Vigilantes: Equal-Opportunity EnforcersVigilantes don't just target terrorists. Scientology was in the cross hairs earlier this year: "Web vigilantes attack Scientology website" (about a "shadowy internet group" called Anonymous), "Hackers have mounted a wave of attacks against the Church after it tried to take down a leaked video of Tom Cruise," "Web vigilantes attack Scientology website" (this one has more information than many).
Vigilantes vs Al Qaeda: Resistance Fighters in Cyberspace?Anti-terror vigilantes are back in the news now. "Fox News: The Help Hurts?" Culture Popped (March 22, 2008) is a detailed discussion of an article posted today, "Cyber Vigilantes Track Extremist Web Sites, Intelligence Experts Balk at Effort" FOXNews (March 22, 2008).
Emotional Response'Yes! Take that, you terrorists!' was my gut-level reaction, together with a sort of warm glow of patriotic satisfaction. That feeling is still there.
'What intellectualoid nitwit thinks this is a bad idea?!' The second wave of emotion came about a second later. It passed as soon as I read the article.
Reasoned ResponseHere's the deal. Real intelligence techs are monitoring thousands of websites that might, or might not, have a practical connection to terrorists. They're trying to figure out
- Which websites are relatively harmless, and which are controlled by al Qaeda, the Taliban, or related organizations
- What parts of the terrorist-run websites are covert messages
- What they say
- Who they're for
- Runs the website
- Pays for the website
- Decides what goes on the website
- Get all that done before whoever controls the website realizes that they've been spotted
"Michael Radu a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and an expert on terror-related Web sites," says that vigilantes don't help. That's putting it mildly.
Vigilantes: Another Obstacle for Coalition IntelligenceThese well-intentioned hackers jump in, subject the site to a denial-of-service attack, or otherwise tip the terrorists off that infidels have spotted them. Then, if the terrorists have higher-than-room-temperature IQs, they'll fold their tents and set up camp elsewhere in cyberspace.
And, whatever I think of their motives and methods, I don't think that terrorist leaders are stupid.
Meanwhile, coalition intelligence people, who may have been watching the site, lose their chance to collect more intelligence. That's wasted time, money, and opportunity.
Generally, I'm all for private-sector efforts.
Not this time.
By operating independently of American and coalition intelligence, these vigilantes are annoying terrorists, without causing more than inconveniences for the organizations running the websites.
As a private intelligence contractor said about shutting down sites: "Great. Somebody shut down a bunch of websites. What we're trying to do is find out where the terrorists are."