Encryption Ban Wouldn't Have Affected Paris Attackers' Plans
NEWS ANALYSIS: Despite the inconvenient findings in Paris that the terrorists didn't actually use encryption, the call in Congress for backdoors persists.Despite the bluster in Congress about the need to press forward with laws banning the use of encryption in the United States following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, the truth is out. It turns out that the Paris attackers didn't encrypt anything, but instead communicated openly, in some cases publically, about their plans. Instead of using sophisticated message encryption and brilliant tradecraft, it seems that the reason the attackers were able to communicate so effectively is because of the low-tech nature of their communications, and because the intelligence community simply missed it. What actually happened is that the terrorists did the one thing that is hard for big spy agencies to deal with—they mostly talked among themselves. The attacks were planned and carried out by the Abdeslam brothers, who lived in the small town of Molenbeek, Belgium. Most of their co-conspirators lived or visited nearby. The close proximity of the bulk of the attackers meant that they simply discussed their plans in person. While the attackers were apparently known to French police, it appears that little, if anything, was done to keep tabs on them or on their communications. According to press reports, the brothers may have discussed their plans in the jihadist online magazine Dabiq months before the attack, but apparently nobody picked up on that.
Likewise, phone metadata had already identified the Abaaoud brothers as having been in contact with participants in earlier attacks in France when the Thalys train was attacked (and thwarted by three American travelers) on the way to Paris. They were also identified by metadata as having been in contact with terrorists who attacked a Jewish museum in Belgium in 2014.