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Friday, January 23, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 1/23/2015


The diagram above (click to enlarge) shows an ISIS "sleeper" agent's network on Twitter. While there are large and identifiable clusters of ISIS supporters online, the sleeper agent (based in Europe) maintained several secretive accounts with only peripheral connections to obvious ISIS supporters.

The fate of two Japanese hostages threatened with death by the self-styled Islamic State is unclear after the expiration of a 72-hour deadline imposed by the militants for Japan to pay $200 million to secure its citizens' release.

Japanese Mock ISIS with Internet Meme
Japanese Twitter users are defying their country's hostage crisis by mocking ISIS with a nationwide Photoshop battle of satirical images.

Peer pressure not propaganda crucial to IS recruitment: experts
Peer pressure from radicalised fighters in Syria and Iraq is more influential in attracting new recruits from Europe than Islamic State (IS) propaganda, according to British experts. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), in a study to be released next month, found that peer groups and kinships were crucial in luring young fighters, rather than IS videos and Internet messages.

Iraq and its allies have made significant gains in battling militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), killing thousands of fighters and 50 percent of the group's top commanders, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday as an international coalition promised stronger efforts to stop the group and squash the spread of its extremist ideology.

About 10 former French soldiers have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) among the hundreds of French radicals believed to be fighting for the extremist group, France’s defense sources said Wednesday.

"They were looking for paradise, but only found hell." Such is the condition of foreign fighters in Syria, according to a Moroccan analyst. "The Islamic State won't allow them to leave, so they won't be able to tell the world what's really happening." At Agadir Street in Casablanca, people are talking about one local youth who went to Syria to fight for ISIS, only to be killed by the group because he wanted to come home.


Chicago Muslims fight back against militants' recruiting of youths
This month's French tragedy — 17 people killed in attacks sparked by a satirical newspaper's caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad — underscores the importance of how American Muslim parents navigate their children's online curiosity about religion, say local parents, teachers and Islamic leaders.

A British jihadist who spent six months in Syria and faked his death in an attempt to return to the UK undetected has admitted four terrorism offences.

French and European officials will unveil new counter-terrorism measures Wednesday in Brussels, including possible changes to the bloc's Schengen visa-free travel zone, in the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris.

Senior US intelligence official Michael Vickers said Jan. 21 that the United States is continuing attacks on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) despite ongoing violence in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and has an intelligence relationship with the Houthi insurgent group that has seized much of the capital since September.

Greek police have arrested several people over alleged links to a suspected terror plot in Belgium. One of the men is alleged to have been in contact with the cell in Verviers, Belgium, where a shootout with police left two suspects dead on Thursday.


Religious versus sacred in extremism
"The popular media and many in academia often overstate the role that religion, and its supposedly unique qualities, has played in recent acts of terror. In this article, the author argues that the notion of religious violence is unhelpful and that there is a more useful concept that we can utilize to draw out the values and ideas that play a role in the move to violence in both religious and secular groups. ... This framework uses the concept of non-negotiable (or “sacred”) beliefs. It is as applicable to secular as it is to religious groups, and can show us much more about how such beliefs can contribute to violence."

Why We Radicalize
University of Maryland researchers aren’t content with the what of terrorism — they want to tackle the why. It’s the same question that has prompted journalists’ detailed explorations of the Paris attackers' paths to radicalization. A team of three full-time staff members at the terrorism center are trying to move beyond anecdote. They've amassed a data set of more than 1,500 people radicalized to violent and non-violent extremism in the United States since World War II and put them into three categories: Islamist, Far Right, and Far Left. The database — which hasn’t been released publicly — has detailed information about the terrorists' lives and backgrounds, including criminal records, social networks and histories of abuse. The researchers believe it's among the first of its kind.

Ambivalent Warriors: What Americans Think About the Fight Against ISIS
On January 8, the Brookings Project for U.S. Relations with the Islamic World (IWR) convened a panel of Middle East scholars and political experts to discuss American views on the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The analysis centered on the findings of a two-part poll uncovering American perspectives on Middle East conflicts. Also from Brookings this week, a report on CVE in Pakistan.


