Pervasive surveillance, swarming response for terrorist threats

from the high-tech-immune-response dept.
A commentary in the Washington Post ("Netting Bin Laden" by David Ignatius, 11 November 2001) proposes the use of a number of technologies familiar to the Foresight community to counter the threat of dispersed, pervasive, networked enemies — such as international terrorist organizations. The piece suggests the use of pervasive, highly networked but decentralized surveillance and maneuver units that include a "swarming" counter-attack may be key to effective responses to such threats.

Read more for excerpts, and a link to a book-length Rand Corp. study on "Networks and Netwars". The excerpts are provided because free access to the link to the Washington Post article may expire. In his article, David Ignatius writes:

"The essential technologies already exist, in projects for pervasive computing and wireless communications that were developed in the late 1990s by companies such as IBM and Sun Microsystems. I've attended conferences where technologists described arrays of sensors that would be attached to every appliance in your house, and to every vending machine on every street corner. As you moved through the world, these wireless technologies would keep you constantly in touch with the environment around you — registering your presence to every restaurant and department store."

Ignatius also foresees networks of pervasive sensors:
"Sensors can be tuned to search for almost anything — from radioactive material to anthrax spores. If people decided they were willing to pay the price in loss of privacy, a pervasive network of sensors could detect every human being present in a defined environment, and instantly signal an intrusion by someone lacking appropriate identification."

Ignatius concludes:

By embracing pervasive computing as part of its defensive strategy in this war, the United States would be using networks to fight networks. That is precisely the recommendation made by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla of the Rand Corp.
The Rand analysts stress that bin Laden is not a traditional adversary who carries a flag, has a national base of operations and can be tracked and targeted by the technologies of the 20th century. Instead, al Qaeda's cells are pervasive and decentralized. And although al Qaeda has a diffuse structure, it is robust — and hard to defeat with conventional strategies.
The right strategy in a netwar is "swarming" the enemy, according to a book-length study called "Networks and Netwars" . . . by the Rand authors. "Swarming will work best," they explain, "if it is designed mainly around the deployment of myriad, small, dispersed, networked maneuver units."

Editorís Note: The Rand Corp. study referred to, Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy (2001), is available in its entirety as a set of Adobe Acrobat PDF files on the Rand website.

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