News

    Debate Rages Over Hacking Jihadist Websites

    The al-Qaida's Shumukah-al-Islam website before it went offline.
    The al-Qaida's Shumukah-al-Islam website before it went offline.
    Gary Thomas

    Several al-Qaida chat rooms and forums, including its primary website Shumukah al-Islam, have been offline for several days in what experts believe was a coordinated cyberattack. Reports have speculated the action is the work of government intelligence agencies, which have been reluctant in the past to take down jihadist websites because they believe them to be a valuable source of information.

    The debate continues in U.S. intelligence and policymaking circles about the value of attacking terrorist-group websites.  

    National security policy and information operations analyst Catherine Theohary, of the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, said policymakers must weigh benefits against the cost in deciding whether to take down a terrorist group’s website.

    "There is an intelligence gain-loss calculus that takes place in deciding whether or not to take down a particular website because it could be used for monitoring and intel gathering, but also there could be a determination that, for whatever reason, a particular site may present a risk, an operational risk, to troops if it is actually being used to coordinate activities that could take place in real time," said Theohary.

    Websites could provide clues to intelligence officers

    Analysts say terrorist groups use the Internet to disseminate propaganda and pass orders. Jihadist chat rooms are gathering places for terrorists in cyberspace. Some would-be terrorists, such as the accused attacker in the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, are reported to have drawn inspiration from the Internet.  

    Theohary said the websites, though, also may provide intelligence to counterterrorism officers.

    "You can get a sense of following trends. It can be used to glean identities, to get a sense of upcoming operations that are being planned before they take place, things like that," she said.

    Intelligence historian Matthew Aid said that in 2007 the Bush administration thought the Taliban was making propaganda gains on the Internet and wanted the group’s websites shut down. But Aid said the intelligence community, led by the National Security Agency, strongly resisted.

    "The intelligence community took the position that you can not take this stuff, you can not take these sites, down.  We are learning more about the Taliban, their capabilities and intentions, by monitoring these sites than any possible advantage that could be derived from shutting them down. And the intelligence community prevailed on this point," said Aid.

    The Arabic-language al-Shamouk jihadist website shows promotional material for an animated cartoon that an al-Qaida affiliate said it plans to roll out to help recruit children into the terror network.
    The Arabic-language al-Shamouk jihadist website shows promotional material for an animated cartoon that an al-Qaida affiliate said it plans to roll out to help recruit children into the terror network.

    Other analysts, however, differ. John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in California, said the intelligence gleaned from jihadist websites has been marginal. He believes random cyberattacks on the jihadist websites is a good tactic because they sow uncertainty among al-Qaida and like-minded groups.

    "I want to take away the sense that the enemy has, that they have a virtual haven in cyberspace. I want them to worry that we are watching or listening. And on other occasions I want them to think that they are communicating securely when they are not. So we need to create doubt in their minds. We have given them far too much of a free ride in cyberspace," said Arquilla.

    Analysts differ on who caused the outages

    If the outages are the result of U.S. cyberattacks, the supersecret National Security Agency, which is the premier U.S. electronic intelligence body, is believed to be the agency that would do it.

    But analysts believe an outside group could be responsible. Aid points out the technology to take down websites is not particularly difficult.

    "The suggestion is that it is a U.S. government operation because it is comprehensive, meaning all of the sites are being attacked simultaneously and apparently very effectively, which suggests that somebody with a lot of technical know-how and wherewithal is doing it.  But we live in a day when hacker groups like “Anonymous” have the exact same capability as the cyberwarriors up at Fort Meade, which is the NSA headquarters."

    No one has claimed responsibility for the purported cyberattacks, though, and U.S. intelligence officials are refusing to comment on the matter.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora