MEMRI Releases Landmark Report On Cyber Jihad From Al-Qaeda To The Islamic State (ISIS), With Introduction By Former CIA Director James Woolsey – To Coincide With Launch Of New MEMRI Initiative: The Cyber & Jihad Lab (CJL)
We are pleased to announce the release of the following landmark report, From Al-Qaeda To The Islamic State (ISIS), Jihadi Groups Engage in Cyber Jihad: Beginning With 1980s Promotion Of Use Of ‘Electronic Technologies’ Up To Today’s Embrace Of Social Media To Attract A New Jihadi Generation, with an introduction by Ambassador R. James Woolsey, former CIA director and MEMRI Board of Advisors member.
Ambassador Woolsey writes, “One can hardly imagine the development of the global jihad movement to its present proportions without the Internet and at the heart of the jihadi organizations’ strategy are U.S. social media companies… The study will be a vital contribution to understanding this phenomenon, and even more importantly in discussing possible ways of countering it… This landmark study sheds light on a hugely important area that Western governments, militaries, and academics know too little about. It should be read by everyone in Washington from the Department of Homeland Security and legislators on Capitol Hill to the Pentagon cyber force, and those in academia studying the cyber realm.”
The report, he adds, “could not be timelier, as it is being released to coincide with the launch of MEMRI’s latest initiative, the Cyber and Jihad Lab Project (CJL). This initiative monitors, tracks, translates, and researches cyber jihad originating from the Middle East, Iran, South Asia, and North and West Africa. It translates information from Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pashtu, Dari, and other languages into English, produces detailed analyses, and innovates and experiments with potential solutions for stopping cyber jihad. It too will be an important contribution to the effort.”
The following is Ambassador Woolsey’s introduction to the report, its Table of Contents, and links to its sections on MEMRI.org.
From Al-Qaeda To The Islamic State (ISIS), Jihadi Groups Engage in Cyber Jihad: Beginning With 1980s Promotion Of Use Of ‘Electronic Technologies’ Up To Today’s Embrace Of Social Media To Attract A New Jihadi Generation
By: Steven Stalinsky and R. Sosnow*
From Al-Qaeda To The Islamic State, Jihadi Groups Engage In Cyber Jihad: An Introduction By Ambassador R. James Woolsey, Former CIA Director And MEMRI Board Of Advisors Member
One of the most important challenges facing the United States and the Western world is that of cybersecurity, and understanding the intentions and capabilities of jihadi groups in this realm. It therefore gives me great satisfaction to introduce an historic study that the Middle East Media Research Institute’s (MEMRI) Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM) has been working on for the past year. Given the current situation of Western recruitment to jihad in Iraq and Syria, the information in this study could not be timelier.
One can hardly imagine the development of the global jihad movement to its present proportions without the Internet – and at the heart of the jihadi organizations’ strategy are U.S. social media companies. Over the past few weeks, senior government officials, including the heads of the FBI and CIA have been discussing the Islamic State’s (ISIS) and other jihadi groups’ dependence on social media. Last month, FBI director James Comey said that the Islamic State’s “widespread use of media and growing online support intensified following the commencement of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.” In addition, the 9/11 Commission Review report noted in July that “cyber attacks can constitute another form of asymmetric terrorism… Security officials are concerned that terrorist groups’ skills in computer technology – and in particular in manipulating offensive cyber capabilities – will increase in the years ahead…”
This following report documents jihadi use of the Internet, from Al-Qaeda’s and other groups’ earliest websites and forums in the 1980s to what we see today with the Islamic State: highly professional video productions and widespread presence on social media, which are integral for recruiting and training the next generation of jihadists.
The study will be a vital contribution to understanding this phenomenon, and even more importantly in discussing possible ways of countering it; it also could not be timelier, as it is being released to coincide with the launch of MEMRI’s latest initiative, the Cyber and Jihad Lab (CJL). This initiative monitors, tracks, translates, and researches cyber jihad originating from the Middle East, Iran, South Asia, and North and West Africa. It translates information from Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pashtu, Dari, and other languages into English, produces detailed analyses, and innovates and experiments with potential solutions for stopping cyber jihad. It too will be an important contribution to the effort.
