One thing to be made public after the November 13 Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris was that France, like many other Western countries, had quietly changed their approach to tracking and disrupting Islamic terrorist activity within their borders. This was driven by the terrorists changing their recruiting and radicalization methods. These efforts had turned from public places (mosques, prisons and schools) to the Internet. The Islamic terrorists had reacted to the increasingly effective methods used to track their recruiters and recruits down in mosques, prisons and schools by shifting nearly all their recruiting and radicalization efforts to popular social media sites on the Internet.
The first people to pick up on this were web-based groups (or individuals) who tracked, and sometimes fought against, Islamic terrorist activity on the Internet. For obvious reasons these people prefer to remain anonymous but police and intelligence agencies know about them and often have informal relationships with these groups, especially those who have proven accurate over the years (often more than a decade). One reason government agencies are cautious with these volunteer Islamic terrorism trackers is the possibility that illegal (and not revealed) methods may have been used to track online Islamic terrorists. Internet experts within the security agencies agree (and tell their bosses) that what the volunteers have accomplished appears to be possible with legal methods.
The only hint of this shift to online recruiting has been the occasional media story about police or intelligence agencies monitoring social networking sites and often using evidence found there to prosecute criminals. That’s when details of the methods used becomes public (in court) but this is rarely big news because it’s pretty geeky and that sort of thing does not attract larger audiences.
French police revealed that the principal Islamic terrorists involved in the November 13 attack largely avoided public expressions of their religious beliefs and were often not even known at the mosques in their neighborhoods. But the police were aware of them and had caught the scent on the net. Like many Islamic terrorists the successful ones pay attention to the capabilities of Western police and keep actual planning discussions about operations off the net and prefer face-to-face planning and using couriers to carry messages. The less successful Islamic terrorists do not do then and tend to get caught. But now investigators are spending more time on the web, trying to infiltrate Islamic terror groups and get an agent inside or at least get real names and street addresses so suspects can be checked up on. The problem with this is there are tens of thousands of these suspects in Europe. Attempts to develop algorithms to select the most likely suspects to get dangerous have had mixed success. Meanwhile after November 13th European nations have increased intelligence and counter-terrorism spending, often by ten percent or more and are trying to keep up.