Our weekly review of articles on terrorist and violent extremist use of the internet, counterterrorism, digital rights, and tech policy.

Islamist terrorism

Dollars for Daesh: the small financial footprint of the Islamic State’s American supporters: Lorenzo Vidino, Jon Lewis, and Andrew Mines offer the “first comprehensive study […] of the financial dynamics of the U.S-based Islamic State scene”, taking an in-depth look at how Islamic State (IS) supporters have raised and moved funds in the US. According to the authors, this small footprint is due to the prevalence of lone actors in the US, who engage mostly in low-cost activities that require little to no money transfers. The authors stress, however, that this also bears important challenges for terrorist investigations, concluding that refinement of counter-terrorism financing strategies should better consider new technologies (e.g crowdfunding, cryptocurrencies) upon which IS supporters are increasingly likely to rely. (Vidino, Lewis, Mines, CTC Sentinel, March 2020)

– Khalid Batarfi and the future of AQAP: In February, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) announced the name of its new leader, Khalid bin Umar Batarfi. Following this announcement, Gregory Johnsen provides a complete overview both of Batarfi’s background and history of engagement with the group and of the current state of AQAP. Assessing the capabilities of what was once considered one of al-Qaeda’s most capable affiliates, Johnsen argues that the group has become “a shadow of its former self,” both internationally and regionally. (Johnsen, Lawfare, 22.03.2020)

– Addressing the enemy: al-Shabaab’s PSYOPS media warfare: In this article, Christopher Anzalone offers a comprehensive analysis of al-Shabaab’s information warfare. Through six case studies, Anzalone focuses on al-Shabaab’s particular reliance on PSYOPS (psychological operations) to target enemies ranks, within the armed forces but also the broader public. The piece explores how al-Shabaab attempts to influence policies not only by broadcasting claims about attacks, but also by taking advantage of a perceived lack of transparency from the Somali government around the details and casualties of the attacks, including those caused by US airstrikes. Anzalone thus argues that al-Shabaab’s PSYOPS media warfare notably relies on the group’s attempt to present itself as a reliable source of information – taking advantage of the challenges in verifying information on the ground. (Anzalone, CTC Sentinel, March 2020)

Far-right violent extremism and terrorism

Leaked: neo-Nazi terrorist ‘Feuerkrieg Division’ organising chats: Unicorn Riot has leaked eight months worth of neo-Nazi and accelerationist group Feuerkrieg Division’s internal chat archives. While the group claims to have disbanded, Unicorn Riot’s leak provides an extensive overview of FKD’s internal functioning. Through this leak, Unicorn Riot brings to the fore some of “the most decentralised and dangerous tendencies of contemporary insurgent neo-Nazism”, as well as FKD’s positioning within the online neo-Nazi sphere alongside more prominent groups such as Atomwaffen Division and The Base. (Unicorn Riot, 20.03.2020)

– The Hanau terrorist attack: how race hate and conspiracy theories are fueling global far-right violenceFlorence Keen and Blyth Crawford examine the motivations behind the terrorist attack in Hanau, Germany, by looking at the perpetrator’s manifesto and video messages. Whilst the attacker clearly situated himself in the recent line of far-right ‘lone wolf’ terrorists by referencing traditional far-right violent extremist and anti-immigration narratives, the authors argue that he was more tapped into obscure online anti-establishment conspiracy theories than the Christchurch and El Paso perpetrators. The authors therefore conclude that the attack defies strict categorisation as a far-right terrorist attack, and raise the need for further investigation into the impact of conspiracies on terrorism. (Crawford & Keen, CTC Sentinel, March 2020)

