Thursday, July 12, 2007

Out of Montana

What happens when a mother of three and small town municipal judge decides to take on the online Jidhad? Shannen Rossmiller tells the story of how she helped unmask a number of malefactors, including some who were seeking to acquire Stinger missiles and finally track down a renegade in the US National Guard. Viewed from one perspective, it is a fascinating case study of the private citizen warrior, embarked on what Rossmiller called her own "counterJihad".

Before 9-11, I had no experience with the Middle East or the Arabic language. I was a mother of three and a municipal judge in a small town in Montana. But the terrorist attacks affected me deeply. ... I began to read vociferously [voraciously] about Islam, terrorism, extremist groups, and Islamist ideology. ...

This housewife found she could fight her private war from a computer keyboard. Her first step was visit and learn all she could about Jihadi websites.

In November 2001, I saw a news report about how terrorists and their sympathizers communicated on websites and Internet message boards and how limited government agencies were in their ability to monitor these web communications. This news report showed me how extensively Al-Qaeda used the Internet to orchestrate 9-11 and how out of touch our intelligence agencies were regarding this Internet activity. Apparently, there were not procedures in place for tracking communications and activity on the Al-Qaeda websites and Internet forums at the time.

So she invented her own procedures. But as she ghosted through the websites and forums, she realized that any further progress required a knowledge of Arabic. Nothing daunted, Rosssmiller set out to learn Arabic. And she did. Over the Internet, from a Cairo language academy.



Early in January 2002, I began taking an Arabic language course online for eight weeks from the Cairo-based Arab Academy, which, that autumn, I supplemented with an intensive Arabic course at the State University of New York at Buffalo. As I learned more Arabic, the jihadi websites opened for me. Certain individuals stood out for either their radicalism or the information that they sent. I followed and tracked these individuals and kept notebooks detailing each website and person of interest.

Soon Rossmiller grew skilled enough to pick out the signature style of individuals and successfully impersonate a Jihadi. If on the Internet nobody knew if you were a dog, it might be equally possible for a mom of three to convince her quarry she was a terrorist looking to hook up.

I created my first terrorist cover identity on the Internet on March 13, 2002, to communicate and interact with these targets. In my first chat room sting, I convinced a Pakistani man that I was an Islamist arms dealer. When he offered to sell me stolen U.S. Stinger missiles to help the jihadists fighting the U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, I used the Persian Gulf dialect of Arabic to ask him to provide me with information that I could use to confirm his claims, such as stock numbers. Within a couple of weeks, the missile identification numbers were in my computer inbox.

Stock numbers and the e-mail correspondence in hand, I intended to drive to the closest field office for the FBI here in Montana but was afraid that the FBI would not take me seriously. What were the chances of a Montana mom showing up at their door with information about an individual in Pakistan who was trying to sell Stinger missiles? Instead, I submitted the information to the FBI's online tips site.

A few days later, I received a telephone call from an FBI agent from New Jersey who proceeded to question me. It felt like an interrogation. Several days later, the same agent called to thank me and say that the stock number information for the Stingers did match some of the information that the government had about the missiles.

Encouraged by this success, I continued to communicate with these jihadis online and proceeded to gather more information. Using various Muslim personalities and theatrics for cover, I began monitoring the jihadist chat rooms into the early hours of the morning while my family slept. Plunging in, I started making headway into the world of counterterrorism.

Rossmiller went on to detect early warnings of a bombing attack against expatriates in Saudi Arabia and was even asked -- in 2003 -- to courier some money for Saddam's fedayeen in Jordan. But not all the homes burning the midnight oil in America belonged to individuals fighting for their country. Some of the nocturnal denizens haunting the Internet were bent on selling out their country for gain or out of hatred. At some point Rossmiller's path and theirs were bound to cross.

It was soon afterwards that I learned that I was not the only American surfing the chat rooms. In October 2004, while monitoring Arabic Islamist websites for threat-related information and activity, I saw a message posted in English by a man calling himself Amir Abdul Rashid. He said he was a Muslim convert who "was in a position to take things to the next level in the fight against our enemy (the U.S. government)." He further requested that someone from the mujahideen contact him for details. I was suspicious because Rashid posted his message in English on an Arabic website and was openly seeking contact from the mujahideen. I traced his IP address back to an area outside of Seattle, Washington. Over time, it also became apparent to me that he was a member of the U.S. military.

With the Montana mom aware of him the net slowly closed. Rashid turned out to be Spec. Ryan G. Anderson, whose National Guard unit was scheduled to deploy to Iraq. Anderson was hawking the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the M1-AI and M1-A2 Abrams tanks as well as U.S. troop locations in Iraq. The price for this success was the end Rossmiller's anonymity. Called to testify at Anderson's trial, Rossmiller's modus operandi and identity were revealed in court records. Her cloak stripped away, the hunter soon became the hunted.

