November of 2008: The Conficker worm emerged from the cocoon of her creator and infected her first computer. The dynamic of infiltration and subsequent growth of a massive botnet astounded those who followed Conficker’s movements and upgrades. Hassen Saidi (Ph.D in computer studies) was one of the many researchers involved in studying the worm. He dissected the various strains of the worm. His analysis provided insight into the progression of the Conficker infection. Within a month of the initial digital incursion, 1.5 million computers in 195 countries were compromised. (1)
In the world of computers, malware is compressed into small data packets for rapid dissemination across the internet. Malware is also shielded with self-protective measures to avoid detection. When the Conficker worm made an initial appearance it barely registered any activity. But for those tasked with monitoring the same, the stakes were high.
The behavior of the Conficker worm provides an uncanny parallel with the manner in which jihad recruitment moves forward with the delivery of tiny packets of information. The stakes are incredibly high in this line of work. Tracking is 24/7 by the alphabet security agencies. When a jihad malware infection occurs the recipient may register minimal online presence. An observable digital footprint can still obscure movement toward an operational attack. Semper Vigilans.
Observing the object code and electrical charges (translate: emotional charges) associated with jihad recruitment code never cease to amaze me. The host for a malware infection is not only a programmable machine. Incursions with greater complexity are in flux. The 21st century host resides within a small space known as the human skull. The combination of a mind, free will, and human emotion provide multiple avenues for agitation propaganda, exploitation and adaptation of the subject.
During the early years after 9/11, the malware activity at work on human brains increased significantly via internet jihad forums. My daily leap-frog across jihad portals gave me the ability to monitor the emotional pulse generated from the sites. This activity within the sites was not yet infecting within the tens of millions. But over a period of months there was the steady appearance of a remote thread injection – a hidden code – that executed itself within a legitimate address. That remote thread was based on an understanding of Ahadith and the historical battles of Prophet Muhammad. My own intellectual ability to follow along required immersion studies into the tiny data packets of information known as Hadith, and their smaller packets known as isnd and matn (chain of transmitters and text, respectively).
Webmasters expanded their realm of influence. Avatars used by webmasters hearkens to seventh century romanticism. I have read the thoughts of “Khalid ibn al-Walid”. “Abu Bakr” made an appearance long before a real man named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi burst onto the scene. Webmasters are digital Amir for a geospatial land of jihad. The Amir command their soldiers to ambush innocent civilians with acts of asymmetrical warfare. And these digital commandos do it without breaking a sweat.
Just as the Conficker worm was crafted to create an exploding botnet, recruiters seek to do the same. Sadly, enslaved computers and enslaved human minds are equal in one regard: few recognize the moment of their enslavement.
Revisit the fatwa of Usama bin Laden, the father of 21st century jihad. He joined colleagues to craft a grievance document. It was enough to inspire nineteen enslaved men to hijack commercial jets and use them as missiles with human components. This act heralded the recrudescence of jihad. And in a digital age, “the child” is more sophisticated than the father. Your progeny might just be the offspring of Usama bin Laden.
Twitter functions as a viral platform which infects by activation of grievance. The recruitment industry is dependent on unhealed emotion. “Help your fellow Muslims! The Ummah are suffering! All of this – the fault of everybody but me!” Once the “viral load” is sufficient the host is overtaken by rage, a base animal instinct. Hold a grudge…. let the grudge reach a boiling point… purchase a couple of pressure cookers. Jihad fever now overwhelms the host! First it kills the cerebral cortex. The primordial urge to kill is unhindered by higher logic.
The intelligence sector remains hard at work. Jihad sites are scrubbed, some sites monitored, and others are acquired and used as honey pots. But with the advent of Twitter, infection is spiking. Consider the forensic evidence against Alaa Abdullah Esayed. In less than a year she posted 45,600 tweets supporting Islamic State. We are tracking an epidemiological crisis.
My view has changed drastically over the years regarding aspects of jihad recruitment. I used to imagine that micro-aggressive statements could only harm in aggregation. I now believe that even a solitary micro-aggressive statement is sufficient to infect a weak, susceptible host.
Al-Qaeda was the precursor to Islamic State. Both terror aggregates seek to calve nations from a dead empire. The process appears to be working splendidly well. The Balkan nations are the latest acquisition target. This activity will affect maritime activities in the Black Sea and reactivate conflict within the Caucasus. India is in the cross-hairs. Aspirations abound.
A normal and well-adjusted Muslim in the West just might be receiving a remote thread injection from Mosul. But there is a greater unthinkable scenario. An infection might be coursing through a mosque. The aforementioned is an inconvenient truth. But it is also a tragedy. Houses of worship are meant to provide pasture and a place of repose for members of a faith. A focus on anarchy is fraudulent use of the same.
What initiates as a barely noticeable jihad packet can transform into a malignant program that burrows into leitmotifs of harmful ideology. How long does it take for a balanced individual to turn into a maladjusted predator? Only as long as it takes to read micro-aggressive statements coming off a Twitter feed in London. (2)
- Bowden, Mark, “Worm: The First Digital War”, Grove Press, New York, 2011
- Twitter Platforms and Jihad Recruitment