LAS VEGAS -- Keynote speaker Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down --the best-selling account of the failure by U.S. armed forces to dislodge a Somali drug lord that gave the military a black eye and had a profound effect on military procedures and American foreign policy -- told attendees of IWCE 2004 here today that modern telecommunications are "nothing short of a miracle."

Bowden, who describes himself as a "complete ignoramus" when it comes to understanding how communications networks work, provided details on his latest research project, a soon-to-be-published account of U.S. efforts to track down Columbian drug czar Pablo Escobar, which resulted in Escobar being gunned down by U.S. forces while on the run in 1993.

While Bowden might not have a grasp of how sophisticated communications work, he has a complete understanding of their significance. As he did in Black Hawk Down, Bowden focuses in Killing Pablo on sophisticated military communications systems and techniques, in this case the leading-edge surveillance methods used to track down Escobar and his legion of supporters. Two small ordinary-looking propeller-powered airplanes were central to the effort, according to Bowden.

"The plane itself is an antenna," he said. "They didn't draw a lot of attention, because when most people think of a spy plane, they think of something large and bulbous-looking, with lots of things sticking out of it."

The planes were capable of monitoring the communications of Escobar and his crew -- an organization that, at its peak, was responsible for producing and distributing about 80% of the cocaine used in the U.S. and Europe -- through "sophisticated" triangulation techniques, and were able to pinpoint their locations in a "very rapid" fashion, Bowden said. Escobar had fled the prison in which he had been loosely incarcerated after the Columbian government began to crack down on his escapades from within the facility, which included running his cocaine distribution network and ordering executions of his enemies.

In the end, Escobar fell victim to basic human instincts, Bowden said.

"He was gunned down while talking to his son on a cell phone," Bowden said. "He was concerned that [his enemies] would target his wife and children--with good reason, because they had killed other family members -- and he was checking on their safety."

While extolling the virtues of advanced communications, Bowden also spoke of the downside.

"Terrorists all over the world can plot and meet as if they're all in the same room," he said. "Law enforcement is going to have to learn how to function in a new world."