What ISIS is up to during your summer vacation

What ISIS is up to during your summer vacation

While the media’s attention is focused on the transgressions of social media companies relating to privacy, data collection, and Putin’s election interference, ISIS has slowly rebuilt its online presence after its battlefield defeats in Iraq and Syria.   

Although the Islamic State was forced out of nearly all the lands it conquered, it still controls over 1,000 square miles of Syrian territory, or roughly the size of the city of Los Angeles, according to the NYT. 


Counter terrorism officials are increasingly worried that ISIS has shelved its “incite and recruit” social media campaigns in favor of creating multi-lingual social media “terrorist academies” providing elementary instruction on how to manufacture lethal poisons and explosives such as triacetone triperoxide (TATP), how to make pipe and gas tank bombs, how to navigate the ins and outs of “rent and ram” terrorism, and, most recently, how to breach cyber security safeguards protecting soft targets, such as surface transportation links in European cities.


Here is a list of recent foiled and real attacks uncovered or claimed by ISIS on line:

  • On Thursday, August 2, a version of the infamous ISIS bomb making video, “YouMust Fight Them O Muwahhid” was located on the Internet Archive.  The video was uploaded to the site on June 16, 2018 and was still live as of August 2 with 110 views.  The video was originally released on November 26, 2016. The video shows step-by-step instructions for the construction of a TATP explosive device using obtainable and legal components.
  • ISIS operatives have been busy all summer on Telegram showing potential terrorists how to use computer hacking techniques to undertake lone-wolf attacks in Europe and in North America.

From its safe havens ISIS and other terrorist organizations have gravitated to the peripheral platforms of American social media to reconstitute incitement, and instructional digital terrorism.   

Recently, the British Parliament called Google-owned YouTube “utterly hopeless” over its handling of extremist videos.  A frustrated European Union Commission may unveil legislation forcing internet companies to accelerate removal of the illegal content. 

Tech companies have been boasting of late how much more they are doing to take down extremist content.  They are rolling out what, at first reaction, appears to be persuasive numbers of extremist social media takedowns. 

Facebook asserted recently to Congress it removed 1.9 million terrorist-related posts in the first quarter of 2018 and had previously claimed that it was removing 83% of known terror content within one hour.  YouTube took an undeserved victory lap reporting it had removed more than 8 million videos during the last quarter of 2017.  Too often, the content mysteriously finds its way back up. 

BigTech is spending a king’s ransom lobbying Washington lawmakers pedaling its newly found angelic conduct.  Google, the parent company of YouTube, spent over $18 million in 2017 to butter up Congress to not to lift its immunity from content liability. 

Google+ has become a singularly notorious ISIS summer camping ground.  ISIS supporters find there a place to learn more about the terror group and spur a “co-radicalization process” where users already plugged into the ISIS community can help “others’ descent into extremism.”

Silicon Valley is having unmerited success selling the spin.  Even the Operational Director of the National Counter Terrorism Center – Lt. General Michael Nagata – seems to have swallowed Google’s DC spin. 

At a Washington Institute for Near East Policy forum in July -- Nagata shockingly asserted he has not seen data correlating a reduction in terrorism with the removal of on line extremist content.  That is not how most Arab and European intel officials feel, including the FBI. 

Wouldn’t Google’s gargantuan lobbying expenditures have gone to better use to improve YouTube’s feeble extremist content removal rate? 

During a recent three-month period, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) conducted a limited study to determine how ISIS content is being uploaded to YouTube, how long it is staying online, and how many views these videos receive. 

CEP’s study reveals that YouTube is failing to adequately control the prevalence of extremist content on its platform and that its pledge to act against repeated violations of YouTube’s customer terms of service is simply not being enforced.

Further, CEP's social media sleuths stated in a press release on Friday that "as the commercial and private use of cloud storage grows, extremists are expanding past traditional social media channels and utilizing sites like Dropbox, UStream, Amazon Cloud Services, Microsoft One Drive and OwnCloud to share and stream content.  These sites are not searchable and content can only be accessed with the proper URL ensuring fewer random interactions with content by non-extremists, resulting in fewer content reports and takedowns." This is fast becoming a "Sputnik Moment" for BigTech. and ISIS is faster than social media companies to figure out how to outfox them.

BigTech’s fuzzy extremist content takedown math does not add up.  ISIS is not down and out online.  It is reconstituting itself across a wide spectrum of social media platforms while you are at the beach, and BigTech is simply not doing a credible job at the lifeguard post.

Marc Ginsberg served as US Ambassador to Morocco under President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonHoward Schultz must run as a Democrat for chance in 2020 Trump says he never told McCabe his wife was 'a loser' Harris off to best start among Dems in race, say strategists, donors MORE; he previously served as Deputy Senior Advisor to the President for Middle East Policy, and was a legislative assistant to Sen. Edward Kennedy. He is currently a senior diplomatic adviser to the Counter Extremism Project.