Pre-order ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. Buy J.M. Berger's book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief


Google searches for Boko Haram outnumbered searches for either al Qaeda or ISIS by an almost unbelievable margin, despite the Paris attacks and despite widespread complaints that its recent string of atrocities (below) is not garnering enough media attention. Searches for al Qaeda outstripped searches for ISIS (under its various names) for the first time since June.


Europe's New Crackdown 

They can take our lives, but can they also take our freedom? The Charlie Hebdo assault in Paris last week is only the latest chapter in a months-long series of attacks, which built in turn on a yearlong escalation of concerns about the extraordinary number of Europeans traveling to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State, al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, and a host of other jihadi groups. 


Be Afraid. Be A Little Afraid: The Threat of Terrorism from Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq 
Many U.S. and European intelligence officials fear that a wave of terrorism will sweep over Europe, driven by the civil war in Syria and continuing instability in Iraq. Many of the concerns stem from the large number of foreign fighters involved. By Daniel Byman and Jeremy Shapiro


Nigeria's Boko Haram: Baga destruction 'shown in images'
Satellite images of Nigerian towns attacked by Boko Haram show widespread destruction and suggest a high death toll, Amnesty International says.

More Than a Dozen Detained in European Counterterrorism Raids
As European investigators moved on a broad front to sweep up suspected radicals, the Belgian police said on Friday that 13 people had been detained in Belgium and two in France after a shootout in which two men believed to be militants were killed.

West Struggles to Halt Flow of Citizens to War Zones
For more than a decade, Western governments have struggled to stem the flow of their citizens traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries. But last week’s commando-style raids in France were deadly reminders that those measures have done relatively little to reduce the threat. The number of people traveling abroad to fight continues to grow, with about 1,000 militant recruits joining the fight in Syria and Iraq each month, according to recent United States government figures.

Boko Haram galvanized activists all over the world last year when it kidnapped hundreds of school girls in Nigeria and threatened to sell them into slavery, but hardly a peep has been uttered since the Al Qaeda-linked army massacred as many as 2,000 people near the Chad border last week.

In the wake of the tragic shootings in Paris, French police and intelligence agencies are being asked to explain why known militants—including one who had visited an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen several years ago—were not subject to intense surveillance before they launched last week’s terrorist attack at the offices of a French satirical weekly.

Belgian operation thwarted 'major terrorist attacks'
A terror cell on the brink of carrying out an attack was the target of a raid Thursday that left two suspects dead, Belgian authorities said. A third suspect was injured and taken into custody in the operation at a building in the eastern city of Verviers, prosecutor's spokesman Thierry Werts told reporters.

College considered booting al Qaida blogger, FBI records show
A batch of newly released FBI records shows that agents weighed turning a former North Carolina al Qaida propagandist, Samir Khan, into an informant while the community college he attended considered expelling him over possible security threats to other students and faculty.

French Rein In Speech Backing Acts of Terror
The French authorities are moving aggressively to rein in speech supporting terrorism, employing a new law to mete out tough prison sentences in a crackdown that is stoking a free-speech debate after last week’s attacks in Paris.
Two journalists from Tunisia have reportedly been executed by an Islamic State group in Libya.

Radicalized youth making pit-stops to earn cash in oil-sands before joining extremist groups such as ISIS: chief
Before heading abroad to join extremist groups like ISIS, some Canadians have been stopping first in northern Alberta to earn money to finance their terrorist activities, the chief of the Edmonton Police Service told the National Post in an interview.

Ohio Man Charged With Plotting ISIS-Inspired Attack on U.S. Capitol
An Ohio man was arrested Wednesday as he neared what authorities say were the final stages of a terror plot to attack the U.S. Capitol with guns and pipe bombs in support of the Islamic State militant group.

