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With the memory of the collapse of the World Trade Center in mind, the mere threat of a repeated act of violence can cause the population to react out of fear. The reaction can produce very real consequences in physical space. While we can argue the relative benefits of security measures at airports, stadiums and large public gatherings, the long term consequences of antiIslamic sentiment on both the Islamic and non-Islamic communities has yet to be calculated.
Anne Speckhard (Speckhard, 2007), based on interviews with radicalized individuals in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and United Kingdom, has determined that personal issues of social alienation, marginalization, and instances of acting out strong feelings of secondary traumatization (for example, experiencing vicariously the suffering of another through violent videos) are strong motivations for involvement in terrorist groups.
Publicity and Propaganda: Websites, Blogs, Listmail
Terrorists seek to publicize singular events for political gain. Prior to the availability of cyber media, gaining publicity involved securing the attention of television, radio or print media.
These traditional media are well governed and subject to editorial processes that take the event out of the control of the terrorist. The “wild west” of cyberspace has no such controls and terrorists are free to shape their messages to manipulate their own images and those of their enemies. Well-designed sites give a message a sense of legitimacy independent of the author, thus allowing minority opinion to be perceived as orthodox belief. Perhaps more significant that the website and its message is the link to active blog spaces that permit “free” exchange of ideas.
The freedom and openness of blogs or email lists is also open to manipulation by those with an interest in outcomes. Blogs permit the like-minded to share thoughts and build relationships, relationships that can be steered toward violence. In her study of Islamic websites and blogs, Cheryl Benard (Bernard, 2005) found that many websites exploit the ordinary tribulations of adolescents of the Muslim diaspora with advice likely to make the youth’s life more difficult and increase the alienation that predisposes him to terrorist recruitment. She summarized primary and secondary effects in the following table.
Deterring VNSA in Cyberspace Data Mining The web is a vast distributed library with a wide variety of information and information sources available to those who care to search. Search engines abound and through their use we access information that makes our daily lives easier. Google Earth gives us not only maps, but visual images of streets, neighborhoods, shopping and business centers, ports, airports and railway stations. The same site that lets us check on the availability of flights, gives terrorists access to international flight schedules for purpose of targeting. Our laws are publicly available on the web, as are our transportation schedules, school curricula and the capabilities of our communication systems. Use of the Internet by terrorists places us in a difficult balancing act between giving away targeting information to our adversaries and being able to manage our daily lives in the information age.
Networking: It’s Not What You Know But Who You Know
Jon Anderson (Anderson, 2003b) describes the Internet as being built by scientists and engineers as a collaboration tool and as such was founded on principles of open access, flattened hierarchies, freedom of information and notions of transient, purposeful connections among people and pieces of information. The flat nature of the Internet allowed terrorist organizations to depart from their prior hierarchical structure and capitalize on the loosely connected cellular structure provided by the Internet. Using the Internet, groups can self-organize, announce their intent, be connected with a desired capability, be passed instructions across the media either openly or in encrypted fashion, and disorganize rapidly in the aftermath of the desired activity.
This decentralized activity affords a large degree of protection of the organization while enabling local groups. Rather than becoming an easily targeted hierarchy, the terrorist organization can operate much as a venture capitalist, enabling worthy entrepreneurs whenever and wherever they arise. Motivation and strategic direction may still come from the highest leadership, but the action is decentralized. Terrorists have rapidly learned to use what our businesses have desired to adopt and an efficient management structure: centralized direction and largely independent, self-organized local execution.
Recruitment and Mobilization
The availability of cyber media has dramatically increased the role of social networking in the recruitment of terrorists. Recruiting is a mix of cyber and social contact, particularly among the Muslims in non-Muslim environments. Marc Sageman in his book, Understanding Terror Networks (Sageman, 2004), stresses the importance of social networks as a means of providing social and psychological security. Terrorists use the full panoply of web technology to attract, study and recruit those who visit their sites. According to Zanni and Edwards, The information age is affecting not only the types of targets and weapons terrorists choose, but also the ways in which such groups operate and structure their organizations. Several of the most dangerous terrorist organizations are using information technology (IT) – such as computers, software, telecommunication devices and the Internet – to better organize and coordinate dispersed activities…just as companies in the private sector are forming alliance networks to provide complex services to customers, so Deterring VNSA in Cyberspace too are terrorist groups “disaggregating” from hierarchical bureaucracies and moving to flatter, more decentralized, and often changing webs of groups united by a common goal. (Zanni and Edwards, 2001) In his discussion of recruitment, Gabriel Weimann cites numerous case studies of network-based recruitment including recruitment of US citizens to the work of al Qaeda (Weimann, 2006, pp 117-123). The New York City Police Department, in trying to understand the spread of radical Islamic ideology in the United States found that the Internet was a “driver and enabler for the process of radicalization.” (Silber and Bhatt, 2007, p. 8-9).
• In the Self-Identification phase, the Internet provides the wandering mind of the conflicted young Muslim or potential convert with direct access to unfiltered radical and extremist ideology. It also serves as an anonymous virtual meeting place—a place where virtual groups of like-minded and conflicted individuals can meet, form virtual relationships and discuss and share the jihadi-Salafi message they have encountered.
