U.S. counterterrorism officials say Twitter’s crackdown on tweets from the Islamic State is complicating efforts to identify the terrorist group’s key members and activities by intelligence agencies that increasingly use social media to spy on the militants.
For the past several weeks Twitter has removed accounts that violate its terms of service, which include promoting violence — perhaps the central feature of the al Qaeda offshoot that revels in posting images and videos of executions and beheadings.
Key Islamic State Twitter users have been blocked as part of a cat-and-mouse effort to prevent the terrorist group from using social media to spread propaganda, recruit members and display horrific images of its murders and terrorist operations.
But as soon as some accounts are blocked, others spring up to circumvent the crackdown.
The Islamic State has been forced by Twitter to shift its focus to less widely used social media, including Diaspora, an open media network with about 1 million users. Twitter, by contrast, has an estimated 500 million users.
Several central and regional Islamic State Twitter accounts were moved recently to Diaspora.
For Islamic State members continuing to use Twitter, several active supporters used slightly different Twitter handles. Others use backup Twitter accounts that can be activated and verified if main accounts are blocked.
The Islamic State has used Twitter campaigns to rally supporters and gain new ones.
One of the most vocal is the Media Front for support of the Islamic State, which has helped gather various militant support groups.
Since the organization’s military incursion into Iraq, Twitter has shut down scores of accounts. Its most recent crackdown coincided with increased international pressure on the group appears to be having a greater impact, a U.S. official said.
Saudi Arabia is taking steps to counter the Islamic State’s growing influence in the oil-rich kingdom following a poll that showed 92 percent of Saudi respondents ages 24 to 30 in the online survey said the Islamic State conforms to Islamic values and law.
Recent Islamic State Twitter postings have included photos showing Saudi nationals waving the group’s black flag and another that claimed militants have infiltrated the Saudi military.
CHINA’S NUCLEAR ‘LEAP’
An internal People’s Liberation Army document has revealed plans to greatly expand the PLA’s nuclear arsenal.
“We must accelerate the process of upgrading our nuclear ICBMs, continuously perfecting our nuclear armaments structure; strengthening strategic early warning mechanisms against enemy ballistic missiles; step up the production of new generation nuclear missiles to appropriately increase the number of our nuclear warheads so that the combat effectiveness of our nuclear missile arsenal will have a qualitative leap forward,” according to a translated portion of the document obtained by Inside the Ring.
The document was produced within the past year as part of a strategy lecture for the Second Artillery Corps, the PLA’s nuclear and conventional missile forces. It provides further evidence that China is building up its nuclear forces in secret, raising new concerns about its nuclear intentions.
“Only when we solidify and enhance our trustworthy and reliable nuclear deterrence and nuclear counter-strike capabilities can we effectively contain strategic threats, buttress our status as a big power, make contribution to stopping hegemonism, safeguarding world peace,” states the document, as first reported by Kyodo News on Aug. 4.
China’s nuclear buildup comes as the Obama administration is seeking further cuts in U.S. nuclear forces beyond the reductions to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads required under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia — which also is modernizing its nuclear forces and recently was declared by the U.S. government to be in violation of a 1987 nuclear missile treaty.
Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said in a speech last week that President Obama‘s offer last year to cut an additional one-third of U.S. warheads in a new agreement with Russia “is a sound one and worthy of serious consideration.”
However, Ms. Gottemoeller said the souring of relations following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula has made another arms deal unlikely.
Russia will spend $650 billion on its nuclear forces through 2020 as part of its nuclear modernization program, Moscow Times reported Tuesday.
China for several decades has rebuffed U.S. efforts to engage in arms control talks on its nuclear forces.
In addition to bolstering nuclear forces, China also plans to expand its conventional missile arsenal by boosting the number of conventional warheads and building more powerful non-nuclear warheads, the PLA document states.
The PLA also is increasing its ability to attack satellites and hit incoming enemy missiles.
China conducted a July 23 test of a low-earth orbit anti-satellite (ASAT) missile called the DN-1, according to U.S. officials. The ASAT missile is the second weapon for attacking satellites, a key U.S. strategic vulnerability.
China also recently tested a DN-2 that U.S. officials said will be used to target high-earth orbit satellites — those in geosynchronous orbit some 22,000 miles in space.
Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters last week he is concerned about Chinese ASAT weapons and described the July test a further “weaponization” of space by Beijing.
The Pentagon’s most recent annual report on China’s military states that it is building multi-warhead nuclear missiles and improving nuclear missile forces command and control systems.
The exact number of China’s nuclear warheads is unknown. U.S. intelligence agencies estimate the Chinese strategic nuclear warhead arsenal is around 240 weapons. Other Russian and U.S. estimates put the number as high as 1,500 warheads.
CHINA: THANKS, SNOWDEN
The massive disclosure of National Security Agency documents has made it more difficult for U.S. electronic spies to spy on China — perhaps the most important strategic nation state intelligence target.
China’s state-run Science and Technology Daily reported July 29 that key industries are shifting to more secure, indigenously produced networks and operating system software to prevent NSA cyber spying.
The state-run Shuguang Co. has deployed software aimed at “safeguarding national security information systems,” the report said.
Science and Technology Daily is the official publication of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ State Science and Technology Commission, and the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, which runs China’s military and defense industry and also conducts foreign economic spying.
The report said Shuguang recently designed a new independent and secure computing system to safeguard national security information systems. Specifically, Shuguang’s secure Longteng server was developed over 11 years, and is now in its fourth generation. It uses what is called the “Loongson” for central processing unit, firewall and virtual network gateway software.
Shuguang software is used in government and industry, including the energy sector, research and development, national defense and cloud computing.
According to the report, the tighter information technology security was prompted by what it called “PRISM-gate” — disclosures of NSA Internet data mining by leaker Edward Snowden. As a result, China has increased information security for industries, businesses, and education, research and development and energy sectors.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.