What's the Intelligence Value of Jihadi Social Networks?

The value of social networking sites is the wide reach they provide. Facebook alone has more than a half-billion active users, and according to Google, YouTube also boasts about a half-billion unique users and receives 1.4 billion hits monthly. At no previous time in history have individuals or groups of limited means had access to networks that span the globe, and in the past, only large media outlets could reach such staggering numbers of people. Today, YouTube videos frequently go "viral" and millions of people view them in a relatively short time. Facebook groups can accumulate millions of members, and these member lists then form the core of activist networks that are very difficult to disband, even if the group page is ultimately removed from the website.

Our intelligence and law enforcement services are vastly understaffed with qualified translators and analysts. They simply cannot keep abreast of all of the intelligence constantly streaming in, so even if the NSA is able to record every single electronic communication, as has been alleged, there are not enough people to analyze them in real-time. Case in point: six months after he flew a jet into the World Trade Center on 9/11, Mohammed Atta's visa was APPROVED.

In the past year, two high-profile terrorist attacks have been thwarted as a result of jihadists posting their intentions on Facebook. On its face, this would seem to suggest Facebook is a treasure trove of intelligence; however in both cases, law enforcement officials were alerted by friends or acquaintances of the would-be bombers, and not through any intelligence gathering program monitoring Facebook. Had it not been for these informants, the headlines may have read quite differently, and perhaps the media and public would be less sanguine about the continued use of social networks by the sworn enemies of Western civilization.

The Internet is a battlefield, one of many fronts in a global conflict for the heart and mind, flesh and blood of our civilization. It is imperative that we deny our enemies online bases where they can organize and plot against us. If the CIA only has 50 Predator drones in Afghanistan, and those drones are presented with many thousands of targets, the drones become less useful because they cannot possibly monitor them all. The same holds true on the virtual battlefield. By forcing the removal of jihadist groups and profiles, we can disrupt their communications, reduce their recruiting, indoctrination, and training abilities, demoralize their membership, and funnel their adherents to fewer locations that are more easily monitored by the law enforcement and intelligence communities. A hands-off approach merely cedes the battlefield to our enemies.