American and British intel agencies, with the help of an Internet security firm, recently located what appears to be the largest ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) online library of material used by the Islamic terrorists for propaganda, recruiting and training. ISIL called it the Caliphate Cache and it contained documents and videos providing detailed descriptions of past attacks plus suggestions about which methods would be most effective for carrying out future attacks, especially in the West. This repository contained over 90,000 items and the website hosting it was getting over 10,000 unique visitors a month.
Unfortunately, the collection was not all in one place but scattered in several other servers and each location has to be confirmed and taken down with court orders or police action. That takes time and this particular setup required the help of people skilled in such matters. ISIL and other Islamic terrorist groups have long called for online volunteers possessing the needed skills to help out. Over the last decade many such Moslems, especially in the West have stepped up.
The existence of the Caliphate Cache was discovered as a side effect of the operation that led to finding and killing ISIL founder and leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in late 2019. Many documents were retrieved, and one of them led to the Caliphate Cache and several other well- hidden ISIL websites as well as the methods they were using to keep these assets hidden from counterterrorism efforts.
The core leadership of al Qaeda and its more radical offshoot ISIL have always contained some technically adept people who recognized how the media worked and appreciated how new technology was changing that. It should not be surprising that al Qaeda and ISIL are now heavy users of the Internet, and especially social media sites and encrypted messaging sites. Even though many of these sites do not welcome al Qaeda, the Islamic terrorists keep at it and maintain a presence in high-traffic areas. Much of this is made possible by Internet-savvy volunteers who don’t want to blow themselves up but are willing to risk (and it is not a big risk) arrest by working from home to serve the cause and keep al Qaeda visible on the Internet and thus in the mass media.
These Internet savvy “engineers” are also constantly hunted and often arrested. These men go to prison, are declared heroes by ISIL and that is all it takes to obtain new engineers who are more careful about their Internet security. Over the last two decades these Islamic engineers have become a vital component of Islamic terrorist organizations and are as eagerly sought as other technical experts like bomb makers and financial experts who are able to clandestinely move money around.
This online presence is a key asset for the most powerful and dangerous Islamic terrorist organizations. When the media reveals the capture (preferably) or killing (usually) of one of these communications experts, it is usually the result of a complex online and on-the-ground effort.
American and other Western intelligence agencies have increased cooperation and information-sharing to degrade the Islamic terrorist online capabilities. This pays dividends because Islamic terrorists often depend on criminal organizations for supplies and special services, like people smuggling and information. Many criminal organizations avoid working with Islamic terrorists because it brings down more investigative attention. The Islamic terrorists get around this by providing special services, like security for drug and people smugglers as well as distribution of drugs or assassinations. All this is possible only because of secure (encrypted and well concealed) Internet communications.