What you are about to read chronicles Al-Qaeda’s earliest cyber activity; the emergence of the main Al-Qaeda websites and forums and their development into providers of training for hacking, spreading viruses, and other forms of cyber attacks; statements by Al-Qaeda leadership on the importance of cyber jihad; and the major shift in online jihad from jihadi forums to Western social media, which is now depended upon by jihadis for outreach efforts in the current Syrian and Iraqi conflicts. It explores how nearly a decade has now passed since the U.S. government first pledged to deny terrorists use of the Internet, whereas jihadi activity in cyberspace seems to grow daily. This generation’s activists of Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, led by the Islamic State, are younger and Internet savvy, having heeded previous Al-Qaeda leaders’ calls to turn to the Internet. They are connected via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Flickr, and every other emerging social media platform, adopting them almost as soon as they are created – just like the younger generation in the West. Like their Western counterparts, they have smartphones, tablets, and other devices; and, like everyone else, they purchase and use apps.
It is important to note that with the combination of social media and mobile devices, jihadi outlets can make sure that their content is viewable anywhere, anytime. Jihadis were quick to use YouTube and other video sharing services, taking advantage of this technology to provide courses and training in explosives manufacture, weapons training, and hacking. Today, anyone can receive tweets or Facebook posts from Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, led by ISIS, and other terrorist groups, directly to their cellphones, in real time – and can immediately share them far and wide. Another aspect of cyber jihad is hacking; jihadis and jihadi groups are already obtaining funds and wreaking havoc by hacking financial institutions and individuals. This will continue to become more widespread in the future.
In the photos that they now disseminate on social media, the jihadis, who used to pose in their traditional garb surrounded by weapons such as assault rifles and grenades, nowadays include in these photo images a laptop, smartphone, and tablet, reflecting the importance placed on these “weapons.” Fittingly, these photos are often chosen as the profile images for their social media accounts.
This landmark study sheds light on a hugely important area that Western governments, militaries, and academics know too little about. It should be read by everyone in Washington – from the Department of Homeland Security and legislators on Capitol Hill to the Pentagon cyber force, and those in academia studying the cyber realm.
*Ambassador R. James Woolsey is a former director of the CIA, former under-secretary of the Navy, and former Ambassador to the Negotiation on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). He is also a member of MEMRI’s Board of Advisors.
Table Of Contents
From Al-Qaeda To The Islamic State, Jihadi Groups Engage In Cyber Jihad – An Introduction By Ambassador R. James Woolsey, Former CIA Director And MEMRI Board Of Advisors Member
I. Al-Qaeda’s Earliest Cyber Activity
II. The Emergence Of The Main Al-Qaeda Websites And Forums – And Their Development Into Providers Of Training For Hacking, Sending Viruses, and Other Forms of Cyber Attacks
- Early Jihadi Online Activity: Google Blogs, Yahoo-Hosted Websites
- Shumoukh Al-Islam, Al-Fida’ and AMEF – Al-Qaeda’s Online Open University
- The First Cyber Jihad Groups Emerge
- On Al-Qaeda-Affiliated Websites And Forums: Cyber Jihad Training, Claims Of Cyber Attacks Against U.S. Airports, Government Agencies Including FBI, CIA, Open Source Center, And The White House, As Well As Military Bases
- October 2006: Mujahideen Gather Information on Anchorage International Airport
- 2006-2007: Islamist Hackers Focus On U.S. Government: Military, FBI, CIA
- 2009-14: Hacking And Using Drones
- February 2010: Online Jihadis Discuss Cyber Targets in U.S. – Including Government Buildings Like White House, CIA HQ
- January 24, 2011: Jihadis Plan Cyber Attack on U.S. Government Computers
- June 2011: Shumoukh Al-Islam Writer Calls For Establishing ‘Center For Electronic Terrorism’ – Which Is Now In “Initial Testing Lab Phase” Prior To Targeting The U.S.
