I’ve observed maybe a hundred hours of “Terrorist Use of the Internet” classes/presentations over the past nine years. Additionally, I’ve perused several hundred documents on “Terrorist Use of the Internet” and have seen every cable/TV news outlet broadcast of some form of “Terrorist Use of the Internet” story.
A standard “Terrorist Use of the Internet” briefing will have a lot of ‘scary’ pictures and ‘scary’ videos designed to shock the audience. These presentations usually include:
- a picture of a baby or small child in a suicide bomber’s vest
- a jihadi wannabe singing a rap video that looks very similar to an American rap video (which I’ve never understood how a hardcore jihadi would be drawn to this since music, dancing, Western culture are supposedly sacrilegious)
- a video clip/picture of terrorists climbing on monkey bars and crawling under barbed wire
- a low quality video, filmed by a terrorist during an attack, displaying a sinister logo in one corner and ominous ‘terrorist’ music in the background
While these presentations/reports can be entertaining and engaging, 90% of them have been a complete waste of my time. Ultimately, I walk away from the majority of these sessions learning that terrorists use the Internet in the exact same fashion as other criminal organizations and most all other users of the Internet.
Today, I essentially listen to only two people reference “Terrorist Use of the Internet”:
- Aaron Weisburd of the University of Illinois-Chicago, the Internet Haganah and SOFIR
- Daniel Kimmage, Senior Fellow at the Homeland Security Policy Institute
I listen and read Aaron’s analysis because he tells me how I can analyze and understand what terrorist do on the Internet. The Internet Haganah explains to a technical novice, such as myself, what can be interpreted technically from terrorist Internet movements. Aaron’s analysis of the actions and radicalization of terrorists, based on their Internet activity, informs action and policy. I come away from his presentations empowered/equipped to do something about terrorist Internet use rather than entertained by it.
Daniel’s excellent analysis in the Radio Free Europe reports “Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War Of Images And Ideas” and “The Al-Qaeda Media Nexus” utilize a thorough research design, draw from specific datasets, and produce holistic findings. Kimmage’s reports provide a complete review of jihadi media themes identifying key variables that drive jihadi Internet propaganda. I walk away from his reports able to interpret terrorist Internet propaganda and then decipher their objectives within a cultural context.
In conclusion, Kimmage and Weisburd provide analysis that informs policy and action and I thank them for their efforts amidst a sea of unremarkable “Terrorist Use of the Internet” presentations and reports.