Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Law Enforcement Technology, Intelligence, and the War on Terror

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Law Enforcement Technology, Intelligence, and the War on Terror

Article excerpt


The warfare that most of us trained for now seems likely to become more an artifact of historical interest than the reality we feared. Today, the objective of conflict is less to obtain a political outcome than to create the conditions necessary for stability and responsible participation in international affairs. Perhaps the most striking difference from the war that Carl von Clausewitz spoke of is that today's conflicts have no time horizon. Still, there are constants; one is the requirement for intelligence concerning the enemy.

History illustrates that intelligence is a critical element of success in conflict. Even so, when military conflict encompasses transnational threats that include terrorism, insurgency, organized crime, weapons proliferation, and weapons of mass destruction--all of which inevitably invite the complications of public corruption--intelligence takes on a new meaning and generates requirements unknown a few years ago. The reasons are many, with technology at the top of the list.

Even though intelligence remains a critical element of warfare, it is startlingly apparent that the Department of Defense (DOD), even with a vast array of intelligence capabilities, is not able to produce and analyze all the vital information necessary. In an era when the enemy is supported globally and transnational capabilities for communications, financial transactions, and transportation confound the utility for direct application of force, civilian agencies are key to obtaining vital elements of information for the success of the mission.

Indeed, modern technology has greatly improved the combat capabilities of the American fighting forces. Networkcentric warfare is a significant technological advancement and a proven way of fighting both more efficiently and more safely. However, the object is no longer merely to win the fight. Today, the object is to win the peace, which means creating conditions that will lead to stable societies. For that, partnering the technologies and capabilities of law enforcement, particularly those found within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), with the military mission is necessary. Coupling the innovations and skills discussed in this article with true cooperation between civilian law enforcement and the U.S. military will undoubtedly lead to a more effective prosecution of the war on terror.


Advances in communications technology have made our lives more convenient, but they have also provided the means for terrorists and criminals to communicate more easily. Twenty years ago, cellular telephones were relatively rare, clunky, and inefficient. Today, they are marketed to grade-school children. Cell phones and satellite phones are used by terrorists just as commonly as they are by organized crime members. What does this mean? Take a clue from organized crime: The FBI has stated many times that the defeat of organized crime on the U.S. east coast could never have been accomplished without electronic surveillance. The same is true of terrorism, but the task is now infinitely more difficult because of not only cell phones but also the Internet.

Members of al Qaeda may live in caves, but many of them are sophisticated and learned. Using skills unimagined only a few years ago, al Qaeda has set a standard for terrorists by embracing the Internet as a tool for organizing, training, and propagandizing. Although the Internet is not new, improvements in computer, communications, and storage technology have made it a medium of choice for networking, information-gathering, and anonymous activities. Moreover, it is so cheap--often free--that anyone can use it.

Using the skills of modern technocrats, al Qaeda has adopted online tactics that mirror its offline techniques for evading discovery. These tactics include instant messaging, chat, bulletin boards, and a constantly shifting collection of Web sites where propaganda can be posted. …

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