Terrorist Organisations And Networked Technology Criminology Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

How and why do organisations change due to the utalisation of networked technologies? Since the birth of the internet, it has revolutionised communications, enabling the rapid, pervasive and most important, inexpensive exchange of information worldwide in a short period of time. Just as shifts have been occurring at the technological level, so, too have changes occurred in the wider social, economic, and political spheres. It nonetheless has made significant changes for organisations seeking to maintain, and improve, their strategic positioning under increasingly challenging circumstances (Burt, 2001, p. 316). Groups of any size can reach each other regardless of their geographical region (Hoffman, 2006, p. 3) and "…it also became apparent that radical terrorist organi[s]ations of various kinds-anarchists, nationalists, separatists, revolutionaries, neo-Marxists, and fascists-[are] using the network to distribute their propaganda, to communicate with their supporters, to create public awareness and sympathy, and even to execute operations" (Tsfati & Weimann, 2002, p. 318). These networked structures are often leaderless and able to attack more quickly (Ressler, 2006). By 2000, almost all terrorist groups had established their presences on the internet. The United States Institute of Peace's scan of the internet between 2003 and 2004 revealed hundreds of websites serving terrorists and their supporters (Weimann, 2004, p. 1). Terrorist organisations adopt a technology if it improves their ability to carry out recruiting and training; or to improve the outcome of its immediate attack operations (Don, Frelinger, Gerwehr, Landree, & Jackson, 2007, p. 45). As mentioned by Gabriel Weimann (2004), "…the internet offers terrorists ease of access; little or no regulation or censorship; huge audiences; fast flowing information; little or no economics on a web presence; a rich multimedia environment; and to take advantage on traditional mass media coverage" (p.3). "By its very nature, the [i]nternet is in many ways an ideal arena for activity by terrorist organi[s]ations" (Weimann, 2004, p. 3).

Since the "9/11" terrorist attack on the United States of America (USA), intelligent officials have a clearer picture on how the internet might be used to support such organisational structures. The ability to monitor e-mails and phone calls was to help prevent such attacks from becoming successful. It was reported by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assistant director Ronald Dick, that the hijackers used the internet to carry out their plan (Conway, 2002, p. 10). "For bin Laden and his followers the weapons of terrorism are no longer simply the guns and bombs that they always have been, but now include the mini-cam and videotape …; and, most critically, the lap-top and desk-top computers, CD burners and e-mail accounts, and [i]nternet and worldwide web access that have defined the information revolution today" (Hoffman, 2006, p. 1). Now, thanks to networked technologies, terrorist groups can determine what audience(s) they wish to reach. As Tina Brown (as cited in Hoffman, 2006) pointed out: "conjunction of 21st-century [i]nternet speed and 12th-century fanaticism has turned our world into a tinderbox" (p.2).

One way for terrorists to be acknowledged is its message of fear, which is designed to generate publicity and attract attention to their cause. In most cases, the publicity it generates is to communicate a message. What messages are communicated will vary depending on whom they are directed. It could be designed to inform, educate, solicit support, whether material, financial and/or spiritual, and ultimately rally the masses behind the insurgents or terrorists. It can be to recruit new converts (Rogan, 2006, p. 29) to the cause or replenish those who have been depleted. However, it can also be deliberately coercive to promote or ensure compliance through threat or blandishment. Additionally a message can go beyond a simple attack and seek to coerce or intimidate (Lewis, 2002, p. 1) a strategic plan one may have in defense to this bluff. The insurgents or terrorists' plan is to undermine confidence in government and leadership, to paralyse with fear by their ability to strike at will and compromise the government and security's defense or protection plan (Hoffman, 2006, p. 3). 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. These traditional media have a multistage process of editorial selection that terrorists often cannot reach. No such thresholds, of course, exist on the terrorists' own websites (Weimann, 2004, p. 6).

The internet has allowed terrorists to communicate messages which are hidden away from the public view. They portray themselves anyway they please, using networked technologies to effectively promote propaganda (Hoffman, 2006, p. 2). In a study conducted by the RAND Corporation in 1991, RAND (as cited in Hoffman, 2006) reported how important propaganda is in recruiting new followers (p.2): "[O]nce a group has the people's ears and eyes it can manipulate their minds, causing them to act as they not might otherwise; or if it does not work as effectively as this, its messages at least command the attention of those who read, hear or see them" (Hoffman, 2006, p. 2). These activities require communicating with a great number of people and can be effectively distributed in the form of multicast or podcast technology. This technology offers greater leverage in terms of anonymity and economics (Don, et al., 2007, p. 35).

