March 05, 2007

Finally Taking the Online Jihad Seriously?

Thanks to everyone who sent me a link to this CBS 60 Minutes post on the online jihad. UPDATE: Video here.

It would be nice if I really believed that the online jihad was being taken seriously. It's good to see that several of my fellow online crusaders are getting some attention. Among those featured in the 60 Minutes segment are Rita Katz of the SITE Institute and Aaron Weisburd of Internet Haganah.

It would be wise, though, if people were not only aware of the clear and present danger presented by the online jihadis, but that they would also listen to Aaron's advice on how to confront them.

As we've been saying for years, the online jihad is a war of perceptions. Methinks that our consistent message to that point is beginning to get through to the top brass. At least, Army Brigadier General John Custer of CENTCOM seems to get it. Now we'll have to see whether they are willing to take the next step: cyber warfare.

As of this writing, I am still under the impression that the powers that be conceive of the online jihad as a law enforcement activity. They are willing to view the cyber jihadis (occasionally, at least) as criminals. What they have not been willing to concede, to this point, is that they are armed illegal combatants.

While it may seem minor, it is an important distinction. Why? Because if the internet is 1) a field of battle and 2) propaganda on the internet is a weapon of war, then the strategy for confronting it must be military. The first rules of war are to 1) possess better weapons than the enemy and 2) control the battlespace.

As to point 1: is there really any doubt as to whether our geeks possess better internet skillz than the Islamists?

As to point 2: there has been no serious attempt to control the battlespace.

Instead, we treat the internet as a tool for detecting criminal activities. Which is something, I guess, but if one wishes to dominate in a war you can't pat yourself on the back each time we catch an individual cyber-jihadi who is about to become a real mujahideen. Because for each one we catch a hundred more are trained. So, the key is to take away the tool. The key is to shut them down before they recruit more mujahideen.

It's pre-9/11 think, really. Treating terrorism as a crime to be prosecuted after the fact. Treating the cyber-jihadis as criminals who must break a law before they are stopped.

It's really not that hard. Give a few of my friends legal indemnity and a few bucks and they'll systematically fight the online jihadis. And they'll win.

CBS News:

"Without a doubt, the Internet is the single most important venue for the radicalization of Islamic youth," says Army Brigadier General John Custer, who is the is head of intelligence at central command, responsible for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Custer says he knows where the enemy finds an inexhaustible supply of suicide warriors. "I see 16, 17-year-olds who have been indoctrinated on the Internet turn up on the battlefield. We capture 'em, we kill 'em every day in Iraq, in Afghanistan," he says. .....

Aaron Weisburd joined the battle from his home in Illinois.

"I'm in Carbondale. In the middle of middle America. Waging war against them. It makes a very small world. What works in a cave in Afghanistan, you know, works in a living room in Carbondale," Weisburd says.

Weisburd was so angered by what he saw on the Web that he quit his job as a programmer and now spends every day attacking extremist websites.

His goal is to mess with them online. "Absolutely. In as many different ways as I can," he says.

And he says he's "sowing seeds of distrust."

Weisburd cooperates with the FBI, Homeland Security and British police, all of whom know him as unrelenting. He blows the whistle on the Web sites and asks Internet providers to take them down. He says hes helped shut down nearly a thousand.

Asked how he would describe what he does, Weisburd tells Pelley, "Part of it is, you know, rodeo clown, essentially. I jump into the ring and make the bulls angry and they come after me. And I do that to good effect. That's my own particular expertise, if you will."

There's more. And there's video.

What? You actually thought my clownish "e-mail a terrorist" posts were for simply for my own amusement?

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 04:28 PM | Comments |