Presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Charlie Rose the United States has to fight IS in the air, on the ground and in cyberspace.
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) December 1, 2015
Clinton didn’t elaborate on the cyberspace fight. Is she talking about social media or some kind of threat to the infrastructure of the United States?
Does the Islamic State really pose a threat to the United States over the internet?
“I don’t think anyone has any proof that there’s an imminent attack or that ISIS has acquired the manpower or the resources to launch an attack on the infrastructure of the United States,” said Craig Guiliano, senior threat specialist at security firm TSC Advantage and a former counterterrorism officer with the Department of Defense.
The Islamic State supposedly engages in distributed denial-of-service attacks, phishing campaigns, hijacking websites and other mischief. Not only can this activity not be definitively linked to the Islamic State, it also does not pose a threat to the infrastructure of the United States.
Clinton’s fight against the Islamic State is not about infrastructure. It is about social media, about countering the IS message—a message that cannot be verifiably attributed to the Islamic State when broadcast over a medium known for its anonymity.
Last month Congress told the Pentagon to devise a response to IS propaganda and its recruitment effort using social media.
“The secretary of defense should develop creative and agile concepts, technologies, and strategies across all available media to most effectively reach target audiences, to counter and degrade the ability of adversaries and potential adversaries to persuade, inspire, and recruit inside areas of hostilities or in other areas in direct support of the objectives of commanders,” the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act states.
The State Department’s Think Again, Turn Away social media initiative designed to counter Islamic State propaganda “is not only a gaffe machine, but in fact some of its tweets walk dangerous ethical lines,” writes Rita Katz, the director of the SITE Intelligence Group. “I would much rather see the State Department’s online ventures involved in projects that explain the great things American policies have achieved.”
Katz, a government contractor with links to Israeli intelligence, does not elaborate on these “great things” which, for many Muslims in the Middle East and others sympathetic to radical Islam, are overshadowed by carnage directly attributable to the policies of the United States in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Shutting Down the Message
The battle for cyber space will likely center on preventing the message produced by the Islamic State—and others—from reaching the target audience.
In early November the British Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, part of the Home Office, offered competition money to organizations that can create a filter to “protect key sectors.”
The Home Office said it is interested in proposals for pilot projects on “developing new methods and/or developing new technologies with a potential for replication nationally” and for “technical solutions to protect those in key sectors from terrorist content online,” in other words building a firewall that filters out content the government finds objectionable.
In 2014 British ISPs agreed to block political content on the web using a system similar to one used to block child pornography. “We have had productive dialogue with government about addressing the issue of extremist content online and we are working through the technical details,” a spokesman for the British ISP BT told The Guardian.
Governments have demonstrated a willingness to shut down political speech and activity they oppose, the most notable example being China with its internet free speech firewall.
Last week France placed a number of climate change activists under house arrest to prevent them from demonstrating at the COP21 conference. France began experimenting with advanced police state techniques after a state of emergency was declared following the Paris attacks. In addition to shutting down free speech and maintaining house arrests, the government has engaged in unwarranted searches and limitations on the movement of people.