New technologies have allowed terrorists to distribute media more freely and at a lower cost. Before the ease of CD duplication, video and audio tapes, at a time, were being used to relay their messages and/or feats (CTG, 2003) to the masses; duplicating was a timely and a costly exercise. None the less, these messages were a crude form of communication compared to the podcast that is already a prevalent means of distributing recruiting materials, claiming responsibility for attacks, and disseminating propaganda messages (Don, et al., 2007, p. 35). This however seems to be a perilous affair in the event that these messages became intercepted by governments whom are fighting the war against terrorism.

Terrorists may choose to communicate by using ciphers, using pre-paid or stolen mobile phones, using code words or disguising their voices. However, this can draw attention and give reason for interception to take place. Much of the planning for September 11 was done using unencrypted email messages, often written using codes and was sent from multiple locations, such as internet cafes, to avoid detection (Conway, 2003, p. 13). To keep inconspicuous, the hijackers also used several free email accounts to keep in contact with each other (Hess, 2009). The hijackers were not detected as this type of communication carries huge amounts of traffic every day (Don, et al., 2007, p. 30). Between 1998 and 2001, alleged al-Qaida operations mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, gave evidence that he learned how to communicated by phone and email using a code (Hess, 2009). It has been noted by Weimann (2004, p. 5) and in Maura Conway's (2003) article, Code Wars: Steganography, Signals Intelligence, and Terrorism, that terrorists can also conceal their message/data within other data, known as steganography. Innocent digital files such as images, audio, video, text or some other digitally representative code, can withhold information within it. There are steganography tools available on the internet allowing any one to insert hidden information for free (Conway, 2003, p. 6).

Basically, all a terrorist needs to do is choose a tool, 'stego' a message, and e-mail the message to a friend or post it to a publicly available site. Thereafter, an accomplice can retrieve this container message using the correct pass-phrase and the same software. Because steganography is not widely known, and technologically viable images are prolific on the [i]nternet, it is very likely that the result image will go unnoticed as it reaches its destination. (Ballard, Hornik & McKenzie, 2002, p998, as cited in Conway, 2003, p. 7)

Tsfati and Weimann (2002) have mentioned that "… terrorist attacks are often carefully choreographed to attract the attention of the electronic media and the international press. The hostages mean nothing to the terrorists; they are only there to increase drama and are aimed at the people watching, not the actual victims". In a report published by Northeast Intelligence Network (Hagmann, 2004), it reveals that extremists are training in the USA and practicing assaults which were caught by a hidden camera. Fox 5 News broadcasted the report on a suspected terrorist camp near New York in 2006. The footage shows abandoned school busses which seem to have its windows blown out (Fox 5 News, 2006). The media seem to thrive on information about terrorist camps within the USA, and more so when terrorists upload coercive footage.

When the two planes hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, America was gob smacked that this kind of catastrophe could happen on their soil. When the event took place, it was broadcasted over every news channel around the world (Nisbet, 2001). In a sickening sense, the terrorists achieved their goals in more than one way. The terrorists' plan successfully undermined confidence in government and leadership; paralysed the nation with fear by their capacity to attack at will (Hoffman, 2006, p. 3); gained the public's awareness (Tsfati & Weimann, 2002, p. 318); and brought all aircraft, nationwide, to a standstill, ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) (Levin, Adams, & Morrison, 2002). The whole nation was intimidated by fear. "…al Qaeda has consistently claimed on its websites that the destruction of the World Trade Cent[re] has inflicted psychological damage, as well as concrete damage, on the U.S. economy" (Weimann, 2004, p. 5).

In 2008, a website named AqsaTube was created. Very similar to YouTube, AqsaTube's particular focus was on Palestinian militant videos. It is believed that the site was produced by Hamas, a terrorist organisation/militant group (Australian National Security, 2010) as well as groups like the al-Quds brigades, another terrorist organisation/militant group (Parliament of Australia, 2008). The website included material from groups that are opposed to Hamas, including videos by al-Sahab, which produces propaganda on behalf of al-Qaeda (Thorold, 2008). Terrorists and insurgent organisations throughout the world maintain more than one website and use several different languages. One such site, palestine.info.net, exists in six different languages, namely French, English, Malaysian, Urdu, Russian and Arabic, reiterating the objective in reaching a worldwide audience (Rogan, 2006, p. 20). Documented in The United States Institute of Peace report (Weimann, 2004), eleven groups from the Middle East, three from Europe, four from Latin America and ten from Asia, have websites that are maintained by terrorist organisations (p.3). "Websites suddenly emerge and disappear; and in some cases, changing their online address but retaining the same content. However, it is hard to monitor or track sites as some, such as al-Qaeda's website, change almost daily" (Weimann, 2004, p. 2).

