TCS Daily


Viva la "Tech" Revolucion!

By Patrick Cox - July 12, 2004 12:00 AM

The border between Israel and Palestinian territories is, at once, the most controversial and technologically advanced large-scale security barrier in the world. While the UN's International Court of Justice in The Hague has just called for the dismantling of the extension around the West Bank and Jerusalem, currently under construction, a new study by the Israeli Army proposes even more high-tech features. If implemented, unmanned tanks and dune buggies working in conjunction with ultra-light mobile and hovering UAVs would automatically recognize and report threats to soldiers, who could then remotely operate various weapons, destroying attackers without leaving their offices.

Though media coverage has focused on the Berlin-style wall built in the few locations where sniper activity has posed a threat to Israelis, most of the boundary appears to be a rather insubstantial fence more suited to controlling goats than terrorists. Neither characterization, however, reflects the barrier's true nature -- which is a massive but largely invisible screen of electronic surveillance systems, employing a spectrum of sensors able to detect intruders in any light or weather condition.

Not surprisingly, Israel is the world leader in advanced barrier technologies and the marked reduction in terrorist attacks within that country since the construction of its own "security fence" has helped create a growing international market for the same technologies. Many were on display and available for sale at the 2004 EUROSATORY Exhibition held this June in Paris,

One might think, based on the near-global condemnation of what Israel calls its security fence, that demand for such structures is lacking. Business, however, is brisk.

Indian officials credit the completed portions of its barrier along the length of the Pakistan border with important reductions in terrorist incursions, and are extending the buffer into Kashmir. Curiously, Pakistanis seem less indignant about the structure on their own border than the partition between Israel and Gaza.

Botswana is building barriers along its borders with three neighboring nations and Kuwait is upgrading its barrier along the Iraq border. Thailand has plans to build a wall along its border with Malaysia and the European Union is funding a "wall" in Spanish Morocco to combat illegal African immigration into Europe. Saudi Arabia, from whence flow frequent condemnations of Israel's "apartheid wall," is building a security barrier on its 1,500 mile border with Yemen to prevent al Qaida smugglers from bringing weapons and explosives into the kingdom.

The high-tech surveillance system on the border between the U.S. and Mexico is augmented by large sections of physical wall, including a fifteen-foot edifice that runs through Nogales, Arizona. Even within the U.S., the use of advanced electronic surveillance is increasingly common. Besides networks of cameras used by police in various metropolitan areas, some of the same technologies used along the Gaza-Israel border are being utilized.

Redwood City, California, for example, straddles the border between Silicon Valley and an older, pre-tech state economy. Exurbs built with IPO wealth are within a stone's throw, or at least a bullet's trajectory, of neighborhoods crammed with immigrants forced into high-density clusters to pay peninsula rents.

Some of the less assimilated have brought to the area the custom of firing guns into the air on portentous dates such as the Fourth of July and New Years. Anger among rattled locals simmered for years as the city failed to stop celebratory gunfire.

One of those locals was a seismologist whose office, at the U.S. Geological Survey headquarters in Menlo Park, was just over my backyard fence. Realizing that technologies used to triangulate earthquakes could be adapted to pinpoint gunshots, he arranged for the testing of a prototype system in Redwood City -- yielding an immediate reduction in exuberant use of firearms. By 1996, the system was in permanent use and has since been implemented in other communities to detect gunshots and, within seconds, dispatch police to the exact location of a discharge.

The Anti-"Che"

The emergence of these sorts of technologies is not simply a marginal change in military and law enforcement capabilities. Tech has forced a largely unexpected and rapid reversal of long-held assumptions -- stated archetypically by Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

In his tract, Message to the Tricontinental, Guevara put forth all the basic doctrines of guerilla warfare/terrorism, including his belief that revolutionaries employing guerrilla warfare against conventional militaries are "invincible." The very act of revolution, he wrote, would create the social conditions required to convince a populace of the need for a centralized, authoritarian government capable of implementing the grand socialist schemes he favored.

While Islamists operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, America and Israel do not share Che's particular vision of utopia; there can be little doubt that his theories hold sway among their ranks.

In the Tricontinental, Guevara articulated strategies and attitudes that match perfectly those promoted by Osama bin Laden and other Islamic radicals. This includes the need to "hate" America so as to become a "cold killing machine" and to bring the war to our borders.

"We must carry the war as far as the enemy carries it:" Guevera wrote, "into his home, into his places of recreation, make it total. He must be prevented from having a moment's peace, a moment's quiet outside the barracks and even inside them. Attack him wherever he may be; make him feel like a hunted animal wherever he goes."

Che's role in the overthrow of Batista's government, second only to Castro's, had already endowed him with rock star status among the anti-American, anti-Capitalist crowd. His invocation of Vietnam before his death in 1967, a decade after Americans began to replace the retreating French but eight years before the fall of Saigon, imbued the Argentine dermatologist with an almost prophetic stature.

"How close we could look into a bright future should two, three or many Vietnams flourish throughout the world with their share of deaths and their immense tragedies, their everyday heroism and their repeated blows against imperialism, impelled to disperse its forces under the sudden attack and the increasing hatred of all peoples of the world!"

Ending the Vietnam Syndrome

It was not only among Marxists that Che's theories took hold. For decades following the end of the Vietnam war, it was commonly accepted and widely taught, even in American schools, that dedicated and highly mobile insurgents had a powerful advantage over conventional militaries, especially on their own ground. Just as the British failed to put down the American revolution, we were taught, American forces failed to win against the more agile and motivated Vietnamese locals fighting for their own land. The defeat of the Soviets by Afghan guerrillas turned the theory into dogma -- never seriously questioned until after the astonishingly rapid overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Baathists in Iraq.

