DOD takes aim at jihadist Web sites

The number of such sites is now estimated to be in the thousands

Pentagon officials may be mum publicly about efforts to halt the spread of jihadist Web sites, but military and other intelligence agency officials say privately they are trying to limit the online recruiting and information dissemination efforts of militant Islamist groups.

A spokeswoman for the new Air Force Cyberspace Command declined to say whether the issue is on the command’s agenda, but Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne seems to be looking to the command for solutions. "The pervasive nature of pro-jihad Web sites represents a tangible and highly visible example of how our adversaries use elements of cyberspace against us,” he wrote in an article for the spring 2007 issue of the service publication Air & Space Power Journal.

Web sites aimed at attracting new generations of Islamic militants have multiplied steadily in recent years, and their number is now estimated to be in the thousands. Although tech-savvy extremists are known to attack Western computer networks through hacking and other means, many experts consider the silent spread of easy-to-set-up anti-American propaganda Web sites more dangerous because the military finds it difficult to stop. 

Information about concerted efforts by the Pentagon or other government agencies to fight the spread of Islamic anti-Western propaganda sites is difficult to obtain because most activities fall into the realm of secret intelligence operations.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the incoming Army chief information officer, said the CIO’s office is only marginally involved in fighting Islamic extremist propaganda Web sites. He said others in the government, such as the Army’s intelligence branch and the National Security Agency, take a more active role.

Naval Postgraduate School professor John Arquilla, an adviser to the Pentagon on information operations and electronic warfare, would speak only in general terms about the military’s activities.

According to the school’s Web site, Arquilla is working for Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England on a classified study of deception operations against terrorist networks.

Arquilla said he works toward two goals:  discovering methods to exploit the widespread Internet use among militants Islamists and finding ways to deter extremists from using the Web if their activities in cyberspace cannot be exploited.

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