For America’s 16 intelligence agencies, employing some 100,000 spies and analysts, with a budget of $50 billion, it is almost mission impossible to figure out what terrorists and would-be terrorists are up to in cyberspace.
The Internet is an electronic jungle, but also a global environment where al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers can function with impunity. The Net also serves as radio-cum-TV station for would-be terrorists who can watch suicide bomb attacks as videoed by insurgents, beheadings in gory color, and download a two-volume Sabotage Handbook online.
Google, like the National Security Agency, can sift through a gazillion documents in less than a second, but that doesn’t begin to tell you how a radical imam in a rundown Muslim suburb of Paris, or another imam in northern Nigeria, has recruited an impressionable teenager for the higher cause of jihad (which should be renamed unholy war).
Nor does it tell you how and when this youngster left for Yemen, where al Qaeda operatives taught him how to bring down an airliner with a hard-to-detect, easily concealable, lethal chemical cocktail.
The equivalent of hundreds of LOC’s (Library of Congress with its 40 million volumes, 130 million documents, 10,000 new items arriving daily and 525 miles of shelf space) move on millions of ether infobahns in less than a day.
Born in this humongous mix, long before Sept. 11, 2001, was a virtual electronic caliphate, or a global radical Muslim community whose main enemy is the United States and its Israeli ally, whose principal objective is to push back the frontiers of Islam by crushing Muslim governments and denying the Palestinians the right of statehood.
The caliphate is a unique global entity that would unite all Muslims under the rule of the caliph. Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims presumably would spend decades fighting over an appropriate caliph who would then rule over a global dictatorship with an advisory Shura, or the Muslim equivalent of a college of cardinals.
Pie in the Muslim sky, but all too real on the Internet, and pretty heady stuff and certainly more exciting than the drab existence of looking for jobs that are not available.
The electronic caliphate’s Web sites, chat rooms, blogs, message boards, instant messaging, with seemingly innocuous coded messages, coupled with state-of-the-art encryption devices and techniques, all reflect a sizable number of computer engineers and scientists at the service of al Qaeda and transnational terrorism.
Al Qaeda’s breeding grounds stretch from the madrassas - Koranic schools for the poor - of Mindanao in the Philippines to identical madrassas in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Yemen, Somalia and suburban slums all over Western Europe.
But the exciting vision of fighting for Islam against Christian and Jewish heathens also ensnares middle- and upper-class misfits who are either bored or in rebellion against their parents’ capitalist values.
That’s clearly how the son of a prominent Nigerian banker, who almost caused a major disaster on a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, got radicalized and joined al Qaeda in Yemen as a suicide volunteer.
One of Europe’s best intelligence services - the Dutch AIVD - concluded years ago that radical Islam in the Netherlands encompasses a multitude of movements, organizations and groups that sympathize with militant Islam. AIVD has identified 20 different Islamist groups. And their lingua franca is the Internet.
British authorities have verified that as many as 3,000 veterans of al Qaeda training camps over the years, in Afghanistan prior to Sept. 11, in Pakistan’s tribal areas after Sept. 11, were born and raised in the United Kingdom.
British polls also showed about 100,000 British Muslims, mostly from Pakistani families, were in favor of the July 7, 2005, subway and bus attacks in London. Some 200 embryonic plots investigated by Britain’s internal intelligence service MI5 tracked back to Pakistani Brits, mostly well-educated youth from middle-class families.