The terrorist tradecraft discussed in last week's Security Weekly does not happen in isolation. The practitioners of terrorist tradecraft conduct their activities in the midst of other people -- the authorities attempting to identify them and thwart their plans as well as civilians. Terrorist tradecraft also does not remain static. It is constantly evolving. These changes are prompted not only by countermeasures put in place to prevent terrorist attacks but also by advances in technology -- a powerful force that can serve to either nullify old tradecraft practices or to provide new tools to the purveyors of terror.
Terrorism is an enduring reality. While geopolitical changes may cause a shift in the actors who employ terrorism as a tactic, terrorism will continue to be used no matter what the next geopolitical cycle brings. It is, and will continue to be, a tactic used by militant actors who want to confront a militarily superior enemy. Focusing on the tradecraft used in attacks and charting its changes and trends not only permits observers to understand what is happening and why but also provides an opportunity to forecast what is coming next.
In the early terrorist plots of the late 1800s, many of the foundational tradecraft requirements were aided by the general simplicity of the times. Among the foundational tradecraft requirements discussed last week was procuring identification documents. Public records were very sparse, did not usually contain people's photographs and tended to be decentralized and not easily searched. (This is still true in some parts of the world today, such as in Afghanistan and Somalia.) There were no universal identification cards such as driver licenses, because automobiles had not yet become common. Passports and visas were not widely required for travel until after World War I, and even then the records of passport and visa issuance as well as traveler entries and exits were localized, hand-written entries into ledgers and were hard to search.