What if…”High Tech Cat and Mouse”

Recently, Wired’s Danger Room blog (@dangerroom) has posted two stories that demonstrate each technological evolution in warfare is but one bit of a cat and mouse game between enemies. In this case, American technological innovations are often met with creative responses by insurgents.

The first story discusses a recent video by Ansar al-Islam that shows Iraqi extremists fashioning homemade silencers, building custom-made rockets, and soldering their own circuit boards. Even more striking, the video finishes with a remotely-controlled automobile driving in the desert and on it, a tripod-mounted machine gun fires remotely. Danger Room author Noah Shachtman notes that this video comes as U.S. troops prepare to leave by the end of the year. After they leave, technical superiority may swing in the extremists’ favor.

The second story discusses a computer virus that has infected the U.S. drone fleet. The virus appears to also contain a keylogger program that has hit classified and unclassified computers. It has not prevented pilots from flying the drones, but it has resisted multiple efforts at deletion. Officials are unsure if there has been any transmission of the keylogs or other classified data. Officials also remain unsure of the virus’s origin or purpose. This is not the first security breach affecting the drones. In 2009, the U.S. military realized that insurgents could receive and record the unencrypted drone video using a $30 piece of machinery.

An insurgency survives by sapping the will and morale of the enemy. The use of fear and surprise are very effective tactics. By necessity, insurgents must be quick to adapt if they are to keep the enemy in a state of anxiety and fear. By choosing to remain in a war zone, the insurgents’ resources become depleted. They must use everyday objects as weapons. This could mean sharpened bamboo in a concealed pit or an IED placed amid roadside trash. Interestingly, today these everyday objects include the internet, computer programming, and robotics. Keylogger scripts and basic robotic designs can be downloaded, and new/successful tactics can be transmitted to others, easily. As both sides of an insurgency climb the technical ladder, the number of tactical options available to both sides increases, assuming a sufficient financial and educational base on both sides.

What if, as insurgents decrease in number, those that remain become more extreme, more driven? What if, knowing their dwindling numbers, they move away from suicide bombing, and focus on viruses, hacking, and bombs placed in either remote-controlled cars or in an insurgent-built drone?

To take it a step further, what if wars could be fought remotely? There is evidence that someone inside Russia attacked Georgia’s networks during the recent invasion. What if wars were fought by sensors, robots, and drones? Although killing people and destroying property, would the video-game-like nature of the war make the threshold to entry lower? What if it meant putting fewer troops at risk (the U.S. operates drones in Iraq and Afghanistan out of Nevada)? If you didn’t have your own mechanical army, how would you respond? Instead of your typical defense, you might have to build signal-jamming equipment, design viruses, and hack your enemy’s networks and infrastructure. Then again, as described in the book Robopocalypse, even robots can succumb to everyday objects like big chunks of rubble impeding their path. I suppose, as we are learning right now, a mix of every-day and high-tech items will be with us for a long time. I guess the more creative side wins.

What do you think of the Danger Room stories? What do you think of the future of insurgency and counter-insurgency? What do you think the next few rounds of high tech cat and mouse will look like?