U.S. need to fight online terrorism recruiting, expert says
IDG News Service - The U.S. government lacks a plan to counter terrorist recruiting efforts online, even though such efforts by jihad groups are growing, one terrorism expert told U.S. lawmakers.
The U.S. government doesn't make an effort to engage with people who may be open to terrorist recruiting efforts and dissuade them from joining, Bruce Hoffman, a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told lawmakers Wednesday. The U.K. government has a program that works with local communities to identify possible targets for terrorism recruiting, said Hoffman, a former scholar in residence at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
"Very clearly, our adversaries have a communications strategy," Hoffman told a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee. "Lamentably, we don't."
Instead of on-the-ground programs working with potential targets of terrorism recruiting, U.S. agencies have, in some cases, tried to control terrorism communications on the Internet, Hoffman said. "We shouldn't be censoring the Internet," he said. "I think the problem is we default toward these very intrusive approaches."
While most witnesses at the hearing agreed that the U.S. government shouldn't be censoring Web sites linked to terrorism, John Philip Mudd , a senior research fellow at the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative at the New America Foundation, suggested that taking down terrorism recruiting Web sites may be helpful.
Internet service providers should have protection from lawsuits if they take down terrorism-related Web sites, said Mudd, a former counterterrorism official with the CIA and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. "We're not going to stop Internet recruitment and radicalization," he said. "We can work on it, we can chip away at it, but it's not going to stop."
Members of the subcommittee decried the ability of terrorists to recruit followers online, but several lawmakers also said they want to be careful that the U.S. government doesn't trample on free speech rights when it tries to counter terrorism recruiting activity online. There's an active debate in the U.S. security community about whether law enforcement agencies should attempt to take down Web sites recruiting terrorists, but by taking down sites, investigators could lose valuable information, said Representative Michael McCaul , a Texas Republican.
Mudd seemed to disagree. Keeping terrorism Web sites online may give investigators short-term gains, he said. "But in general, I'd say, make sure they can't spread the ideology, because that's spreading the revolution," he said.
The U.S. government has, at times, been too heavy-handed in its antiterrorism efforts, but there's also a proliferation of terrorism recruiting materials online, McCaul said. More than 5,000 Jihadist Web sites and discussion forums are online, he said.
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