In 2005, I got to experience the rare sensation of driving from the Internet — at least momentarily — the official English-language website of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah ul-Uzma Khamenei.
A news report I produced for my employer at the time, CBS’s Dallas television, also sent scampering about 45 other Islamic Republic of Iran sites. The Iranians had put them all up on the Dallas hosting company CI Host for less than $50 a month each.
After the unwelcome publicity, CI Host disabled the exposed sites and they had to find a home in some other country. Company officials issued jingoistic mea culpas and explained, implausibly, how they hadn’t known about the sites and couldn’t police their own acceptable use policy or servers. More on that claim later.
CI Host acted with haste on the Iran sites out of what seemed at the time a healthy self-interest: the company’s business arrangement with Iran, small though it was revenue-wise, represented a potential violation of a U.S. trade embargo against the designated state sponsor of terror. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) could have savaged the company with fines and sanctions had the agency chosen to do so.
OFAC did nothing then. Which brings us to now.
I had all but forgotten about my old work until April 9, when the Washington Post put out a front-page story that purported to reveal for the first time the problem of outlawed foreign terrorist organizations hosting their hate recruitment sites on private-sector American server farms.
For more than a year, the Post reported, a Taliban group used a site hosted by another Texas company called The Planet “to rally followers and keep a running tally of suicide bombings, rocket attacks, and raids against the U.S. and allied troops” for the cost of about $70 a month payable by credit card.
Just like CI Host told me years earlier, The Planet officials told the Post they had no clue about the site’s Taliban connections — and no technical means by which to detect sites like it. The Planet said it doesn’t even try; it just reacts to complaints. The story went on to explain that federal agencies wouldn’t be taking any action either, and why.
All of the same explanations had been provided to me years ago, not only for my story about the Iranians but other stories I did about the same issue dating to 2004. In addition to the Iranian sites, I showcased how other Texas web hosting companies were enabling Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad branches, and many other terrorist groups to get out their messages of violent incitement over the Internet. I found sites with American hosting companies that openly aimed to physically destroy America, commit terrorist acts against Americans wherever they can be found, and kill as many American soldiers as possible abroad.