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Global technology could bring terrorists 'with us and among us'

The technology that helped advance communications and globalization has also made the world safer for terrorists and easier for them to execute their plans, the chairman of the National Academy of Engineering Committee on Terrorism recently told a standing-room-only audience at MIT.

Thanks to transnational networks, global and national security is no longer simply a matter of traditional weapons and warfare because now "the enemy is with us and among us" anywhere in the world, said John Garrick.

The Internet has become a planning and organizing tool for terrorists. "It's made it easier for them to gather information, but we can also use it to monitor their activity," Garrick said in his March 17 talk, "Combating the Risk of Terrorism: Making the Right Decisions." The presentation, sponsored by the Technology and Policy Program and the Engineering Systems Division, was one in a series leading up to a May 2 day-long symposium on science, technology and the role of the university in global and homeland security (see for details).

Battling terrorism in the interconnected world requires the federal government to partner with local government, private institutions, academic institutions and the public in ways they have never done before, Garrick said. He compared the current practice of terrorism risk assessment--which has historically focused almost exclusively on threats and has lacked a plan for effective integration--with one developed by the NAE terrorism committee. This proposal calls for a scenario-based approach to quantitative risk assessment that focuses on low-probability/high-risk events, with integration across traditionally independent units.

"Embracing the notions of uncertainty and complexity gives you a lot more flexibility and the opportunity to see other possibilities that may not have been represented," Garrick said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 2, 2003.

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