After the media picked up my identity at Anderson's Article 32 hearing in May 2004, I received numerous threats and, on December 5, 2004, someone stole my car out of my family's garage. It was later found wrecked two counties away from my home, riddled with bullet holes. As a result, I now have permanent security.

There's more. And if you want to know of her other exploits you should as they say, read the whole thing.

Ironically if Rossmiller had been engaged in important sleuthing such as uncovering whether Scooter Libby had talked about Valerie Plame before or after Richard Armitage instead of the trivial pursuit of hunting down terrorists intent on mass murder or traitors selling their country's secrets, her story might already be the subject of a blockbuster movie instead of the obscure pages of Middle East Forum. Rossmiller would be on the Good Morning America and Oprah shows, pulling in money instead of shelling it out for personal security.

Yet her saga is more than a cultural commentary on our times. It also illustrates the largely unrecorded exploits of individuals who are fighting the Jihad on their own time and dime. Wearing a wire for the FBI. Tracking down Jihadi training camps in rural America. Translating documents. Jamming terrorist sites. Raising the alarm. Baking cookies for the troops. It's a story of the gaps in the official warfighting apparatus and the enterprise that quietly fills them in. It is a perfectly 21st century story; a tale of networked counterinsurgency. But it is also a story from the past: of the 18th century idea of a nation in arms, not literally perhaps -- the keyboard is probably a more common weapon -- but of people's war, something that shocked the Continent when the French revolution brought it into European existence.

This perhaps, is Osama Bin Laden's saddest contribution to history. Not that he should make war upon the nations, but that he has raised the nations, right down to their living rooms and front porches, to make war upon him and his.

14 Comments:

Blogger Doug said...

Al-Qaeda on the Run: Feasting on the Moveable Beast

In appearance, few might suspect that Abu Ali would stand up to the American military. In talking with the soft-spoken Abu Ali, his manner is similar to that of experienced American combat leaders. He is direct and clear in his speech (through an interpreter), and his intelligence is evident. An intelligent enemy who knows the dangers—who is not part of an insane death-cult promising 72 virgins and eternity with God to martyrs—and yet stands his ground against Americans over a long period, must possess great courage and annealed strength. Even among enemies, those qualities command grudging respect. I told one man in the back of the Stryker that after standing his ground with the Americans and surviving this long, al Qaeda was hopeless when Abu Ali and the 1920s shifted their martial attentions.


The Stryker stopped in Buhriz. The ramp dropped and Abu Ali, LT David Wallach and LTC Fred Johnson dismounted, along with Talal, the courageous AP stringer. I asked Abu Ali if I could videotape him for Americans to see. On camera, he demonstrated the media savvy of a NASCAR driver, and managed to effect the same dynamic mix of confidence and humility. Through moral corruption, al Qaeda lost support then alienated a persuasive, courageous communicator, who can directly inhibit their ability to survive another day.

Ali said people had been afraid in their own homes because of al Qaeda.

I asked if he had fought Americans and Ali laughed and said through Wallach,
“What kind of question is that?”
I chuckled.


Unfortunately, we had to go to other meetings, so the time for taping was short. In closing, I asked Abu Ali if there was something he would like to say to Americans. The markets that had been closed under al Qaeda were bustling around us.

Ali thought for a moment as some local people tried to interrupt him with greetings, and he said, “I ask one thing,” and now I paraphrase Ali’s words:

After the Iraqi Army and Police take hold and the security forces are ready, we want a schedule for the leaving of the American forces.

“I will tell the Americans this,” I said.
Ali seemed satisfied as he went off with another American unit. We loaded back into the Stryker and headed to other interesting meetings on other interesting matters, all dealing with the grinding gears of winning or losing this war, and with catching and killing al Qaeda.

7/12/2007 04:21:00 AM  
Blogger 2164th said...

the stupidity of outing the woman for a trial that should have been a secret affair. How ironic in the light and flare of the Scooter Libby affair. We are ruled by legalistic morons.

7/12/2007 04:27:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Al-Qa'ida has "issued a fatwa against Harry Potter because he demeans masculinity by being the creation of a female author.
Osama bin Laden is planning to blow up the fictional character but will not act until the last book is published, because he wants to find out how it ends."

The final book contains a curse on every author who believes that with Harry Potter gone, their manuscript will be the next big thing.

7/12/2007 04:33:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Yon:
The focus on al Qaeda makes sense here, where local officials have gone on record acknowledging that most of the perhaps one thousand al Qaeda fighters in Baqubah were young men and boys who called the city home.

This may clash with the perception in US and other media that only a small percentage of the enemy in Iraq is al Qaeda, which in turn leads to false conclusions that the massive offensive campaign underway across Iraq is a lot of shock and awe aimed at a straw enemy.

