Major Jihadi forums have been down for almost a week now, which ruined al-Qaeda’s release of its 9/11 anniversary video. The video is now out, but those who prepared it for distribution included the wrong password and it probably won’t be until tomorrow that the problem is corrected. Even when it finally sees the light of day, viewing it will be very anticlimactic.
My hat off to whomever succeeded in removing Ekhlaas, et al. The usual suspects (the good Doctor and the Haganaut) have denied involvement and I believe them. Still, whoever did it knew what they were doing, beyond technical proficiency–they targeted the right forums at the right time. As a gauge of the attack’s effectiveness, look at how many days it’s taken to get the message out and how clumsily it’s been distributed. If these attacks continue, al-Qaeda will have to find other means of distribution or stop telegraphing its intentions with banner ads.
It is not like I really care if a jihadi site goes down, in fact I think it was kind of funny, but I wonder what is the utility of such action. Sure it disrupted al-Qaeda’s 9/11 video, which will be released anyway, and it will probably make them more paranoid, which may cause jihadis to be more selective about who they let on their sites, but is it really worth it? There are now several other sites moving to fill the vacuum and soon they will be just as popular as Ekhlaas. Additionally, as Gregory Johnsen pointed out in his post about the attacks in Yemen, taking the sites off-line makes it much more difficult to analyze the organization. I am curious to see what others think about this issue?
Before asking about the “utility of such action” you might want to know what the “action” in fact was.
Thank you. Should we come back around to discussing the value or efficacy of whatever it was that happened – in the event that we ever find out – the first question you would want to address is this:
What does “is it really worth it” mean?
My point being that there is more than one standard by which one may measure such worth, and different standards will be likely be applied at different times for a variety of reasons.
Let’s just assume for this exercise that the sites were hacked. Even if they were not hacked I know that a lot of people do think that these sites should be hacked, so I think the discussion is still valid.
So what do I mean by “is it really worth it?” In this question, I am asking if the benefits and rewards of hacking in to a terrorist website, i.e. disruption of jihadi propaganda, are greater than the costs, such as a temporary black hole in jihadi monitoring and the effort involved in the attack.
I guess this brings up several other questions: 1) Is this hacking attack, assuming that it was, the beginning of a sustained effort to shut down these sites? If it is, then maybe the benefits will outweigh the costs. If not, then maybe not. 2) What is the true value of these attacks? Are jihadi forums virtual recruitment and training centers? I tend to think not, but I know that others may disagree with that. Will this disrupt al-Qaeda’s online community, meaning the general feeling online jihadis seem to have of a shared cause? Will this deny jihadis the ability to propagate the message that there are thousands and thousands of supporters out there, even if they are anonymous, who support them?
I guess that is what I am asking. Personally, I am on the fence on the issue. On the one hand, I think that disrupting the sites does deny terrorists a common community that they can identify with and I think that this is significant. Additionally, I believe that shutting down the sites also will make the web masters of new sites more paranoid and more selective about who they let in, which reduces their size and visibility.
However, on the other hand, I believe that without a sustained effort it is basically worthless to shutdown the sites except for maybe the satisfaction of doing so. Also, shutting down the sites denies us the ability to monitor terrorist propaganda, which may or may not be significant depending on your outlook. I think it is.
I am not trying to say anything profound or persuade anyone one way or the other. I just want to get a sense about what others think about the matter. So with that said, assuming the sites were hacked or may be hacked in the future, is doing so worth it?
FYI – the video is now available on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Zi9s8KrfRY