- March 2013: Al-Qaeda Electronic Army And Tunisian Cyber Army Claim To Have Hacked Pentagon, State Department Websites
- March 2013: Al-Qaeda Claims To Have Hacked U.S. Government’s Open Source Center
- April 2013: Using Android Smartphones To Hijack Airplane
- May 2013: Ansar Al-Mujahideen Forum Discusses ‘Anonymous’ Cyber Attack That Paralyzed Guantanamo’s Wi-Fi
- September 2014: ISIS-Supporter “Jihadi Media Platform” Forum Posts Instructions For Disrupting And Downing Drones Used By U.S. In Iraq
- Al-Qaeda’s Embrace of Encryption Technology 2007-2014
III. Statements By Al-Qaeda Leadership On The Importance Of Cyber Jihad
- Osama bin Laden: “The Wide-Scale Spread Of Jihadist Ideology, Especially On The Internet… [Is] A Major Achievement For Jihad”
- Ayman Al-Zawahiri On Cyber Jihad: “A Great Front of Islam”
- Adam Gadahn, American Al-Qaeda Spokesman – And Jihadi Media And Cyber Pioneer
- Islamic State Of Iraq’s Minister Of War: “We Believe Electronic Warfare Is [The] War Of The Future”
- Senior Al-Qaeda Commander to Potential Recruits: We Need “Specialist Cadres,” Not “Regular Fighters” In Afghanistan-Pakistan
- AQIM Publishes First Installment In Electronic Jihad Series
- Jihadis Discuss Reported Breach Of TOR, Complain That Tech-Savvy Forum Members Have Abandoned Forums For Twitter
- AQAP Commander Calls On Followers To Learn Tools for Cyber Jihad From The Internet
- AQAP Deputy: Online Jihad Is A Great Front And Part Of The Coming Phase
- AQAP Deputy Leader and Former Osama bin Laden Secretary Nasir Al-Wuheishi Calls For Volunteers to Join Al-Qaeda Via Encryption Software
- Anwar Al-Awlaki – The “Bin Laden Of The Internet”: The Internet Is A Great Medium For Spreading Jihad
- Inspire Editor Samir Khan Warns The West That Al-Qaeda Cyber Activists Are Studying Internet Security, Praises The Impact Of Made-In-Afghanistan Jihadi Videos That Are Distributed In The Streets Of London And California
- U.S.-Designated Global Terrorist Abu Adam Al-Almani: Al-Qaeda’s “Professional Media Work” In German And English “Reached Us In Germany”
IV. A Major Shift In Online Jihad: From Forums To Social Media
- Following Killing Of Al-Awlaki and Khan, Al-Qaeda Cyber Activists Promise To Spread Online Jihad And Raid Facebook And Twitter
- American Al-Qaeda Spokesman Adam Gadahn: “We Must Make Every Effort To Reach Out To Muslims Through New Media Like Facebook and Twitter”
- Bali Bombing Mastermind: “This Is The Internet Era, There Is Facebook, Twitter, And Others”
- Taliban Spokesman Praises Impact Of Online Jihad And Use Of Facebook And Twitter
- Jihadi News Agency “Kavkaz Center,” Affiliated With Designated Terrorist Organization “Caucasus Emirate,” Calls For Followers To Use Twitter and Facebook
- Former Guantanamo Detainee And Al-Qaeda Cyber Activist Praises Online Jihad: “Especially Through Twitter And Facebook”
V. Western Social Media Companies – At The Heart Of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Other Groups’ Jihadi And Outreach Efforts
- U.S.-Based Social Media Companies – The Engine Of Jihad Today
- The San Francisco-Based Internet Archive – Platform For Uploading And Downloading Al-Qaeda Content: Fast, Free, And Unobstructed For Terror Organizations
- YouTube – The Internet’s Primary and Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base
- Twitter – Hashtag Jihad And Fundraising For Jihad
- Friending Al-Qaeda On Facebook
- Designated Terrorists And Terrorist Organizations Online: Maintaining Official Websites, Using Google Blogspot, Using Yahoo Server, Launching Internet Radio Stations
VI. Social Media In The Syria And Iraq Conflict
- Calls To Engineers To Join The Islamic State – By IS Caliph Al-Baghdadi And Others, Including Foreign Jihadis
- Jihadi Hacktivist Groups Emerge In ISIS
- Death Photos, Eulogies For Jihadis Killed In Battle Used As A Recruitment Tool
- Skype – Fundraising And Media Interviews
- Whatsapp – Mobile Jihadi Messaging
- Google Services – Mapping, Blogging, And Apps
- Instagram – Sharing Photos Of Al-Qaeda Leaders – And Used By Jihadis In Syria And Iraq
- Flickr – Snapshots Of Martyrdom
- Tumblr – Microblogging Jihad
- Ask.fm – Jihadi Q&A; Kik – More Privacy
- SoundCloud – Jihadi Recordings
- ISIS’s Extensive Use Of Social Media
- Friendica and Diaspora
- Algorithms: Helping Jihadis Find Each Other – Even After Social Media Accounts Are Shut Down
VII. The Future of Online Jihad – The Coming Battle With The Cyber Army Of Al-Qaeda And Its Offshoots
To Read The Report:
Part VIII. Endnotes
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