Re: TERRORISM: Seriousness and potential strategies

From: Phil Osborn (
Date: Sun Sep 16 2001 - 17:07:00 MDT

Reading Bolger's "Feast of Bones," novelized version of Russian experience in Afghanistan. Not a pleasant prospect at all.

The Russians initially tried the high-tech, traditional military approach, and the Afghan freedom fighters pulverized them. Traditional military strategy - bringing overwhelming force to bear on selected points, forcing the enemy to withdraw, and then folding up their lines, for example - does not work nearly as well when the enemy is willing to stand his ground and die, individually or collectively.

Only the Russian specialists who were willing to get down and dirty, learn the country like the back of their hand and learn the local languages were successful, and there weren't enough of them. Their battles were often a matter of a few platoons spending weeks or months arranging ambushes of a handful of Afghans on incredibly rugged and cold mountain trails. This went on for years.

Lucky for the U.S., it has really good satellite imagery which could be downloaded to individual fighting units on the fly, along with highly detailed 3D terrain maps. Using the drones, at least as a plattoon level recon system, might also be valuable. Even cheaper, perhaps, U.S. forces have rounds with a single photocell/lens on the side. As the round spins, it sends back scans which are put together to make a high-res image of the territory. Thus, U.S. forces would have a clear cut advantage over the Russians in terms of accurate local information.

The flip side of good information, however, and an equally huge factor in combat, however, is deception. The problem here, as in Vietnam, is that the enemy is indistinguishable from the potential friend. Sleepers can easily infiltrate and wait for the moment to strike. It might be worthwhile to try to think the same way. Not Americans trying to pose as the enemy, which would generally be useless, but in areas such as getting the enemy to reveal himself. The enemy will only attack if there is a worthwhile target that he has a real chance of destroying.

Consider the following scenario. A target is presented to the enemy. He strikes and is allowed to apparently succeed. As he leaves the scene of his apparent victory, he is followed back to his comrades, either by some kind of clever tagging, or via hi-tech surveillance. Great care is taken to avoid tipping off the enemy as too what is going on, until enough facial recognition photos, etc. have been accumulated to make it feasible to do major damage in a series of coordinated strikes. Hi-tech surveillance may be very handy there as well.

There's a problem, however. Only a tiny proportion of Russia's best were able to function on a level necessary to deal with the freedom fighters, and they were apparently very adept at this sort of long-term, meticulously careful, small scale action. Will American forces be able to function on a similar level? Failing that, all the good terrain info in the world will not help when a "friendly" blows himself up inside your perimeter, or poisons your coffee.

And even a full occupation of Afghanistan will not solve the problem, as the enemy is quite willing to act as a friend for years until the moment comes to strike, as many of the recent terrorists just demonstrated.

Where is the Truth Machine now that we need it?

Failing a Truth Machine, it may, in fact, be necessary to use techniques such as interrogation under drugs in order to separate friend from foe. In some South American countries, scopalomine in the course of a kidnapping is used systematically by criminal gangs to separate wealthy businessmen from their assets. The businessman wakes up in a taxi three days later, with no memory of the intervening time, and discovers that his safe is empty, his bank accounts cleared out, his stock sold, etc.

The CIA certainly has better stuff than scopalomine. Our suspected terrorist wakes up with a hangover, suspects nothing, but has revealed everything. I have suspected for many years that this technique is in use here in the U.S., not on a wide scale, probably, but in critical cases. Again, however, a technique that works on an occasional case-by-case basis may be difficult to scale up to dealing with an organization such as Bin Laden's, with perhaps ten thousand active associates scattered around the world, much less the Taliban. It apparently didn't work last Tuesday.

However, in the novel, "The Truth Machine," everyone is tested, manditorially. Keeping civil rights in mind - which Halperin makes short thrift of, unfortunately - it might be feasible to offer everyone a "Clean Card." I.e., anyone can apple for a card which specifies that they have agreed to surveillance or testing under drugs if the authorities decide, under strict procedural constraints, that it is desirable. The Clean Card uses good encription and ties to a hard-coded (CD ROM based, for example) worldwide database containing unfakeable biometric ID info.

Most people might never be tested, or might only take a standard polygraph. Enough people to ensure that the terrorists would not likely get through would be randomly tested with drugs, plus, of course, those who aroused reasonable suspicion. Those who were tested would not necessarily be told that they had been tested, as those who failed the test could be used to lead to other enemies. I.e., in signing up, you would be agreeing to allow them to come into your home, administer a scopalomine-like drug, ask you a lot of questions and then wake up woozy perhaps the next morning, never knowing you had been tested. (Those who admininster and authorize the tests would be tested regularly.)

Having a Clean Card would get you into buildings and onto planes more easily and perhaps more cheaply. Not having one would not bar you, generally, from anything, but it might result in higher fees where it made sense, and additional surveillance, etc., paid for via the higher fees.

Spinoff benefits from the Clean Card program would probably be similar to those described by Halperin.

(Naturally, I would like to see that Clean Card combined with a universal social contract, but it's likely that this would have to come later and separately.)

Anyway, the above is an actual solution to terrorism that could work, without violating anyone's civil rights, and without any huge, possibly useless, military operation. Comments?

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