Entries Tagged "al Qaeda"

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Bin Laden Maintained Computer Security with an Air Gap

From the Associated Press:

Bin Laden’s system was built on discipline and trust. But it also left behind an extensive archive of email exchanges for the U.S. to scour. The trove of electronic records pulled out of his compound after he was killed last week is revealing thousands of messages and potentially hundreds of email addresses, the AP has learned.

Holed up in his walled compound in northeast Pakistan with no phone or Internet capabilities, bin Laden would type a message on his computer without an Internet connection, then save it using a thumb-sized flash drive. He then passed the flash drive to a trusted courier, who would head for a distant Internet cafe.

At that location, the courier would plug the memory drive into a computer, copy bin Laden’s message into an email and send it. Reversing the process, the courier would copy any incoming email to the flash drive and return to the compound, where bin Laden would read his messages offline.

I’m impressed. It’s hard to maintain this kind of COMSEC discipline.

It was a slow, toilsome process. And it was so meticulous that even veteran intelligence officials have marveled at bin Laden’s ability to maintain it for so long. The U.S. always suspected bin Laden was communicating through couriers but did not anticipate the breadth of his communications as revealed by the materials he left behind.

Navy SEALs hauled away roughly 100 flash memory drives after they killed bin Laden, and officials said they appear to archive the back-and-forth communication between bin Laden and his associates around the world.

Posted on May 18, 2011 at 8:45 AMView Comments

Extreme Authentication

Exactly how did they confirm it was Bin Laden’s body?

Officials compared the DNA of the person killed at the Abbottabad compound with the bin Laden “family DNA” to determine that the 9/11 mastermind had in fact been killed, a senior administration official said.

It was not clear how many different family members’ samples were compared or whose DNA was used.

[…]

Also to identify bin Laden, a visual ID was made. There were photo comparisons and other facial recognition used to identify him, the official said. A second official said that in addition to DNA, there was full biometric analysis of facial and body features.

EDITED TO ADD (5/5): A better article.

Posted on May 5, 2011 at 12:52 PMView Comments

Bin Laden's Death Causes Spike in Suspicious Package Reports

It’s not that the risk is greater, it’s that the fear is greater. Data from New York:

There were 10,566 reports of suspicious objects across the five boroughs in 2010. So far this year, the total was 2,775 as of Tuesday compared with 2,477 through the same period last year.

[…]

The daily totals typically spike when terrorist plot makes headlines here or overseas, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said Tuesday. The false alarms themselves sometimes get break-in cable news coverage or feed chatter online, fueling further fright.

On Monday, with news of the dramatic military raid of bin Laden’s Pakistani lair at full throttle, there were 62 reports of suspicious packages. The previous Monday, the 24-hour total was 18. All were deemed non-threats.

Despite all the false alarms, the New York Police Department still wants to hear them:

“We anticipate that with increased public vigilance comes an increase in false alarms for suspicious packages,” Kelly said at the Monday news conference. “This typically happens at times of heightened awareness. But we don’t want to discourage the public. If you see something, say something.”

That slogan, oddly enough, is owned by New York’s transit authority.

I have a different opinion: “If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get amateur security.”

People have always come forward to tell the police when they see something genuinely suspicious, and should continue to do so. But encouraging people to raise an alarm every time they’re spooked only squanders our security resources and makes no one safer.

Refuse to be terrorized,” people.

Posted on May 5, 2011 at 6:43 AMView Comments

How Peer Review Doesn't Work

In this amusing story of a terrorist plotter using pencil-and-paper cryptography instead of actually secure cryptography, there’s this great paragraph:

Despite urging by the Yemen-based al Qaida leader Anwar Al Anlaki, Karim also rejected the use of a sophisticated code program called “Mujhaddin Secrets”, which implements all the AES candidate cyphers, “because ‘kaffirs’, or non-believers, know about it so it must be less secure”.

Posted on March 30, 2011 at 7:14 AMView Comments

Good Article About the Terrorist Non-Threat

From Reason:

Know thy enemy is an ancient principle of warfare. And if America had
heeded it, it might have refrained from a full-scale “war” on terrorism whose price tag is touching $2 TRILLION. That’s because the Islamist enemy it is confronting is not some hyper-power capable of inflicting existential — or even grave — harm. It is, rather, a rag-tag band of peasants whose malevolent ambitions are far beyond the capacity of their shallow talent pool to deliver.

Posted on February 24, 2011 at 6:44 AMView Comments

Causing Terror on the Cheap

Total cost for the Yemeni printer cartridge bomb plot: $4200.

“Two Nokia mobiles, $150 each, two HP printers, $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200. That is all what Operation Hemorrhage cost us,” the magazine said.

Even if you add in costs for training, recruiting, logistics, and everything else, that’s still remarkably cheap. And think of how many times that we spent in security in the aftermath.

As it turns out, this is bin Laden’s plan:

In his October 2004 address to the American people, bin Laden noted that the 9/11 attacks cost al Qaeda only a fraction of the damage inflicted upon the United States. “Al Qaeda spent $500,000 on the event,” he said, “while America in the incident and its aftermath lost — according to the lowest estimates — more than $500 billion, meaning that every dollar of al Qaeda defeated a million dollars.”

The economic strategy of jihad would go through refinement. Its initial phase linked terrorist attacks broadly to economic harm. A second identifiable phase, which al Qaeda pursued even as it continued to attack economic targets, is what you might call its “bleed-until-bankruptcy plan.” Bin Laden announced this plan in October 2004, in the same video in which he boasted of the economic harm inflicted by 9/11. Terrorist attacks are often designed to provoke an overreaction from the opponent and this phase seeks to embroil the United States and its allies in draining wars in the Muslim world. The mujahideen “bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt,” bin Laden said, and they would now do the same to the United States.

[…]

The point is clear: Security is expensive, and driving up costs is one way jihadists can wear down Western economies. The writer encourages the United States “not to spare millions of dollars to protect these targets” by increasing the number of guards, searching all who enter those places, and even preventing flying objects from approaching the targets. “Tell them that the life of the American citizen is in danger and that his life is more significant than billions of dollars,” he wrote. “Hand in hand, we will be with you until you are bankrupt and your economy collapses.”

None of this would work if we don’t help them by terrorizing ourselves. I wrote this after the Underwear Bomber failed:

Finally, we need to be indomitable. The real security failure on Christmas Day was in our reaction. We’re reacting out of fear, wasting money on the story rather than securing ourselves against the threat. Abdulmutallab succeeded in causing terror even though his attack failed.

If we refuse to be terrorized, if we refuse to implement security theater and remember that we can never completely eliminate the risk of terrorism, then the terrorists fail even if their attacks succeed.

Posted on November 29, 2010 at 6:52 AMView Comments

Defeating al Qaeda

Rare common sense:

But Gen Richards told the BBC it was not possible to defeat the Taliban or al-Qaeda militarily.

“You can’t. We’ve all said this. David Petraeus has said it, I’ve said it.

“The trick is the balance of things that you’re doing and I say that the military are just about, you know, there.

“The biggest problem’s been ensuring that the governance and all the development side can keep up with it within a time frame and these things take generations sometimes within a time frame that is acceptable to domestic, public and political opinion,” he said.

[…]

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy told the BBC Gen Richards was “right” that there was no purely military solution and said there would be “no white flag surrender moment”.

“This is a complicated issue. It will be for the long haul. It’s got to do with history.

“But I think he’s right to talk about the different ways that this has got to be taken on – militarily yes but diplomatically and in a peaceful sense of nation building in Afghanistan is also important,” he said.

Posted on November 22, 2010 at 1:08 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.