Merchant of Death
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The Viral Spread of Explosive Technologies in the Land of Jihad
One of the most alarming things about the new transnationalism among terrorist groups is the rapid ability to transfer knowledge and technology, both through the the Internet and through individual training.

The crossover of technologies is not new, and we know from public records in the trials from the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassies in East Africa that al Qaeda and Hezbollah met in Sudan to exchange information and training.

But what is making the current situation different is that, instead of having to travel and hold clandestine meetings to trade information and methods, much of the information can now be transferred in the blink of an eye or the touch of a computer key.

Military sources say that the switching from low tech Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to high tech back to low tech is mirrored almost in real time between insurgents in Iraq and those fighting in Afghanistan.

This suggests a tight network that is able to communicate efficiently, with enough decentralization so anyone can work on solutions without going through a bureaucratic decision-making process.

Every advance the U.S. troops make in detecting and blocking the explosive devices is almost immediately circumvented by insurgents in one place or the other, and the solutions, like patches to holes in the Internet, are passed back and forth.

So too are the new, ever more deadly technologies to improve the lethal impact of car bombs and other explosive devises that together account for almost three-quarters of U.S. and allied casualties in the both theaters of conflict.

This was one of the points I was trying to make in my previous posting: The borders that once existed no longer do, and the decentralized nature of the groups seeking to hurt us-whether criminal or terrorist, make attacking them a challenge we are still largely unprepared to meet.

With decentralized networks, sort of like Napster in the music world or Skype in the computer/telecommunications world, once a technology is invented to solve a certain problem, it is put out there with no strings attached. People can take it, improve it, merge it, and it belongs to no one and everyone.

It flows to terrorists and criminals alike, because they swim in the same waters.

This is one of the great challenges of these conflict theaters. We are fighting as centralized units, geared still toward traditional combat postures and functioning as if we were fighting a conventional army.

In reality we are fighting a viral network that can be disrupted, hurt, but which has a regenerative capacity that is only limited by the number of people wanting to wage jihad against us.

The answer has to be to radically rethink the military strategy in these types of war. Otherwise, we limit ourselves to avoiding defeat, without the chance of victory.

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