Friday, August 26, 2005

Take The 'Net Away From The Terrorists

Here's an idea that, upon reflection, isn't all that novel, but which had never really occurred to me before:

Would it be a good strategy for Western nations to attack terrorist communications [by taking down their websites]? It would seem obvious. A blogger wrote, back when the erroneous report appeared, that "causing those websites to go offline is far more significant than it may appear":

"To a normal army or even the older sort of terrorist organizations we have dealt with in the 1960s through the 1980s, this would be irrelevant. But many terrorist organizations today are little more than a website and people who read the website and then take action.

"This is not something that is uniquely Moslem in any way. The so-called 'Earth Liberation Front' has evolved into this same pattern in the United States....The websites are one of the few things which connects these people and their attacks at all. ...

"Losing these websites may be as important a problem for the jihadist movement as the loss of radio communications is for a conventional army."

The conventional wisdom says terror sites are a treasure trove of intelligence information, as well as providing a wealth of material that can be "subpoenaed." That this is essentially a law enforcement-oriented argument ought to strongly suggest the fundamental folly underlying it.

Besides, there is less intelligence to be found on these URLs than there's cracked up to be:

[C]onsider Islamist web techniques as described by Steve Coll and Susan B. Glasser's recent three-part series in the Washington Post, the article from which the figure of 4,500 websites is attributed to University of Haifa Professor Gabriel Weimann. The Islamists devote most of their web space and time to open recruiting, instruction, motivation, brainstorming, and advertising. And that is a very different thing from military communications, which are secure, originate in a single command structure, and are designated for certain recipients only. Military communication also requires acknowledgement and feedback.

Not so with open web warfare. It doesn't matter who picks it up. Anybody can act on it, and with its help. Many do, and more will. Recent reports suggest the London tube bombings came about in this way, not by any direct orders. The D.C. snipers could have been inspired in the same way, and look how effective they were.

Kinda hard to argue with Lawrence Henry's conclusion:

If it's a good idea to relegate Osama and his cohorts to the wilds of Pakistan, why not put the websites to flight, too, by constant nation-sponsored hackery and destruction?

I mean, it's not as if other American enemies aren't busy as bees trying to do the same thing to us....