Belmont Club

Wolfpack vs Bot

The Associated Press reports ISIS is creating a “network of agile and semiautonomous cells” initially consisting of “400 fighters to target Europe in deadly waves of attacks”.  After setbacks in Syria officials say the Islamic State is planning a counteroffensive in the West using “interlocking terror cells … with orders to choose the time, place and method for maximum carnage”.

Daniel Hirsch in a play on the media’s stock euphemism for terror attacks suggests the authorities call these cells “the lone wolf pack”.  Although the term “wolf pack” conveys the menace and purposefulness of the cells,  the phrase may not be historical accurate. The WW2 Nazi submarine wolfpack was the opposite of the proposed ISIS cell system: it was rigidly controlled from the top.

The idea was to form a pack of U-boats, and to delay an attack until all boats were in position to conduct … The first boat to make contact was designated as the “shadower” … when enough boats … converged … BdU would give the signal to attack, usually after dusk where the U-boats’ small silhouette made detection difficult.

That control was the classic wolfpack’s weakness. Once the allies had broken BdU’s communication network they could home in on the wolfpack signals to destroy them. American submarines by contrast “were given tremendous independence once on patrol”. Even when operating in groups called coordinated attack groups,  they “usually comprised three boats that patrolled in close company and organized before they left port under the command of the senior captain of the three”. Even after the war the USN preferred individual patrols.

ISIS wants to create the anti-wolfpack wolfpack.  The phrase “network of agile and semiautonomous cells” is probably meant not only to the describe the concept of independent operations but also evoke a computer programming paradigm which emphasizes stable strategic goals but flexible tactics. “Agile software development is a set of principles for software development in which requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams. It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change.”

By steering clear of central control ISIS obviously hopes to reduce its vulnerability and allow its U-boat cells to stay safely submerged in the West free to surface on their own initiative to attack vulnerable convoys of infidels as opportunity presents.  However, this strategy is not without its problems. A hybrid model of peer-to-peer terror cells served by only a few client-server connections to home base may mitigate the danger of discovery but at the cost of making cooperation and resource sharing hard. So they will mix and match.  “A common hybrid model is to have a central server that helps peers find each other … all of which make trade-offs between the centralized functionality provided by a structured server/client network and the node equality afforded by the pure peer-to-peer unstructured networks.”

European security officials are convinced the terror network which launched the recent attacks had help, reasoning that the Paris and Brussels operations were beyond the capabilities of cells acting alone. They had to have help, money, technical support and training bases.

“To pull off an attack of this sophistication, you need training, planning, materials and a landscape,” said Shiraz Maher, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at Kings College in London, which has one of the largest databases of fighters and their networks.

“Even if they worked flat out, the attackers in Brussels would have needed at least four days,” said Maher, who has conducted extensive interviews with foreign fighters.

In fact Foreign Policy says European cops suspect the “Man in the White Jacket” may hold the key to a “larger network linking the attack in Belgium with November’s slaughter in Paris. … ‘The group relies on a combination of strong networks within the continent and a sanctuary in Iraq and Syria,’ Harleen Gambhir, a counterterrorism analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told Foreign Policy.”.

The trouble is that following the Man in the White Jacket may take detectives to places their political masters don’t want to go. “The officials, including European and Iraqi intelligence officials and a French lawmaker who follows the jihadi networks, described camps in Syria, Iraq and possibly the former Soviet bloc where attackers are trained to target the West.”

From past behavior the politicians will attempt to be contain the threat by more surveillance and more technology.  In order to exploit the peer-to-peer weaknesses of Jihadi cells one track the Obama administration will try unleashing a swarm of artificial intelligence-driven messages.

The Obama administration is launching a stealth anti-Islamic State messaging campaign, delivered by proxies and targeted to individual would-be extremists, the same way Amazon or Google sends you shopping suggestions based on your online browsing history…. Those messages won’t say ‘made in the U.S.A.’

… wants to focus on those who are vulnerable to ISIS’s message and emulate how ISIS goes after its followers.

“Usually it starts on Twitter, then it goes to Facebook, then it goes to Instagram, and ultimately, it goes to Telegram or some other encrypted, point-to-point discussion,” he said. “They are doing what Amazon does. They are targeting selected information to an individual based on their receptivity. We need to do the same thing.”

It’s a classic response.  Since the biggest weakness of a largely peer to peer cell system is resource discovery and inter-cell cooperation then why not poison the well?  In an article published in late 2015, Slate described how it might be possible to actually create virtual moderate Muslims on the Internet to compete with ISIS recruiters for the soul of the ummah. “One thing we know about ISIS is that recruiting is crucial to its successes and maintenance of its ranks. … Enter the next stage in undermining and fighting ISIS: artificial intelligence.”

One way of undermining any group’s ability to fight is to frustrate its ability to gain new fighters and supporters. Another is to inject “noise” or disruption into the information systems of a group’s decision makers so they are unable to achieve their goals. …

A chatbot is an artificial conversational entity: basically, an A.I. that talks with people. The chats can take the form of written text or even voice. There are many chatbot technologies available now, but an ISIS recruit bot would be more complicated than something like Elbot. An ISIS recruit chatbot would need to be sophisticated enough to trick an ISIS recruiter—a person with limited resources—into believing that the entity on the other end is real. Anything less and the recruiter will not waste time and bandwidth chasing digital deceivers. Moreover, this chatbot would need to be paired with machine learning in two ways. First, the bot would need to patrol various social media sites to look for potential recruiters and pose as a target. Second, it would have to be able to adapt to language and content changes during conversation to “speak” with an ISIS recruiter. We might also want to give it the ability to “realize” from language if the recruiter was trying to evade it in some way.

There’s a saying that every man on the Internet is a man, every woman is a man and every child is actually an agent of the FBI. In the future that may also mean that every Jihadi is an NSA bot. Unleashing virtual friends on Islam is technologically nifty but more than slightly disturbing.  But secret containment is what PC society does as opposed to open confrontation.  The contrast in the struggle between ISIS and Western leaders could not be greater. One is strategically decisive but tactically and technologically weak.  The other is strategically insane but tactically and technologically dominant. The result of this asymmetrical contest is a standoff.

Perhaps the greatest thing that ever happened to socialism is capitalism, which has given it the ability to pursue mad agendas through a sheer technological tour de force. The ISIS’ wolfpack (if you want to call it that) will likely inflict substantial damage on the Western public.  But it will be found by the magical Allied destroyers, powered by wizardry they can only guess at. ISIS will be depth-charged — but only just enough to scare them — in a struggle where the West strives to avoid victory as devoutly as defeat.

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