NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Three of al Qaeda’s major websites for recruiting terrorists and communicating propaganda were shut down recently in an apparent case of counterterrorism hacking or possibly as a result of internal disputes among terrorists.
U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports said the websites of Ansar al-Mujahidin, Shumukh al-Islam and Al Fida — all accredited as official outlets of the terrorist group once led by Osama bin Laden — were knocked off the Internet by cyberattacks in early May.
Two of the sites — Ansar al-Mujahidin (as-ansar.com) and Shumukh al-Islam (shamikh1.info) — came back up Monday and Tuesday. The site Al Fida remains down.
Although the origin of the attack is not known, some online jihadists claimed that the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas was behind the cyberattack.
Counterterrorism Internet monitors told Inside the Ring that a posting on Facebook by a member of a hacker group Qassam HackeRs, which supports Hamas, claimed credit for the cyberattacks.
In an online posting that could not be verified, one of the Hamas hackers claimed that service to Ansar al-Mujahidin would continue to be disrupted until al Qaeda stops labeling members of Hamas’ military wing, the Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, “infidels.”
All three websites are closely monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies and are considered key sources of information about the group.
The disruptions are prompting many jihadists to shift from Web forums to Twitter for communications and propaganda messaging.
Speculation that the cyberattacks were part of an intergroup rivalry is based on a dispute among terrorists over the announcement in April that al Qaeda in Iraq had merged with the pro-al Qaeda Syrian rebel group Al Nusrah Front. The merger prompted accusations that the Iraqi group had been infiltrated by hostile intelligence services.
CHINA ASAT SECRECY
U.S. officials disclosed unofficially this week that China conducted a test of a new high-Earth orbit anti-satellite (ASAT) missile called the DN-2.
The test was mentioned during the official Chinese Foreign Ministry news briefing Tuesday, when spokesman Hong Lei said he had no information on the test but insisted China is opposed to “militarizing” outer space.
The posing of the question by China’s tightly controlled press was viewed as a pre-emptive effort to deflect anticipated criticism of China’s secret space weapons program.
Adding to the mystery surrounding the test, a Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment, citing a policy of not commenting on intelligence matters.
The latest ASAT test followed publication last week of the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military buildup. The report states that China’s military first conducted an anti-satellite missile test in 2007, when a satellite was destroyed by a ground-launched missile.
However, the report said China’s anti-satellite program remains a tightly guarded secret: “Although Chinese defense academics often publish on counterspace threat technologies, no additional anti-satellite programs have been publicly acknowledged.”
The topic of Chinese anti-satellite arms is raised frequently in high-level and working-level talks between U.S. military and Chinese military officials.
According to defense officials, the answers to U.S. officials’ questions are consistently the same: China denies having any anti-satellite weapons programs.
The consistent denials coupled with the continued Chinese development of what the Pentagon calls “counterspace” weaponry is making it difficult to continue the Obama administration’s policy of seeking to “build trust” with the Chinese military.
“Chinese scholars told me last year in Beijing that the ASAT test in January 2007 was a one-time event,” said Michael Pillsbury, a specialist on China and former Pentagon official. “China denies to the U.S. government, and to the public, that China has any ASAT program at all.”
Defense officials continue to provide Inside the Ring with mounting evidence of a major campaign by the Pentagon and military services to impose political correctness throughout the services.
For example, one official said U.S. Northern Command, the Colorado-based military command responsible for the defense of the U.S. homeland, recently sent out a terrorism report that made no mention of terrorism or Islam.
Last week, Northcom, as the command is called, issued an internal report warning about a jihadist threat.
“Not once was the word ‘Muslim’ or ‘terrorist’ mentioned,” the official said.
Instead, Northcom referred to the threat as “homegrown extremists,” even though the threat involved Islamists pursuing jihad.
The de-Islamicization of jihad-motivated terrorists is the work of John O. Brennan, who imposed a strict ban on references to Islamism and jihad, or holy war, as White House counterterrorism director and now as CIA director.
Mr. Brennan announced in a 2009 speech that jihad is a “legitimate” tenet of Islam and thus should not be used to describe terrorists.
The ban, however, does not cover all internal reports and discussions. Many U.S. intelligence reports widely use the term “jihadists” to describe terrorists groups like al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a separate case, the U.S. Transportation Command is imposing a new, politically correct rule on emails sent by all members of the command.
In a May 1 notice, Transcom stated: “Effectively immediately, the use of personal messages and/or slogans is prohibited in email signature blocks. Such entries have the potential to convey the wrong message and in many cases inappropriately personalize official correspondence.”
The command then stated that “the only acceptable email tagline is our command sponsored, ‘Together, We Deliver.’”
Many in the military are known to add a famous quote from generals such as George S. Patton or others after the signature block on their emails.
As reported in this space last month, Transcom triggered the ire of some warriors through its “self-awareness seminars” designed to boost “emotional intelligence quotient.”
The seminars prompted one officer to state: “This is still the armed forces of the United States, is it not? Lord help us.”
U.S., CHINA DRONE WARS
China unveiled photos of its first unmanned combat aerial vehicle, or UCAV, this week as the U.S. Navy for the first time launched a nearly identical looking X-47B from the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Richard Fisher, a China military affairs watcher with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, says the striking similarities between new Chinese UCAV and Western prototypes like the Northrop Grumman X-47B and Europe’s Neuron should be a cause for concern.
The Chinese drone is “a stark example of China’s broad investment in advanced military technologies,” Mr. Fisher told Inside the Ring.
“This UCAV demonstrates an understanding of current concepts for proportioning and shaping to confer range and low observability, or stealth,” he said. “The [Chinese army] likely is very pleased that these images of China’s UCAV appear at about the same time that the X-47B is about to commence carrier testing.”
According to Mr. Fisher, some Chinese reports suggest the Chinese drone is being developed jointly by the Shenyang Aircraft Corp. and the Hongdu Aircraft Industries Group. The Hongdu group is expected to outfit a future Chinese aircraft carrier with warplanes.
On Tuesday, the Navy announced that its fighter-sized X-47B drone successfully was launched from the aircraft carrier USS George W. Bush.
Rear Adm. Ted N. Branch, commander of Naval Air Forces Atlantic, said the launch off the Virginia coast was historic.
“Unmanned systems would be the likely choice in a theater or an environment that was highly defended or dangerous where we wouldn’t want to send manned aircraft,” Adm. Branch told The Associated Press.