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Terrorists Are Using Drones Now. And That’s Not the Worst of It.
by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross - Fortune
Sixteen years after the 9/11 attacks and the onset of the “war on terror,” the jihadist movement has grown stronger in almost every measurable way. Jihadists enjoy more safe havens throughout the globe, control more territory, are at the forefront of more insurgencies, and have achieved more popular support than they did 16 years ago. The pace and lethality of terrorist attacks in Europe represents something of a nightmare scenario, with hundreds of Europeans dying in the past three years. ISIS’s mobilization of foreign fighters creates a looming security issue across dozens of countries that will have to deal with returning fighters.
While the factors leading us to this alarming state of affairs are many—including ill-conceived foreign adventures and critical misreadings by analysts at key junctures, including the lead-up to the Iraq war and early on the Arab uprisings—we cannot overlook how technological advances have provided terrorists with significant new opportunities.
Technology has tended to have an ambiguous impact on sub-state violence. While militant groups seek to capitalize on new advances, states can leverage these same platforms, including for surveillance and getting information from local populations.
One of the most important studies on this issue, by political scientists Jacob Shapiro and Nils Weidmann, used micro-level data from Iraq to compare trends in cellphone network penetration with insurgent violence. The trends in declining violence that Shapiro and Weidmann found suggested to them “that cellphone coverage reduces insurgent violence largely because it enhances voluntary information flow from noncombatants to counterinsurgents by reducing the risks of informing.”