March 19, 2010

What a wonderful smell you've discovered!

This WaPo piece on the conflict between the NSA and the military on one side wishing to shut down a website used by al Qaeda in Iraq vs. the CIA and the Saudi intelligence on the other side who were using it to gather intelligence is completely unsurprising. The casual reader unfamiliar with the debate will learn an awful lot, but those of us involved in the debate learn nothing new.

That the Centrial Intelligence Agency is interested in gathering, um, intelligence while the military is interested in stopping recruitment of enemy fighters is exactly as Aaron describes it:

What I see are people in entrenched positions defending their parochial interests, while simultaneously denying the obvious consequences of their actions.
Bingo! Read his analysis for ways to get beyond this rather meaningless debate.

Let me just take umbrage at something Evan Kohlmann said in the article:

Because extremist groups store backup copies of forum information in servers around the world, "you can't really shut down this process for more than 24 or 48 hours," said Evan F. Kohlmann, a terrorism researcher and a consultant to the Nine/Eleven Finding Answers Foundation.
This simply isn't true. It's rather easy to shut down terrorist websites, and it's not that much harder to keep them offline. The case in point is the website mentioned in the article which hasn't been back in a year and a half now.

Shutting down terrorist websites is not technically difficult, it is only politically difficult. And layers upon layers of lawyers within the defense and intelligence communities only make those political difficulties worse. For instance the hand wringing over the legality of a cyber attack against our enemies in a third country.

Further, intelligence gathering is important -- but it's not the only thing to consider. It's only one of a number of different values that must be weighed against each other.

The strategy I would like to suggest would be to shut down some websites and leave others ones open. And the ones you leave open? Shut them down, too, from time to time. The former suggestion has a "funneling" affect -- get the worst of the worst together in a few places and it's much easier to keep an eye on them. The latter suggestion has a "weeding out" affect inasmuch as one must be committed to the jihad to go looking for a new website, the harder core supporters will tend to stay and the more tepid supporters fall out.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 10:56 AM | Comments |