Just like most of us, terrorist organisations also have the world at their fingertips. As the internet offers over a billion pages of information, much of it free, terrorists can learn a wide variety of details about targets such as transportation facilities, nuclear power plants, public buildings, airports, and ports, and even about counterterrorism measures (Rogan, 2006, p. 30; Weimann, 2004, p. 7). According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, an al Qaeda training manual recovered in Afghanistan tells its readers, "[u]sing 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" (Poulsen, 2003). After this was acknowledged, the Defense Department slowly started removing information from public websites after being criticised as a threat to privacy (Poulsen, 2003).

Terrorist organisations have utilised online forums in sharing their knowledge for the creation of training manuals. In the 1990s, training of jihadists took place primarily in camps in Afghanistan. After the USA declared war on terrorism, the invasion in 2001 saw a majority of Afghan camps destroyed; the Afghan-Arab jihadists were scattered and training moved to new locations. This invasion and destruction on these camps forced the jihadist training to be undertaken in cyberspace. Some of the jihadist forums are named after famous al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan. Such examples are Muntadayat al-Ma'sada al-Jihadiyyaand and Muntadayat al-Farouq. Both of these websites have a special section named 'jihadist cells forum' where training manuals and an array of other things are posted. Such things on offer, for example, are how to produce homemade explosives and poisons, how to use weapons, and how to carry out reconnaissance operations, guerilla warfare, urban warfare and hostage-taking (Rogan, 2006, p. 26). A large manual nicknamed "The Encyclopedia of Jihad", which was put together by al-Qaeda, contains thousands of pages which are distributed via the internet. This manual offers detailed instructions on how to establish an underground organisation and execute attacks (Weimann, 2004, p. 9). Most manuals are a collaborative effort and are published in written form, accompanied by explicative photos. However, a limited number of audio-visual training manuals also exist. Some give detailed step-by-step instructions, for instance, on how to produce explosives and how to manufacture an explosive belt for suicide operations (Rogan, 2006, p. 26).

Just like many political organisations, terrorist groups use the internet to raise funds. To some degree, the USA has added fuel to the fire with the Iraq and Afghanistan invasion; the Muslim community's anger at the U.S has reached an all-time high and continues to grow. It has been reported for this anger, Muslims have donated to these terrorist organisations (Karon, 2004). Al-Qaeda, as an example, has always depended heavily on donations, and its global fundraising network is built upon a foundation of charities, non-governmental organisation (globalsecurity.org, n.d), and other financial institutions that use websites and internet-based chat rooms and forums (Weimann, 2004, p. 7). The Sunni extremist group Hizb al-Tahrir uses an integrated mesh of internet sites, extending from Europe to Africa, which asks supporters to assist the effort by giving money and encouraging others to donate to the cause of jihad. All banking details for a successfully transfer of donations are provided on the web site; some sites also accept PayPal transfers (Conway, 2006, p. 12). The U.S. government has frozen the assets of three seemingly authentic charities that use the internet to raise money-the Benevolence International Foundation, the Global Relief Foundation, and the Al-Haramain Foundation-because of evidence that those charities have funneled money to al Qaeda (Weimann, 2004, p. 8). Another way groups can raise funds is through the creation of online stores, selling items such as books, audio and video tapes, flags, t-shirts and DVDs (Conway, 2002, p. 12).

It was reported by Jean-Francois Ricard (as citied in Conway, 2002, p. 13), one of France's top anti-terrorism investigators, that many Islamist terror plots are financed through credit card fraud. Imam Samudra, a member behind the Bali bombing in 2002, published a prisoner memoir which includes carding, a fraudulent activity involving credit cards, in gain funds for their operation. There is strong evidence from international law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, that some terrorists organisations are financing their activities via such techniques as Nigerian-style scam emails (Conway, 2002, p. 13).

It is apparent that while network technologies have made life easier for "normal", everyday people to communicate. However, it has also allowed insurgents or terrorist organisations to transition online to plan operations, promote propaganda, raise funds through fraud, communicate in secrecy, manipulate the media and undermine nations with fear. Terrorists are more likely to act in a more fully networked, decentralised manner. With little or no hierarchy, multiple leaders are born, and crushing a single leader becomes tougher (Conway, 2006, p. 13). Before the use of networked technologies, terrorism organisations relied on their leader; if that leader was detained or murdered; operations are more than likely come to a standstill. Therefore, making use of networked technologies means if a terrorist leader, such as Osama bin Laden, was to be apprehended or killed, the overall effect on operations may be infinitesimal. Terrorist groups share a goal with mainstream organisations and institutions, and that is, searching for greater efficiency through the internet (Conway, 2006, p. 15).