Internet

The Internet Does Not Increase Terrorism

Most terrorism takes place in Internet-free zones.

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Internet Terrorism
DW

Terrorists are using the Internet to plot "murder and mayhem," British Prime Minister David Cameron declared this week, as a parliamentary committee issued a report accusing Internet firms of providing a "safe haven for terrorists." Cameron and the committee were referring specifically to a brutal knife attack that killed British soldier Lee Rigby on a London street in May 2013, but the charge has been levied more broadly as well. Earlier this month, British spymaster Robert Hannigan claimed that Silicon Valley had created "the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists." In October, Spanish Secretary of State for Security Francisco Martinez warned that the ruthless ISIS terrorist group now dominating swathes of Syria and Iraq regards the Internet as "an extension of the battlefield," adding that they might be using it to organize an attack in the West using the Ebola virus.

Fortunately, there's good reason to believe these officials wrong. David Benson, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, argues in the summer issue of Security Studies that there is very little evidence that the Internet is making terrorism easier to do. While "access to the Internet has increased across the globe," he writes, "there has been no corresponding increase in completed transnational terrorist attacks."

Benson defines terrorism as "violence by non-state actors intended to terrorize or frighten a target audience." He focuses on transnational terrorism because the fear of attacks across international borders drives major changes in policy.

The Internet might benefit would-be transnational terrorists by offering anonymity, access to information, and cheap communication, which in turn increases both their capabilities and their ability to network. Anonymity blunts attempts to preempt attacks; information about how to build bombs and carry out attacks is widely available; and cheap communication makes long-distance coordination possible. In theory, all this should make it easier to carry out attacks in other lands.

But as Benson points out, analysts err when they assume that "transnational terrorists have a similar base of support as nationalist or local terror organizations." Local terrorists live among people from whom they can seek support and recruits. They can assess targets in person, and they can meet to research, plan, and prepare using local channels to communicate. Transnational terrorists, by contrast, cannot rely on local support for either recruits or operations.

Benson adds that terrorists are not really all that anonymous, since Internet activity leaves tracks that sophisticated sleuths can follow, and that the availability of bomb-building schematics is no substitute for actual weapons-making experience. Furthermore, governments and other outside groups are adept at monitoring terrorists' communications.

Benson thinks most analysts inflate the Internet's importance because they reason backwards: They look at individual attacks, then assess how the terrorists used the Internet to realize their plans. "Since the Internet is ubiquitous, it would be strange if today's terrorists did not use the Internet, just as it would have been strange if past terrorists did not use the postal service or telephones," Benson notes. The key issue is whether transnational terrorist attacks are increasing with the spread of the Internet.

The activities of Al Qaeda have been a focal point for public anxieties, so Benson lists the atrocities committed by Al Qaeda between 1995 and 2011. Using the number of casualties as the benchmark for assessing capabilities, Benson observes that there is a steep reduction in the number of people killed and wounded by Al Qaeda operatives after the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 8, 1998, and the September 11, 2001, barbarity. Benson argues that most of this fall off in effectiveness came as a result of losing their safe havens in Sudan and Afghanistan. Communication and instruction over the Internet is no substitute for face-to-face talk and hands-on training.

After 9/11, various local terrorists groups found value in the Al Qaeda brand and offered to become franchise operations. These franchises include Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM). Benson excludes Al Qaeda in Iraq and Jemaah Islamiyyah in Indonesia because their operations are almost entirely local. The others are largely local too, and when they do carry out an attack in another country it is usually in a neighboring nation. All of the "transnational" attacks done by the Algeria-based AQIM, for example, have occurred next door—in Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Mali, and Tunisia.

Some of those countries are practically Internet-free zones. Usage rates in Mali and Niger, for example, are under three percent. Similarly, Internet penetration in Somalia, where Al Shabaab operates, is about 1.5 percent. Attacks are organized by local terrorists who meet and train together face-to-face. "Almost all of [Al Qaeda's] successful attacks following 2005 were completed by local terrorist organizations," Benson observes. 

The 2014 Global Terrorism Index notes that 2013 was "the peak year in global terrorist activity not only in the early 21st century, but also for the entire period since 1970," when the statistics in the Index first begin. Deaths from terrorism increased 61 percent, rising from 11,133 in 2012 to 17,958 in 2013. But despite this dismaying increase, "The bulk of terrorist activity in the world is accounted for by militant actors that pursue relatively limited goals in local or regional contexts." Eighty-two percent of the fatalities caused by terrorism in 2013 occurred in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria. (Internet penetration in those countries is 7.8 percent, 6 percent, 11 percent, 38 percent, and 27 percent, respectively. By contrast, about 87 percent of Americans have access to the Internet.) 

