The shape of things to comeTechnological developments pose threat, offer hope

Published 22 November 2006

U.S. defense official says advancements in science and technology offer terrorists new opportunities — “Though they aim to undo centuries’ worth of progress, they are not at all reluctant to take full advantage of that progress” — and the only way to cope is by encouraging science and technology education and innovation in countries faced with terrorist threats: “America’s future, and the future of our partners, does depend on it”

Some sobering thoughts on the eve of the holiday, but also an expression of hope and resilience. Rapid technological change, and especially the ways it can be abused, are “the fundamental technical and operational challenge of our time,” Gordon English, the U.S. deputy defense secretary, said in a speech at the Military Communications Conference 2006 last week. Terrorists are “technologically very savvy,” he said, and see no conflict in using their technological expertise to close doors science has helped open. “Though they aim to undo centuries’ worth of progress, they are not at all reluctant to take full advantage of that progress,” he told the group, who he described as “today’s rock stars of science and technology.”

Terrorists “use the latest technological innovations to communicate, recruit and transfer money,” the deputy secretary said. “They keep Web sites, and they update them in real time to share their lessons learned.” As latecomers to these cutting-edge technologies, terrorists did not have to go through the long process of developing or studying them, England noted. Instead, they simply download them from the Internet and use them for their own purposes.

“The very technologies that you develop and the technologies that make globalization possible are used by terrorists throughout the world against freedom-loving nations,” England told the group.

Faced with this reality, it is essential that the United States and its coalition partners and allies continually keep a step ahead, he said. He called on the industry leaders to help lead that charge. England cited the Defense Department’s ongoing, long-term transformation effort and the 2006 Defense Quadrennial Review and its focus on, among other topics, “netcentricity.”

“Netcentric capabilities are about getting people the information they need, when and where they need it,” he said. “Just as it is in business, information has become a strategic asset for the department, and using it effectively is essential to the success of our mission.”

England closed by calling on industry leaders to continue protecting the United States and its partners from what he called the greatest long-term threat they face: “falling behind in science and technology.”

“Science and technology are the bedrock of our knowledge-based economy, as well as our military capabilities,” he said. England urged audience members to build on that bedrock by taking every opportunity to encourage science education, research and application. “America’s future, and the future of our partners, does depend on it,” he said.

-read more in Donna Miles AFIS report