January 12, 2017

#Virtual Caliphate

Defeating ISIL on the Physical Battlefield Is Not Enough

By General Joseph L. Votel, LTC Christina Bembenek, Charles Hans, Jeffery Mouton and Amanda Spencer

Many policymakers, intelligence analysts, and academics believe expelling the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from Mosul and Raqqah is the key to the terrorist group’s defeat and the destruction of its self-declared caliphate. This is only partially correct. Following even a decisive defeat in Iraq and Syria, ISIL will likely retreat to a virtual safe haven – a “virtual caliphate” – from which it will continue to coordinate and inspire external attacks as well as build a support base until the group has the capability to reclaim physical territory. This virtual caliphate is a distorted version of the historic Islamic caliphate: It is a stratified community of Muslims who are led by a caliph (currently Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), aspire to participate in a state governed by sharia, and are located in the global territory of cyberspace.

Several aspects of the current sociopolitical environment create a fertile atmosphere for a virtual caliphate. Decades of border disputes, violent conflict, and shifting refugee populations have left millions of Muslims without a clear national identity. ISIL’s virtual caliphate offers them citizenship free from terrestrial constraints, which can be accessed from anywhere in the world. Disaffected Muslims seeking community and purpose can find these in ISIL’s caliphate. ISIL’s alluring and dynamic caliphate narrative is steeped in religion and history and promises the restoration of dignity and might. Members need not commit violent acts or immigrate to a distant land to join the caliphate; they need only to favor the idea of an Islamic state governed by sharia and click “like” to express their support and membership in the virtual caliphate. Moreover, the ubiquity of technology in daily life and the insatiable need to be online at all times make it easy, even natural, for virtual caliphate members to operate and exist comfortably in the cyber domain.

Decades of border disputes, violent conflict, and shifting refugee populations have left millions of Muslims without a clear national identity. ISIL’s virtual caliphate offers them citizenship free from terrestrial constraints, which can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

ISIL has exploited the environment and the flexibility of the internet to continually rewrite the caliphate’s rules and narrative to suit its goals and current situation. Unconstrained due to a lack of clear Quranic guidelines for a caliphate, ISIL creates and broadcasts its own self-promoting doctrine. After initially calling caliphate members in 2014 to serve as mujahedeen in Iraq and Syria, ISIL leaders reversed course in 2016 and encouraged fighters to carry out attacks in their home countries. ISIL also has expanded its caliphate narrative to include a wide range of options for participation: membership includes everyone from the passive observer reading a blog or curiously following a Twitter feed, to the keyboard jihadist editing Rumiyah or hacking a website, to the real-world operators attacking a nightclub or running down holiday celebrants with a delivery truck.

As we defeat ISIL on the physical battlefield, we must ensure we are postured to prevail on the virtual battlefield as well. ISIL’s virtual caliphate has progressed beyond strictly propaganda or recruitment efforts. It is about more than the proliferation of ideas; it is about the proliferation of action and of violence. With a carefully crafted and dynamic narrative, ISIL has exploited the sociopolitical environment and young adults’ obsession with technology to establish a growing community in the ungoverned territory of cyberspace. In this way, ISIL has ensured its ability to continue coordinating and inspiring violence, even as the United States and our coalition partners seek to expel it from physical strongholds in Mosul and Raqqah. Regardless of ISIL’s capacity to legitimize a purely virtual caliphate, the group’s proven ability to exploit the evolving virtual realm demands a comprehensive response that focuses on the multiple factors whose confluence forms the virtual caliphate.

Societal Shifts Support the Caliphate’s Evolution

Current sociopolitical challenges to citizenship and the increasingly pervasive nature of technology in daily life are creating a favorable atmosphere for a virtual caliphate. Paired with ISIL’s dynamic narrative, this environment could drive the caliphate’s evolution from a land-based domain to a cloud-based community.

