Defence Industry

Communication Technologies and non-state Actors
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Issue Vol 24.3 Jul-Sep2009 | Date : 12 Jan , 2011

an estimated eight lakh cheap phones come into India every month from China without International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number.21 Such phones have back channel linkages and hence a possibility exists that Chinese security establishments could be in a position to trace and monitor communication.

The security agencies are worried that the use of the Blackberry by him would allow hackers to hack his e-mail account and could provide a gateway to the President’s Information Technology setup. More importantly, the real threat is that this allows the potential attackers to identify his physical location. This is because each mobile phone has a unique serial number known as the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) or MEID (Mobile Equipment Identifier). This number is transmitted in clear text, whenever the phone communicates with a nearby cell tower. The contents of a phone call or an e-mail are usually encrypted. However, anyone with the right equipment can home in on a particular IMEI and identify the location of the source of that signal.13

Terrorist organizations have found mobile phones also very handy for using them as a triggering mechanism for detonating bombs. There have been incidents in many parts of globe where terrorist have used such techniques. The bombers who targeted commuter trains in Madrid on March 11, 2004 used the built-in alarm clock in mobile phones to set off explosives. In Jerusalem, it is believed a call to a cell phone in a rucksack set off a bomb at Hebrew University in 2002, killing seven. One of the Bali bombs outside the Sari nightclub in October 2002 had a cell phone attached, as did a car bomb which killed 12 people at the Jakarta Marriott hotel in August 2003.14 It has been reported that inside the Mecca Mosque an explosion occurred at the time of the Friday prayers on May 18, 2007. This killed nine people. Here the terrorists had planted three IEDs, of which only one exploded causing the fatalities. Again the modus operandi was supposed to be the same.15

The procedure for carrying out such attacks is very simple and terrorist groups with some basic knowledge of technology can perform it easily. Here a wire within a phone is connected to the detonator in a bomb. When a call is placed to the phone, an electrical circuit is completed, providing power to the detonator and setting off the explosive. The use of mobile phones facilitates remote activation of the attached bombs. The actual bomber need not be present near the site of the bombing. Such acts could be carried out remotely from a different city or a country from an intended blast location.16 Such acts are normally carried out with a four member module. Mostly none of them know each other to maintain the utmost secrecy. One person makes the IEDs and hands them over to a carrier, who usually places it at the pre-decided location. The third person hangs around for an opportune time and intimates the fourth, who could be miles away from the blast site or even in a foreign country. He just makes a call to the mobile phone attached to the IED, setting it off.17

Mobile phones also enables the terrorists to use unconscious human carriers of Improvised Explosive Device (IEDs), which are activated through a mobile phone, thereby giving the impression of a conscious suicide attack. Interestingly, there are certain glorified tales of suicide missions which are being used by the terrorist organizations in their recruitment drive. However, in some occasions the reality is different. It had been reported in 2003 that one of the persons carrying a package in Casablanca at the instance of terrorists was not aware that it contained an IED, which was activated through a mobile phone by the terrorists as soon as the carrier reached the vicinity of the intended target. The Chechens were also reported to have used this method for blowing up two planes in the year 2004. There have also been allegations of jihadi terrorists and the Palestinian groups using teenagers as unconscious human bombs, detonated through mobile phones.”18

Also read: China: is it enough to just watch?

Apart from mobile phones terrorist groups are also looking at networking sites as a tool for their activities. Sites like Twitter, a free networking and micro blogging service, allows the members to keep in touch by using the web, their phone or IM (Instant Messaging). What is unique about this service is that the member can send messages near real time to Twitter cell phone groups and their network pages. They can also Mashup their messages with a variety of other tools like geo coordinates, Google maps or other electronic files. Twitter is already used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies. For example there are multiple pro and anti Hezbollah Tweets. It needs to be noted that Twitter has the biggest potential for quick information transmission. The July 29, 2008 Los Angeles earthquake was reported via twitter four minutes earlier than any new agency.19

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Ajey Lele and Gunjan Singh

Ajey Lele is a Research Fellow at IDSA and Gunjan Singh is a Researcher at the IDSA.

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