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Jihad Simulator 2.0

All of these plots, successful and otherwise, contradict a prevalent theory in counter-terrorism circles that all the skills necessary to conduct a successful attack can be learned in the comfort of a terrorist’s own home. This paradigm is based on the belief that internet technology has removed the need for terrorist training camps by creating a virtual safe haven where youth can self-radicalize and self-train. Bomb making and target selection are ‘easy.’ An attacker can simply download instructions and maps off the internet, purchase readily available materials to construct the explosive, and voilá, a fully formed terrorist emerges from behind his computer, competent to conceive, fund, plan, and execute a sophisticated terrorist attack. Such streamlined attack planning puts law enforcement at a disadvantage by decreasing the window of opportunity to detect and disrupt a plot.

Anyone know anyone who tracks these issues who actually thinks this? I think the general consensus among most serious practitioners is that IT is one useful tool for a variety of pre-op activities. A Google map and Army map reading skills allowed me to navigate my way through a portion of NYC recently, but the simple matrix of streets and avenues on the neat and clean map and the illusion of closeness was a far cry from reality on the ground. Anyone who has taken any kind of CBT at their jobs knows the futility of actually learning and/or retaining something via online means (different from asynchronus distance learning with an instructor). Barring a cell full of Good Will Huntings there isn’t going to be a (successful self-taught terrorist-in-a-box epidemic. When cells worldwide start VPN-ing a Web conference with Professor Muhammed in Iran, we can re-evaluate.

I think it is telling that “cyber” terrorism to date has centered primarily on Web defacements and low-end DoS attacks. It isn’t that they’re not capable of causing longer/broader denial or disruption, but it violates two tenants that people in CT circles really do get behind; cyber attacks inconvenience, they don’t terrorize, and if the goal is a lot of people watching (vice a lot of people dead) you don’t shut down a key source of information for those you are targeting.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.