Will terrorists be using drones and technology? | QUICK HITS 33

There is a lot of talk about terrorist use of advanced technology. How afraid should we be about this? Is the end of the world around the corner?

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In this podcast, retired Canadian intelligence analyst Phil Gurski discusses the subject of terrorism: what it is (and isn’t), trends, developments and more. Phil Gurski, author of five books on terrorism, is not shy to wade into controversial matters and provide his perspective honed from more than three decades in intelligence. From Canada to the greater West to the world, subscribe to listen to the thoughts of a person who ‘worked at the coalface’ for many years.

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2 thoughts on “Will terrorists be using drones and technology? | QUICK HITS 33

  1. OK. So, access to drone technology is proven, as is use by terrorists and their capability. To use swarms, terrorists would need to obtain large numbers and also high explosive (HE) – or some small weapon to use. In this, radiological material is also a really option as it is not too difficult to procure if you think about it. [Remember the Radioactive Boy Scout?: https://harpers.org/archive/1998/11/the-radioactive-boy-scout/ and https://arstechnica.com/science/2016/11/this-fall-the-radioactive-boy-scout-died-at-age-39/%5D But, the drone can be the weapon itself, even if it is not carrying a payload of HE or anything else. To be sure:
    1. a large number of drones loosed near an airport or over a sports stadium could cause panic, fear and apprehension and mass disruption;
    2. If you “seed” some of the drones with a weapon, (or led others to believe you have – remember AQ’s biological program?) then authorities will think the rest are also weaponised. And that is the point: asymmetrical warfare. It is not about what you actually can do – but what your enemy thinks you can do. And the response that provokes. This is the approach that Dhrien Barot intended with his AQ funded plot to buy and then burn thousands of smoke detectors. See https://arstechnica.com/science/2016/11/this-fall-the-radioactive-boy-scout-died-at-age-39/.
    3. You say in the podcast that terrorists are not an existential threat. Putting to one side the incorrect use of “existential” – I guess you really are not suggesting they are not a threat to black sunglasses, stripy T-shirts, berets, Gaulois cigarettes and impossibly gorgeous but aloof blondes, I guess. It is true they are not a threat by their singular actions to the constitutional order BUT: the threat they pose – apart from loss of life which can be very high – is the response by authorities in dealing with this menace. In the last two decades, Western democracies have implemented many laws that erode civil and political rights, intrude into the lives of citizens and effectively curtailed to varying degrees democratic institutions and practices. We now in the West have a surveillance state. So, while the terrorists have not by their direct actions destroyed Western liberal democracy, they have provoked responses from governments that have led those governments to begin dismantling those societies. We are now a little more authoritarian. So, they are a threat to western liberal democracies, because they provoke responses from us that involve dismantling the constitutional order.
    Moreover, terrorists foment in society suspicion; they erode social cohesion, create division, and provide a fertile ground for divisive politics, which is exploited by populist politicians. Society becomes “US” and “THEM”; patriots and traitors (or suspected traitors). And this, in part, is what has fueled the emergence of the “unorthodox” right (and left, in some cases): ethno nationalists and various forms of supremacism, conspiracy theories (e.g. in the US, Qanon) not only in the US, but also Europe, Russia, China, India and so on; distrust in science and in government – exploited by the same populist politicians, who peddle conspiracy theories about “elites” and globalists – and various forms of antisemitism – code for the “Jewish conspiracy”. And just look at the Western countries losing their minds over free speech following the mass murder in Christchurch. We now have less of it.
    The terrorists have succeeded to a large extent.
    So, I disagree that terrorists are as ineffectual or as irrelevant as you suggest. The problem is one of focus and depiction: understanding not just their motivation but intent. The security services focus on loss of life; the terrorists focus on change of the system, not only via coercion, but from our fearful response. They have won. In many Western countries, the constitutional order has been “modified”.
    [I can’t claim credit for this rather bleak analysis. It comes from notes I took in a security environment lecture I attended in 2011 by a man who has now passed away, I understand. He worked for a Western secret service. His colleagues laughed at him. The audience did not.]

  2. Hi Phil
    Interesting podcast but, in general I do not agree. While it is no time to panic, terrorist use of drones is not novel and it is something we need to be aware of. And well within the reach of your average 12 year old. First, some history.
    1. ISIS used drones in Syria and Iraq. Some were off the shelf and they were designing and making their own. Here is an NYT story, that includes footage: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/23/world/middleeast/isis-drones-pentagon-experiments.html. The footage may be manipulated, but there are multiple reports of drones dropping explosive devices – some apparently with excess of 4kg of HE. ISIS procurement network used people located in Western nations, and Denmark was something of a centre: https://www.c4isrnet.com/unmanned/2018/09/28/arrests-in-denmark-suggest-isis-still-has-drone-buyers-in-europe/ and https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/denmark-charges-men-buying-drones-64145207 and https://apnews.com/01e97c3d885b49e089b7c70ae7fda8fb/2-held-in-Denmark-suspected-of-buying-drones-for-IS.
    2. Drones were used in coordinated attacks against Saudi oil installations, but authorship was attributed to Iran: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/14/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-refineries-drone-attack.html. Iran is known, like North Korea, to export drone technology to less than savory groups and individuals,
    3. The Houthis have repeatedly used drones to attack Yemeni government interests: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security/houthi-drones-kill-several-at-yemeni-military-parade-idUSKCN1P40N9. Again, the drones may have been Iranian in origin. However, the Houthis did go public with drone designed they claimed were all their own work.
    4. Rezwan Ferdaus, 26-year-old Ashland man was arrested and charged in connection with his plot to damage or destroy the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol, using large remote controlled aircraft filled with C-4 plastic explosives. https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/boston/press-releases/2011/massachusetts-man-charged-with-plotting-attack-on-pentagon-and-u.s.-capitol-and-attempting-to-provide-material-support-to-a-foreign-terrorist-organization.
    5. Drones do not only fly. They can be boats or vehicles. See: Four ‘planned to bomb Territorial Army base’ with toy car” https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-22156243. And the Houthis developed – or were given boats: https://eeradicalization.com/remote-controlled-terror-houthi-suicide-boats/.
    6. Haisem Zahab, a 42 year old electrician living in Young, NSW, Australia, was jailed for helping Islamic State develop sophisticated missile technology. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jun/08/nsw-electrician-jailed-for-providing-missile-advice-to-islamic-state and https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-28/young-arrest-alleged-terrorism-offences-canberra/8311270 and https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/nsw-electrician-jailed-for-missile-research-to-help-is-20190607-p51vgj.html and https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/07/world/australia/islamic-state-terrorism-rockets.html. Although the prosecution claimed the research was on track to produce viable devices, experts of my acquaintance who reviewed the information said it was “pie in the sky”.
    7. Relatively competent people can design and build autonomous drones – and it is possible to program them with a flight path. All from the privacy of your own home. See: James May’s Toy Stories: Model AIRPLANE across the SEA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y19b0KCFiVc.
    8. As for swarms of drones. That is really quite possible. It depends on how big you want the swarms to be, you capacity to purchase them without being notices and the capacity to obtain HE (if that is how you want to use them). Chinese state media posted a video purporting to be 2000 illuminated drones giving a coordinated display to mimic fireworks, for NYE. However, the display did not occur on NYE. But was apparently filmed a few days before: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_DkUXiLczE.
    9. There are multiple cases of drones being used to snoop on defence installations, to fly near air ports (which can be closed) and also forest fires – authorities in the US, Canada, Australia and France regularly please with people not to fly drones near the fires.
    I’ll make a subsequent comment on why I think you are thinking about all this the wrong way.

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