The evolving virtual caliphate is enabled in part by growing challenges to national identity and citizenship in the Muslim world. The last 15 years of persistent conflict, paired with revolutions and instability throughout the Middle East, have perpetuated historic disputes over state borders and revitalized longstanding grievances. Western states, regional governments, militias, and ethnic populations argue the necessity of redrawing borders and creating new states, yet fail even to agree on an approach.Moreover, an unprecedented number of refugees – over 25.4 million – are placing tremendous strain on already fragile government institutions and services and are further blurring ethnic composition and national identities.2

Simultaneously, a rise in populism in both the United States and Europe has created a difficult environment for the successful integration and inclusion of Muslims in society.3 As a result, many young people are growing up in areas without clear governmental authority, a cohesive national identity, or the feeling that they are valued members of a community. This makes them more susceptible to recruitment by an organization that promises to fill these gaps by offering a sense of order, a cohesive community bound by Islam, and a named state yearning for their citizenship – the Islamic State.

Although ISIL’s goal remains the manifestation of the caliphate through physical territory, the virtual realm offers an opportunity to maintain a “legitimate” caliphate and acquire new members while the struggle on land continues. This virtual caliphate may clash with traditional notions of statehood and governance, but it would not be the first attempt at creating a virtual state. In a January 2015 article, Eric B. Schnurer discussed Estonia’s experiment with virtual citizenship and governance, noting the country “took the unprecedented step of offering any person in the world a chance to become an Estonian e-resident.”4 Moreover, Schnurer states that further evolution of this model “would allow Estonia to continue operating as a state even if its physical territory were ever seized.”5

By harnessing the significant social network the group has developed over the past two years, ISIL could further develop its community of e-citizens, promulgate its malicious, radical ideology, and direct attacks across the globe.

As Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to defeat ISIL’s proto-state in northern Iraq and Syria and disperse the physical caliphate’s primary population, ISIL leadership could look to Estonia’s model of virtual governance. By harnessing the significant social network the group has developed over the past two years, ISIL could further develop its community of e-citizens, promulgate its malicious, radical ideology, and direct attacks across the globe. 

Another key driver of the virtual caliphate is the ever-increasing incorporation of technology in daily life, which is redefining how the internet intersects with real-world activity and communities. For example, in 2015, 56.8 million people invested countless hours and over $27 billion in a virtually-based competitive activity: fantasy football.6 Since its inception, fantasy football’s popularity has grown across all demographics and spawned a community of loyal adherents with a feverish demand for television shows, magazines, apps, online forums, merchandise, and office parties. For some, fantasy football is more real and more fulfilling than other aspects of their lives, even supplanting employment and personal relationships.7

ISIL also is able to capitalize on society’s evolving propensity to integrate online activities into the real world, in part due to the phenomenon of social media. In his article published in Perspectives on Terrorism, J.M. Berger notes, “while the introduction of technologies such as the printing press or the telephone separately enabled either instant communication or community discovery, social media enables both simultaneously, incredibly multiplying the effect of radical messaging.”Exemplifying this concept is the success ISIL enjoyed from the significant migration to its physical caliphate during its first year. The migration was primarily achieved through online publications resonating with disenfranchised Muslims, indicating the power of ISIL’s messaging campaign to inspire online actors to conduct real-world activities.9

Concurrently, generational shifts are enabling a new standard of normalcy not only for online activity but also for online identity. Younger generations are increasingly identifying with who they are online, resulting from a paradox of physical isolation despite an incessant information and communication flow.10 According to Dr. Jim Taylor in Psychology Today, “the goal for many now in their use of social media becomes how they can curry acceptance, popularity, status, and, by extension, self-esteem through their profiles and postings.”11 ISIL exploits this search for meaningful identity by promising to restore dignity and might to all members of the caliphate and by offering innumerable ways in which individuals can participate in the caliphate online and be recognized for their actions.12 Thus, young Muslim men and women, both those living in the tumultuous Middle East and those struggling to find their identity abroad, may find personal fulfilment and purpose in the virtual caliphate.

