Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Al Qaeda effective with Internet and technology, even from remote tribal areas

A recent two-part series (particularly the second part) in The Washington Post indicates that Al Qaeda, given its dispersal in primitive areas, is even more effective in using the Internet than had been previously supposed. The decentralized groups have been able to make videos in tribal areas of western Pakistan or Afghanistan, transfer them (on memory sticks or other devices) by couriers to Internet cares with convenient wireless or other Internet access, and remain undetected for much of the process. There is even an 80-minute film called “The Power of Truth” alleging Muslim victimization by western aggression in various forms.

The story (appearing June 23 on the Washington Post front page) is called “Al Qaeda’s Growing Online Offensive” by Craig Whitlock (of the Washington Post Foreign Service) and Munir Ladaa (in Berlin). The story includes excerpts from Al Qaeda propaganda videos.

The first part (June 23) had discussed the US-finance al-Hurra television network.

Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri have repeatedly sent audios and videos since 2001. On Oct 7, 2001 major media outlets broadcast a video tongue-lashing by bin Laden as Bush announced action in Afghanistan. On Dec. 13, 2001 (the date of my own layoff) bin Laden broadcast a particularly gratuitous video gloating at the WTC collapse.

Right after 9/11, there was a lot of speculation thay Al Qaeda or other groups could send “steganographic” messages by hacking ordinary websites, but this has not been reported as happening widely. (I found disturbing "vandalism" on a file discussing nuclear issues on my older site in April 2002 and reported the incident.) But steganography has been widely used in the physical world, all the way back to the wars in ancient Greece.

It's also interesting to speculate how propaganda works on the Internet, compared to the way it worked earlier in history (as in Germany before WWII). The mechanics of propaganda was covered in government class when I took it in high school in 1960-61. It would not work as well in an environment where there is freedom of dissent, but in radical Muslim countries there is heavy censorship and harassment of bloggers, as previously discussed on this blog.

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