Briton Lead Suspect in CENTCOM Twitter Hack
The main suspect in the hacking of the US Central Command is a Briton who spent time in prison for accessing Tony Blair’s personal accounts. Junaid Hussain, who is from Birmingham and is in his early twenties, is believed to be in Syria. Based on what appears to be his Twitter account, he has aligned himself with the jihadi group ISIS.

J.M. Berger joined the BBC to discuss the CENTCOM Twitter hack:

-- Compiled by INTELWIRE Staff 

Pre-order ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. Buy J.M. Berger's book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

DId Zawahiri Order the Hebdo Attack?

Did Ayman al Zawahiri order the Charle Hebdo operation? I can't answer that question definitively, although I have my theories.

Did AQAP today announce that Zawahiri ordered the operation? That I can answer. Here's exactly what Nasr al-Ansi, the AQAP leader who appeared in the video, said (English translation by AQAP, so if someone wants to comment on the Arabic, hit me up on Twitter):
We in the Organization of Qa'idatul Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula claim responsibility for this operation as a vengeance for the Messenger of Allah. We clarify to the ummah that the one who chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation is the leadership of the organization. We did it in compliance with the Command of Allah and supporting His Messenger -- peace be upon him -- then the order of our general amir, the generous sheikh [Ayman al Zawahiri], may Allah preserve him, and following the will of sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy on him. The arrangements with the amir of the operation were made by sheikh Anwar al Awlaki, may Allah have mercy on him...
What does this statement say?

1) The leadership of AQAP, explicitly, chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation.

2) The plan was carried out "in compliance with" the orders of God and then Zawahiri.

I assume we can all agree God probably didn't call up AQAP and say "Go assault the offices of Charlie Hedbo." It was "in compliance with" the command of God, meaning AQAP's interpretation of God's guidelines for life.

So if the attack was similarly "in compliance with" the order of Ayman al Zawahiri, that covers a wide range of possible contexts. One of those contexts might be that Zawahiri gave an explicit order to do this specific attack some time in the last five years.

UPDATE: Ibn Nabih rings in on Twitter with a comment on the Arabic translation. He says the phrasing is different for Allah versus Zawahiri, with Zawahiri's context being more like "in execution of the order" rather than in compliance. However it doesn't rule out the point above as to how specific the order might have been. END UPDATE

Another context is that Zawahiri generally ordered AQAP to carry out attacks on the West. Or, for instance, that it was done in compliance with Zawahiri's general guidelines for jihad published in 2013.

The unambiguous claim that AQAP leadership selected the target stands in sharp contrast to the mealy-mouthed "compliance" with Zawahiri. While it is certainly possible Zawahiri did explicitly order the Charlie Hebdo attack, it is also possible and perhaps most likely that this is a carefully parsed way to give the reputation of al Qaeda Central emir a badly needed boost.

Pre-order ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. Buy J.M. Berger's book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam

Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Plague on ISIS's House?

There are many scenarios under which the Islamic State (ISIS) defeats itself. We usually focus on the political ones, but recent rumblings out of Syria and Iraq point to the possibility of a medical meltdown.

When terrorists and bubonic plague are mentioned in the same sentence, it's usually in a scary story about the still-unrealized threat of biological attacks. But when I read Liz Sly's story a couple weeks ago about undrinkable water and garbage piling up in the streets in Mosul and Raqqa, I began to wonder whether ISIS and the people living under its cruel regime are more likely to be the victims of a virulent disease than the perpetrators of one.

Since then, there have been dubious reports of ebola breaking out in ISIS territories and much more credible reports of the return of such legacy diseases as polio and scabies. The conditions in Mosul and Raqqa are rife with the possibility of disease, and the plague has never truly been eradicated.

While the arrival of plague in ISIS territories would have a certain biblical flair and might be the undoing of the so-called caliphate, the victims would extend far beyond ISIS's architects of atrocities to the people who are simply unfortunate enough to live there or who live in adjacent areas.

Full-scale outbreaks of plague in the past have also been associated with widespread social breakdown. The question of post-ISIS Iraq and Syria already haunts us. But things could very well get worse.