Adaptive Narrative Drives the Caliphate’s Allure 

Another factor driving the evolution of the virtual caliphate is ISIL’s willingness and ability to adapt its narrative to continually portray a strong, prosperous, and vibrant caliphate, even if this means rewriting the rules or redefining success. According to J.M. Berger, “In some ways, this virtual ‘caliphate’ is arguably more compelling than living the real thing, since its auteurs have the option of staging its storyline carefully and omitting anything negative.”13 

Cyberspace allows ISIL to deftly turn tactical defeats on the battlefield into glorious martyrdom operations that highlight the bravery and commitment of its fighters. Even the loss of territory and the deaths of key leaders feed propaganda efforts that are used to prove the resiliency of the caliphate. For example, four months before he was killed in August 2016, ISIL spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani published the following message: “Do you think victory is achieved by killing one or more leaders? Do you believe that defeat means losing a city or land? Oh America, you could be declared victors and the mujahedeen losers only in one case: the moment you succeed in removing the Quran from the hearts of Muslims.”14 Ultimately, if ISIL redefines “territory” as the heart of every Muslim who supports its caliphate venture online – as opposed to devastated cities in Iraq and Syria – then the virtual caliphate is already gaining ground. 

Cyberspace allows ISIL to deftly turn tactical defeats on the battlefield into glorious martyrdom operations that highlight the bravery and commitment of its fighters. 

The success of a virtual caliphate also relies on a strong yet flexible narrative to confirm its legitimacy and enable its leaders to inspire, direct, and sustain its members. Fortunately for ISIL, most Islamic scripture does not outline the territorial requirements for a caliphate, and even the qualifications for the caliph himself are vague and open to interpretation and manipulation.15 In his article, “The Caliphate Attempted,” Nibras Kazimi states, “to the extent that we can speak about Sunni doctrine on the caliphate, it is based exclusively on precedent. However, the practices and principles of caliphal rule—including everything from the method and criteria by which a caliph is chosen, to how a caliph chooses to exercise his prerogatives—have fluctuated widely over the course of Islamic history.”16 Consequently, this has allowed ISIL to selectively interpret various Muslim jurists’ writings and opinions and publish the group’s own treatises to justify the creation of an Islamic state and the selection of its caliph.17

In June 2014, ISIL outlined its initial caliphate narrative in the first edition of Dabiq, “Return of the Khilafah,” which rooted the new caliphate in Islamic history, symbolism, and doctrine. Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the caliphate on the first day of Ramadan, adopted the same black battle flag the Prophet Muhammad used at Mecca, and assured the people that the caliphate would triumph in the final apocalyptic battle at the city of Dabiq as prophesied in the Hadith. Furthermore, he claimed the caliphate would restore “dignity, might, rights, and leadership” to Muslims across the world and would ultimately encompass Caucasians, Indians, Chinese, Iraqis, Syrians, and even Americans.18 ISIL has broadcast this narrative across multiple publications, social media outlets, and discussion boards, effectively using its members as amplifiers and accreditors.

In the face of this force-multiplying effect of ISIL’s adaptive narrative, even concerted efforts by Muslim clerics largely have failed to undermine ISIL’s caliphate narrative. Following the announcement of the Islamic State in June 2014, a conclave of 120 Muslim clerics and Islamic scholars, to include the Grand Mufti of Egypt, published an open letter to Baghdadi refuting ISIL’s claim of establishing an Islamic caliphate and Baghdadi’s position as its leader.19 Despite these efforts, over 27,000 ISIL aspirants emigrated from 86 countries to areas under ISIL’s control.20 More recently, 1.5 million Muslims gathered in India at the annual South Asian Sunni Muslim summit in December 2015, culminating with 70,000 Muslim clerics issuing a fatwa against global terrorist organizations, specifically stating that ISIL is not an Islamic organization.21 Although these are only two of innumerable fatwas, press releases, sermons, hashtags, etc. condemning ISIL’s ideology, they have not been enough to counteract the sociopolitical environment described previously that lends credence to ISIL’s narrative and draws disaffected Muslims to the cause. 

