April 30, 2008

Calling All Readers: RFI

So Abu Muqawama got into a semi-public argument with one of the world's leading al-Qaeda experts today about a subject he wants you guys to weigh in on. Basically, Abu Muqawama advanced what he did not think a controversial proposition: that the internet is used by terror groups and guerrilla groups to spread TTPs -- tactics, techniques, and procedures.

The world-famous al-Qaeda expert, meanwhile, rubbished this claim. He said that while the internet was certainly central to the radicalization process, you need an actual physical space to spread tactics and know-how. He then challenged Abu Muqawama to come up with an example where a terror group had either used the internet to plan an attack or had used the internet to spread tactics.

Okay, so Abu Muqawama's RFI (Request For Information) is two-fold. One, who out there smart on diffusion theories -- that would be you, Mike, and you, Erin -- can either support or dispute the claim that the internet has been used to spread tactics? All the diffusion literature Abu Muqawama has read is a little dated in its case studies and examples. The best example Abu Muqawama can come up with is the way in which different terror/guerrilla groups have all begun to use Google Earth to target sites from Israel to Iraq. But did the internet drive that diffusion?

Two, who do you think is right here? Abu Muqawama or the famous (and very intelligent) al-Qaeda expert? Because Abu Muqawama trotted out Thomas Rid's line about digital natives versus digital immigrants and how younger U.S. Army officers have used sites like platoonleader.org to go around the traditional top-down lessons learned process. And let Abu Muqawama tell you: this esteemed expert did not like being called a digital immigrant -- with all the you're-too-old-and-I'm-young-and-hip connotations that go along with it. But Abu Muqawama thinks he's right. Folks over a certain age are much less likely to intuitively understand the way in which younger people -- digital natives -- share information and use the internet.