Counter-Terrorism: Rumors as a Weapon

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April 21, 2006: One of the less well known counter-terror tactics used against Islamic terrorists, are scary rumors. Islamic terrorists like technology, and fear it. While the Islamic radicals want everyone to live under medieval social codes, they have nothing against climbing into the latest SUV, or using computers and high tech night vision gear. But, as a group, there are not a lot of geeks into Islamic terrorism. Moreover, Arabs have a thing about telling, creating, and believing outrageous rumors. Some counter-terror organizations have taken advantage of this by taking seemingly plausible, scary, and damaging (to terrorist operations) stories they find on the net, and spreading them among a large number of pro-terrorist web user groups. This is disinformation, and is an ancient technique. Ancient scriptures mention its use. The new wrinkle here is that the counter-terror organizations that are monitoring terrorist, or pro-terrorist web sites, chat rooms and listservs, note those bits of scary misinformation that seem to be the most popular. Sometimes calling in an Internet expert, the counter-terror people cook up even scarier variations on the initial rumor, and make sure all of them get spread around as much as possible. The Islamic terrorists and their fans have a hard time doing this, because many of the Islamic terrorist meeting spots on the web are kept secret, lest they be discovered by security officials and shut down. But most major Western intelligence agencies have an extensive list of these sites, a larger list than any Islamic terrorist has. New discoveries are shared among different countries, and when a particularly exploitable new rumor shows up, it gets a boost from the infidels.

The fighting in Iraq has generated a large number of fantastical tales, like the sunglasses that allow troops to see through clothing, and special radios that can turn an ordinary radio into a two-way device. Of late, the Islamic radicals have been coming up with fearful tales of web based software that was created and deployed by the CIA, to spy on Islamic radicals. Google has come in for a lot of attention, with the Google Toolbar being tagged as a tool of the devil (that is, Western counter-terror organizations.) Cell phones are becoming increasingly suspect. Many Islamic terrorists have a hard time telling the difference between different models, and have come to believe that all can be traced via GPS, or infected with computer viruses (only a few models can do either.)

The most Islamic terrorists, or sympathizers, believe these tall tales, the less effective the terrorists are. The full story of these disinformation efforts won't come out until long after the war on terror ends. But these techniques have been used again and again over the centuries. It's just another adaptation of old ideas to new technology.

 


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