The Index further observes that 66 percent of the claimed deaths from terrorism in 2013 are claimed by only four terrorist organizations: ISIL, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Since 2000, only 5 percent of all 107,000 fatalities stemming from terrorist attacks have occurred in OECD countries—and that includes the 2,996 who died on 9/11. 

In an article last year for the Journal of Peace Research, the University of Texas at Dallas* economist Todd Sandler reports that transnational terrorist attacks rose from 1968 until the mid-1980s, largely as a result of increasing state sponsorship. During the 1990s, the "number of transnational terrorist incidents fell precipitously." While the number of transnational attacks has dropped, the percentage that result in casualties has risen to about 50 percent today, up from about 20 percent in the mid-1990s.

Meanwhile, the same Internet used by terrorists is used by governments to gather intelligence. And as terrorists recruit online, friends and family members use social media to engage and intervene with people at risk of radicalization. So it's not as though all the Internets effects run the same way.

And often what initially looks like a transnational attack might turn out to be local after all. Consider that parliamentary report on Lee Rigby's murder. The attack was carried out by two British nationals, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, of Nigerian heritage. The report notes that Adebowale expressed his desire to kill a British soldier in a single Facebook chat with an extremist thought to be associated with AQAP. But it adds that the British intelligence agency MI5 "told the Committee that they believe that, while Adebowale and Adebolajo were in contact with other extremists, they planned the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby without external support, tasking or direction." In other words, the attack was a local action planned locally by local actors, not a transnational plot organized over the Internet.

As Benson argues, exaggerating the Internet's usefulness to terrorism has "egregious costs." Some officials, for example, have been calling for a "kill switch" that would allow the government to shut down the Internet in an emergency. Noting how much Americans depend upon the Net for commerce, communication, medical care, and so forth, Benson points out that "It is difficult to imagine a terrorist attack being as costly as turning off the Internet would be."

But casting the Internet as a "safe haven for terrorists" does give governments another excuse to violate our privacy in the pretense of protecting our security.

*Correction: In the original version, I erroneously stated that Sandler was at the University of Dallas.

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  1. Yes it does. Every bit of freedom causes terrorism.

    1. Exactly. Terroristvare posed to strike 24/7. Look at how they took advantage of the malls full of people to inflict meyham. Good thing they need porn rays of us at the airport to put an end to this massive risk we face.

      1. Terroristvare? What is that Swedish or some fucking thing? Are you a goddam Swede?

        1. He’s a swedish terrorist.

        2. Sorry that was my Swedish Orphan Slave Typist. Second time that’s happened. It won’t happen again.

          1. I think she’s been drinking

            http://blogs.haverford.edu/lun…..h-girl.jpg

            1. Nice, dressed as ‘slutty Ikea employee’.

              I approve.

    2. You are probably correct. And the Internet enhances our freedom to join terrorist groups. This is from the article:

      “The Internet might benefit would-be transnational terrorists by offering anonymity, access to information, and cheap communication, which in turn increases both their capabilities and their ability to network.”

      The author seems intent on ignoring the Internet’s greatest contribution to terrorism, its role in recruiting new membership, typically, according to my sources, alienated young men in the OECD countries who have Internet access. I’m not sure anyone knows just how many have been recruited through the Internet, but stories in the press are coming thick and fast. I am usually skeptical about claims made about terrorism, but it seems that the Internet facilitating it is a no-brainer.

      1. mtrueman|11.28.14 @ 4:06PM|#
        …”according to my sources,”…

        You lie always. There is nothing you post that should be given the slightest credibility.
        You are a proven and admitted liar.

        1. “You are a proven and admitted liar.”

          Says someone who calls him/herself ‘Sevo’. ‘Sevo’ is not only a liar, but a coward.

          1. mtrueman|11.28.14 @ 4:44PM|#
            I repeat:
            You are a proven and admitted liar, liar.
            Nothing you post is credible. Nothing. You are a proven and admitted liar.

            1. “You are a proven and admitted liar, liar.”

              But you are a proven and admitted liar, liar, liar. That is one liar worse than me.