Pre-order J.M. Berger's book with Jessica Stern, ISIS: The State of Terror. Berger's previous book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, is available now. For more by J.M. Berger, click here


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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Inspire 13: 100 Percent Perspiration

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula put out the 13th issue of its English-language magazine Inspire, with content and timing clearly meant to invoke the specter of its most-mocked attack, the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt in which a would-be terrorist wearing an underwear bomb did incredible damage to his own genitalia but failed to take down a plane.

Much of the issue is devoted to instructions for a "new" kind of "hidden" bomb that "America does not expect," a self-defeating announcement intended more to provoke an outburst of security theater than anything else. If this bomb design has any purpose at all, it is to sell full-body scanners to airports, as the instructions helpfully note that the bomb is vulnerable to such.

Image from Inspire 13

Beyond the extensive instructions on how to build this complicated and rather unwieldy device, Inspire 13 is in many ways more of the same -- much more, in this case, as the magazine clocks in at a whopping 112 page, almost all of which is devoted to singing the praises of "lone wolf" terrorist attacks. Unfortunately for AQAP, they don't have much to boast of in this category and the editors are forced to cite the successes of AQAP's hated rival, ISIS.

The list of lone wolf "successes" includes a number of highly marginal cases, which I wrote about in Foreign Policy this week. The entire issue reeks of desperation for relevance and headlines, including calls to assassinate Ben Bernanke, Bill Gates and Clark Ervin. It also includes lackluster responses from Anwar Awlaki to questions posed years ago by Inspire readers, reading lists and lengthy psuedo-intellectual justifications of jihadist action, of the sort ISIS has largely rendered obsolete in favor of a stripped down argument that can be summarized as "let's just kill a bunch of folks."

If genius is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration, Inspire should consider a new name, because it is 100 percent perspiration, an extraordinary amount of effort spent on repackaging a lot of old ideas.

Buy J.M. Berger's book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

IS closes in on JN in hashtag battle, but attention is divided

The Islamic State made some progress in closing the legitimacy gap with Jabhat al Nusra, according to the latest analysis of hashtags used by a social network connected to global jihadist financiers, but the network's overall focus has declined considerably in recent weeks.

For the last post in this series, click here.

Overall, hashtags referencing both Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State by name declined notably. This appears to be related to declining interest from the financier community, rather than a decline in overall activity in the network, which remained about the same.

The chart below shows the distribution of hashtags used more than 200 times from the last period to this period; you can see that content was less viral overall, with fewer hashtags in the upper echelons and more in the lower. This shift may skew some of the numbers in the chart above toward IS, whose content tends to be more viral.

In terms of sentiment, references to the Islamic State by its proper name started to close the gap with al Nusra, increasing during a period that overall totals declined, while references to IS using the derogatory "Daash" declined significantly. This may suggest that IS is becoming a normalized part of the jihadi global community (an outcome suggested by Thomas Hegghammer some months ago), but it's probably wise to treat these numbers cautiously, since there have been similar fluctuations in the past (see the July 24 numbers, for instance).

Methodology: I looked at the most recent 200 tweets from approximately 7,600 Twitter accounts that were followed by 21 prominent jihadist fundraisers on Twitter (as well as the tweets of the fundraisers themselves), analyzing a total of somewhat less than 3 million tweets for each collection period, which included a substantial amount of overlap from one period to the next.

From those tweets, I extracted the most popular Arabic hashtags used by members of the network to refer to jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq. Two of the original seed accounts were suspended by Twitter over the course of the study, but there is so much overlap among the accounts that it made only a fraction of a percent of difference in the number of tweets examined. 

Buy J.M. Berger's book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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Monday, October 20, 2014

Document: CENTCOM Response to Awlaki, AQAP

INTELWIRE has obtained a Powerpoint on responses to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, created by the U.S. Central Command about a month after President Obama authorized lethal force against Yemeni-American cleric Anwar Awlaki.

