TCS Daily

Electronic Terrorism

By Gordon Cucullu - March 8, 2006 12:00 AM

We have been taught from pre-history the importance in wartime of knowing your enemies. The ancient philosopher-warrior Sun Tsu famously said "know yourself; know your enemies. One hundred battles; one hundred victories." The Sage went on to note that failure to know one's enemies or oneself would result in "one hundred defeats." In the current war against virulent Islamofascism we may be making a big mistake in underestimating how smart some of these terrorist can be. And in so doing we are opening up a large area of vulnerability.

In a recent presentation at the second annual Intelligence Summit in Washington, DC, a talented analyst named Rebecca Givner-Forbes presented what she has termed "Online Jihad," a way in which the Islamists are using the Internet for a variety of aggressive actions including propaganda, instruction in jihad, practical terrorism, and constructing weapons and explosive devices. While many of these practices are largely passive in that they are posted on the Web for all to see, there are also more active measures that include but are not limited to secret chat rooms, attacks against Web sites the Islamists consider hostile to their ends, and linkages that enable terrorists to plan future strike operations.

It was explained that there are many sites that have al Qaeda links, and several others that are sponsored by groups loosely affiliated to them or sympathetic to their philosophy. They range from relatively harmless news blogs to extremely dangerous enablers. To gain more knowledge of these particular sites and to learn more about analysis of particular issues, Givner-Forbes maintains her own site at the Terrorism Research Center at a chillingly simple URL: Check it out.

Meanwhile, there are issues that we need to examine in regard to these sites. Posted prominently are hours and hours of actual classes, some that were even filmed at the infamous al Qaeda terrorist training camps in pre-liberation Afghanistan such as al Farouq and Tarnak Farms. Internet "students" can watch these things and learn how to become the newest al Qaeda operative on their block. Classes range on everything from weapons familiarization to motivational instruction to bomb manufacturing. Some tapes feature al Qaeda bigs like Usama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and their deputies.

From a practical standpoint experts will tell you that there is only so much material one can learn from the Internet. For example you can learn to clean, field strip, and load weapons but without actually firing them your degree of expertise attained will always be limited. However, there is virtually no limit to the amount of Islamofascist propaganda that can be digested electronically. And the spread of that virulent ideology in many ways is far more deadly than someone running around shooting a pistol or AK-47. The latter may kill a few but the former aims at the destruction of millions.

This threat evaluation is not a hyperbolic exaggeration despite the protestations of those who wish for whatever reason to dismiss the threat of a "primitive" version of Islam. This enemy is anything but primitive. It is a little known fact that the ideal al Qaeda recruit has some college experience and is preferably a graduate. We confuse the somewhat crude Taliban fighters with the much more sophisticated al Qaeda operatives. It was not a crew of ignoramuses that simultaneously hijacked four aircraft and flew them into buildings, hitting at just the points they aimed for. Again, we must know our enemy as he is not as we wish he were.

For this reason the terrorist Web sites are extraordinarily more dangerous than they would be if the field of potential terrorists was comprised largely of functional or at a minimal, computer illiterates. These sites are an ideological treasure trove for someone who may be in an environment where such ideological messages are construed as a threat by his resident country. Hence from Saudi Arabia, to Europe, to America a bright, ambitious but ideologically ignorant young jihadi can download videos, audio tapes, personal guidance messages and much more from proselytizing Islamofascist sites.

Most of the more dangerous sites are security protected by very sophisticated means and have non-attributable log-in procedures so that the origin of the visitor is kept secret. Could an organization as sophisticated as the National Security Agency figure a way around these firewalls? One would hope so but as of yet that is unconfirmed speculation.

When it comes to practical instruction the sites can be a bit mind-boggling. For example the terrorists have rather imaginatively trolled the Internet through anarchist, communist, and other revolutionary sites to extract detailed instructions in manufacturing bombs, chemical weapons, and poisons, many by using material you might find in your home pantry or tool room, or in a local hardware and garden store.

