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The Role of Technology and the GWOT

There are those who are naïve enough to conclude that because there have been no attacks on U.S. soil in seven years, that we can safely lower our guard. There are still others who believe that the prosecution of the Global War on Terrorism can depend upon conventional methods. Even Secretary of Defense Gates has commented that there are limits to the effectiveness of military force and advanced technology.

"Be modest about what military force can accomplish and what technology can accomplish," Gates said. He urged his audience to have an "appreciation of limits" of military power, arguing that although the U.S. has achieved huge advances in targeting and intelligence that have made attacks more precise, warfare is "inevitably tragic, inefficient and uncertain."
The comments amounted to a critique of a military theory called "effects-based operations," which argues in part that the government can carefully craft military interventions to have a predictable effect.

With all due respect to Secretary Gates, our very devious, determined and asymmetric enemies in this ever-evolving war will not be constrained by rules of engagement or by limitations on defense budgets. At the same time, he observed, and in my opinion, is correct in saying that the types of war, “regular and asymmetric” are blurring. However, given that “blurring” it could be argued that more and not less technology is needed.

In an article written in April 2002, Dr. Ruth David, formerly Deputy Director for Science and Technology at the Central Intelligence Agency and now President and CEO of Analytic Services Inc. (ANSER), wrote about the importance of technology in fighting the War on Terrorism was made quite clear. ANSER is a related organization to the Homeland Security Institute (HIS), currently a Federally Funded Research & Development Corporation (FFRDC) of the Department of Homeland Security,

Some asymmetric threats simply cannot be effectively countered given today's technologies; a sustained research program is needed to discover or invent the requisite tools. But such problems are rarely unique to the homeland security mission, so a significant opportunity exists to leverage investments made elsewhere—by government as well as by industry—through cooperative research portfolio management. The challenge will be to ensure that research results are adapted to the homeland security mission and implemented as an enterprise solution… …What is needed today is a homeland security laboratory enterprise that supports implementation, innovation, and invention of solutions for the homeland security operational enterprise. The purpose is not to replicate what is more effectively accomplished by commercial industry or academia, but rather to complement and facilitate their efforts—to maximize our national return on investment.

Why is this important? It is important because no matter which of the candidates emerges on November 5th as the next President of the United States, any diminution of our commitment to fighting the War on Terrorism, not just with our troops, but with the creativity and inventiveness of our American ingenuity, could well lead to unimaginable consequences. We have to stay ahead of the jihadists by continuing to develop measures and countermeasures to whatever tactics they develop.

Of course, the development and then transition of technology to use by the “good guys” is a double-edged sword. In this edited version of a lecture delivered by Sir Richard Mottram, Former UK Permanent Secretary for Intelligence, Security and Resilience, at the Euroscience Open Forum Conference in Barcelona, in July 2008

“The role of science and technology in helping to counter terrorism is very important and of significant potential value. But science also potentially contributes to the problem.

No matter the risks of technologies falling into the wrong hands, the risks of not continuing the development of new technologies, analytical tools and weapons is an imperative. Just one of many new approaches being funded by the Defense Department is the Behavioral Trajectories program. The objective of this new system is to predict shifts in enemy behavior by developing a decision aid that captures and analyzes both spatial location and time dynamics of events and background processes.

In this evolving War on Terrorism, each element is important and contributes to the ever-changing picture of the threat. Any change in policy toward defending this nation using new technology or enhancing the capabilities of the future warfighter, could have horrible results. Just that we are now on a Continuing Resolution through March 2009 is a bad sign in my opinion.