February 19, 2008

Conceding Cyberspace to the Terrorists

The drivel that comes from "think tanks" never ceases to amaze me. A report from a "think tank" recommends that we shouldn't attempt to take down websites which explicitly support terrorism.


"There is no censorship option," Greg Austin, vice president of the EastWest Institute, told United Press International. "Trying to suppress anything (on the Internet) except direct operational use by terrorists is a mistake." ...

The report urges that, rather than try to close extremists' sites, the private sector and religious and community groups should step up, countering with messages that promote peaceful dialogue and emphasize the human cost of extremist violence.

I wonder if Mr. Austin would say the same thing about, say, child pornography? You know, since it's hard to keep on top of all the pedophilia websites then it's probably not worth doing.

But I digress:

"We will lose the battle for cyberspace with terrorists and violent extremists if owners of large TV, film and Internet companies do not step up soon," said Mr. Austin, adding that media industry leaders had to "choose sides" to prevent terrorist recruitment of "radicalized youth around the world through (their) sophisticated and aggressive use of the Internet."
Yes, exactly. Which side is Hollywood on in our battle against Islamist supremacy? Certainly not ours.
But pressuring Internet providers to close down extremist Web sites is not the answer, he said. The report argues that efforts to close them down are doomed to fail and will end up merely "providing violent extremists with additional ammunition through the form of attempted censorship."
Again, why doomed to fail? There are maybe half a dozen active websites, including this one, coordinating attacks on the cyber jihadis. Law enforcement devotes exactly zero resources on the effort, relying instead on sites like ours to bring to their attention illegal activity.

Doomed to fail? Only if one understands the goal of the cyber war as shutting down all Islamist websites which encourage acts of terror. That's not the goal. Never has been.

We want to reduce the number of these websites so that enemy propaganda is harder to consume and fewer new recruits & sympathizers are found for the global jihad. Make it less likely that some disgruntled kid in London gets turned on to al Qaeda propaganda. Make it less likely that money will be raised on the internet to be used for the building of IEDs which kill American soldiers.

It's also a matter of resource usage. The more time and effort the enemy devotes to keeping websites operational, the less time they have for other activities. Like blowing stuff up!

Last, there very well may be some websites that should be kept up for intelligence gathering purposes. Closing down periphery websites forces the enemy to congregate in fewer online locations, making monitoring of their activities much easier to do.

Simply conceding cyberspace to the enemy isn't a strategy, it's surrender. Yigal Carmon of MEMRI gets it right:

"Terrorist use of the Internet should be suppressed," he said, calling on Internet providers to "respect their own rules and policy (against hate speech and incitement to violence) and respect the laws of the United States," which ban the provision of any service to designated terrorist organizations.
As I've said on dozens and dozens of occasions: We can win the war in cyberspace, but first we have to begin to fight it. We do not necessarily need the military or law enforcement to fight it, but what we do need are the resources.

To quote Winston Churchill begging the United States for assistance in the opening days of WWII, before we had entered the war: Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.

Thanks to Jim.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 12:34 PM | Comments |