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Terror technology

by dylan tweney
published 18 september 2001

The world is a smaller place since last week's horrors.

If anyone doubted the ability for events half a world away to hit us right here and now, the bombings on September 11 put that to rest. There's little question any more that we live in an ever-shrinking world, and that the forces of so-called globalization are centripetal as well as centrifugal. It's not just about getting CNN and McDonalds anywhere in the world anymore. Now, clearly, the rest of the world can bring their politics to our doorstep too.

The world is a smaller, more terrifying place, and much of that is thanks to technology. It's frighteningly easy for one person, or a relatively small group of people, to cause destruction, chaos, misery, and confusion from ten thousand miles away.

As the story unfolds of how the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings happened, it's clear that the hijackers' tools went far beyond box cutters and pocket knives. This was a carefully-coordinated operation that spanned many months and, probably, many countries. The terrorists involved almost certainly used email and cell phones extensively [1]; they may also have used instant messaging, faxes, and even messages hidden in pornographic images posted on Usenet [2].

Then, as many have reported, there are the flight simulators -- both high-end commercial simulators available only at flight schools, but also possibly Microsoft Flight Simulator, which includes detailed cockpit mockups as well as the exact latitude and longitude of the World Trade Center (along with other notable landmarks) [3].

The terrorists had a detailed understanding of airport security technologies and its limitations -- the fact that a plastic box cutter's one razor blade won't trigger an airport metal detector, for instance -- and of airplane technologies. It may turn out that the terrorists did research on the Internet to find out about the construction of the World Trade Center, the layout of the Pentagon, the volatility of jet fuel, and more.

After the attacks, the Internet carried news to every corner. Like many people, I spent much of last week glued to my browser, looking for information, insight, or some scraps of explanation -- grasping for straws, really -- about the horror. While the Internet (and particularly the top news sites) suffered some slowdowns early Tuesday, it actually held up quite well, and proved itself a critical channel not only for news, but also for personal and business communication [4]. When the phone lines overloaded, many people found they could still get through to friends and coworkers in Manhattan via instant messaging or email [5].

Technology, which has enabled American culture to spread throughout the world, is now allowing that world to strike back at us. It's tying us all together in one big, sticky web. Globalization is no longer simply about putting KFC in Tienanmen Square and Baywatch on TV sets in mud-daubed huts. It's no longer just the story of multinational corporations and favorable labor markets. It's now the story of how, through technology, we are all connected: How boardrooms in New York can exert control over villages in Nigeria; how a straw hut in the Afghan desert can wreak destruction on Manhattan. How the whole world can watch as buildings crumble and burn.

Indeed, "globalization" is a misnomer because it implies a process that is ongoing. It would be more accurate to say that the world has been globalized already. Technology has already opened the door, and we've already seen a few things come through it.

The question is, what is going to come through that door now?


[1] Hiding like snakes in the e-grass (9/14)

[2] Terror groups hide behind Web encryption (6/19/2001)

[3] What Comes Next?

[4] Terror, Tragedy of Attacks Ripple to the Net

[5] The day the Internet grew up


From: "Staruk, Harry" <>
Date sent: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 12:05:21 -0400

Yes, the hijackers surely used new technology, but one of the terrorists
lost some luggage when he flew from Maine to Boston. The bag was found to
contain a book that showed much more detailed information about the
cockpit than MS Flight Sim would show.

I think you overstated the facts when you said that "Technology,... is now
allowing that world to strike back at us." Unless, of course, you were
referring to the invention of the printing press.

Thank you for a thought-provoking newsletter.
Harry Staruk

Date sent: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 12:26:19 -0400
From: "Torresen Marine Inc." <>

There's a technology role that can even lead back to older
technology. I have read that Bin Laden used to use satellite phones.
Then we starting intercepting them. So for the past few years he has not
made phone calls, but rather used couriers to carry messages and

Have an Interesting Day,
Ike Stephenson
Torresen Sailing Site

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