Dictionary of the Future

by Faith Popcorn and Adam Hanft

Published by Hyperion

414 pages, 2001

Buy it online




Crime, Terrorism and Assorted Vices

Change is like a drug. When it works its transformative magic in the right way, it can create stunning, almost undreamed of improvements in the body politic. On the other hand, change can also have dangerous side-effects. Out of its chaos can emerge threats, new risks, destructive behavior. This dark side of life has always been fertile ground for the germination of new language; that's why the vernacular of crime and the police is so colorful, so imaginative, so gaudy. And when you consider the likes of agro-terrorism, denial of service attacks and terror entrepreneurs -- tomorrow's language of a society out-of-order -- we have language every bit as colorful as the vintage vernacular of an era of gangsters and gun molls.

Agro-terrorism -- a form of bioterrorism which involves attacks on crops and livestock. Intelligence experts are concerned about possible agro-terrorism attacks from both foreign nations and extremist groups. Before the Cold War ended, there were more than 10,000 Russians working on animal and plant toxins according to Soviet scientists; this work included more than 200 "dangerous animal pathogens" according to a story in the New York Times. (Many of the scientists who worked on these programs are being recruited by Iran). These pathogens have lovely names like cow and sheep pox and blue tongue. The U.S. is upgrading our agro-terrorism and bioterrorism research labs; we've been fortunate up until now, but there is only so much we can do to protect ourselves while still maintaining the essential requirements of a free society.

Attack Tree -- the plans that hackers and terrorists use to stage an assault on a Web site or Internet server. Similarly, they are the defense measures used by digital security experts, because attack trees let you develop appropriate counter-measures. The metaphor is based on the fact that the Internet structure is tree-like, and attacks must be made on all components of the system: root, limbs, trunk, branches. If this is of interest, we direct your attention to Bruce Schneier's Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World. Attack trees will become as famous as mutually-assured destruction and fallout shelters were in the 1950's. See National Infrastructure Protection Center.

Earth Liberation Front -- a group that practices environmental terrorism, which they believe is the only way to halt the destruction of the planet by government and corporate interests. (They are linked to the Animal Liberation Front, who share the same philosophy when it comes to the treatment of animals.) The E.L.F. have claimed credit for arson attacks on a U.S. Forest Service Ranger station, a meat packing plant, a portion of the Vail ski resort, as well as luxury homes under construction. They have also sabotaged genetic engineering laboratories at the University of Minnesota and other places. While the damage has been limited, and their numbers relatively small, the "retail" nature of terrorism today leaves open the possibility of even more serious acts of violence. See also distance terrorism and terror entrepreneurs.

Smart Sanctions -- international attempts to punish rogue and outlaw states without putting the screws on the innocent people unlucky enough to live there. So rather than ban all trade, governments impose selective restrictions that allow the flow of not just food and medical supplies, but books, music, and even some computer hardware. Critics argue that it's impossible to realistically restrict trade in this way, and that a computer destined for a school could end up being deployed in a weapons facility. DOF suggestion: insert special code into the hard drive of computers that is able to detect any specialized scientific or engineering data that gets entered. Immediately, the computer is instructed to destroy the hard drive.

Distance Terrorism -- terrorist attacks once had to be perpetrated in person, but the Internet changes all that. Today, cyber-terrorists are capable of creating enormous damage without ever leaving their own homes -- from anywhere in the world. Christopher Kozlow, who is a counter-terrorism expert and the author of the authoritative book Jane 's Counter Terrorism warns of terrorism that can "cause large loss of life by remotely altering medication formulas at pharmaceutical manufacturing plants." He also notes that terrorists can "destroy an entire suburban block by remotely changing the pressure in natural gas lines, resulting in valve failure and escaping gas . . ." Distance terrorism, which can "make certain that the population of a nation will not be able to eat, drink or move" will never be too far from our minds as we move into an uncertain and internally dangerous period.

Repro Terrorism -- rumors will be flying over the Internet that terrorist groups have the ability -- and are plotting to -- poison our water supply with different kinds of bacteria that have devastating virus strains spliced into them. One of the scariest cyber-rumor, will spread word of a virus that is harmless to our immediate health, but will attack our reproductive systems and render us sterile -- thus spelling the inevitable end of American civilization. This rumor will be driven by the power of the Internet to disseminate information (and disinformation) in a matter of hours, and the subterranean fear of terrorism that will only grow in the future as rogue groups continue to attach U.S. interests worldwide. See also resevoir patrols.

Terror Entrepreneurs -- the increasing availability of low-cost weapons systems, and our desperate vulnerability to technology attacks -- both physical and virtual, will create a new kind of free-lance terror entrepreneur. Unaffiliated with governments or even radical groups, these terror entrepreneurs will usually be acting out of extremely narrow and focused motivations. As the Terrorism Research Center has stated, "Access to weapons and methods of increasing lethality, or methods targeting digital information systems . . . could result in terrorist cells that are smaller, even familial, and thus harder to infiltrate, track or counter."  | January 2002


Copyright © 2001 Faith Popcorn and Adam Hanft