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ISIS social media becoming a huge problem for intel analysts

ISIS social media becoming a huge problem for intel analysts

Military bases and events at risk

On Friday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center sent out a joint bulletin informing law enforcement and military personnel that, although there were no credible threats hovering over holiday weekend events, officials are “aware of recent information suggesting US military bases, locations, and events could be targeted in the near-term.”

Happy Memorial Day!

This information isn’t really news to anyone following national security and foreign policy news, but the reason for the concern is novel: the dramatic uptick in social media activity by groups like ISIS has led to new sources of “insider threats” and chatter about security and maintenance procedures at sites that officials now believe are being considered as potential targets.

Fox News has the exclusive:

Importantly, it speaks to the sheer volume of social media activity by pro-ISIS users, and the challenge that poses for analysts and investigators.

“The large number of social media postings by US-based ISIL supporters is challenging for investigators in differentiating those supporters focused only on promoting pro-ISIL rhetoric, which may be protected speech, vice [versus] detecting those prepared to engage in violence on the group’s behalf,” the bulletin said.

The bulletin warned the “reach and popularity” of social media platforms has made it easier for U.S.-based extremists to “identify and connect” with foreign terrorist organizations, which can “potentially direct” them. It said the FBI estimates there are “hundreds, possibly thousands” of people in the U.S. getting “recruitment overtures or directives to attack the United States,” and ISIS is using social media in “unprecedented ways” to send messages advocating attacks in the U.S.

The bulletin also encouraged those who maintain official military and government social media accounts to review their posts for anything that may attract the attention of violent extremists, and to “routinely exercise operational security in their interactions online.”

How impossible does that sound?

As a matter of policy, it makes sense for the FBI, et al., to encourage various agencies and installations to watch what they post online, if only in an effort to avoid extreme examples of rogue social media editors sharing provocative content meant to gain a reaction from those who sympathize with ISIS. And yet…how impossible is it to not capture the attention of a terrorist?

Pretty impossible.

The thing about terrorists is that their goal isn’t to take out the most strategically advantageous target; their goal is to create terror. If that means taking out an F16, a Chipotle, or a lost nun and puppy shelter, they’re going to do it. Even a hometown Memorial Day picnic could be considered a target if enough people attend, or will potentially pay attention after the bomb goes off.

In a lot of ways, technology has made the war on terror easier; even an extremist’s presence on social media can have an effect, if only to reenforce the idea that, yes, these people are real, and yes, these people will kill you if they think that your murder will send enough people into a state of complete and utter terror.

At the same time, when it comes to the internet, insanity reigns. A cursory scan of the general timeline on Tweetdeck uncovers no less than 50 tweets that could be classified as anything from “totally loony” to “completely bats**t insane.” Many ISIS sympathizers fall right in to the latter category, simply because the content of their message is so beyond the pale.

Now, imagine having to actually analyze thousands upon thousands of those tweets, knowing that to miss a pattern means missing the next great threat to our national security.

I don’t envy that job one bit.

You can read the full bulletin on the ISIS threat here. (At this time, only the first page is available—we’ll keep an eye on it.)


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Henry Hawkins | May 26, 2015 at 1:35 pm

It makes it easier for intel agencies to monitor and intervene when ISIS and other enemies accomodatingly place their indoctrination and recruitment efforts online, a public place. Imagine a network of drug dealers who did the same. They’d be taken down quickly.

Open, pluralistic societies have obvious weaknesses WRT to terrorists.

And we SHOULD. The alternative a lot of people would suggest is to become a CLOSED society. THAT is not acceptable.

That doesn’t mean we have to be stupid about it. We can take a lot of good lessons from the Israelis.

Any park on a pretty day is a great target for terrorism, and no bomb is required. A few $10 machetes is all that’s required.

And a few pistol-packing mommas are a GREAT counter-measure.

I was on a no fly list.

I don’t know if it was because of my online habits here at LI or the amount of cash I spend at a particular section of Cabellas.

Either way, as a false positive in their algorithm which requires me to leave an hour earlier to make a flight at the airport, I’m not sympathetic because these departments have a lot of tools at their disposal.


From the way the FBI bungled l’affaire Tsarnaev, there’s little reason to have faith that the FBI could identify and capture a terrorist even if he was already in handcuffs and had a neon sign stapled to his butt.

And, considering Deval Patrick’s draconian but totally futile Keystone Kops efforts to apprehend the fugitive afterwards, there’s no better reason to put much faith in the efficacy of state law enforcement.

In other words … in almost any foreseeable scenario, government at all levels is borderline helpless, or worse.

Well, our national security might be in just as good hands if we depended on a bunch of 14 year old thumb talking female mall rats as is is with the current group in charge.

Like, OMG that is like so totally gross.

Actually Obama is, psychologically, pretty much a 14 year old teen age girl.

Sammy Finkelman | May 26, 2015 at 5:16 pm

You can’t always rely on social media.

When they attacked Ramadi….

Islamic State commanders evaded surveillance and airstrikes to bring reinforcements to its front lines in western Iraq.

The group displayed a high degree of operational security by silencing its social media and propaganda teams during the Ramadi surge.

…From early May, the group enforced a blackout of its own media posts from Ramadi. That was in contrast to other battlefields in the country, such as Beiji and Fallujah, where Islamic State supporters continued to post propaganda about battles, said Charlie Winter, a researcher who studies extremist groups at Quilliam, a London think tank.