For the aspiring jihadist it does become problematic at some point as to whether the recipe he is so assiduously following is a legitimate means of creating a poison gas or if this is something that will react when he adds the final catalyst and blow up in his face. Certainly there is huge potential for mischievous counter-terrorist specialists to put a poison pill in some of these recipes and thereby discourage terrorists in rather dramatic fashion.

On the other hand, if someone wants to learn about weapons, bomb manufacture, use of poisons or other nefarious activities there are places to learn once he has reached a sufficiently proper level of jihadist indoctrination to be considered quite reliable and trustworthy. And it is this level of the terrorist Web sites that poses the greatest damage to our interests.

The important points to take from all this is that our enemies are imaginative, inventive, and industrious. They apply a great deal of native and institutional intelligence and imagination to ways to kill us preferably in spectacular, horrible manners that produce huge casualties and inflict deep psychological terror upon us. We ignore this facet of al Qaeda's character at our deep peril.

Gordon Cucullu is a former Green Beret lieutenant colonel and author of Separated at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin.



Let me just point out that it is relatively trivial to track someone on the net in the states. All you need, at worst, is the cooperation from some of the major providers. At best, you are inside one or more of them and can *instantly* identify the source down to ip.

Depending on their method of connection, this could give you physical location. There are only a few instances where you can make a truly anonymous connection, but all the ones I know are very limited in physical space i.e. unprotected wi-fi hotspots. The fact that this stuff is on the net is an incredible boon for us. It will act as a lure to terrorists of all stripes to identify themselves.

Let me relate a story: I owned an internet provider. At one point the lead system admin and I were talking. Being an ever vigilant type, he checked to see which of our customers were connected. He noticed an unusual user. One that clearly we never created. Egads! We'd been hacked. He reached around behind the server and simply disconnected the network cable... hacker gone. After looking through the system logs and poking around the net for about 10 minutes, we knew that the problem was coming from a provider in Texas via a dial-up connection. We phoned the provider and 10 minutes later that individual had lost his connection to the net. We could have pressed charges had we desired, although it's difficult to prove who was at the keyboard in these cases. It's not hard, and it's certainly not rocket science.

There are tricky ways to make this more difficult, but those methods are limited to a fairly small number of individuals and the inconvenience of using them pretty much precludes their use. They are also not foolproof.

electronic terrorism
I believe it is important that an article like this receive wide circulation in order that people other than intelligence professionals have exposure to the harsh realities which available information and instantaneous communication present to todays world when that information finds its way to unfriendly hands.

Additionally, those "non-professionals" of a patriotic bent imbued with logic and common sense may occasionally be able to contribute ideas worthy of consideration to the professionals.

Sun Tsu?
Why are they always quoting Sun Tzu? Who cares? Of course it is possible to underestimate the enemy. It is far easier and more common to overestimate the enemy. That's what happened after 9/11, Presidential assasinations, even during WWII. Along the East and West coasts, Australia, people were sure the Japanese were getting ready to invade. It is prudent to overestimate the enemy because you lack intelligence. But just because you can't prove they're not making plans to attack is no reason for this. I guess there will always be someone who thinks we should be doing more. Perhaps the shipping containers, or the Internet. Still others are complaining there is too much intrusion.

White hats
I'd much rather leave control in the hands of internet providers, such as skwilinski, then security hawks who want more governmental control, censorship, and restrictions to Civil Liberties with ever more governmental secrecy. Furthermore, the "white hat" hacking community can be extrememly effective allies in this matter, but they will not work with, or for, overzealous security hawks.

ridiculous fear mongering
Like terrorist are a bigger threat than hackers

Connectivity is a two-way street
Our enemies thrive on disconnection and limiting connectivity. They cannot stand women becoming educated. They fear the educated christian evangelist. They are terrified of people finding out that the Koran has a history, that Islam has evolved and regressed over time, that some of what they describe as eternal pillars of the faith are really reheated marxism with a green coat of paint.

Let the jihadis preach on the 'net. As long as they can't create an islamist firewall, they lose more than they gain by playing on our turf, information connectivity.

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