The heavily redacted SECRET document, declassified in part through the Freedom of Information Act, outlines what CENTCOM "must" and "cannot" do relative to AQAP, but both lists are redacted in full. The released portions of the document include a limited description of Awlaki and his role with AQAP as well as an interagency plan for dealing with AQAP.

Click here for full document (PDF)

Buy J.M. Berger's book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Threat Versus Impact

Given the robust discussion of the relevance/irrelevance of al Qaeda Central, al Qaeda affiliates, the Islamic State, the Khorasan Group (if it is in fact anything but just plain old AQC), it's worth pointing out a fundamental tenet of terrorism, which one could be forgiven for having forgotten, given how much energy we spend fighting terrorism on the big stage. 

Terrorism is asymmetrical. Recruit five guys and their last week's paychecks, and you can make headlines for months. Recruit 20 guys and their life's savings, and you can make headlines for years. All it takes is some creativity, psychology and street smarts about how you approach your attack. Fortunately for us, terrorist groups and individual terrorist actors don't usually tend to apply all three at the same time to accomplish a task effectively.

But the real point is: There will be terrorist plots and successful terrorist attacks in the future, whether from al Qaeda, its affiliates, the Islamic State, the Ku Klux Klan, the Shining Path, or any of hundreds of other groups of various sizes, strengths and degrees of political relevance. We are going to endure terrorist attacks against the United States for the indefinite future, mostly on a small scale, occasionally on a larger scale. Most will fail, some will succeed. This is reality.

The fact that plots are underway or that some of them come to fruition is not the sole determinant of a group or movement's relevance or importance.

The question is what kind of plots and attacks are underway, whether they are realistically constructed, whether plots move from conception to operation, whether attacks succeed consistently, whether consistently successful attacks emanate from a common source, and what effect such attacks have on both broad national security issues and domestic politics in the countries against which they are directed.

The Khorasan Group shows that al Qaeda still has operatives and those operatives would like to do something bad. It doesn't fundamentally transform our understanding of the group or the threat it presents (unless you thought al Qaeda had literally zero resources left, in which case yeah, OK, you need to rethink things).

But the Khorasan Group is ultimately a couple dozen guys trying to do literally exactly the same thing AQAP has been trying to do for years. That's not nothing (I refer you to the second paragraph), and although they have little to show for it so far, that will likely eventually change. But this is not a sea change in the threat environment, nor it does not lend itself to an apples-to-apples comparison to what the Islamic State is currently doing and is likely to do in the future.

Threats require responses, but they are only part of the picture. The Boston Marathon bombing was the most successful terrorist attack on American soil in recent memory, but it hasn't changed much in terms of our approach to terrorism policy. The fact of the threat in that case is clear, its impact on the broader context of the war on terrorism less so.

I would argue the Islamic State's hostage beheading campaign qualifies as a much more impactful terrorist action, even though the group has not yet carried out violent action in the U.S. homeland. And keep in mind, I'm saying that as someone who lives about two miles from where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was eventually captured.

Our assessments and conversations about the direction of the global jihadist movement, including its terrorist and insurgent components, are part of a much larger conversation, one that involves trends stretching over months and years, battlefields and civilian theaters, and most importantly, policy and politics. 

Opinions expressed herein are those of J.M. Berger. Buy J.M. Berger's book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam and pre-order the forthcoming book by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Resistible Force Meets Movable Object

The summer of "ZOMG ISIS TWITTER" has become the winter of analysts' discontent. Twitter's recent campaign to suspend at least several hundred Islamic State Twitter accounts leads inevitably to the grousing of analysts who say it accomplishes nothing (and just coincidentally makes their jobs harder).

The IS Twitter as unstoppable apocalyptic force meme has been in full bloom in several articles lately, but I'll confine myself to this, since it takes direct aim at my comments on the effect of Twitter's recent suspensions of Islamic State supporters on Twitter on IS's ability to game hashtags and disseminate content. Time is a precious commodity at the moment, so I’ll just hit the high notes, and there will be more to come later.

