ISIS has been using Twitter for years. Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups are all on Twitter.
U.S. [mc_name name=’Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’P000592′ ] (R-TX), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is deeply concerned about terrorists’ online presence. On January 27, Poe’s subcommittee held a hearing on terrorists’ use of social media, during which experts detailed how terrorist use of social media platforms has long been a problem.
He is right to be apprehensive.
While ISIS continues to expand, most recently into Yemen, and welcome other terrorist groups into its syndicate, governments are all but ignoring the war ISIS is waging online. In short, ISIS is recruiting more fighters online than U.S.-led coalition forces are managing to kill. In order to win a war all fronts need to be fortified.
ISIS is waging a propaganda war, the intent of which is not only to instill fear and anger in its enemies, but also to serve as a means of outreach and recruitment. This expansive cyber army has significant impact on ISIS’ burgeoning numbers.
Much of ISIS’ recruiting is done via Facebook and Twitter, in addition to more arcane platforms. But, Twitter, in particular, is heavily used as a propaganda tool and on this front they are considerably in advance of NATO and other Western forces.
The terrorist group’s strategy on social media is well executed, utilizing strategies that “inflate and control its message,” wrote J.M. Berger in the Atlantic. At one time, ISIS even had an app in the Google Play store which utilized hashtags on Twitter to “focus-group messaging and branding concepts, much like a Western corporation might.” The app, however, was pulled from the store.
So, what main countries do ISIS supporters on Twitter tweet from? The Independent has assembled some stats which answer that question. Of the top 11 countries with ISIS supporters, Saudi Arabia ranks first with the most ISIS-supporting tweeters and the U.S. ranks fourth. All of the other top countries, except for one, are countries which are majority Muslim. You can view the chart here.
In addition to men, ISIS has also been recruiting women and children. One alleged recruiter of girls is Aqsa Mahmood, who departed her home in Scotland to go to Syria back in 2013. She is accused of recruiting three girls from the UK and others, by way of social media. Mahmood posted tips for girls and young women wanting to travel to Syria to marry jihadis, as she did. She also linked to another jihad supporter who provided advice on what girls should pack for jihad in Syria.
A Turkish man, by the name of Ismail Uludag, who is either in or aligned with ISIS, has been trying to establish an online social network, apparently for recruitment purposes. Unfortunately for Uludag, hacktivist collective Anonymous has been relentless in crushing his attempts. His personal Facebook account has been suspended but his Twitter account remains active and displays a graphic photos of beheadings along with a warning to spies.
The reason Uludag has been targeted, according to an Anonymous member who is part of #OpISIS, is because of the recruitment potential of Uludag’s social network and because of the sharp increase of ISIS terror cells in the country of Uludag’s origin–Turkey.
Turkey faces a growing threat from ISIS. “I am not very optimistic,” says Marmara University’s Behlul Ozkan. “Turkey has a huge problem. We have close to 2 million refugees from Syria; Turkey cannot control its borders, they are porous.” In particular, the southern Turkish cities, on the Syrian border have become major ISIS recruiting stations. And, a Turkish police report warns of 3,000 operatives living in Turkey who are directly linked to ISIS. “Turkey has become a center harboring sleeper cells of terrorist organizations,” main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has said.
A fruit seller in Gaziantep reports that children as young as 11 are using drugs in Gaziantep’s Güzelyurt neighborhood. “It is easy to deceive children. They are poor. ISIL deceived them by giving them money, then taking them to Iraq and Syria. Now they teach them there how to behead people,” he added.
But, Turkey (a U.S. ally) has been accused of not only turning a blind eye to ISIS, but of actually supporting them. Daniel Pipes reports:
“Salih Muslim, the co-chairman of Syrian’s dominant Kurdish organization, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), explains his basis for saying that the Turkish government has been supporting ISIS. Excerpts:
‘ISIS itself says it gets Turkey’s support. Its media gives details of how they get assistance from Turkey and how their militants reach them via Turkey.’”
“Also of interest, Abdel-Meguid draws an interview with an ISIS member in the Yurt newspaper where the member spoke of the huge support his organisation received from the powers-that-be in Ankara. Were it not for that support, ISIS would not be where it is today in terms of number of combatants and the vital areas under its control, he said.
Observers estimate that there are from 2,500 to 3,000 ISIS members inside Turkey. Yet, the government has no intelligence on its possible sleeping cells, on how it recruits terrorists, and on where and how it gets its money. It also has no detailed information on the organisation’s links with other Sunni countries, apart from Qatar.”
Daniel Pipes continues with this:
“Ankara may deny helping ISIS, but the evidence for this is overwhelming. “As we have the longest border with Syria,” writes Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a Turkish newspaper columnist, “Turkey’s support was vital for the jihadists in getting in and out of the country.” Indeed, the ISIS strongholds not coincidentally cluster close to Turkey’s frontiers.
One Turkish opposition politician estimates that Turkey has paid $800 million to ISIS for oil shipments. Another politician released information about active duty Turkish soldiers training ISIS members. Critics note that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has met three times with someone, Yasin al-Qadi, who has close ties to ISIS and has funded it.”
