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OP-ED: Terrorism and the Internet

Date: April 30, 2004
Source: Daily Times
By: Gabriel Weimann

According to Daily Times, while the danger cyber-terrorism poses to the Internet is frequently debated, surprisingly little is known about the threat posed by terrorists’ use of the Internet. A recent six-year-long study shows that terrorist organisations and their supporters have been using all of the tools the Internet offers to recruit supporters, raise funds, and launch a worldwide campaign of fear. It is also clear that to combat terrorism effectively, mere suppression of their Internet tools is not enough.

A scan of the Internet in 2003-04 revealed the existence of hundreds of websites serving terrorists in different, albeit sometimes overlapping, ways.

Terrorism has often been conceptualised as a form of psychological warfare, and certainly terrorists have sought to wage such a campaign through the Internet. There are countless examples of how they use this uncensored medium to spread disinformation, to deliver threats intended to instil fear and helplessness, and to disseminate horrific images of recent actions. Since September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda has festooned its websites with a string of announcements of an impending ‘large attack’ on US targets. These warnings have received considerable media coverage, which has helped to generate a widespread sense of dread and insecurity among audiences throughout the world and especially within the United States. Interestingly, Al Qaeda has consistently claimed on its websites that the destruction of the World Trade Centre has inflicted psychological damage, as well as concrete damage, on the US economy.

The Internet has significantly expanded the opportunities for terrorists to secure publicity. Until the advent of the Internet, terrorists’ hopes of winning publicity for their causes and activities depended on attracting the attention of television, radio, or the print media. The fact that terrorists themselves have direct control over the content of their websites offers further opportunities to shape how they are perceived by different target audiences and to manipulate their image and the images of their enemies.

Most terrorist sites do not celebrate their violent activities. Instead – regardless of their nature, motives, or location – most such sites emphasise two issues: the restrictions placed on freedom of expression; and the plight of their comrades who are now political prisoners. These issues resonate powerfully with their own supporters and are also calculated to elicit sympathy from Western audiences that cherish freedom of expression and frown on measures to silence political opposition.

The liberal spirit of terrorist Internet propaganda is well illustrated by the website of the Japanese Aum-Shinrikyo (‘Supreme Truth’). In 1995, Aum members released deadly Sarin gas that killed 12 persons and injured more than 5,000 in Tokyo’s underground. Their new Internet website is very sophisticated and appealing. A blue-toned new-age design – calming water and the symbol of the peace dove – dominates the home page and complements its title, ‘Liberation of the soul, the age of Benevolence.’

Terrorists have proven not only skilful at online marketing but also adept at mining the data offered by the billion-some pages of the World Wide Web. They can learn from the Internet about the schedules and locations of targets such as transportation facilities, nuclear power plants, public buildings, airports and ports, and even counter-terrorism measures. According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, an Al Qaeda training manual recovered in Afghanistan tells its readers, “Using public sources openly and without resorting to illegal means, it is possible to gather at least 80 percent of all information required about the enemy.”

One captured Al Qaeda computer contained engineering and structural architecture features of a dam, which had been downloaded from the Internet and which would enable Al Qaeda engineers and planners to simulate catastrophic failures. In other captured computers, US investigators found evidence that Al Qaeda operators spent time on sites that offer software and programming instructions for the digital switches that run power, water, transportation, and communications grids.

Like many other political organisations, terrorist groups use the Internet to raise funds. Al Qaeda, for instance, has always depended heavily on donations, and its global fund-raising network is built upon a foundation of charities, nongovernmental organisations, and other financial institutions that use websites and Internet-based chat rooms and forums. The fighters in the Russian breakaway republic of Chechnya have likewise used the Internet to publicise the bank account numbers to which sympathisers can contribute. And in December 2001 the US government seized the assets of a Texas-based charity because of its ties to Hamas.

Gabriel Weimann is a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and professor of communication at Haifa University, Israel. He has written widely on modern terrorism, political campaigns, and the mass media. This article is adapted from a six-year study of terrorists’ use of the Internet published in March 2004 by the United States Institute of Peace. This article appeared in YaleGlobal Online (www.yaleglobal.yale.edu), a publication of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, and is reprinted by permission. Copyright 2003 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.”

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2009-12-09 10:51:38 - i love you great articles carl
2009-12-09 10:50:56 - you are kool joe
2007-11-10 18:41:45 - Wake up America!!! We have to mop up those... Gerry
2005-09-02 08:00:36 - Very nice Pesho
2004-05-18 23:28:17 - my indication show that osama bin laden... cw44
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