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Terrorists Harnessing The WWW

Organizations survive on their ability to retain and recruit qualified candidates. Recruitment efforts are the cornerstone of any organization. Much like a car salesman, recruiters carefully screen potential candidates to ensure that they are qualified for the product and or position. Recruiters take into account candidate skill sets and values and compare them to the needs of the organization. Resilient companies understand that effective recruitment of qualified individuals relies heavily on their ability to use modern techniques to achieve their efforts. An earlier publication, titled Terrorisms Corporate Connection, briefly touched on the similarities between terror organizations and corporations. Terror organizations, much like corporations, rely heavily on their successful ability to recruit and maintain candidates. Social networking sites, such as, Myspace, Facebook and various blogs are considered by experts to be key recruitment tools for terrorist groups. Furthermore, extremist sites often promote their organizations thru various websites, using the World Wide Web as a modern day billboard that reaches a global audience. Extremist sites often guide recruits on their organizations accomplishments and highlight membership benefits. These extremist sites also give perspective recruits information about future organizational meetings. In essence, Internet based communities are created with individuals of similar interests.

This past year I attended an intelligence conference where discussions focused on various terrorist organizations. During one of the topics of discussion, a civilian marketing director was the key note speaker. This individual had been working with various government agencies and stressed the importance of the World Wide Web as an obvious marketing tool and its direct correlation to terror. He made a particular statement as it related to the internet and predictive analysis. He said You are what you Google. This was a powerful statement in terms of utilizing the internet to conduct predictive analysis. Without turning this article into an extensive case study, there is one popular case worth mentioning, Colleen Renee LaRose, better known as Jihad Jane. LaRose, not only solicited information from extremist websites on how to bring her Egyptian boyfriend into the United States but according to the Washington Post, she recruited men and women in the United States, Europe and South Asia to "wage violent jihad." She fueled her interests on the Internet over the past few years and used Web sites such as YouTube to post increasingly agitated messages. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, but reverting to the key note speaker’s statement, you are what you Google. Imagine if predicative internet analysis was conducted on LaRose? Numerous like case studies with similar conclusions can be exploited. Despite the debate among experts if the internet can actually be used to coordinate terrorist attacks, the reality is that the internet is perhaps one of the most powerful recruitment and propaganda tools for terrorist organizations. Like United States Army Brigadier General John Custer warns the Internet is the single most important venue for the radicalization of Islamic youth.

Once a terrorist site is discovered, law enforcement's reaction is often to shut it down. However, by doing so creates a tremendous information loss. Suspects, locations, as well as, indiscriminate web chatter can be collected and used as predictive analysis. Shutting down a web site is only a temporary solution. It will only be an inconvenience to the terrorist organizations. Certainly, a new web site, chat room, etc. will surface. The ideal solution from a law enforcement view point, is to shut down the webmaster that runs the site. However, global and domestic prosecution infringes on civil liberties. As court litigation continues over this topic, the immediacy of disrupting terrorist recruitment continues.

The creation of phony terrorist websites is a viable option for identifying terrorist. Information can be systematically, gathered, analyzed and converted to actionable intelligence. Additionally, inaccurate information can be displayed on the phony website to bait would be terrorist and create a favorable situation for the United States and its allies. However, this type of intelligence gathering and dissemination technique must be used with extreme caution. Over use of this phony terrorist website may dilute its intended effects. Although this is one mechanism that can be used to curtail extremist groups, it is equally important to understand that the basic existence of such terrorist websites is propaganda. Unquestionably, propaganda is a powerful mechanism that has been used for centuries to sway political power.

The propaganda machine of terror organizations utilizes the World Wide Web as one method of recruiting its jihadist. This recruitment vessel is extremely powerful, as can be noted from countless incidents. Exploiting the power of the World Wide Web, and creating a countermeasure for terrorist recruitment websites, is something that law enforcement can improve on. The World Wide Web is a powerful vessel of persuasion. To successfully combat terrorist, specifically Muslim extremist, we must understand that the fight is in ideology. Therefore, combating this ideology requires harnessing the same vessel that has successfully been used against us and skillfully maneuvering it to dismantle terrorist organizations and their recruitment methods.