Dual Pressures Create the Community

Enabled by societal shifts and ISIL’s adaptive narrative, the members of the virtual caliphate compose a fluid and evolving online community produced by two pressures within the Islamic world (See Figure 1). The smallest portion of this community is ISIL officials exerting top-down pressure to set the narrative, establish guidelines for the community, and coordinate real-world operations.22 Through carefully crafted, professional propaganda and outreach, ISIL leaders create a shared online experience focused on providing a sense of purpose and belonging to a utopian community with an apocalyptic vision.23 Bottom-up pressure occurs as disaffected Muslims seek a communal sense of purpose and belonging through virtual involvement in ISIL’s caliphate venture. 

Figure 1: Varying Degrees of Support for ISIL among Muslim Internet Users

ISIL OfficialsReal-World Actors"Keyboard Jihadists"Benign FansPassive ObserversNon-Supporters
Core leaders, senior operatives, and media apparatus

Provincial leaders and media officials
ISIL members engaged online

External operatives using virtual tools to perform or assist attack planning and execution

Individuals motivated to conduct attacks as a result of online engagement
Online actors who ascribe to ISIL's vision

Intentionally support ISIL through online actions (i.e., sharing propaganda, recruiting on forums, hacker activity, etc.)
Online actors interested in/attracted to ISIL and/or caliphate establishment

Occasionally share propaganda, engage in forum discussions, etc.
Dormant, curious online spectators

Includes undecided audience ISIL seeks to attract
Internet users who do not agree with ISIL or its method of establishing a caliphate

While the majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are not ISIL supporters, ISIL’s ability to virtually engage large swaths of this population drives varying degrees of participation in the virtual caliphate: non-supporters, passive observers, benign fans, “keyboard jihadists,” real-world actors, and the previously discussed ISIL officials. The non-supporters are Muslim internet users who, though they may be attracted to the idea of a caliphate governed by sharia, disagree completely with ISIL’s barbaric methods and extremist ideology.24 This group is not part of the virtual caliphate, but they are still within the reach of ISIL’s propaganda or narrative, just as all internet users are still subject to unsolicited messages, posts, and stories from friends and relatives. 

Passive observers are those Muslims who are undecided about ISIL’s legitimacy, appropriateness, or ability to lead an Islamic caliphate. However, they are curious about the concept and are drawn to the multiple social media platforms propagating ISIL’s caliphate narrative. ISIL recruiters target this population to gradually draw them into the virtual caliphate. Benign fans, enticed by the idea of a global caliphate and the attractiveness of belonging to a popular group, may merely read ISIL’s flashy publications and engage in forum discussions. Although they may not be willing to take further steps to engage in online or real-world activity that provides more tangible benefits to ISIL, benign fans play a key role in spreading propaganda and bolstering the expansiveness of the virtual caliphate, thus making it a more socially acceptable and appealing community.25 

Unlike benign fans, keyboard jihadists actively recruit, create, and disseminate propaganda, and engage in hacking efforts online.26 In The Call to Global Islamic Resistance, Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, the infamous al-Qaeda–affiliated jihadist ideologue and a key architect of the global jihadist movement’s long-term strategy, states that those who do not want to participate in violence still play an important role in the jihad through the media and information battle.27 This is reinforced by the popular article “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad,” which references waging “electronic jihad” through involvement on discussion boards and efforts to hack into enemy networks.28 

The final and most dangerous group is the real-world actors. These professed ISIL followers both facilitate and carry out terrorist attacks in the name of the caliphate. ISIL officials direct some of these external operations, while other attacks are merely inspired by the caliphate narrative. These real-world actors know that a successful attack, or even a foiled attempt, may earn them a spot in ISIL’s sophisticated online magazines Dabiq and Rumiyah and name recognition among millions of Muslims. For example, the Orlando nightclub attacker is praised four times in Dabiq, Issue 15, which describes him as “one of the soldiers of the Caliphate in America, [who] carried out … the most deadly attack in America since the Manhattan raid 15 years ago.”29 The virtual caliphate’s community is thus self-sustaining as keyboard jihadists send out photos and posts across the internet praising these types of attacks, benign fans repost and debate the attack’s merits, and people from all groups are recruited to the cause or inspired to do more while ISIL officials celebrate the effortless and free publicity. 

