Special Report: Technology and Terrorism
The defining conflict of the late 20th century, the Cold War, was all about technology. It revolved around nuclear weapons—specifically, the technology needed to make, store, test, and deploy them. And, of course, to spy on what the other side had.
The defining conflict of the early 21st century, against extremist terror, may or may not have much to do with technology. All of the major recent attacks—New York and Washington on 9/11/01; Bali in 2002; Beslan, Russia, and Madrid in 2004; London in 2005; and Mumbai in 2006—required no significant technological sophistication to pull off. At the same time, however, some terrorist groups have proven extraordinarily adept at using the Internet, networks, and digital video to recruit, plot, and communicate.
Meanwhile, in the developed countries that the extremists are doing their best to terrorize, officials have launched research programs that will in coming years help determine how much of a role advanced technology can have in this struggle. In this three-part report, we consider that very issue from several different angles.
First, Senior Editor Harry Goldstein reports on one of the most intriguing of the tech-based antiterror initiatives, in which programmers are writing computer simulations that attempt to model the minds, behavior, and networks of militiamen and terrorists. The half-dozen projects have different goals. One functions like an elaborate video game to give soldiers an idea of how combatants from another culture will react to, say, an attempt to capture one of their leaders. Another project, based at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, is modeling specific insurgent networks in Iraq to help intelligence officials determine at any instant whom they should kill or capture to do maximum harm to the network. As Goldstein discovered, circumstantial evidence, at least, suggests that the software helped guide the rapid series of raids on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s network in Iraq immediately after he was killed in a bombing this past June. [See ”Modeling Terrorists.”]