Sunday, March 28, 2010

Internet making it easier to become a terrorist

From the LA Times ...
The abrupt transformation of Colleen R. LaRose from bored middle-aged matron to "JihadJane," her Internet alias, was unique in many ways, but a common thread ties the alleged Islamic militant to other recent cases of homegrown terrorism: the Internet.

From charismatic clerics who spout hate online, to thousands of extremist websites, chat rooms and social networking pages that raise money and spread radical propaganda, the Internet has become a crucial front in the ever-shifting war on terrorism.

"LaRose showed that you can become a terrorist in the comfort of your own bedroom," said Bruce Hoffman, professor of security studies at Georgetown University. "You couldn't do that 10 years ago."

"The new militancy is driven by the Web," agreed Fawaz A. Gerges, a terrorism expert at the London School of Economics. "The terror training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan are being replaced by virtual camps on the Web."

From their side, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are scrambling to monitor the Internet and penetrate radical websites to track suspects, set up sting operations or unravel plots before they are carried out.

As we discussed last week in class terrorist groups across the world have embraced the Internet as a vital tool in their information warfare arsenal. Time permitting we will put our investigative hats on and explore the web in search of many of these digital hate safe havens in an effort to track those responsible for maintaining these sites.


Samuel said...

Granted the internet has been used for negative means such as child pornography, the promotion of gambling, identity theft, and terrorism but what is the article suggesting that the internet does more bad than good? The internet has helped facilitate social interaction, expedited the flow of information, and led to globalization. I realize that because of the internet terrorists no longer have to travel to Sudan, Somalia and other safe havens to train their operatives but how successful is following and killing extremists? I think to really combat Islamic Terrorism we have to gain the respect of the Muslim community through our foreign policy and our actions in the middle east. I think through education and US investment in building hospitals, roads, and schools the Muslim community we will gain their trust and extremist ideology will die out. In the jihad jane case the internet allowed her to interact with people who had the same views as her but that does not mean that homegrown terrorism can be directly linked to the internet. Jihad Jane seemed like a distressed woman who had been married twice and already arrested for DUI and writing bad checks. The woman seemed to be lost and used the internet as a social interaction tool to find meaning in her life and unfortunately she found an extremist ideology.

Ned Moran said...

on behalf of Marisa W.

I understand what you are saying Samuel. Clearly, having access to the internet does not in itself constitute a threat to citizens, and simply because interaction is easier does not mean that we should be paranoid about homegrown terrorism. And yes, I agree the internet does plenty of good. However, it is at once interesting and slightly worrisome to see how internet and terrorism are so closely related. The internet has become a forum where terrorist groups and individuals can not only broadcast their malicious intentions, but also as a means through which they can communicate with fellow dissenters and sympathizers of their cause. This makes it infinitely easier for terror groups to seek out new members, and convince them to partake in their endeavors. Also, the fact that these websites are protected by the first amendment is interesting, to say the least. As long as they don't engage in criminal acts, it is lawful for them to aid and abet the spread of terrorist ideology; but reaching out to people, wooing them through words and ideas is the first and most important step, and the internet is clearly helping terrorist groups achieve this.

dana said...

I disagree that building roads, hospitals, schools, etc. is going to solve the problem. While conventional wisdom says that fixing poverty and illiteracy will fix terrorism, researchers have found no reliable correlation between terrorism and poverty. Take this article for instance:

In fact, on the contrary, many terrorists are from privileged backgrounds and are very well educated.
And as far as U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East goes, I question how big a motivator that is for a lot of people who join terrorist organizations. As this article points out, there are kids barely out of high school being recruited by these websites. Sure, it’s possible that these kids are really interested in foreign policy. But it seems more likely that they’re just being fed radical propaganda by terrorist websites, and because they’re young, they suck it up— just like kids get lured in by drugs, goth clothes, cult bands, and other “cool” and “rebellious” things.

The article points out that terrorist websites are recruiting young people through “video games and hip-hop” and “fiery images, loud music and fast-moving videos of violence and death.” These things aren’t unique to the Middle East— these are things that capture young peoples’ attention in any country. And I think this is why terrorists are finding so many new recruits online. So I think a big part of the problem is that terrorists are currently winning the war of information on the Internet, and we need to find a way to fight back with our own information. I don’t disagree that we need to do certain things on the ground in the Middle East to root out extremist ideologies, but to think this will completely eliminate extremist ideology and the problem of terrorist recruitment on the Internet is missing the point I think.

Samuel said...

Dana, where did i connect poverty to terrorism? Do you think terrorists would be able to live among their people if the people did not support or were at least sympathetic to their ideology? What my post suggests is that if we build schools, roads and hospitals the terrorist ability to satanize America would slowly die out.
I would not say many terrorist are well educated but I do acknowledge that many of the Saudi men who were a part of 9/11 were well educated and from privileged backgrounds. But what i do not understand is how you can acknowledge the former and then say that U.S foreign policy is not a major motivator. Why are these men engaging in suicide attacks tactics then?? They believe they are in a cosmic war and on the defensive against an imperial American empire which is threatening their way of life.
I understand that the internet is being used to promote propaganda and manipulate kids into joining Al Qaeda's extremist cause, but i think it is foolish to say that the kids being recruited would join this cause if they did not have any sense of history or had no knowledge of the civilian deaths that are a result of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Daniel L said...

This discussion seems related to the larger debate over how the Internet affects tolerance in general. Over the past school year, I worked with some students on a project researching how new social media effects interreligious and intercultural dialogue. We interviewed a wide range of interfaith leaders, religious leaders and Internet/new social media experts.

While there was no clear consensus overall, it was interesting that most people shared the same views with those in their field. For example, the people involved in interreligious dialogue tended to see new social media as a promising way to bring people together and promote understanding. On the other hand, Internet and new social media experts were more pessimistic (especially those who worked in cyber security, counterterrorism, etc…) and believed that people were more likely to seek online communities of like-minded individuals than to embrace other perspectives. From this point of view, it’s not surprising that deviance and extremism tends to thrive online. Whereas before, people felt more pressured to assimilate and adopt the values of their offline communities, the Internet allows underground groups to form and stay connected.

As for terrorism specifically, I think both Samuel and Dana raise good points. Obviously, resentment toward U.S. Policy is a real motivating factor for terrorism and hatred towards the West. However, Dana’s point about many terrorists not being socially/economically displaced is an important one. I think there is a tendency for us to underplay the genuine religious motivation for terrorism and see it as caused mainly by socioeconomic displacement. While that explanation may explain extremism of the "homegrown" variety, I would imagine that motives for radicalization in other countries are quite different and a lot more complicated. Indeed, Bin Laden and Jihad Jane probably became terrorists for very different reasons.