Researchers exploring the so-called "Dark Web" analyzed 86 websites from groups labeled as terrorist orgs by the US government, using data mining software. In a report titled "Analyzing Terror Campaigns on the Internet," a team of tech and culture experts from several US universities compared them to 92 US state and federal government websites. The researchers determined that the government sites lagged behind in advanced web technologies. In short, they said, the terrorist groups demonstrated greater sophistication in their use of Web 2.0 tools.
I filed a story about that report for today's edition of the NPR News program "Day to Day," and spoke to one of the authors, Dr. Jialun Qin of the Univ. of Mass., Lowell. Does he believe the American government is losing a "war of websites" against terrorist organizations in the Middle East? Well, not exactly. Snip from transcript of Qin's comments:
According to some studies, the US government is the best in the world in terms of using the internet to communicate with the general public. So it's not a problem of the government, really -- the government is doing a pretty good job. The problem is that the terrorists are learning very fast, they're taking advantage of a lot of different new technologies including the internet. The US government has to improve its usage of internet. The terrorists surprised us.Some of the groups are even doing e-commerce, Qin said -- selling t-shirts, CDs, even comics for kids or modded video games on the internet to generate income.
Also in the segment: James Ellis of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, a nonprofit group in Oklahoma City funded by the Department of Homeland Security. I asked him if he believed the government should be doing more to shut down these sites, as some have argued -- significantly, the report states that some portion of the activity ends up being hosted on servers inside the United States at one point or another. Ellis said:
It's more complicated than people realize. The information is transient. When you shut down a site, it doesn't go away, that community doesn't go away. In some cases, it can be more helpful to leave a site intact so you can monitor the activity, and watch it over time... watch them develop as indicators and warnings. It's like cutting off the head of a Hydra -- it's just going to pop up somewhere else.• ARCHIVED AUDIO LINK, with pointers on where to read the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies report online.
Image: Left, a web graphic on one of the sites in the report. The poster depicts Abu Mus’ab Zarqawi, and the text says "Emir Zarqawi, may God save him. Eagle of Iraq, volcano of Jihad, and the beheader." Right, the NPR segment includes audio from the Al-Anbar website, which offers "holy war" hymns in an audio section.
Also on today's edition of "Day to Day," an amazing interview my colleage Neal Carruth put together -- this one is truly a must-listen:
Sunni Insurgents Launch TV Channel• ARCHIVED AUDIO LINK for that segment.
Sunni insurgents in Iraq are running a 24-hour television channel, called Al Zawraa. The channel shows attacks on Americans and Shiites, as well as violence committed by Shiite militias. Saad Qasim, a translator in NPR's Baghdad Bureau, talks with Alex Chadwick.