May 8, 2007:
Al Qaeda is finding the Internet to be
an enormous intelligence liability. While the web is useful to get the message
out, and attract new recruits, it is also provides an excellent opportunity for
intelligence and police agencies to gather information. To a large extent, this
is largely unavoidable. Only a small percentage of active Islamic radicals are
trained in the tradecraft of counter-intelligence (preventing police
Naturally, neither al Qaeda, nor any security
organizations are going to discuss this openly. But it is known that intelligence
agencies constantly advise against shutting down the pro-terrorism web sites,
especially those with message boards. It is possible to monitor who uses these
web sites, and it's gotten out that many active terrorists have been caught
because of information obtained from monitoring who visits and uses
pro-terrorist web sites.
Al Qaeda has issued warnings to jehadis on the web,
to be careful what they say, and to be aware that when they visit a web site,
the computer they are using can be tracked. Most visitors are unaware of these
warnings, or ignore them. Core al Qaeda operatives know to avoid revealing
themselves so easily, but there are so many volunteers and helpers who are
sloppy, that the careful guys are constantly put in danger of getting caught.
For recruiting, al Qaeda relies on people it knows
to get some face time with promising prospects, and check their references.
This puts the pressure on intelligence agencies to create "legends" (believable
backgrounds), if they want to keep an Internet persona active. Legends are
expensive to create and maintain, but apparently a few of them have been used
to smoke out more senior Islamic terrorists.
Most of the Islamic radicals encountered on the web
are posers and wannabes. But some of them are serious, and there's always the
risk that some of the many you write off as harmless, turn out not to be. What
is scary is the large number of young Moslems who see themselves as victims of
Western aggression. Playing the victim is one thing, but many of these kids
spout a pretty vile message of hate and aggression. Among many young Moslems,
it's become fashionable to either agree with this bile, or at least tolerate
A lot of young Moslems don't go along with all the
jihadi fantasies, and they are often the intel agents cruising the terrorist
web sites, looking for information and potential terrorists. When the current
outburst of Islamic terrorism has run its course, there will be opportunities
to reveal more details of the hidden war that was played out on the Internet,
and how important it was to keeping the terrorists impotent.