The suspensions, which are not necessarily the work of "the West" writ large as the authors imply, have shockingly not obliterated IS supporters from Twitter. No reasonable person has ever suggested they would, and I certainly have never suggested we can or should. IS Twitter is a movable object, and efforts to suspend accounts are a resistible force.

The authors believe that this resilience of IS's core activists on Twitter means that suspensions have no meaningful effect. But to mount this argument, they conveniently dismiss IS's external audience -- i.e., people who are not hardcore supporters -- as “lazy” and "least engaged" users who are "hardly worth considering.”

This flies in the face of the evidence and renders much of the rest of the analysis pointless. An extremely substantial portion of IS propaganda is explicitly aimed at external audiences, and its creative and resource-intensive methods of disseminating content (hashtag gaming, bots and purchased tweets) show just how much priority it puts on external messaging.

The authors' perplexing formulation of the irrelevant external audience also requires that IS supporters are magically born out of the ether, fully radicalized and fully networked, instead of migrating from the external audience to the internal.

The authors make much of the spread of content to multiple platforms, which has certainly occurred. And yet IS keeps coming back to Twitter and YouTube. Why is that? Because the biggest audiences are easiest to reach there. There is no scenario under which IS propaganda will become unavailable online. But there is no reason they shouldn't have to work harder, and there is no reason that giant corporate Internet service providers should allow them unfettered use of the biggest and best dissemination platforms.

I have several data-based pieces coming over the next several months to address these questions, so I'm not going to do it all in this space, but two charts from my IS monitoring lists provide some preliminary insight into the effect of the terminations.

UPDATE: The most immediate effect can be seen in the composition of my IS monitoring lists. When I set up my monitoring list, for various reasons, I break it up into three equal lists based on the number of followers each account has. Prior to the Twitter suspension campaign, those three equal parts broke down to accounts with less than 250 followers, accounts with less than 800 followers, and accounts with more than 800 followers. As of Oct. 3, to equally distribute all my accounts, I had to set the threshholds at less than 150, less than 500 and greater than 500. This shows that the IS user base is working with much smaller numbers than before. And keep in mind that it's easier to find accounts with many followers, so this breakdown tends to be top-heavy. Here's a chart showing the change:


The size of the lists change over time, partly due to new users but also due to my ongoing discovery of accounts, so these are based on per-user averages. The first shows how Twitter's most recent suspension of 400 accounts affects the "internal" network in samples taken on Sept. 28 and Oct. 1. 

This chart shows only interactions among members of the IS supporter base (in other words, the hardcore activists that the authors claim are unaffected by suspensions. The analysis is based on the most recent 200 tweets, rather than time-framed, which means the impact is probably larger, as my analysis technique (by design) results in lagging indicators.

Here's a look at the average number of retweets per tweet by an IS supporter, starting in July (prior to Twitter's most aggressive suspensions) through September, after all of IS's official accounts were permanently banned by Twitter, and the most recent data after the 400 suspensions, again with the caveat for lagging indicators. 


This includes both internal and external audiences. It also doesn't account for retweeting bots, a new crop of which was recently launched by IS. Subtract the impact of the hundreds of bots (which I don't have time to do right now) and the drop in October would be even greater. This is relevant as it pertains to human behavior, although the bots are currently a legitimate part of the ecosystem. Among other things, the bots drove links and retweets to the IS propaganda film "Flames of War."

There's also content quality. Anyone who follows any reasonable number of IS accounts has no doubt seen that rebuilding their networks now consumes a disproportionate amount of time. In other words, the quality of the interactions has been dramatically impacted, with thousands of tweets devoted to announcing and promoting newly reconstituted accounts and debunking fake ones that pop up while the originals are gone.

Time and energy spent recreating the network is, at this point, a significant portion of what IS does online (a minimum of 8 percent of tweets from September 29 to October 1, and likely higher), drawing focus and resources away from the business of sending ordinary Westerners pictures of severed heads when they're trying to get sports scores or live-tweet Cake Boss.