“Regarding the ISIS sympathizers in Turkey, FDD says, ‘Ali Ediboglu, a Turkish opposition deputy, claims that “at least 1,000 Turkish nationals are helping … foreign fighters sneak into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.” Youtube videos depict IS gatherings in Istanbul and demonstrations of support by Turkish citizens for the jihadi fighters in Syria, including IS.’”
Given the rapid spread of ISIS and its online front, Rep. Poe asks why the American government isn’t shutting ISIS down online? Poe points out that terrorist use of social media is hardly a new phenomenon and that we have had years to weigh the kind of intelligence can be gathered about terrorist groups against the advantages in messaging and recruitment that terrorists gain from it. And, contrary to the past claims of some, allowing the online jihad to continue has provided no significant intelligence breakthroughs.
“The fact that there are more terrorists using social media than ever before should say all we need to know about whether they are benefiting from it,” Poe reasoned. “In 2011, the White House promised a strategy to prevent online radicalization. But more than three years later — and despite a summit last week aimed at tackling extremism — we are still waiting on a that strategy.” Poe finished his CNN commentary by saying, “American newspapers would have never allowed the Nazis to place an ad for recruitment during World War II. Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations should not be allowed to use private American companies to reach billions of people with their violent propaganda in an instant, all for free.”
There is no evidence ISIS is at all concerned about the government raining on its online parade, but as a writer at The Cryptosphere has observed, “by bringing the war to social media, ISIS stepped right into Anonymous’ home turf. And they’re not likely to forget that any time soon.”
#OpISIS is an Anonymous operation which was initiated due to the inaction of governments and corporations, such as Twitter and Facebook, in shutting terrorist accounts down. Terrorist groups have been allowed to flourish online, recruit and issue threats.
And, the hacktivist collective has been busy–last week a list was compiled of 9,200 ISIS-linked Twitter accounts that had been suspended, but now that number has increased to 14,150, with the emphasis being placed on, “propaganda and recruiting accounts on social media.”
Counter Current News elaborates:
“Red Cult is responsible for this latest outing of ISIS accounts, but they note solidarity with other Anonymous groups which have joined in #OpISIS. ‘Different Anonymous teams have joined together in this fight now: #RedCult, #GhostSec and #CtrlSec…and more are sure to join in this fight.’”
Not everyone, however, is on board with Anonymous’ online anti-ISIS operation. According to an article in Mirror, government spies are none too pleased with #OpISIS and related operations “because it removes their ability to watch jihadis and gather intelligence.” These agents are worried about ISIS vanishing into the Darknet, “beyond anyone’s reach.” And yet, in the past government agents have successfully located and arrested individuals whose second home, for all practical purposes, was on the Darknet.
An article in TechDirt argues that the problem, at least in part, is “The FBI’s preference for easily-investigated terrorism” and that some of the FBI’s anti-terrorism efforts are tantamount to “digging a hole and filling it back up.”
Many others have pointed to the fact that the massive surveillance campaign carried out by the NSA, in truth, yielded minimal results. An article from ProPublica states, “A chart declassified by the agency in July, for example, says that intelligence from the programs on 54 occasions ‘has contributed to the [U.S. government’s] understanding of terrorism activities and, in many cases, has enabled the disruption of potential terrorist events at home and abroad’ — a much different claim than asserting that the programs have been responsible for thwarting 54 attacks.”
And, another from Motherboard Magazine last year:
“A new analysis of terrorism charges in the US found that the NSA’s dragnet domestic surveillance ‘had no discernible impact’ on preventing terrorist acts. Instead, the majority of threats over the last decade were detected by regular old intelligence and law enforcement methods—tips, informants, CIA and FBI ops, routine law enforcement.
The nonprofit think tank New America Foundation published a report today after investigating the 227 Al Qaeda-affiliated people or groups that have been charged for committing an act of terrorism in the US since 9/11. It found just 17 of the cases were credited to NSA surveillance, and just one conviction came out of the government’s extra-controversial practice of spying on its own citizens. And that charge, against San Diego cab driver Basaaly Moalin, was for sending money to a terrorist group in Somalia. There was no threat of an actual attack.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) discredited a claim by President Obama: “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted” due to the NSA’s spy powers. Former NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander also repeatedly claimed those programs thwarted 54 different attacks.
EFF explains how this claim was debunked:
“First, the claim that the information stopped 54 terrorist plots fell completely apart. In dramatic Congressional testimony, [mc_name name=’Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’L000174′ ] forced a formal retraction from NSA Director Alexander in October, 2013:
‘Would you agree that the 54 cases that keep getting cited by the administration were not all plots, and of the 54, only 13 had some nexus to the U.S.?’ Leahy said at the hearing. ‘Would you agree with that, yes or no?’”
“Yes,” Alexander replied, without elaborating.
Some of the online accounts held by terrorists have been around for years. There are terror cells in the U.S. that have been around for years. At some point, the observation phase needs to end and the action phase (i.e., accounts shut down, arrests, etc.) needs to begin.