Information Warfare: March 27, 2003


Al Qaeda has long been known to take advantage of modern technology for communications, especially cell and satellite phones and the Internet. But over the last two years, many al Qaeda members have been caught because they got sloppy using electronic communications. So they have had to learn some new ways to deal with American monitoring capabilities. Getting the word of new techniques (codes, frequently changing email addresses and so on) to many of their members, without letting intelligence agencies know it, often requires the use of "sneaker net" (a courier hand carrying disks or CDs with docs describing new techniques ) to get the word around. But some of the couriers have been caught with these disks and CDs. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence agencies (mainly CIA and FBI) have learned a lot, from the intercepts and, apparently, from the insertion of agents into al Qaeda cells. A lot of this investigative effort is to find al Qaeda kingpin Osama Bin Laden. But he is apparently being concealed by the Taliban tribal network, which is still strong, has apparently been protecting him. Al Qaeda also subscribes to a strict version of Islam similar that that practiced by the Taliban. And the Taliban beliefs have long been "traditional beliefs" with many Pushtun tribes and clans in southern Afghanistan and along the Pakistan border. The tribes don't tolerate outsiders, nor do tribal members who betray the tribe survive long. But the Special Forces is still working on that, using a combination of network building in the tribal area, and getting a continuous flow of leads of American communications monitoring organizations. It's a real challenge, but one that bin Laden will probably lose eventually. As more and more senior al Qaeda leaders get picked up, bin Laden's veil of secrecy and silence frays and falls apart. 


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