America’s top intelligence officer overseeing Iraq and Afghanistan says terrorists have made the Internet their most important recruiting tool. Brig. Gen. John Custer tells Scott Pelley that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda are influencing Islamic youth to join their cause through Websites devoted to jihad, or religious war.
“I see 16, 17-yr.-olds who have been indoctrinated on the Internet turn up on the battlefield. We capture them, we kill them every day in Iraq, in Afghanistan,”says Custer. “Without a doubt, the Internet is the single-most important venue for the radicalization of Islamic youth,” he tells Pelley.
Potential recruits can be lured to sites that offer news or information that contain links to other sites featuring violence against people the terrorists say are enemies of Islam. Those sites often show American soldiers being killed and military vehicles blown up, as well as journalists and contractors being murdered or shown in captivity. Custer says the sites can convince potential recruits that American soldiers are on the run. “It’s a war of perceptions.They don’t have to win on the tactical battlefield. They never will. No platoon has ever been defeated in Afghanistan or Iraq, but it doesn’t matter.” […]
The Internet allows terrorists to use increasingly sophisticated methods, such as music videos distributed by media organizations, to reach more potential recruits with more effective messages. “Now they are able to distribute… anything they want anywhere they want. …
And the military’s response is this asymmetric threat is to shut down soldier blogs and give short shrift to citizen-embeds (it would be unfair to insert a Custer-related joke here, it isn’t his policy).
This is not news to my colleagues or me, but it is a bit of redemption for all those years we languished in obscurity, those “computer geeks” who didn’t really study “real” threats. It is also a touch of reality for those who keep harping on how you can’t go from the couch to the battlefield by playing virtual Jihadist online.
At some point a clueless pol is going embarrass him or herself by talking about shutting down the inter-tubes in order to defend the nation. Likewise someone will push the boundaries of metaphor by . . . wait, I already talked about that.
For a better idea of how to move forward, read on.
Update: Don’t get complacent on the home front.