The Virtual Caliphate Will Remain a Persistent Threat

As ISIL’s caliphate continues to evolve in response to a changing physical environment and societal pressures, the community may shift toward one of two extremes, but the threat will remain. If ISIL can harness the advantages of operating in the virtual realm, it could legitimize a completely virtual entity as the totality of its caliphate venture with no need for a geographic counterpart. A completely virtual caliphate likely would manifest itself in the form of an expanded, transnational terrorist threat from dispersed but loyal operators. 

Alternatively, the caliphate may succumb to the virtual realm’s tendency toward decentralization with ISIL unable to maintain authority over its virtual community. A decentralized virtual community, with weakened direction from the caliph, could still connect like-minded individuals across the globe with common goals of re-establishing the caliphate and carrying out terrorist attacks against the West. Indeed, such a scenario would align with Abu Mus’ab al-Suri’s call for individuals to “self-recruit and become independent terrorists.”30

If ISIL can harness the advantages of operating in the virtual realm, it could legitimize a completely virtual entity as the totality of its caliphate venture with no need for a geographic counterpart.

The United States must develop a long-term strategy that focuses on both the top-down and bottom-up pressures that have created this unique threat. This strategy must include unprecedented intergovernmental cooperation and coordination as well as close collaboration with foreign partners, nongovernmental organizations, and private industry. The military, intelligence agencies, and law enforcement are well-positioned to combat the top-down pressure exerted by ISIL leaders and their operatives. However, the United States must address the policy and technological challenges that prevent effective information sharing. This involves better cooperation and sharing with U.S. foreign military partners and law enforcement as well as comprehensive coordination of our social media strategies and other efforts in cyberspace. 

Addressing the bottom-up pressures will be much more difficult, but arguably more important, as the United States seeks creative solutions to resolve the geopolitical and socioeconomic issues within the region that drive people toward violent extremist ideologies. Regionally-led and U.S.-backed reconstruction efforts and initiatives to strengthen government institutions are a critical component of this strategy. Reconstruction also may contribute to increased opportunities for employment and education. The United States should also assist and encourage efforts such as the Islamic Coalition, a group of 34 predominately Muslim nations formed to fight the “disease” of Islamic extremism.31 Partnerships such as this are invaluable to developing effective means to protect young people from radicalization and to spread positive alternative narratives to ISIL’s malevolent story. As the Department of Defense looks for new ways to disrupt ISIL’s internet presence, private industry is already developing algorithms and partnering with law enforcement to remove dangerous and discredited statements and videos from social media.32 

Finally, it is critical that U.S. leaders and citizens distinguish between the religion of Islam and the extremists who misrepresent and distort the faith. Denigrating Muslims only strengthens the extremists’ narrative that underpins their false caliphate. This is a generational fight that requires us to work across our society and with our international partners to reaffirm the values of human rights, tolerance, and liberty to effect a lasting defeat of ISIL’s “virtual caliphate.”

Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank the intelligence analysts at DIA, NCTC, EUCOM, and SOCOM who reviewed the initial research and provided valuable insights. They also thank the West Point Counter Terrorism Center (CTC) for their review and substantive feedback. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors alone and do not represent official Department of Defense policy.