The suspensions have also caused IS users to think before they tweet; the heads and threats to execute hostages are in decline, though by no means absent, and when they start to pop up again, accounts go down. All of this is on Twitter, of course, it doesn't speak to "availability" of IS content. It speaks to dissemination and reach on one of the best platforms for driving traffic, as well as highlighting the fact that these online communities can be incentivized to change their behavior.

Many suspended accounts return, of course, but they have to rebuild every time, and the data suggests there is good reason to think they will lose ground over the long haul. We'll soon have enough data to talk about more definitively in the IS context. The early data is very encouraging and I will publish more of it when the book comes out.

Fundamentally, however this comes down to the inexplicable argument I've heard time and again, that in a world where we do practically anything to fight terrorists practically anywhere regardless of the costs or collateral damage, and with too little regard for whether what we do works, that kicking a very small number of terrorists off of Twitter for a small- to medium-gain is somehow a bridge too far, and ultimately useless because it doesn't instantly and magically end extremism.

I continue to be unmoved.

More to come, down the road a bit...

Opinions expressed herein are those of J.M. Berger. Buy J.M. Berger's book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam and pre-order his new book with Jessica Stern, ISIS: The State of Terror


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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ISIS: The State of Terror

Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger co-author the forthcoming book, "ISIS: The State of Terror," from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book, which will debut in early 2015, will examine the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, how it is transforming the nature of extremist movements, and how we should evaluate the threat it presents.

Jessica Stern is a Harvard lecturer on terrorism and the author of the seminal text Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. J.M. Berger is author of the definitive book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, and editor of

Pre-order information will be posted here when it is available.

Buy J.M. Berger's first book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


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ISIS: The State of Terror, by Jessica Stern and J.M. BergerJessica Stern and J.M. Berger co-author the forthcoming book, "ISIS: The State of Terror," from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book, which will debut in early 2015, will examine the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, its potential fall, how it is transforming the nature of extremist movements, and how we should evaluate the threat it presents. Jessica Stern is a Harvard lecturer on terrorism and the author of the seminal text Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. J.M. Berger is author of the definitive book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, and editor of

Pre-order the book now | Pre-order Kindle version


Jihad Joe by J.M. BergerJihad Joe: Americans Who Go To War In The Name Of Islam, the new book by INTELWIRE's J.M. Berger, is now available in both Kindle and hardcover editions. Order today!

Jihad Joe is the first comprehensive history of the American jihadist movement, from 1979 through the present. Click here to read more about the critical acclaim Jihad Joe has earned so far, including from the New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, and many more.


Newest posts!

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 1/23/2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief

DId Zawahiri Order the Hebdo Attack?

A Plague on ISIS's House?

Inspire 13: 100 Percent Perspiration

IS closes in on JN in hashtag battle, but attentio...

Document: CENTCOM Response to Awlaki, AQAP

Threat Versus Impact

Resistible Force Meets Movable Object

ISIS: The State of Terror


New York Pipe Bomb Suspect Linked to Revolution Muslim

The Utility of Lone Wolves

Interview with Online Jihadist Abu Suleiman Al Nasser

A Way Forward for CVE: The Five Ds

How Terrorists Use The Internet: Just Like You

PATCON: The FBI's Secret War on the Militia Movement

Interview About Jihad With Controversial Cleric Bilal Philips

Forgeries on the Jihadist Forums

U.S. Gave Millions To Charity Linked To Al Qaeda, Anwar Awlaki

State Department Secretly Met With Followers of Blind Sheikh

State Department Put 'Political Pressure' On FBI To Deport Brother-in-Law Of Osama Bin Laden In 1995

FBI Records Reveal Details Of Nixon-Era Racial Profiling Program Targeting Arabs

Gaza Flotilla Official Was Foreign Fighter in Bosnia War

U.S. Had 'High Confidence' Of UBL Attack In June 2001

Behind the Handshake: The Rumsfeld-Saddam Meeting