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Terrorism and Technology

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In order to effectively oppose the threat posed by high-tech terrorism, anti-terrorist organizations should have an understanding of the essence of this complex social and cultural phenomenon, the mechanism of its origin, occurrence, formation, development and implementation, the factors that determine high-tech terrorism and encourage the implementation of terrorist acts of this type.

Despite the fact that high-tech terrorism has become an objective reality of social life, so far the experts haven’t reached the consensus concerning the essence and roots of this very dangerous for human civilization phenomenon. Two events in the late 20th and early 21st centuries—the gas attack in the Tokyo subway and the Trade Center attack in New York—turned the threat of high-tech terrorism into reality. After the aforesaid events the professionals throughout the world have been actively discussing the issue of terrorism in general and technology in particular.

High technology is the type of technology, creation of which required a considerable intellectual effort, and which, therefore, is extremely simple and accessible for use by persons who do not have special training (open to all). There are many examples of such things: a computer (intellectual efforts of development teams make it accessible even to children of kindergarten age), a car, household appliances, mobile phones, etc.

Every open social network, mobile and satellite phone, internet search engine, and technology operations center is now their playground for hacking and criminally manipulating our lives – from criminal controlled weaponized flying drones, to 3D printing of handguns, and even personalized and customized biological weapons, designed to pinpoint anyone, anytime (Jones, 2012).

It should be emphasized that technology is not science – there is no need to understand the essence of the process. It is enough merely to be able to use it, and the result will be guaranteed just by the fact that the solution to the problem is the result of efforts of many thinkers, scientists, and people who have invested in the testing and description of this technology. That is why high technology is easily transmitted (i.e. it is easy for anyone to learn how to use it). The main criterion of high technology is efficiency, including economic efficiency.

These features are the characteristic of not only purely peaceful technologies, but also other technologies, capable—if used with malicious intention—to cause significant damage to society. As a classic example of the use of high technology in the interest of terrorist groups it is possible to consider the famous 911 terrorist attack. The costs of preparing and carrying out terrorist attacks in New York ranged from 100 thousand to 1 million. The damage done was huge: in short term about $10 billion and in long-term – up to $100 billion. For preparation and carrying out these attacks terrorist used the latest technologies: electronic flight simulators, training programs, etc. The consequences included $3-5 billion in just one week of New York Stock Exchange down time, $40 billion for rebuilding Manhattan, $100 thousand people fired in the aviation industry and airports, redistribution of financial flows in the design and production of personal security and social protection, etc. (Purpura, 2007).

In these circumstances, is extremely important to identify the factors determining the process of formation of this form of terrorism, discovering new forms and varieties in this process, as well as the possibility to predict the development of this phenomenon in the nearest future.

1. Scientific and technical factors. As it was already noted, the content characteristics of modern terrorism include decisive factors generated by scientific and technological progress and the development of modern technologies. This feature, as a basic characteristic of modern terrorism, is emphasized by many researchers. Modern science, as it was estimated, had come close to formation of previously unseen geopolitical threats of scientific and technical nature.

2. Social factors. The trends of high-tech terrorism are greatly influenced by the processes of globalization, the essence of which, according to experts, is in reaching a critical level of the international community interdependence. National borders in many parts of the world become relatively conventional, creating favorable conditions for migration of huge masses of people according the simplified procedures for entry and exit, accelerated information exchange, movement of capital and other material resources (including dangerous technical appliances).

3. Social technical factors. Modern world witnesses the birth of a new technology oriented civilization. Contemporary civilization exists within a single information field. The history of civilization has seen several information revolutions, characterized by the transformation of social relations due to the changes in the field of information processing. Modern information revolution is associated with the emergence of new information and communication technologies, based on the combination of traditional media and computer systems used in global networks.

This circumstance, on the one hand, was the greatest achievement of mankind, but on the other it has become a powerful weapon in the hands of criminal groups. Today, as a result of development of information technology, many people from around the world have access to the global information network, which became a major factor in the transition to high-tech terrorism for several reasons (one of them, for example, is the ability to obtain information on the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction). For example, during the 2008 terrorist assault on Mumbai, India the terrorists “used modern information communications technologies, including smartphones, satellite imagery and night-vision goggles to locate additional victims and slaughter them” (Goodman, 2012).

Terrorists are constantly trying to come up with new methods of warfare. Military experts have identified several technologies that are of particular concern and make a major impact on the consequences of terrorist attacks, and which are capable to seriously alter the balance of power.

Terrorist groups are actively trying to use the enormous potential of air attacks. However, the repetition of 9/11 or explosion of an aircraft in the air is difficult to realize at the present time due to increased security measures. Therefore, the terrorists might try to use radio-controlled models of airplanes, or hand-built cruise missiles (e.g. the ones which were used against Israel during the last Israeli-Palestinian conflict). Small aircraft can carry up to 3 pounds of explosive and destructive elements. They are especially dangerous because they can be run anywhere and they are difficult to detect by the radar and other means of surveillance. Potential targets of these missiles can be well-protected events like the presidential inauguration or any other large crowd of people.

Specialists note a constantly growing activity of hackers belonging to terrorist groups. Anti-terrorist organizations experience more and more difficulties in getting into communication channels of terrorists, because they are using sophisticated attachments with coded messages and images with keys to decoding increasingly often. Experts say that conventional electronic interception can identify only amateurs. In addition, cyber-attacks in the nearest future may become the number one choice for terrorists.

A serious threat is still represented by “dirty bombs” that infect the area with radioactive materials. Raw materials for such bombs can be found in the waste of medical facilities or bought in the countries of the third world. However, the military leaders are relatively comfortable with the consequences of the dirty bomb explosion, since they have long been prepared to overcome the consequences of nuclear war. A quick evacuation will reduce the number of casualties to a minimum, the maximum that can be done by terrorists, is to paralyze a major transport terminal.

However, the military are very apprehensive about another threat – an electromagnetic bomb. It is not very difficult to produce such bomb with appropriate financial resources and knowledge. The most important aspect here is the choice of target for such bombs. The greatest concern is the electromagnetic impulse, which can hit the regions with a huge amount of web traffic. One electromagnetic bomb can destroy up to 40% of the capacity of the Internet in a large city and it will take a year to repair the network (Purpura, 2007).

The most frightening prospect is the presence of skilled terrorists who could use the latest biotechnology. Currently, many bioengineers work around the world mixing and experimenting with different genes, bacteria and viruses. This means that in a decade the technology will fall into the hands of a large number of people, and, unfortunately, no one can guarantee that some of them will not be the terrorists. Experts warn that over the past few years, scientists have invented the target pathogens, which can affect specific groups or individuals (Purpura, 2007).

The only aspect here that allows for some hope is that the acts of bio-terrorism are unlikely to have such a response on television, as the bombing of the subway. It may slightly reduce interest in biotechnology for a number of terrorist groups.

Lethality of conventional bombs is not enough for today’s terrorists. The military experts expect the efforts to create unique homemade bombs with a volume air blast of a compact size that can affect a large area. Unfortunately, these munitions can be constructed relatively easily and still have a great destructive force.

The facts stated above prove that contemporary terrorism presents a serious challenge for the anti-terrorist organizations. Being, in their majority, devoted conservatives, the terrorist, however, widely use the innovations, which were developed to make everyday life easier. This is the paradox, which has to be solved in the nearest future.

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