– Viking vs. neo-Nazis: battling the far right in SwedenWith Nordic mythology and viking iconography often being appropriated by far-right violent extremist movements (the Nordic Resistance Movement being a case in point), Viking enthusiasts in Sweden have decided to fight back against this appropriation – not hesitating to challenge NRM leaders face-to-face on this matter. In this Witness documentary, filmmaker Nicholas Ahlmark follows Viking-theme live action role-playing gamers that have formed the Vikings Against Racism movement. Ahlmark also sheds light on Viking values, and how the Viking heritage has been reinvented by Scandinavian nationalists and hijacked by Nazi movements through history. (Nicholas Ahlmark, Al Jazeera Witness, 21.03.2020)

– How neo-Nazi group National Action targeted young people: BBC News reports that the first far-right violent extremist organisation to be proscribed as a terrorist group in the UK, National Action, was explicitly targeting the youth in its a recruitment strategy. The article looks back at National Action’s recruitment strategy, from displaying propaganda in UK universities to the grooming of school boys as young as 15. The article concludes by further reflecting on the radicalisation of young people in general. (BBC News, 21.03.2020)

Counterterrorism

Websites hosting terrorist content to be blocked under new powersUnder a new protocol, Australia’s eSafety commissioner will have the ability to request internet providers to block websites hosting terrorist content in order to prevent the spread of “graphic terrorist content” during crises. This new protocol is being implemented following last year’s Christchurch attack video. With blocking to initially last five days, the protocol will be deployed in response to an “online crisis event” that includes a terrorist act and the fast dissemination of harmful material requiring a rapid response. For content to be covered by the new protocol, it must “promote, incite or provide instruction on terrorist or violent crimes.” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 24.03.2020)

Terrorist content online regulation: time to get things right: As negotiations between EU institutions on the new regulation to prevent the dissemination of terrorist content are still ongoing, important issues around the safeguarding of human rights, the rule of law, and journalistic content remain. In this blogpost, the European Digital Rights association (EDRi) highlights some of the key issues that should be considered in the negotiations, including the strain placed on small companies by the proposed one-hour removal rule, the potential negative that upload filters could have, and the importance of having an independent authority to oversee the regulation of online content. (Naranjo, European Digital Rights, 16.03.2020)

– Facebook just revealed its secret strategy for taking down hate groups: Following the takedown of a network of Northwest Front related accounts, Brian Fishman –  Facebook’s Policy Director for Counterterrorism and Dangerous Organisations – spoke with Mother Jones about Facebook’s strategy to counter dangerous organisations on its platform. To prevent such organisations from re-emerging on its platforms, Facebook has been implementing a “take them all down at once” strategy, identifying supporters, members, groups, and pages related to an organisation before taking them all down in one go. This way Facebook can target a larger part of a network, rendering it more difficult for it to re-emerge. (Mother Jones, 26.03.2020)

Tech policy

– COVID-19 Surveillance must not be used as an excuse to entrench surveillance: With a number of States deploying emergency powers in response to the Covid-19 crisis, Maria Luisa Stasi and Barbora Bukovska remind us that the current pandemic should not be used as a way to normalise the curtailing of human rights, especially freedom of expression and the right to privacy. In addition to quarantine measures, a number of governments are relying on tech tools to closely monitor people’s movement and encounters. In reaction to such measures, this article emphasises that the public health crisis should not “normalize oppressive surveillance measures” noncompliant with human rights standards, and that human rights and freedom of expression should not be sacrificed in such a climate. (Stasi & Bukovska, Just Security, 20.03.2020)


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Background to Tech Against Terrorism

Tech Against Terrorism is an initiative launched by the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate (UN CTED) in April 2017. We support the global technology sector in responding to terrorist use of the internet whilst respecting human rights, and we work to promote public-private partnerships to mitigate this threat. Our research shows that terrorist groups – both jihadist and far-right terrorists – consistently exploit smaller tech platforms when disseminating propaganda. At Tech Against Terrorism, our mission is to support smaller tech companies in tackling this threat whilst respecting human rights and to provide companies with practical tools to facilitate this process. As a public-private partnership, the initiative has been supported by the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) and the governments of Spain, Switzerland, the Republic of Korea, and Canada.