able to keep ISIL out so far. But some of the million or more Syrian refugees in Jordan are actually ISIL members or sympathizers. ISIL has learned to be very careful with communications so that their few operatives in Jordan remained undiscovered by the police. Now that the Jordanians are aware of the ISIL use of carrier pigeons they can bring in specialists (Bedouins expert in spotting and taking down birds) to deal with the problem.

Carrier pigeons have been retired by most armies with China the only major nation to still use them. The last European country to maintain carrier pigeons for military use was Switzerland. But the Swiss got rid of their carrier pigeons in the 1970s at the same time it got rid of their last bicycle units. China, however, has continued to maintain thousands of homing pigeons for military communications duty. A pigeon can carry up to 75 g (2.5 ounces) for several hundred kilometers (at speeds of about 80 kilometers an hour). The Chinese use them to carry coded messages to offshore island bases, and plan to use them in future conflicts where so much electronic jamming is used that carrier pigeons are the only reliable means of communicating.

Carrier pigeons have been used for thousands of years, but declined in usefulness as the telegraph was introduced in the mid-19th century, and radio in the early 20th. Despite that, carrier pigeons saw lots of use in the two World Wars, particularly in hilly areas that interfered with radio signals. Many nations found it cheaper to use carrier pigeons than radios or telephones.

Modern military radios can better cope with terrain and atmospheric problems, as well as jamming. But there are still some electronic jamming methods that can shut down all radios, although most nations are reluctant to use it (since it shuts down everyone's radios.) The Chinese, however, consider the carrier pigeons as a backup device that might come in handy. ISIL has apparently found carrier pigeons even more useful.


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