Counter-Terrorism: The Curse Of The Internet


January 6, 2012: Last year, several Islamic terror organizations made a major effort to recruit via the Internet. Apparently this was not very successful. This is partly because supporters of Islamic terrorism are more inclined to talk about it than to actually take action. That's partly because Islamic terrorists have earned themselves a bad reputation within the Islamic community with all the publicity given to the many Moslems killed by terror attacks. Another bit of unappetizing reality is the fate of so many Islamic terrorists, especially if they catch the attention of the Americans. There, the best you can hope for is a quick death. If you are really unlucky, you get captured, prosecuted, and sent to a supermax prison for a life of isolation and not much else.

Another reason for fearing recruitment calls over the Internet is the fact that multiple intelligence and police agencies monitor the Internet for signs of recruiting and any other terrorist activity.

While it was initially believed that the Internet was a boon to Islamic terrorists, that has not actually been the case. The main reason for this is that the Internet gives terrorists the illusion that they have a safe, secure form of communication. But there are so many eavesdropping tools available to police that can detect this communication, that the net result is the Internet has become a prime counter-terrorist weapon.

There are techniques terrorists can use to make their communications more secure, but most don't know them or don't bother to use them. Things like leaving email as a draft, rather than sending it, or using encryption. But even techniques like these make your messages vulnerable to interception. In the end, any use of the Internet can be intercepted. Often this is accomplished with commercial software and hardware designed for network administration, not spying.

The general public, and many journalists, are unaware of this situation. Terrorists tend to be better informed about the dangers of using the Internet because so many of their cohorts have been taken down when their Internet communications were intercepted. But because Islamic terrorists tend to be rather too cocky, or too confident because they are on a mission from God, many continue to employ the Internet despite the obvious dangers.

One of the alleged great strengths of al Qaeda, after their Afghan bases were lost in 2001, was the dispersed quality of the organization. The problem with that was that most of these "dispersed" members were untrained in the need for OPSEC (Operational Security, things like not using the Internet for critical communications). The higher up the food chain you go, the less use of the Internet you encounter. At the very top people rely on human couriers, often to deliver memorized messages verbally. While the lower ranks of al Qaeda are entranced by the Internet and other communications technology, the guys at the top are terrified of it. Mostly, it's a matter of experience. See enough of your chums get caught, or killed, because of cell phone, email, or beeper use and you get a bit paranoid of the stuff.

Often, the small fry are allowed to keep emailing and using their cell phones, just to monitor their "chatter" for useful bits of information. Out of many tiny pieces of data, often comes a picture of what the leaders are up to and where they are. The Internet gives many terrorists the illusion that they are in touch, without realizing that the people at the other end have arrest warrants, not tickets to paradise.




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