Monday, February 27, 2006

A troubling video of an insurgent sniper in Iraq known only as “Juba” is spreading across the Internet. As National Public Radio describes it, in the professional-quality video, “Juba” is quiet, efficient and ruthless as he trains his sights on American soldiers and pulls the trigger. Jihadist messages accompany the grisly footage — in English. The video’s colloquial American vernacular strongly suggests the video was either made in the United States or by people deeply familiar with this country — and skilled in the use of the latest technologies.

“Juba” is just the latest indication of the frightening success of the Internet jihad. “Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age, but… our country has not,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said despondently earlier this month. Whether the United States is “losing” this high-technology war is debatable, but clearly we suffer critical losses the moment a “Juba” video in English comes into existence and spreads around the world.

It’s not just furtive recordings, videos, Web sites and e-mails; it’s proactive attacks on our own media outlets, too. In the weeks after her Web site published the Danish Muhammad cartoons, syndicated columnist and popular conservative blogger Michelle Malkin suffered repeated illegal “denial of service” attacks which incapacitated the site for hours. The attacks, traced to computers in Turkey, were dispersed once the Turkish Web-hosting company was notified. From here it is up to U.S. and Turkish authorities to pursue the hackers. No doubt many of them will elude consequences, however.

Mrs. Malkin’s experience is hardly unique: Hundreds of sites are hacked each year by technologically savvy Islamists and their sympathizers. In fact, at least one official Iranian government newspaper bragged recently of hacking “enemy” Danish and European Web sites in the wake of the Muhammad cartoon affair. Other militant Islamists have been credited with similar successes.

The United States is not paralyzed in the face of Internet jihad. We have tools to combat it, but they are the familiar ones: Tracing terrorist cells, unravelling technical clues and arresting the offenders. We should realize that there is no real technical fix for most of the Internet jihad — although technical know-how is of the utmost importance — and much depends on the cooperation of allies with whom the United States maintains extradition treaties. Arresting offenders sends the message that malefactors deserve: Do not collaborate with militant Islam, or else risk arrest, extradition and prosecution. This method is being tested today: Authorities in the United Kingdom are currently trying to extradite Babar Ahmad, a 32-year-old information-technology professional accused of running American Web sites that promote and support militant Islam. The particulars of this case are debated, but the implication is not.

Technical capability will matter much more in cases like Iran’s alleged hacking successes. Government-sponsored attacks must be confronted by the U.S. government’s best information-technology specialists in coordination with affected American companies and citizens. We are a wealthier and more technologically capable society than Iran’s; we can win this war.

“Today we are fighting the first war in the era of email, blogs, blackberries, instant messaging, digital cameras, the Internet” and other technologies, Mr. Rumsfeld observed. That is surely true. It’s time for the United States to act. The “Juba” video undoubtedly exhibits digital clues and fingerprints; we would expect that U.S. authorities will investigate, track and prosecute its creators.

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