Others have argued a bit more rationally that, if anything, Snowden’s leaks have only confirmed what was widely suspected — that the NSA (and its Five Eyes allies) had access to a vast amount of data and communications. It may have filled in a few missing details and warned them away from buying American hardware and software, but by and large, didn’t result in completely overhauled communications systems.
An article for the Daily Beast written by Shane Harris and Noah Shachtmanadds a few more voices to this discussion. It opens with intelligence officials discussing the difficulty they’re having keeping tabs on ISIS.
In addition to encryption that American officials say has proven very difficult to crack, ISIS is also using a commercially available service that permanently deletes messages sent via the Internet, making them nearly impossible to intercept, according to an individual who was briefed on the issue Thursday.
More details are offered, including the unsurprising fact that the terrorist group considers cellphones to be inherently untrustworthy.
[I]SIS is practicing tight controls on their communications, especially at the top of the organization.
“These guys have a level of discipline. They will enforce through the ranks not using cellphones,” said the individual who was briefed on ISIS counter-surveillance techniques. The group has also used couriers to convey some messages in order to avoid digital communications altogether.
We will only win this war if we use more non-linear thinking, as has been shown by people like General Paul van Riper. The NSA seems to only be able to use centralized, linear, hierarchical thinking.
I wrote about this problematic attitude over 12 years ago. In a wargame scenario, the general ran the jihadist’s side (the Reds). He was able to sink the entire US fleet before they could even respond. He used motorcycle messengers to carry instructions so that our high tech eavesdropping did not work. Here is how the New York Times described the debacle:
when the Blue fleet sailed into the Persian Gulf early in the experiment, Van Riper’s forces surrounded the ships with small boats and planes sailing and flying in apparently innocuous circles. When the Blue commander issued an ultimatum to Red to surrender or face destruction, Van Riper took the initiative, issuing attack orders via the morning call to prayer broadcast from the minarets of his country’s mosques. His force’s small boats and aircraft sped into action By that time there wasn’t enough time left to intercept them,’ Oakley said. As a result of Van Riper’s cunning, much of the Blue navy ended up at the bottom of the ocean. The Joint Forces Command officials had to stop the exercise and ‘refloat’ the fleet in order to continue, Oakley said.
They coordinated the actions by the call to prayer rather than telephones. The only way the US one this war game was to cheat, to raise up the US fleet and tell van Riper he could not do things like that, only things the Blue Team approved. He rightly resigned.
The US agencies need to grow up and stop cheating in order to ‘win.’
Read this article to see how van Riper thinks about making decisions. It is always amazing to see someone talk about the second law of thermodynamics, chaos, systems thinking and the many non-linaer things we must deal with, especially war.
We need more non-linear thinkers like Gen. van Riper
Like the US fleet in the war game, NSA got lazy because so much of the easy stuff was centrally accessible, flowing through servers it controlled. So linear thinking prevailed on the easy stuff.
Thus it wants everything to continue to be centralized so that it can easily find stuff. But the stuff it finds is not from those it seeks. Like the drunk demonstrating the streetlight effect, they keep looking elsewhere it is easy rather than where the terrorists are. Like our phone messages.
The terrorists are the antithesis of centralized, hierarchical authoritarians. They use non-linear distributed democracies to fight and we need to also.
Anyone suggesting frontal assaults against ISIL is playing a losing game. We need new tactics.
Perhaps trainining up a lot of Seal Team 6 tactical groups to raid ISIL territory and leave. Perhaps send in undercover specialists to join ISIL and destroy them from within.
Perhaps bring General van Riper out of retirement.