Expert Links Probing Attacks to Fourth Generation Warfare

Scott Wheeler
( - With much of the Northeast believed to be at high risk for a terrorist attack and an upcoming presidential election providing a ripe target, the U.S. finds itself in the middle of "fourth generation warfare," according to a defense analyst who was one of the first to define the phenomenon.

"One of the central characteristics" of fourth generation warfare, William S. Lind of the Free Congress Foundation acknowledged, is the so-called "probing attacks." Such attacks, conducted in open sight by men of Middle Eastern appearance, have included the videotaping of military bases and subway stations as well as suspicious behavior aboard commercial airline flights. In an Aug. 9 article, counter-terrorism investigators told that hundreds, if not thousands of probing attacks had taken place all over the United States.

"It's one of the things that makes it very difficult for a state military to fight this kind of war because it can't tell who is a combatant and who isn't, and somebody may be one day and not the next and then be again the day after that," Lind told .

Lind and a handful of other military experts developed Fourth Generation Warfare and codified it in a 1989 Marine Corps Gazette article entitled "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation."

In the article, Lind wrote that such warfare was "likely to be widely dispersed and largely undefined; the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point."

A recent and widely reported example involved a Northwest Airlines flight from Detroit to Los Angeles. Journalist Annie Jacobsen was a passenger on the flight and described the incident in an article for "Women'"

"After seeing 14 Middle Eastern men board separately (six together, eight individually) and then act as a group, watching their unusual glances, observing their bizarre bathroom activities, watching them congregate in small groups, knowing that the flight attendants and the pilots were seriously concerned, and now knowing that federal air marshals were on board, I was officially terrified," Jacobsen wrote.

When that flight landed, authorities detained the men, all Syrian, but released them. The passengers like Jacobsen were left feeling as though they had been terrorized and anti-terrorism analysts are still wondering what, if any purpose there was to the bizarre behavior by the Syrian men.

"What it represents is a type of warfare where the decentralization is so great that you have lots of people who have sympathy with the other side who just on a given day decide to do something and it may be something very small like the kind of thing that you are seeing" in the so-called probing attacks, Lind said.

"It makes us jittery. It increases their apparent power, it overloads our system trying to follow all of this stuff and make sense out of it."

In February 2002, The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported that an al Qaeda Internet publication referred to the 1989 article on fourth generation warfare and embraced it.

"'This new type of war presents significant difficulties for the Western war machine'" MEMRI quoted the al Qaeda publication as stating. The MEMRI report also quoted the al Qaeda article as claiming that fourth generation warfare tactics were used by Somali militiamen to defeat U.S. forces in a 1993 conflict.

"Fourth generation wars have already occurred and ... the superiority of the theoretically weaker party has already been proven; in many instances, nation-states have been defeated by stateless nations," the al Qaeda publication stated.

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