              1. mtrueman|11.28.14 @ 11:48PM|#
                “But you are a proven and admitted liar,”

                I am neither one, you slimy piece of shit, and I notice you do not deny you are a proven and admitted liar.
                *YOU* admit you lie to advance a failed argument. You are a proven and admitted liar and nothing you post should be given the least credibility.

                1. “I am neither one, you slimy piece of shit”

                  No, you are both: a liar, liar, liar, and a slimy, slimy piece of shit. To be clear, you are slimier and more liary than me.

  2. Well, I’m sure the internet does give terrorists a useful communications tool. On the other hand, that’s probably offset by the diminished interest in terrorism due to internet porn. 90 Virgins just isn’t that big a promise when you’ve got 9,000 videos of virgins at your favorite porn site.

  3. Ironically 4chan which has been vilified so immensely (not without justification) has been on the front lines of the internet Jihad war for years. For some reason jihad groups keep trying to target 4chan, but since none of them have any hacking experience their attempts invariably fail and 4chan strikes back with DOS attacks followed by reporting them to the FBI. The internet is already self-regulating. 😉

  4. As beem said many times

    Terrorists hate us for our freedom and the government is working hard to eliminate our freedom so the terrorists won’t hate us.

  5. Fortunately, there’s good reason to believe these officials wrong. David Benson, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, argues in the summer issue of Security Studies that there is very little evidence that the Internet is making terrorism easier to do. While “access to the Internet has increased across the globe,” he writes, “there has been no corresponding increase in completed transnational terrorist attacks.”

    Silly University of Chicago political scientist! Just like saying ‘that test raped me’ causes rape culture even though rape has decreased substantially since that became a common phrase, we know the internet causes terrorism no matter what the evidence says.

  6. From link:

    “For their part, Lieberman and Collins say the president already has “nearly unchecked authority” to control Internet companies. A 1934 law (PDF) creating the Federal Communications Commission says that in wartime, or if a “state of public peril or disaster or other national emergency” exists, the president may “authorize the use or control of any…station or device.””

    Do you know who else claimed nearly unchecked authority in 1934?

    1. K?rlis Ulmanis?

    2. FDR, Stalin?

    3. I am struck by the history of WWII and the run-up to it. We managed to turn ourselves into close copies of the enemies we fought (and then proceeded to do much the same, relative to the Soviet Union during the subsequent cold war), while all the time giving lip service to freedom and liberty. The FCC is a great example of … fascism, really. Private ownership of broadcast facilities is technically continued through a licensing scheme that makes operation of a “private” station subject to all kinds of government regulatory control. That’s what Hitler and Mussolini had, too. We call such arrangements “public/private partnerships” today. It’s just a form of crony capitalism, and we went for it on a huge scale during the Roosevelt years. The result, though, was that a government that was supposed to make no law abridging freedom or speech or press did exactly that for the emerging electronic press. They had, and still have, a chokehold on those important means of communication, and seek to extend their authority to cover the internet as well.

  7. In an article last year for the Journal of Peace Research, the University of Dallas economist Todd Sandler reports that transnational terrorist attacks rose from 1968 until the mid-1980s, largely as a result of increasing state sponsorship. During the 1990s, the “number of transnational terrorist incidents fell precipitously.” While the number of transnational attacks has dropped, the percentage that result in casualties has risen to about 50 percent today, up from about 20 percent in the mid-1990s.

    Government: What can’t it do?

    1. Government: What can’t it do?

      Give up any power once it has had a taste?

  8. The wormhole of Freedom tunnels a some bad doodoo along with a ton of great jewels like rock’n roll, multi-orgasmic women, high gravity brews made from the finest Wisconsin hops, great pot named bizarrely, baby-backed ribs smoked over Ohio hickory, and Shiba Inu’s.

    Cameron needs to experience more interstellar travel. Bitch is fucking U.K. loopy and not in a good way.

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    ———————- http://www.jobs700.com

  11. Everyone knows the Internet is for porn. Making it about terrorism is a falsehood too far…

    “Just gotta grab your dicks and double clicks!”

  12. In other news:

    Sharp pointy sticks can be used as weapons.

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  14. Fact: The Internet and its related social media have become a boon to terrorists in terms of recruitment efforts. To say they are not valuable tools in the terrorist cause is nonsense. However, that does not mean there should be government control of the Internet; however, tracking down terrorists via the Internet is a different matter.

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