Next Gen Terrorism: Virtual operations. Do network-centric cells of terrorists need to plan and coordinate moderate to large operations along traditional lines? Probably not. Here's why.
The traditional approach (at least the way I used to do it in special ops) is to first gather a team of specialists to develop an operations plan. The plan is then built, either over hours or days, with a limited amount of flexibility built in. Time is closely managed. Targets are precisely defined. Unit operations are tightly coupled to ensure economy of force. In execution, the plan is overseen by specialist team managers and senior staff. Decision makers on the ground typically have little flexiblity other than to abort the mission.
In the emerging world of next generation terrorism, enabled by rapid communications and plentiful targets of opportunity, the traditional approach is counterproductive. A loose approach composed of ad hoc communications and individual initiative can provide much greater levels of security and higher probabilities of success.
In this approach cells would develop a range of targets within general guidelines (a section of a city) based on their capabilities (a type of attack). The time schedule would be fluid. The date for an op would be set within a general time frame without specifics. Coordinated action would be done in an ad hoc manner. For example: “once your cell begins operations, my cell will begins too.” “Your cell just hit this target, my cell will hit this complimentary target.” Abort points would be determined based on what each cell sees on the ground or what other cells communicate to each other on the fly (ie. “flash me an SMS message to abort and throw away the phone”). Ops could continue indefinitely using this method until local conditions are too difficult to ensure success.
The benefits of this approach would be as follows:
- Difficult to disrupt. The loss of any one cell would not necessarily imperil the operation since there are few co-dependencies. For example: if a single cell was shut down, other cells could continue operations since no one cell would have another cell's list of targets, an overarching mission plan, or require the other cell's support to continue operations.
- Hard to defend against. The time period of the op could be sufficiently large to make a high level readiness difficult to maintain (could you imagine months of Orange alert?).
- Nearly impossible to detect. Decision cycles would be slow and communications would only be made when security was assured. Target selection would be wide ranging and independently authored.
The real power of a framework like this is in its ability to disrupt systems. More on that later. [John Robb's Weblog]