Intelligence: August 24, 2004

Archives

Recent developments in the war on terror have revealed some details of the hidden battles being fought on the Internet. Al Qaeda has been using the Internet since the 1990s. It was initially feared that al Qaeda would use the Internet to make terrorist attacks. However, once more was known about al Qaeda and the Internet, it became obvious that there were very few skilled hackers or software engineers working for the terrorists, and few likely recruits in that area. Al Qaeda members were not idiots (well, not all of them), and many had become internet users, and were bright enough to become skilled at standard Internet tasks (email, Instant Messaging, cryptography, file attachments). This presented an opportunity for police and intelligence agencies to use that reliance on the Internet to spy on al Qaeda. You dont hear much about this secret war because if the spying techniques were generally known, they could be more easily defeated. So we wont discuss exact methods here. But it did come out, with some recent captures of al Qaeda operatives, that the Internet monitoring played a significant role in keeping an eye on al Qaeda activities. The intelligence officers running the Internet monitoring effort would prefer to have no mention of their activities whatsoever. The more al Qaeda dwells on this subject (and their training manuals do contain much advice on how to try to avoid being spotted and tracked on the Internet), the more likely they are liable to figure out how they are being watched, and then come up with ways to make such monitoring more difficult. Some al Qaeda leaders have ordered their subordinates to use the Internet as little as possible, and some are reported to have banned its use altogether. Some senior al Qaeda people know that long time monitoring of al Qaeda members using the internet could possibly lead American counter-terrorism forces to the top people themselves. This is apparently what is happening in Pakistan currently.

But for recruiting and propaganda, terrorists must use the Internet. And for many less disciplined, or less able, terrorists, the Internet is just so convenient. For intelligence agencies, its worth letting known al Qaeda minions continue to use the Internet freely. If some particularly important bit of information is picked up (like a major attack), this can be acted on. But an attempt will be made to credit some other source for the inside information. In the intelligence business, just as in journalism and police work, you try to protect your inside sources, and keep them active, as long as possible. 

 


Article Archive

Intelligence: Current 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 


X

ad

Help Keep Us Flying!

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close