Technological Challenges in the Service of Counterterrorism

In order to cope with technological threats effectively, the State, under the leadership of the Counterterrorism Bureau, must be capable of analyzing future technologies and the possibilities they offer to the various terrorist elements

Technological Challenges in the Service of Counterterrorism

Photo: IDF

Technology is making quantum leaps and while in the past only states possessed certain capabilities, today, regrettably, states possessing impressive technological capabilities support terrorism (Iran, North Korea). This is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, some impressive technological developments are used by the civilian sector for various needs in such fields as industry, medicine, academia and so forth. On the other hand, these technologies may be directed against us through terrorist elements. So how do you develop capabilities to cope with the "inventiveness of terrorism"?

To illustrate, I will present an example from a field of activity where a solution has been provided or at least where a substantial effort is under way in an attempt to provide a solution. The sniffing of explosives has always been and still remains a significant element in the various security loops, primarily in aviation security. Security professionals realized long ago that a whole world – a technological world primarily – had succeeded in developing a category of improvised explosives that existing sniffer (trace detector) systems cannot identify, which constitutes a threat to civil aviation. Consequently, a serious effort is under way in an attempt to develop the next generation of sniffers (about which, naturally, I will not elaborate) that would be capable of coping with those improvised explosives.

But what happens in the other fields? A professional, cross-organizational, multidisciplinary forum should be established to study the new technologies (those expected to mature in 5-10 years) and attempt to prepare the necessary solutions for them, so that we do not wake up one day to a reality where murderous terrorist possess technological capabilities adopted from the civilian market and currently threaten all of us.

The three examples outlined below should motivate the establishment of the required system (a statutory, budgeted inter-ministry, cross-organizational committee required to present processes and products on a regular basis).

Home 3D Printers: Some of us are familiar with and have seen the video describing the making of a handgun using a 3D printer. Such a handgun cannot be smuggled into a 'sterile' area as it will have to be X-rayed and such screening will detect the bullet. However, 3D printers may produce locks or sealers of the type used to seal sea freight containers. Such locks can give the impression that the cargo/gate is secure, while in fact it was broken into. In this case, the entire concept of secure containers will collapse.

The Cyber World: The cyber world has already been analyzed and discussed very thoroughly and it is not my intention to address the full breadth of the issue. Nevertheless, the vulnerabilities of all security systems (known as low voltage systems), which translate into such threats as disabling of security systems, freezing of surveillance images, planting of alternative images and so forth, constitute a content world which we should address very thoroughly in order to deny potential attackers such capabilities.

Autonomous Cars: A new trend that currently sweeps across the entire high-tech industry involves the attempt (which has thus far been partially successful) to manufacture a driver-less car that may be driven with no need for a human hand or mind. Have we considered the potential terrorist applications of this technology?

In order to cope with technological threats effectively and consistently, the State, under the leadership of the Counterterrorism Bureau, must be capable of analyzing future technologies and the possibilities they offer to the various terrorist elements. What can and should be the output of the inter-ministry, cross-organizational committee described above? It should operate as a regulator while producing technological developments that would minimize the potential advantages of the new technological capabilities if they ever fell into the hands of terrorism.

In the field of sea freight containers, for example, additional sensors should be installed to indicate whether the container had been broken into and whether the equipment it contains had been tampered with. We do not always have to wait until disaster strikes. Sometimes, through a relatively simple technical analysis, we can anticipate the realization of the threat through existing technologies and provide a simple, inexpensive and practical solution that would remain effective at least until the next threat comes along.


Brig. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel is the former head of Israel's Counterterrorism Bureau.

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