It is easy to forget the predictions of disaster made prior to those operations, as well as the grossly overestimated effectiveness of post-liberation guerrilla warfare. Consider the president of the North Caucasian Republic of Ingushetia, General Ruslan Aushev, who proclaimed that U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan "will lead to nothing" just as ten years of Soviet bombardments had failed.

Aushev, who had commanded Soviet forces in Afghanistan, warned that a minimum of a half million soldiers would be needed to overthrow the Taliban, though he recommended 1.5 million. "Afghanistan is continuous gorges," he warned, "and if you have a division stuck in a gorge, three divisions need to be sent to get it out."

It took another ex-Soviet to explain the basis of the error made by Aushev and so many others. In the Russian Academy of Military Sciences' "Analysis of War in Iraq", V. A. Menshikov, a retired Major-General, concluded, "Research conducted in recent years, and especially the experience of military conflicts, has allowed the U.S. to lay the foundation for creating integrated composite intelligence and weapon systems. The concept of the combined and interconnected use, with regard to time and space, of airborne reconnaissance equipment, weapons and satellites, integrated into a single system, is a qualitatively new phase in the development of precision reconnaissance and weapon systems."

Later, in the same study, Menshikov stated, "These developments are founded on the concept of 'information warfare,' which is based on the latest achievements of scientific-technical progress and the corresponding revolution in military affairs in the 21st Century. For its consequences it can be compared only to the creation of nuclear weapons in the mid 40s of the 20th Century."

To put it another way, the relevance of "Vietnam" as an overriding influence on American thinking, is rapidly receding as the computer-age gives the upper hand to organized militaries. To be fair, others recognize the change but credit non-tech causes for the decrease in terrorist/guerilla successes over the last few decades.

The Role of Technology

Amir Taheri, for example, points to changes in the way governments, such as Peru and Algeria, have dealt with terrorists, as well as increased resolve. Without denying that Taheri is at least partially correct, I would add that his analysis of political/psychological factors entails an underlying tech component that has advanced, by orders of magnitude, the ability to track and surveil guerrilla/terror groups. Networks and database technologies alone have created the ability to store, access, analyze and share information about terrorists/guerrillas on a scale that would have been unimaginable only decades ago.

An early example of DB technology as an anti-terrorist weapon was given to me by a source, working in homeland security today, who fought in El Salvador during the mid-80s. Reconnaissance photography by aircraft and satellites was combined with census and other data to identify every abandoned building in the Massachusetts-sized nation of then 5 million inhabitants. When infrared heat signatures indicated that an uninhabited structure was in use, troops were able to take action, effectively denying guerrillas the most basic low-tech advantages of a roof over their heads with a fire to warm themselves and their food.

Charles Krauthammer credits the decision to go after terrorist leaders, as well as the security fence, with the recent 70 percent reduction in terrorism in Israel. Once again, however, the arrests and targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders would have been impossible without advanced intelligence gathering technologies and smart weaponry.

Moreover, Joseph Morgenstern, a tech analyst who tracks and writes about the Israeli military, reports that "over 80 percent of all planned attacks (on Israeli civilians) are aborted through sophisticated early warning technologies and intelligence capabilities." These technologies will continue to improve.

Menshikov's nuclear metaphor actually understates the impact of tech on the war on terror/guerrilla warfare, because the advantage does not plateau, as it does when a certain number of nuclear weapons are attained. Rather than leveling off, the tech development curve continues to tilt increasingly upward.

Look to the future of just one non-classified technology, the gunshot location system discussed above. Replace the handful of sonic detectors on towers and rooftops in Redwood City with cheaper, faster and more accurate sensors located on ubiquitous UAVs, many the size of insects, military vehicles and soldier's helmet -- all tied to a central network. When this occurs, it will be possible to return hostile fire automatically and instantly with various weapons from numerous locations.

Now, synch this information with years of stored audio, telecommunications, visible and infrared photographic, radar, microwave, x-ray, chemical and other data.

Chemical detectors may provide, by the way, the greatest advance in counter-insurgent capabilities. Biochips will make it possible for self-directed UAVS to seek out explosives, including those used in small arms, and chemical and biological agents. They will also enable the identification and tracking of thousands or even millions of individuals in a monitored area based on their "smell."

It is inevitable that military and police agencies will be able to monitor and create detailed and exhaustive virtual records of any location, whether it is along a security barrier or the entire town of Fallujah. If insurgents are not prevented from carrying out attacks, they will be backtracked in a recorded virtual world and then, when identified, arrested or eliminated remotely using smart weapons along the lines of Frank Herbert's flying hypodermics. Even those who plant bombs or send and equip suicide bombers will be vulnerable to detection and removal.

There will, of course, be enormous privacy concerns as these technologies come online, and guerrillas/terrorists will do their best to use off-the-shelf products to stay in the tech arms race. It should also be pointed out that tyrants will enjoy many of the same advantages that democracies have over insurgents, and their ability to transfer tech capabilities to third parties constantly seeking to "hack" our system will remain a critical security concern.

History has shown, however, that the conditions needed for real tech innovation exist in direct proportion to the degree of freedom enjoyed by a populace. Democracies with relatively free markets, like the United States and Israel, will therefore accrue increasingly important advantages over those that would replace liberty with coercion. What is not clear, however, is to what extent free societies will allow the use of these technologies to counter Islamists and other advocates of tyranny, both domestically and internationally.


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