Internet strategy said needed to limit terrorism

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The Report

The government should create a coordinated communications strategy to counter extremist groups' growing use of the Internet to recruit, communicate and train potential terrorists, according to report released today by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The report, “Violent Islamist Extremism, The Internet and The Homegrown Terrorist Threat,” said the government has not developed or implemented a plan to counter terrorist groups that increasingly rely on the Internet to further their goals. The report noted that “immense caches of information and propaganda are available online” and raised questions about what an appropriate plan to deal with the threat should entail.

“The long term goal of the strategy must be to isolate and discredit the ideology as a cause worthy of support,” Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a statement. “Federal, state and local officials, as well as Muslin American community and religious leaders and other private sector actors, must all play a prominent role in discrediting the terrorist message.”

The report said that, according to testimony received by the committee, federal agencies' efforts are limited, isolated, not part of a strategic, government-wide policy and that no agency has been told specifically to create such a policy.

“Our nation’s efforts must go beyond classified intelligence and law enforcement programs,” the report stated. “Current efforts that rely on relatively uncoordinated outreach to American-Muslim communities and fragmented communications strategies must be improved.”

For example, Al-Qaeda has decided to increase its production of online propaganda and to make it more accessible to English-speaking audiences, the report said.

Chatrooms, message boards and Web sites can play critical roles in enlisting persons, indoctrinating them into violent Islamist theology, linking radicalized individuals and providing information to independent terrorists unaffiliated with organizations, the report also said. 

The document also laid out questions that the government should answer in developing a strategy to counter the threat.

  • Should new laws, resources and tactics be used to prevent the spread of potential terrorist  ideology in the United States?

  • What is the role for community and religious leaders in a strategy to counter terrorism?

  • How can current outreach efforts be improved by increased government coordination?

  • What roles should local officials and local law enforcement play in this effort?

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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