But as more Sunni tribal leaders renounce former ties with al Qaeda, it’s becoming clearer just how heavily AQ relied on local talent, and how disruptive they have been here in fomenting the civil war.

7/12/2007 04:51:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Steve has some interesting links @ Threatswatch:
NIE: al-Qaeda Regrouped, Stronger In Pakistan

7/12/2007 05:50:00 AM  
Blogger falcon_01 said...

Hoorah for her! Too bad the people with the power don't use it to crush the terrorists. Instead they try to make up new PC names for them.

7/12/2007 07:24:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

Doug:

I've always enjoyed your enthusiasm and contributions at BC, but I gotta bust your stones, here.

I think this is the first thread containing multiple comments from you where the topic of Wretchard's post isn't even referenced in passing. You've even dispensed with 'O/T'.

I think this is the first blog-within-a-blog I've encountered.

Please don't take my teasing seriously, 'cause I couldn't count the number of times I've followed your links and enjoyed your comments. And if, after all these years, we regulars can't poke fun at one another occassionally, well, Lord knows I'm a big enough target with my cranky rants . . .

So ends my humble attempt at levity.

7/12/2007 07:54:00 AM  
Blogger 3Case said...

To amplify on the "we are ruled by legalistic morons" riff:

Now in addition to Pajamas Media we have Pajamas CounterIntel and it's no wonder that she got coughed up, she's embarrassed the mainstream CI and done it without logging any points toward retirement or on the federal merit pay system. They have to get rid of her, she demonstrates their true value.

7/12/2007 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Hope Muntz said...

Yes, it's awful that she was be 'outed'. In fact this whole article makes me feel pretty awful. It makes me ashamed that I'm not a real American heroine like her, and that like most people in this country I've just been sitting around expecting other people to fight my wars for me ever since 911.

7/12/2007 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

I find the story dangerous and appalling.

Dangerous because it shows the gap between the State's ability (surely if America's leaders wanted to they could hire many people to do exactly what this woman did, with far greater resources than just one woman). A power abdication will be filled.

And I find it appalling because it seems to me that we are rapidly approaching vigilantism. Government has simply abdicated any realistic role due to the elite's fears/loathing of the people and fear of lots of women and men like Rassmussen having expanded roles. Why, such a person could move up the elite ladder based on merit and ability, not social class and connections! Must not have that.

So, Vigilantism it is. Will it be relatively short-lived and benign, as in the Committees of Vigilance in the 1850's which hung as many Irish gangsters as they could find to make their points, then went home? Or will it be systemic and a parallel government as in the KKK during the 1865-1879 period, and again during 1910-1930 or so? With violent and racial overtones?

I am profoundly disturbed by this story. It seems to me to be a crisis in the making. The woman is brave and admirable. But relying on a few scattered individuals rather than a organized mass levy is not how the West fights and will lead IMHO to disaster and replacement of the Nation-State with ... well a populist militarist Nation-State. All because of the corruption of the elites.

7/12/2007 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

A remarkable, uncommonly brilliant, dedicated person.

I too wondered if her activities were made public by professionals whose motive, probably not conscious to themselves, was envy of her effectiveness.

A less cynical, but still distressing, idea is that the prosecutor was blindly doing what he or she had been taught to do: amass all the evidence to win the case, mindless of any consideration of costs versus benefits.

7/12/2007 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger Christian said...

Wow! I just printed off the story so my wife could read this - this is truly extraordinary! What can we do to help out this lady and her family - maybe even her community? Could we publicize this somehow? Unfreakin-believable!

7/12/2007 03:10:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

OK, Take this, Big Guy!
---
Hawaiian Teen Fujikawa to Turn Pro
(5 Feet Tall!)

Derrick Fujikawa said his son, who was often the smallest kid around, has always been a ''fierce competitor.''

Fujikawa was a fighter from the time he was born -- 3 1/2 months early, so small that he weighed only 1 pound, 15 ounces and could fit into his grandfather's palm. Fujikawa, who had only a 50 percent to live, made it through a series of surgeries the first year, one to reconnect his intestines.

''I try not to think about those days,'' Derrick Fujikawa said. ''He went through a lot. I don't know how he does it, but everything he does he tries his best at. That's the main thing.''

Fujikawa received a sponsor's exemption to the Reno-Tahoe Open, which starts Aug. 2.

Kevin Bell, a partner in the law firm who will serve as his attorney-agent, said Fujikawa will ask for other sponsor exemptions on the PGA Tour or try to qualify on the PGA Tour, Nationwide Tour and in Japan until he finishes high school.

(The sight of him standing next to Tiger must be amazing.)

7/12/2007 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger AtlasShrugs.com said...

The individual is our last hope.

7/18/2007 02:30:00 PM  

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