• During the Indoctrination phase, when individuals adopt this virulent ideology, they begin interpreting the world from this newly-formed context. Cloaked with a veil of objectivity, the Internet allows the aspiring jihadist to view the world and global conflicts through this extremist lens, further reinforcing the objectives and political arguments of the jihadi-Salafi agenda.
• In the jihadization phase, when an individual commits to jihad, the Internet serves as an enabler—providing broad access to an array of information on targets, their vulnerabilities and the design of weapons.
Instructions and Online Manuals
The Internet not only enables recruitment and mobilization, but it serves a the source of training and instructions for developing specific skills and weapons required for terrorist activity.
Information provided over the Internet includes maps, photographs, directions, codes and instructions on using a variety of weapons. Among the sources readily available are The Terrorist’s Handbook, The Anarchist’s Cookbook, and the Mujahadeen Poisons Handbook.
According to Weimann (Weimann, 2006, p. 125), in 2004 al Qaeda started publishing the online version of its training manual, al Battar. Based on these references alone, the role of the Internet is to provide the local cell with the material needed to act in his own geophysical space.
Planning and Coordination
Effective command and control has always been a hallmark of successful military and paramilitary activity. The same technology used by commercial concerns to manage large, multi-national conglomerates enables command and control of dispersed units in terrorist organizations. Modern technology has reduced the cost and time to communicate across disparate groups. Dialog among dispersed members enhances flexibility by allowing members to adjust tactics rapidly based on local conditions. Groups brought together by common goals and agendas can terminate their relationships and re-disperse readily. Satellite phone terminals can be used to coordinate activities and countermeasures can be employed to protect such assets during their use. Terrorists can also use readily available commercial technology including encryption programs to protect their information in transit on cyber media. By use of these modern technologies, terrorists are able to operate in and across any country as long as they have Deterring VNSA in Cyberspace access to the necessary IT infrastructure. Captured terrorist computers and mass storage devices have revealed this type of activity on the part of numerous terrorist organizations.
Fund Raising All political organizations require funding to support their activities. Terrorists use a wide range of network-based sources to acquire resources, including charitable organizations, nongovernmental organizations, financial organizations and criminal networks. Al Qaeda, Hammas, Chechen rebels and Lashkar e-Tayba have all been known to use the Internet as a vehicle for raising funds. Websites sympathetic to the terrorist cause will often have links to organizations willing to take charitable contributions. It is difficult for the unwitting user to determine that the charitable organization to which he has contributed is a direct path to a terrorist bank account.
In Person or in Cyberspace? – The Right Blend of Both
The Nexus exists on at least two planes. Terrorists use cyber media to recruit, finance, plan, and execute actions that have both direct and indirect impact on the physical world, thus creating an intersection between cyber space and the physical world. Within the greater terrorist organization there is an intersection between the local social network and the network aided and abetted by cyber media. For those terrorist organizations that remain hierarchical and function by establishing individual personal contact among local cells, there is a degree of security that is ostensibly absent in the open world of cyber media. The personal contact with individuals known over many years is one way of mitigating the risk of infiltration. The anonymity of the Internet increases the risk of admitting to the organization a mole from an adversarial group. As cyber media matures, commercially available tools provide authentication, encryption and various forms of security. While helpful, these measures do not provide as much security as personal knowledge of an individual. Thus, the most successful terrorist organizations employ a hybrid of cyber and personal contact to enable their operations.
Leadership and Trust
When personal contact is the hallmark of leadership, followers make many demands on the individuals who assume that role. We speak of strong, charismatic leaders, leaders with an imposing presence and a record of winning in some arena whether it be political or military.
Cyberspace changes that expectation. Leadership becomes the ability to persuade through cyber means. When physical presence is no longer required, the leader could be the “skinny guy with coke bottle glasses in the second row” – the same individual we would totally disregard were the leadership manifested in a personal, physical presence.
It is ironic that Islamic fundamentalists who have a great distrust for globalization have made such excellent use of cyber media, one of the most significant tools for establishing global business and economy. In traditional Islamic societies, the flow of communication and lines of trust are firmly and hierarchically established. Cyber media bypasses the traditional gatekeepers and adjudicators of belief. Terrorists make use of this to get their message out, but at the same time it creates a break in the conventional lines of trust firmly established in traditional societies.
What we have seen to date is a major engagement of the Islamic diaspora and minimal cyber presence in the Middle East itself. In cyberspace, where users can also be producers playing a Deterring VNSA in Cyberspace pro-active part in the content as well as consuming it, there exists “intense engagement in political, social and cultural issues that moves around traditional gatekeepers, with their qualifications to interpret and monopolies on educational technology, and admits claims to authority and legitimacy based on other -- frequently on ‘scientific’ -- intellectual techniques, sureties and communities.”(Anderson, 1997b) In this way, modern argument enters the cultural and religious world and the traditional authority figures lose control of perceived truth. Cyber media is a two edged sword for radical Islam.
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