Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Nexus of Modern Terrorist Organizations and the Internet

Terrorist organizations have evolved tremendously since the advent of modern technology and, most importantly, the Internet. A threat once restricted to local and national police authorities, terrorist organizations now utilize inexpensive means of communication and organization, most notably the Internet, to become global in scope. For modern terrorists and terrorist organizations, the Internet has not only allowed them to project their ideologies to a global audience, it also improves the efficiency of propaganda campaigns, data sharing, recruitment and mobilization, networking, and the coordination of terrorist activities. The exploitation of the Internet as a theater for terrorist activity, the success of such exploitation, and the organizations' ability to adapt to online counter-terrorism measures all converge to pose a serious threat to the global community, both on- and off-line.

Use of the Internet has done much to shape the organizational structure and capacity of modern terrorist organizations including how they conduct propaganda campaigns to how they network. Transnational terrorist groups have relied more and more on information technology to carry out their objectives and to organize. Consequently, the trend toward increased use of the Internet and information technology should not be overlooked, and we can appropriately assume a few hypotheses from these trends.

Above all, modern terrorist networks are predicted to use the Internet for more and more of their operations, and that they are likely to excel in how they achieve their goals at a growing rate. We can predict that these organizations will continue to evolve on the Internet, complicating the future of data sharing and organizational structures of terrorist groups. It is also possible that new tech-savvy terrorist groups will emerge in the near future as a result of the growing reliance of modern terrorist organizations on the Internet and information technology.

It is also important that governments and journalists not focus so much on and exaggerate the threat posed by cyberterrorism, although a few terrorist groups use the Internet for this reason. Exaggerating cyberterrorism tends to not only shift focus away from the networks of online terrorist groups that provoke cyberterrorism but also to sensationalize issues that pressure legislators to overreact. Level-headedness and having a clear focus on the underlying online terrorist networks that cause other significant problems are crucial paradigms that policy makers should keep in mind.

As the trend of Internet usage by modern terrorism groups emerges to provide several possible scenarios for the future, many policy implications arise. It is important to note that when brainstorming or drafting policies to combat modern terrorist organizations, one should view these groups as networks that draw money, support, information, propaganda and intelligence from all corners of the world. Keeping this in mind, it follows logically that such dynamic forces need to be met by multidimensional counter-measures.

Firstly, it will be extremely important to educate to and familiarize the public with online terrorist activities. Accidentally contributing to phony charities and falling victim to cyberattacks can be avoided if the appropriate resources are provided to the masses. Governments, both national and local, should take the lead in distributing literature and providing caution to as many Internet users in their jurisdiction in order to minimize connections between terrorist organizations using the Internet and ordinary Web users. This will serve to strengthen the infrastructure of the Internet and the safety of its friendly users.

Secondly, intelligence agencies should examine more closely the changes in technology/approaches to the Internet that terrorist organizations employ to function. If any possible predictions can be made concerning the next mode of technology or the newest dimension of the Internet terrorists are exploiting to achieve their interests, the international community can be one step ahead, instead of one step behind, in the fight against this nexus.

Governments and intelligence agencies should also train their staffs to be more technologically inclined. They will be better prepared to anticipate terrorists’ online developments and possibly be better prepared to thwart an online attack. Government staffs and intelligence agencies should also learn to differentiate between offensive and organizational capabilities, which will help the crackdown of cyberterrorist activities and hinder terrorists’ use of the Internet.

Finally, and probably the most imperative policy implication drawn from the aforementioned arguments, is that governments, states and intelligence agencies need to adapt to the surfacing online terror networks by creating a global intelligence initiative bent on cooperation. International policing agency INTERPOL is a prime example of the kind of cooperative intelligence needed to hinder terrorist activity online, embodied in its 2005 resolution stating the importance of data sharing between governments.[1] If all or even some of these measures are considered, we may hope to see an online environment devoid of terrorist activity, which will serve to severely deter modern terrorist organizations’ abilities to target audiences, wage psychological warfare, spread propaganda, fundraise, recruit and mobilize, network, share data and coordinate attacks.


Terrorism is more than just a transnational agenda. It’s resourceful, adaptive and compartmentally structured, both to avoid international surveillance and to pursue its interests. The implications of the nexus of modern terrorist organizations and the Internet are worth more than just examining; they're worth responding to. In addressing the links between terrorist groups and the Web, trends should be established in order to better understand the multidimensional threats posed by this nexus. Only then can policy makers draw logical conclusions that illustrate the growing complexity of information systems exploited by terrorist organizations. It is from this standpoint that international intelligence policing, education on online terrorist activity, and capability and technological anticipation of terrorist attacks become viable policy options for current and future international actors.

[1] Berlin, Germany. INTERPOL. General Assembly. AG-2005-RES-10: Addressing Internet Activities Supporting Terrorism. 22 September 2005. Print.

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