There is an interesting exclusive from WIRED magazine recently that examines a unique international organization, Conflict Armament Research (CAR), that combs through the illicit weapons supply chain that keeps ISIS stocked with deadly weaponry.
There’s also a really interesting subtext of tension that’s present in the piece but not fully illuminated: the tension between how sharing information openly can be a wonderful thing for transparency, but also a dangerous thing in a world of 3D printing, in what is termed in the piece as “the industrial revolution of terrorism.”
Here’s the positive:
Leo Bradley, a retired US Army colonel who once led the fight against IEDs in Afghanistan, tells me that CAR serves as a useful, if perhaps accidental, back door for US officials to publicly discuss topics that are otherwise classified. “We can reference the CAR reports because they’re all open source, and they never reveal US sources and methods,” he says.
Here’s the flipside:
Joshua Pearce, an engineering professor at Michigan Tech University, is an expert in open source hardware (a protocol to create and improve physical objects—like open source code, but for stuff), and he describes ISIS manufacturing as “a very twisted maker culture.” In this future, weapons schematics can be downloaded from the dark web or simply shared via popular encrypted social media services, like WhatsApp. Those files can then be loaded into 3-D metal printers, machines that have become widely available in the past few years and cost as little as a million dollars to set up, to produce weapons with the push of the button.
In other words, freely accessible information and hardware is a double-edged sword. It is only now that we’ve begun to more accurately perceive the risks.