Intelligence: Shut 'em Down Versus Stake Them Out


June 7, 2007: Once more, the debate over shutting down terrorist web sites is raging in the intel community. Most of the useful terrorist information (how to recruit, organize, avoid getting caught, and carry out attacks) is now online. With a little digging on Google (knowledge of Arabic is useful, because most of the useful sites are still in that language), and you can dig up this stuff. But so can intelligence agencies (with, it is believed, some help from certain search engine companies, but no one will talk about that).

The argument comes down to this. The intel operatives want to stake out these web sites, track down who is using them, and see which of these visitors will lead them to a dangerous new Islamic terrorist cell. That's fine if your job is to identify and find Islamic terrorists. But if you are higher up in the intel food chain, you have analysts telling you that these "informational" sites are making it possible for lots of eager wannabes to turn into lethal terrorists. This view developed as more and more terrorists were arrested, who had attacks in various states of completion, and were getting all their technical information from web sites.

While it is acknowledged that finding terror suspects via terrorist web sites is important, there are other ways to detect these people. But there is no other way to obtain detailed terrorist info that is nearly as effective as the web. At the moment, the two sides are throwing stats and trend lines at each other. If the "shut 'em down" side wins, they will have to overcome the lawyers as well, because shutting down all those terrorist web sites in a timely manner will mean some collateral damage for the Internet infrastructure firms that are providing the hardware and software.


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