Terrorism: November 29, 1999

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: The US has indicted Canadian Alfred Heinz Reumayr on eight charges including international terrorism. Reumayr had planned to place 14 bombs on the Trans-Alaskan pipeline; these would have caused severe damage and put the pipeline out of action for months. Reumayr is not a political terrorist; he had purchased various oil and gas futures and planned to become rich when the shut down of the pipeline drove up world oil prices.--Stephen V Cole

November 27; The EgyptAir flight that crashed near New York on 2 Nov included an unusually large number of Egyptian military officers. Among the 33 officers were two Army Major Generals and two Air Force Brigadier Generals. This gave rise to the Egyptian claim that the destruction of the aircraft was a terrorist act, or an assassination by a foreign power.--Stephen V Cole

November 24; The FBI has issued a warning report that several different groups could launch terrorist attacks in the US or in Israel in response to the Millennium. Some of these groups feel that the US government is an arm of Satan, and that by attacking it on the eve of the apocalypse they will prove their worthiness. Other such renegade groups feel that the Y2K crisis is an excuse for the New World Order to take tighter control and plan to "wage war" against this plan.--Stephen V Cole

November 1; The Dark Side of the Peace Dividend: Trillions of dollars has been spent on defense since World War II, and much is made about how a lot of this technology has moved over to the civilian side. Well, that's true. Television, cell phones and a lot of other useful gadgets got their start, or were perfected, while in military service. But now many of the civilian items are returning to less peaceful pursuits. 

Consider portable communications equipment; cell phones, beepers, the internet, CB-Radio and walkie-talkies. They are cheap, easy to use and widely available. Guerillas, terrorists and gangsters have been quick to adopt all of these items to make their work easier. For many decades, the military professionals had the best communications gear. The reason was that this stuff was especially built for the troops and was expensive. No more. Even soldiers are using some of the new civilian stuff. In an urban area, a cell phone can be more useful than a military radio.

With military grade encryption now available to anyone, the bad guys can safely pass messages anywhere there is an internet connection. And with satellite phones, that means anywhere on the planet, anytime. But the satellite phones are expensive, and most guerilla movements are low budget operations. More popular are FM walkie-talkies. These are very cheap, have a range of up to three miles and take a few minutes master. They are small enough to fit into a pocket. Guerillas in tropical countries have found that they can rig solar powered FM signal boosters, put them up in trees on hills, and now those little walkie-talkies can send a message hundreds of miles (via a chain of boosters.) 

If they don't know already, they soon find out, that the government troops can not only overhear walkie-talkie conversations, and also use direction finding equipment to locate walkie-talkies, or use special equipment to jam walkie-talkies, or any other off-the-shelf form of communication. Even a satellite phone can be traced to a fifty kilometer diameter circle. Not to worry, for it is a simple matter to use a code book, which includes procedures like changing frequencies at predetermined intervals. Out in the bush, keep your messages short and keep moving. The appearance of the GPS (Global Positioning System) in the early 1990s was another boon to guerillas. Most of these lads are city boys, who often get lost. This is frequently fatal, especially if government patrols find you before your compadres do.

Before all this low cost commo gear came along, guerillas had a hard time staying in touch. Much of their communicating was by foot messenger. The government troops knew this and took advantage of the guerillas poor commo to stage raids and large, and well coordinated, operations against guerilla base camps. All this has changed over the last twenty years as cheap, easy to use electronics have become widely available. The guerillas are a lot more nimble, especially in urban areas. Before the guerillas got their cell phones and walkie-talkies, the police and army had the edge, being able to mobilize a large force quickly against any guerilla operation. But now the guerillas have instant communication, as well as their traditional element of surprise. The guerillas can now react quickly to whatever the police do in response to a guerilla operation. 

But it's not just the communications gear. There are also items like night vision equipment. The "starlight scope" first appeared in the 1960s. It cost over $10,000 and was not available to civilians. But after the cold war ended, a lot of inexpensive Russian starlight scopes came on the market, allowing anyone to "own the night" for under a thousand dollars. More expensive US civilian models were also available. But there was more, much more, military surplus gear coming on the market in the 1990s. Camouflage equipment, rations, uniforms, medical supplies and weapons, lots of weapons. And lots of former soldiers to show you how to use all this stuff. Former Russian and East European soldiers have been spotted all over the world providing technical assistance, training and more for rebel movements and governments. This has upped the ante in many civil wars, with guerillas using portable SAMs, ATGMs, more mines (and more sophisticated ones), ECM gear and just about anything that can be put on a transport plane and flown into a rebel held airfield, or smuggled across a desolate frontier on the back of a mule, or man.

The basic tool of guerillas, the AK-47, was dirt cheap in the 1990s. Communist nations held tens of millions of these in their armories. When the communist governments fell, the new authorities saw all these AK-47s as the solution to several problems. First, they could be sold for badly needed cash (former communist governments were all broke) and this would also get the weapons out of the way lest any of the locals get really ticked off at the former communist politicians who were now trying to be democrats.

So forget any past preconceptions of what a guerilla fighter looked like. At the turn of the century, many of these fighters need batteries more than ammunition, and are on the cutting edge of technology.

 

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