By Dr. Ross L Riggs, President SCI
Intelligence reports generated by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, United States Military Academy, by Don Rassler, indicate that in 2017 the Islamic State promulgated new innovations in propelling incendiary and explosive devices. Improvised explosive devices were no longer being disguised in doll babies and nondescript packages. An English proverb says the necessity is the mother of invention. The Islamic State faced necessities that brought them to the point of innovation if not invention.
According to the report, in October 2016, the Islamic State used a bomb-laden drone to kill two Kurdish peshmerga soldiers who found the device and were investigating it. In January 2017, the Islamic State released a propaganda video that “Showed nearly a dozen examples of the group releasing munitions on its enemies from the air with a fair degree of accuracy via quadcopter drones it had modified.” Soon after, the IS had drones that would drop bombs and kill enemy combatants.
What is important for all in the intelligence field is how simply the Islamic State was able to obtain the drones they needed without raising any suspicion as to their planned use. By creating a device that used basic, commercial (off the shelf) devices, (the drones) they were able to acquire the commercial quad-copter drones and other electronic parts needed by buying globally with a layered suiipply chain that, according to Dan Rassler, included “16 different companies that were based in at least seven different countries.”
Principally, companies that became sources for the quad-copters were in Bangladesh, the United Kingdom and Spain. Some of these companies provided the drones, others were established to move funds and purchase other dual-use components on behalf of the Islamic State. The Bangladesh local affiliate, created by two Bangladeshi brothers who orchestrated the program was named Dawlatul Islam Bengal.
Commercial, off the shelf components of a technical nature combined with low tech components and other add-ons, created a new methodology for killing enemy forces. Ingenuity and necessity are not the sole property , however of the Islamic State.
Sir Winston Churchill, during WWII was responsible for a number of off-beat ideas for trying to end the war successfullly. Perhaps one of the most bizarre is the following story.
After the fall of France, Winston Churchill vowed to “set Europe ablaze.” To that end, British secret agents were equipped with an assortment of disguised explosive devices that would have made even James Bond jealous — bombs that were made to look like soap, shoes, bottles of chianti, bicycle pumps, suitcases — and even rats.[i]
Rassler, in his report to the Combating Terrorism Center has a list of six points to consider under Future Threats & Other Implications. Within those six are three specific items for which all those in intelligence should be aware. Those are paraphrased here:
- Improvisation using inexpensive items readily available combined with advanced technology may bring threats to the fore ahead of our intelligence capabilities to prepare for them.
- Hybrid warfare strategies may continue to come from the Islamic State as well as other terrorist groups that take their cue from IS.
- Future expectations include:
- “Drones similar to the Islamic State’s bomb-drop capable ones to be used in different theaters and by different types of groups.
- The use of different drone tactic, drone targets, and drone weapons.
- More drones to be used: not just one drone, but multiple, and land and sea drones, too.”
- Acceleration of our drone countermeasures must be a priority.
- Future hybrid threats created using low-cost equipment with more costly forms of technology require an ability to manage, track and degrade the access to these types of items before they can be made into weapons systems. ”Important supply chain gaps of knowledge likely still exist.”
- Attention and effort toward preventing “the delivery of select dual use items to major conflict zone areas, to investigate and map out supply chain networks, and to retrace specific equipment after it has been found in the field.”
I’ll close this report with a quote Don Rassler used in his introduction. “There was a day (in early 2017) when the Iraqi effort nearly came to a screeching halt, where literally over 24 hours there were 70 drones in the air…At one point there were 12 ‘killer bees’ if you will, right overhead and underneath our air superiority…and our only available response (at the time) was small arms fire.” -General Raymond A. Thomas III, May 2017[ii]
[ii] Rassler, Don “The Islamic State and Drones: Supply, Scale and Future Threats” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, United States Military Academy, July 2018.