In the Arab world, almost everyone is apparently monitoring the forums for operational intelligence or for material they can exchange with Western countries ‘waging war on Islam’. Bizarrely, the Palestinian National Authority is accused of selling intel to the ‘Zionists’. There is also a surprisingly short list of non-Arab states: UK, US, Germany, France, Russia, Japan, China and, of course, Israel.
Forumite al-Taer al-Maymoon provides a handy checklist of telltale signs to identify infiltrating agents. Agents exaggerate their praise of al-Qaeda, exalt the blameless characters of AQ ideologues, and ‘often pose diverse questions on jihadi topics’. That last alone tells us a lot about how narrow discourse is in these web fora. A member of the hanein.info forum, Qotoz, lists the technical ways in which agents snare jihadis, and asserts that human methods include ‘brainwashing’ participants.
For the purposes of this post, it almost doesn’t matter what intelligence agencies are up to on the forums, or what their levels of monitoring and infiltration are. What matters is the degree of self-regulation that forum members impose upon themselves as a result. This is not a new phenomenon, and is analogous to the self-censorship the Chinese government wishes to foster in its internet-using citizens: 30,000 internet police, comrades – you better be careful!
Intel aren’t saying exactly what they’re up to but plenty of non-governmental individuals and organisations are pretty open about their involvement. Without trying, I can think of a dozen who spend many hours a day monitoring and reporting on various forums. Only an idiot would think of actually doing much on a forum these days, let alone use a real name, or not mask their IP addresses (tragically, many don’t bother with the latter). Of course, most of the real ‘action’ doesn’t happen on the forums anyway, but it’s interesting to note the levels of paranoia that exist, even if their concerns are based in fact.
[h/t Thoughts of a Technocrat]