Saturday, December 6, 2008

The next terrorist

This nice-looking, highly educated young man, Jean Bastien-Thiry tried to kill President De Gaulle and was executed. When I was in France, some colleagues of mine, to my surprise, brought flowers to his tomb years and years after his death.
Many people tend to view terrorists as inflamed Muslims: it is a dangerous view. Terrorism always starts at home. Indeed terrorists have one thing in common with pedophiles: they recognize each other, communicate with each other, help each other and commit crimes together. They grow up at home, in a family who defines itself as "victim" and has "enemies". Look at the Balkans, at the IRA, at Palestine, at Serbia, at Kashmer, at Mumbai, and look at Timothy McVeigh. These guys all reason the same way: it is a community of minds.

They are now linked together, thanks to technological progress and globalization. It does not take much for a big hit:
- an intellectual leader and fund provider (remember the Marx-Engels team? Engels, who was of a well-off family was paying all of Marx expenses: terrorists thrive of that kind of alliance).
- a clique of poor and poorly educated idealists trained to be ready for anything.

Terrorism is ancient: the best description of a terrorist was written in 1885 by Emile Zola in Germinal The most instructive movie on the subject is still probably The Day of the Jackal: you got to see Edward Fox in a very impressive interpretation. I met some terrorists, I know what they look like, and they look just like that.

In a way, it is a blessing that they are so wired towards taking lives and getting headlines, because it limits the damage they do. But don't count on it to remain this simple. At Mumbai, they tried to start an Indian-Pakistan war with fake messages. It is interesting, because it goes further than "kill and get the press".

What is next? An alliance with Mexican drug dealers and an attack of the Internet.
Why the Internet? If we get no computers, we cant even go to war. The Internet remains our weakest spot. Yes, the Bush government has spent money on Gov sites' protection, but it is a short view. We need to protect the communication network per se and have banks and businesses protected too.
Why Mexico? 1) It is the closest country with major corruption, it is the easiest way to snuggle in, and there is a lot of cash around. 2) 30 milions Americans are on drugs. Who needs a Muslim terrorist? The pie is here, and it is ready.

How did I form this bizarre opinion? With a bunch of fun information. Here it is.

An old book by Cliff Stoll The cuckoo's egg. This is the true story of a young astronomer from Berkeley making some money as a computer assistant manager. Cliff is in charge of finding the origin of a 75 cents discrepancy between the two systems allotting computer time and billing at Berkeley. This 75 cents error is the astonishing start of the discovery of an international spy network. What you got to remember from the book is that almost nobody takes security at heart for a long time. Since the book, the technology has changed, people have not changed: we all have sloppy records on security.
In Vernon Vinge's Rainbows' end, a man recovering from Alzheimer has to learn new technology. It is just the start of a complex plot. The book deals with augmented reality and virtual worlds and all kinds of exciting concepts.
George Alec Effinger mixed humor, dark thoughts and dark visions in a very unique way. When Gravity Fails is set in a time where the Arab world dominates a decadent western civilization. All kinds of gadgets appear in the book that can modify one's brain.
On the dangers of all this technology to freedom, I thought that The net (1995, with Sandra Bullock) presented a good case. Some people thought that it was too far-fetched: all the stolen info in the movie comes from a popular program. Guess what? It is just what the Russian internet thieves did."A Russian company that sells fake antivirus software that actually takes over a computer pays its illicit distributors as much as $5 million a year." Source:John Markoff, NYTimes, Dec 5, 2008.
As for Mexico, go buy the last Newsweek (Dec,8,2008, Bloodshed on the border) and the last Counter Terrorism (winter issue 2008 Welcome to hell: the mexican drug war).
You add the money that drugs lords make and the money that internet thieves make, you got to conclude that we are more rich than we think. We can afford to lose $100 billion a year (see Markoff paper above) in internet fraud and 65 billions a year in illegal drugs (see We could buy cars with all that money!
In the meantime, where does the drug money go? To friends of the US? Not a chance.
Time to ask yourself and your kids what we asked after 9/11: "Are you funding terrorism?"

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