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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Friday, September 7, 2007

Did The U.S. Block Bin Laden Video?


ABC: Transcript of Bin Laden Video

Reports have surfaced that U.S. officials have intercepted the new Osama bin Laden video release and are currently analyzing it. It is perhaps not coincidental that the one of the main distribution nodes for al Qaeda videos has been offline for the last several hours.

Typically, news stories describe videos as being released through jihadist message boards. That's not entirely accurate. The videos are announced on jihadist sites, but they are released through a variety of online services that host large file transfers for free.

When al Qaeda's Al Sahab media production arm releases a video, it uploads the video to one service, and then individual jihadists and sympathizers around the world then re-upload the video to a variety of other services.

Most of these services eventually remove the videos for violating their terms of service (by facilitating terrorism). But by the time they do, the videos have been downloaded thousands of times and are then re-uploaded to new services (or to the same service under a different name).

The most reliable of these services is a U.S.-based video file repository, which was knocked offline for several hours, from early this morning through approximately 1:30 p.m. This occurred even as media reports revealed that the U.S. was currently analyzing the new bin Laden tape, which had not yet been announced on the more visible message boards as of 1:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Many bloggers and observers have criticized the U.S.-based Internet service providers for allowing al Qaeda to use their infrastructure for propaganda purposes. But what many of these critics fail to acknowledge is that the government can exploit servers based in the United States much more effectively than those based overseas.

Today's exercise is an excellent example of the other side to that argument. The U.S. not only intercepted the bin Laden video, but it appears to have delayed its public release, buying valuable time to prepare a response.

NBC reports separate video disruption


The oddities continue. A three-minute excerpt of the bin Laden video was obtained by NBC, and has been circulating online. At the two-minute mark of the three-minute video, the picture freezes (although the subtitles continue to update). The picture remains frozen for much of the remainder of the video. CNN says voice analysis confirmed bin Laden as the speaker.

The complete video still does not appear to be circulating at many of the major jihadist boards. I could not confirm the whole tape as posted anywhere online, although NBC was referring to it as being "released."

Even before the freeze-up, the video is not well synced to the sound. It's as if bin Laden recorded an audio tape which was then performed by an actor. I don't know if I want to be the person who sticks his neck out to argue this idea, but I wouldn't rule it out. If Bin Laden is hiding under an assumed name in a relatively populated area, it would be a logical strategy.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Having seen the full resolution video, I generally abandon the above train of thought.


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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