Endnotes

  1. Marina Ottaway, “Does the Middle East Need New Borders?” Foreign Affairs, September 14, 2014, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2016-04-14/does-middle-east-need-new-borders; and Jeffrey Goldberg, “The New Map of the Middle East: Why Should We Fight the Inevitable Break Up of Iraq?” The Atlantic, June 19, 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/06/the-new-map-of-the-middle-east/373080/.
  2. UNHCR, “Figures at a Glance,” The UN Refugee Agency, June 20, 2016, http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html.
  3. Fareed Zakaria, "Populism on the March: Why the West Is in Trouble," Foreign Affairs, November 18, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2016-10-17/populism-march.
  4. Eric Schnurer, “E-Stonia and the Future of the Cyberstate: Virtual Governments Come Online,” Foreign Affairs, January 28, 2015, www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/eastern-europe-caucasus/2015-01-28/e-stonia-and-future-cyberstate.
  5. Ibid.
  6. John Affleck, “What’s behind fantasy football’s surprising popularity?” Fortune, September 12, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/09/12/fantasy-football-growth/.
  7. Mark St. Amant, Confessions of a Fantasy Football Junkie (New York: Scribner, 2004); and Nadia Kounang, “The Time-Sucking, Dopamine-Boosting Science of Fantasy Football,” CNN, March 18, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/18/health/fantasy-sports-psychology/index.html.
  8. J.M. Berger, “The Metronome of Apocalyptic Time: Social Media as a Carrier Wave for Millenarian Contagion,Perspectives on Terrorism, vol. 9, no. 4 (2015), 65.
  9. Al Jazeera, “CIA Says IS Numbers Underestimated,” Al Jazeera, September 12, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/09/cia-triples-number-islamic-state-fighters-201491232912623733.html.
  10. Bruce Tulgan, Meet Generation Z: The Second Generation Within the Giant “Millennial” Cohort (Rainmaker Thinking Inc., 2013), www.rainmakerthinking.com/assets/uploads/2013/10/Gen-Z-Whitepaper.pdf.
  11. Jim Taylor, Ph.D., “Technology: Is Technology stealing our (self) identities?” Psychology Today, July 27, 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201107/technology-is-technology-stealing-our-self-identities.
  12. Al-Furqan,“Khilafah Declared,” Dabiq, vol. 1, June 2014, http://media.clarionproject.org/files/09-2014/isis-isil-islamic-state-magazine-Issue-1-the-return-of-khilafah.pdf.
  13. Berger, “The Metronome of Apocalyptic Time: Social Media as a Carrier Wave for Millenarian Contagion,” 65.
  14. Paul Cruickshank, “Orlando Shooting Follows ISIS Call for U.S. Ramadan Attacks,” CNN, June 13, 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/06/13/us/orlando-shooting-isis-ramadan-attacks/index.html; and Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “Death of Senior Leader al-Adnani Caps Bad Month for ISIS,” CNN, August 30, 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/08/30/world/isis-setbacks-adnani-death/index.html.
  15. Nibras Kazimi, “The Caliphate Attempted(The Hudson Institute, July 2008), http://www.hudson.org/content/researchattachments/attachment/1322/kazimi_vol. 7.pdf, 11.
  16.  Ibid.
  17. Kazimi, “The Caliphate Attempted,11. Al-Furqan, “Khilafah Declared.”
  18. Al-Furqan, “Khilafah Declared.”
  19. The Wilson Center, “Muslims Against ISIS Part 1: Clerics and Scholars(The Wilson Center, September 14, 2014), https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/muslims-against-isis-part-1-clerics-scholars.
  20.  The Soufan Group, “An Updated Assessment on the Flow of Foreign Fighters to Iraq and Syria” (The Soufan Group, December 7, 2015), http://soufangroup.com/foreign-fighters/.
  21. Carolyn Mortimer, “70,000 Clerics Issue Fatwa Against ISIL, the Taliban, al-Qaida and Other Terrorist Groups,” The Independent, December 10, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/70000-indian-muslim-clerics-issue-fatwa-against-isis-the-taliban-al-qaida-and-other-terror-groups-a6768191.html.
  22. Charlie Winter, ”Documenting the Virtual ‘Caliphate’” (Quilliam Foundation, October 2015), http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/FINAL-documenting-the-virtual-caliphate.pdf, 19-21.
  23. J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan, “The ISIS Twitter Census: Defining and Describing the Population of ISIS Supporters on Twitter,” The Brookings Project on US Relations with the Islamic World (Center for Middle East Policy, March 2015), https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/isis_twitter_census_berger_morgan.pdf, 62.
  24. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics, and Society,” (Pew Research Center, April 30, 2013), http://www.pewforum.org/files/2013/04/worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-full-report.pdf; Arab Opinion Project, “The Military Campaign Against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant: Arab Public Opinion” (Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, November 11, 2014), http://english.dohainstitute.org/file/Get/40ebdf12-8960-4d18-8088-7c8a077e522e; and David Pollock, “ISIS Has Almost No Popular Support in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Lebanon,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 14, 2015.
  25. Winter, ”Documenting the Virtual ‘Caliphate,’” 18.
  26. Winter, ”Documenting the Virtual ‘Caliphate,’” 36–37.
  27. Akil Awan, “The Virtual Jihad: An Increasingly Legitimate Form of Warfare,” CTC Sentinel, May 3, 2010, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-virtual-jihad-an-increasingly-legitimate-form-of-warfare.
  28. Muhammad bin Ahmad as-Salim, “39 Ways to Serve and participate in Jihad,” At Tibyan Publications, September 2003, https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/isa-al-awshin-39-ways-to-serve-and-participate-in-jihad.pdf.
  29. Al-Furqan, “Islamic State Operations,” Dabiq, vol. 15, July 2016, http://www.clarionproject.org/factsheets-files/islamic-state-magazine-dabiq-fifteen-breaking-the-cross.pdf.
  30. M.W. Masoud, Zackie, “An Analysis of Abu Musab al-Suri’s Call to Global Islamic Resistance,” Journal of Strategic Security, vol. 6, no 1 (2013), 1.
  31. Ed Payne and Salma Abdelaziz, “Muslim Nations Form Coalition to Fight Terror, Call Islamic Extremism ‘Disease,’” CNN, December 22, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/14/middleeast/islamic-coalition-isis-saudi-arabia/index.html.
  32. Jessica Guynn and Elizabeth Weise, “Twitter Suspends 125,000 ISIL-Related Accounts,” USA Today, February 5, 2016, http://usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2016/02/05/twitter-suspends-125000-isil-related-accounts/79889892/; and Nick Wingfield, Mike Isaac, and Katie Benner, “Google and Facebook Take Aim at Fake News Sites,” The New York Times, November 14, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/technology/google-will-ban-websites-that-host-fake-news-from-using-its-ad-service.html. 
  • General Joseph L. Votel

