The Wizard War 2007
Rusty Shackleford looks at the storm brewing around a Jihadi website called Inshallashshaheed. It's operated by a person whose identity Shackleford was long aware of, but kept secret both for ethical reasons and because it was the subject of an ongoing investigation by the FBI. However, the New York Times decided to run a piece essentially outing Inshallashshaheed and Rusty is not happy. "I've known about this piece for a few weeks and wrote the NY Times to ask Moss not to run it. No reply from the Times. While we appreciate Moss's commitment to spreading the word about the Internet Jihad, we really wish he would have consulted with us on the matter." The site is operated by an American who Rusty describes as a traitor, in the sense that he "openly supports the enemies of the United States in a time of war." And the issue that Shackleford raises is whether it should have been outed at all.
Readers may recall the post, "It's a Small World" which came out six days ago where I commented on MSM accusations that the White House had compromised the surveillance of a website being monitored by private counter-terrorists by distributing a video of Osama Bin Laden that had been abstracted from it. It's the very same thing that Shackleford is now accusing the New York Times of doing. In that post I wrote that it is sometimes better to keep an enemy website open.
the "nuclear bomb" dropped by the Burmese authorities on their cyber-dissidents [by shutting down ISP's] may paradoxically be far less destructive than the strategy tacitly adopted by the United States: that of infiltrating the enemy Internet sites and performing logical operations on them.
Sometimes. In "It's a Small World", I concluded that the public release of the Osama video may have harmed intelligence interests but it may have not. It all depended on factors that I had no way of knowing. There's an optimal time to close down a particular Jihadi website based on considerations best not discussed. Unfortunately, as Rusty Shackleford has discovered, on a publicly accessible network like the Internet there always exists the possibility of someone cutting in and doing it for you. In this case the New York Times may have shut down a gold mine. I'd only like to add that since Inshallashshaheed has opened under a new alias, according to Rusty Shackleford, the goldmine is still giving, although not in the same way.
Readers may wonder why it isn't possible to publish a nice set of guidelines on when it is proper to "out" an enemy website so that we can all agree on the right thing to do. The difficulty is that in this shadow game, where signals [you can think of Inshallashshaheed as being a bundle of signals on many levels] are constantly being detected, analyzed, spoofed, distorted, and played back the "right action" is often based on the particulars of the situation. Think about it is this way. Everyone knows that by forcing the enemy into emissions control he gains and he loses. And you gain as well as lose. How much each side gains or loses is for you to know and for him to find out. So if you are monitoring his emissions undetected or seeing things in his signals he may not realize you are seeing there is a case for keeping him on the air, fat dumb and happy. But there are situations where you want him to shut down and go into another mode, which is governed by a different set of pros and cons. Which is best? It depends.
But for a newspaper like the New York Times those operational factors are probably missing from the calculus. For most newspapers the only question is probably whether the story will attract readers. A newspaper is a business after all. Will they hold back from other considerations? I'd like to say "it depends", but the honest answer is "I just don't know".