Via a reader, both the WaPo and the New Yorker have features on the growing networking of the global jihadist movement and the pissed-off women working to bring them down. From the WaPo:
Like a hunter using a duck call, Shannen Rossmiller invites the online attentions of would-be terrorists by adorning her e-mail with video clips of Westerners getting their heads cut off.
“They get pumped up when they see beheadings. For them, it’s like rock videos,” Rossmiller said. “I always give the appearance that I am one of them.”[…] Posing as an al-Qaeda operative, she has helped federal agents set up stings that have netted two Americans — a Washington state National Guardsman convicted in 2004 of attempted espionage, and a Pennsylvania man who prosecutors say sought to blow up oil installations in the United States. Rossmiller was a key prosecution witness against the Guardsman, who is serving a life sentence, and said she has been told she will be called as a witness in the Pennsylvania case.
Most of Rossmiller’s terrorist tracking, though, has focused on foreign suspects, she said. By her count, she has turned over to federal investigators about 60 “packages” of information on suspects outside the United States.[…] As part of her online approach, she offers arms and money to fight in Iraq and to kill “slaves of the cross.” She said her work led to the detention last year of several men training to enter Iraq to fight U.S. troops, as well as to the arrest of a Middle Eastern academic seeking al-Qaeda funding for his plans to build a nuclear bomb. Federal agencies declined to comment on both cases.
Read the whole thing. The New Yorker tells a similar story in its piece on the cinematic life of Iraqi expat and terrorist hunter Rita Katz:
Traditionally, intelligence has been filtered through government agencies, such as the C.I.A. and the N.S.A., which gather raw data and analyze it, and the government decides who sees the product of their work and when. Katz, who is the head of an organization called the Search for International Terrorist Entities, or SITE Institute, has made it her business to upset that monopoly. She and her researchers mine online sources for intelligence, which her staff translates and sends out by e-mail to a list of about a hundred subscribers.[…] Katz has a testy relationship with the government, sometimes acting as a consultant and sometimes as an antagonist. About a year ago, a SITE staffer, under an alias, managed to join an exclusive jihadist message board that, among other things, served as a debarkation point for many would-be suicide bombers. For months, the staffer pretended to be one of the jihadis, joining in chats and watching as other members posted the chilling messages known as “wills,” the final sign-offs before martyrdom. The staffer also passed along technical advice on how to keep the message board going. Eventually, he won the confidence of the site’s Webmasters, who were impressed with his computer skills, and he gained access to the true e-mail addresses of the members and other information about them. After monitoring the site for several more days, the staffer told Katz that one of the site’s members, a young Muslim man in a European country, had just posted a will. “It was obvious that he was planning to become a martyr very soon,” Katz said.
Katz called officials in Washington, and was met with institutional resistance: “They said, ‘Oh, Rita, I’m not sure you should even be communicating with them—you might be providing material support!’ And they wanted to get approval from the Department of Justice to look at the e-mails. I said, ‘Look, we have to do something.’ ” Katz then called an American counterterrorism official stationed in the young man’s country, and he, in turn, sent the jihadi’s e-mails to local investigators. Within twenty-four hours, they had him under surveillance, and a week later they arrested him. “In my opinion, they probably wouldn’t have had a clue if it hadn’t been for Rita,” the official told me. This, Katz said, is what she always hopes to achieve: “It’s one case where everything just worked so well.”
You see the same central narrative here as for pedophilic sex offenders – if you belong to a community that coordinates horrendously illegal behavior the internet is the greatest and worst thing that ever happened to you. You have instant access to advice, indoctrination, coordination and the experience of a far-flung global network of like-minded deviants, but so do the cops. In a world where the FBI still has trouble giving its agents access to Google I feel somewhat safer knowing that the people chasing down bad guys include the usual government agencies and tech-savvy private actors like Shannen Rossmiller and Rita Katz.