There is a weapon available to virtually anybody that is more powerful and effective than a nuclear weapon. The most powerful weapon on earth is not a conventional one… it is anonymity. Anonymity is the tool of the terrorists; it is the tradecraft of the insurgents, and without countermeasures it is deadly. Anonymity is what allows a ‘vetted’ Afghan soldier to self‑detonate in a crowd of coalition partners. In the U.S. state of Kentucky, two known extremists using anonymity were given asylum as refugees in the US and attempted to use that anonymity to hatch a plot to plant a bomb in a mall. Without countermeasures it is the perfect weapon. In this first of a four-part series Joshua Steinhauer asks: what can be done to combat an unseen enemy?
One of the greatest lessons learned from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was how to effectively counter anonymity. These two conflicts were perhaps the largest asymmetric wars since Vietnam. Numerous surrogates were involved in providing funding, material support, training and intelligence to fight against coalition and allied Forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; yet how does one fight against an enemy when the enemy cannot be identified? The answer, like the problem, is complicated. It involves advanced technology and forensic practices that date back over 50 years: human intelligence analysis and old‑fashioned American ingenuity.
At the heart of this simple yet ominous question is biometrics. Biometrics is part of a complex integration of capabilities and tools; it is a tool that enables an analyst to link an event, a person and a timeline, but it does not fully answer the question of anonymity. Before we go further, let’s analyse the event that triggered the integration of technology, intelligence and law enforcement practices