    13th Commander of U.S. Central Command

    General Joseph L. Votel is the 13th Commander of U.S. Central Command. Before assuming command of CENTCOM in March of 2016, he served as the Commander of U.S. Special Operatio...

  • LTC Christina Bembenek

    Branch Chief for U.S. Central Command’s Operational Assessments Group

    Lieutenant Colonel Christina Bembenek is the Branch Chief for U.S. Central Command’s Operational Assessments Group. She has served with the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade...

  • Charles Hans

    Department of Defense Senior Intelligence Officer for U.S. Central Command’s Operational Assessments Group

    Charles Hans is the Department of Defense Senior Intelligence Officer for U.S. Central Command’s Operational Assessments Group. He previously served in senior analytic and adv...

  • Jeffery Mouton

    Senior Intelligence Analyst, U.S. Central Command

    Jeffrey Mouton is the Department of Defense Senior Intelligence Analyst for U.S. Central Command’s Operational Assessments Group. A graduate of the University of Louisiana, he...

  • Amanda Spencer

    Next Generation National Security Fellow, 2015, Department of Defense intelligence analyst, U.S. Central Command’s Operational Assessments Group

    Amanda Spencer is a Department of Defense intelligence analyst for U.S. Central Command’s Operational Assessments Group. She previously served in various analytic roles for th...

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia