In a time when a greater peace appears to be breaking out, smaller conflicts appear to be on the upswing. There are two major causes for this--the death of the superpowers and the stability they brought, and a severe reduction in the minimum means necessary to engage in conflict. The preferred method? Terror.
Terrorism has been correctly identified as being media driven. In its guerrilla warfare form, terrorism is intended to bring attention to a conflict when the media is perceived to be controlled by the opposition or when it has no wish to cover the conflict otherwise. Organizations such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (RA) or the Palestinian Intifada fall into this category--RA against British rule and control of the media, the Intifada against Israeli occupation, with a media bias in favor of Israel. Other terrorism is for the purpose of distraction, slight of hand, or revenge. Syria, Iraq, and Iran, following their belief that the ability to destroy is the ability to control, have used terror acts to control the Palestinian peace process terms and timing; the Syrian-backed Al Saiqa attack in Austria just prior to the October War distracted Israel from the impending threat; and attacks such as Black September's Munich Olympic operation, were purely reprisal.
Over time, terrorism has changed its form. The first generation of 'modern' terrorism, post-World War II, was based on a theory of attrition, a strategy of exhaustion. Target profiles were 'no retreat,' such as airplane hijackings and Embassy takeovers. Counter-terror tactics caught up at Entebbe, showing that police methods and commando strikes worked against this threat. Second generation terrorist attacks stemmed from a reactive evolution and focused on a strategy of recognition, almost a coercive propaganda. These methods were adopted, in different forms, by the RA and Palestinian groups. 'No contact' targets were adopted, primarily through the use of explosive devices. Attack on this strategy was made by criminalizing the action, with complete removal of the political context in media coverage of the event or group carrying out the operation.
The next step in terrorism, which is happening now, applies technology to overcome these problems. While nations' military and intelligence services re-tool themselves to deal with the fall of the Eastern bloc and worry about nuclear proliferation, a different genie has come out of the bottle, one that can't be put back in, and for which there is no infrastructural control possible.
Communications technology has revolutionized the way the average man lives, works, thinks, and plays. The popularization of this technological infrastructure will provide a ready tool for the future terrorist--a global arena and a way to leverage limited resource. Soon to be gone (in most parts of the world) will be the cut-outs, drops, forwards and other elements of tradecraft in the Cold War period.
The telephone system, with its anonymous payphones, reprogrammed cellular phones that allow one to roam, facsimile machines, alphanumeric pagers, and voicemail are only the beginning. In and of themselves, they can act as a digital replacement for most items of tradecraft, but they provide even better services. They also allow computer networks, private and public, with numerous anonymous entrypoints, to move information around without worry; information as simple as a scanned image altered in a creative fashion to be distributed, laser printed, copied, and distributed for propaganda purposes; or information as potent as a continuing evolutionary design of explosive devices. Distribution through the electronic mail, mailing lists, anonymous remailers, newsgroups, or whatever, can now act as a 'community memory,' keeping all parties informed of all evolution in tactic, technique, and technology.
Digital cryptography for the masses has provided another powerful tool. Messages can be secured using public-key cryptographic technology, among other methods, for authenticated distribution--internal to a 'virtual organization' for things such as operational plans, or external, to media organizations to provide propaganda statements to negate counter-terror efforts to 'close the lid' on issues. Even this technology is rapidly evolving and will provide even greater capabilities--voice encryption using a normal computer, providing security and authentication for dynamic, real-time communication; the ability to disguise secure information as signal 'noise' inside of other data, innocuous or not, such as the large pornographic sub-culture on the public computer networks. This technology is being given away free to any who want it, even making the 'source code' available, to allow the user to be certain it isn't gimmicked; this allows a more sophisticated user to make alterations, or use certain techniques for other purposes (such as the creation of a cryptographic computer virus, which infect a system and encrypt data with a public key technique for blackmail purposes, since capturing the virus doesn't provide a mechanism for retrieving the data). Rising interest in such technology have also made available the cryptanalysis resources for attacking such systems, which secure personal, corporate, and government computers world-wide.
Technology is making direct alterations in the way every organization operates; terrorist groups, or for that matter, any organization with the wherewithal to, can drop the hierarchical or 'cell' structure that is out of date. Such structures, other than being inefficient, have also become negated through contract tracing, traffic analysis, or 'gateway' style checkpoints on members which make the entire organization vulnerable. Heterarchies, with localized independent action are the next wave, with authority being roll-based and functional, and structures only being one level deep, allowing direct control or supervision but providing complete isolation from the other elements of the network.
Recruiting is effected--members who are voluntarists can be thoroughly investigated before trust is given. Collateral networks can be established as never before--vulnerable elements on the computer networks such as women or homosexuals can be exploited; tracing back dependent behavior such as drugs, sexual, or other deviant behavior can provide blackmail leverage; mules can be recruited among the population who are still legal 'minors.' Legends, cover stories, for members of the organization can be made quite thorough and backdated.
Funding for the organization can come from industrial espionage, which requires essentially the same virtual infrastructure, computer crime, or blackmail. The needs of the organization won't be extreme, however, as the technology provides leverage, and the infrastructural costs are practically negligible, carried mainly by the legitimate use by the populous at large.
Operations gain considerably, and intelligence and research, the backbone of any organization, profit most; targets can be isolated and an in-depth background brief and schedule developed through penetration of computers and communications (including contact tracing, purchasing habits, travel, etc.), and all in a fashion that doesn't alert the target or any security protection they may have. Training, planning, and debriefing can benefit from virtual walk-throughs, models of anything important to the operation built entirely in advance, which can be used together by team members who need never meet to use them, working over secured networks. Post operation 'spin control' can benefit from massive monitoring of media channels and real-time propaganda or manipulation. Operations may even become fully digital--information warfare attacks are highly leveraged, low cost, can be done at any distance, take whatever time needed yet be synchronized, have complete surprise, and move faster than the opposition can respond to.
There is very little in the world of intelligence that is not now available to most anyone with technology and the will. More so than any 'dual use' technology, computers and communications are an equalizer, in a world where whomever makes the first move, wins.