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Psychological Warfare Goes Online

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  • Fred Cohen
    Psychological Warfare Goes Online (Source: Deutsche Welle German radio; issued May 13, 2004) Using the Internet is not a new mode of operation for terrorist
    Message 1 of 1 , May 19, 2004
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      Psychological Warfare Goes Online

      (Source: Deutsche Welle German radio; issued May 13, 2004)

      Using the Internet is not a new mode of operation for terrorist
      organizations. Many groups, including al Qaeda, have long used it as a
      way to recruit followers, raise money, plan attacks and communicate with
      each other.

      A few weeks ago, a terror group calling itself the Green Brigade offered
      video footage of the murder of an Italian hostage to Arab TV station
      al-Jazeera. The editors chose not to air it because of its graphic

      Now the terrorists cut out the middleman to get their message to the
      public: They published the video of the beheading of 26-year-old Nick
      Berg online, making it available to anyone with a computer and an
      Internet connection.

      Similar videos, including footage of Chechen terrorists playing soccer
      with the severed heads of Russian soldiers, have been published online
      before. But the West has largely ignored them until now, says Udo
      Ulfkotte, a German terrorism expert.

      "It's not a new strategy, it's always been part of psychological
      warfare," he says, adding that a video of the 2002 murder of American
      journalist Daniel Pearl was the first time Westerners began paying more
      attention to such images on the Internet.

      Ulfkotte suggests the footage of Berg's killing mainly served to satisfy
      the Arab world's hunger for revenge after seeing pictures of U.S.
      soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners.

      Others agree that the video was intended to provoke cheers and recruit
      sympathizers in the Arab world while shocking the U.S. and its allies.

      "In the Arab world, this is seen as taking an eye for an eye," says Kai
      Hirschmann, the deputy director of the Institute for Terrorism Research
      in Essen in western Germany. He describes the video as a skillful
      response that served a specific purpose. "These people aren't stupid,"
      he told DW-WORLD. "They wanted to make a point that's noticed in the
      West. It's a response to the [torture] pictures that cannot be repeated

      "It's a piece of the mosaic that worked in the current situation," he
      says. "A bomb attack would not have worked as a response to the

      But Col. Nick Pratt (Ret.), the director of the Marshall Center Program
      on Terrorism and Security Studies in southern Germany, says he doesn't
      interpret the video as a direct response to the torture pictures.

      "This has nothing to do with the prison atrocities," Pratt says. "This
      is a great example of psychological warfare. They can spread this
      information and show the world how helpless we are."

      As a result, self-regulation of the media is the only way to deal with
      this "war of pictures" as it is technically impossible to police the
      Web, explains Rainer Kuhlen, a computer science professor and expert on
      ethics and the Internet at Constance University in southern Germany.

      "We'll have to live with this," he says, adding that the proliferation
      of pornography over the Internet raised similar questions in the past.
      "Without a doubt, these pictures are weapons of the most gruesome kind
      and they are meant to function as weapons. But that doesn't make
      'normal' war weapons and cultural humiliation any more ethically

      Pratt believes that the West has so far focused too much on future
      threats of cyber terrorism, such as breaking up airline schedules and
      attacking bank systems and failed to recognize the significance of
      psychological warfare via the Web.

      While there is little that could be done to prevent the spread of
      similar videos in the future, U.S. officials could do more to counter
      them. "We have to use the Internet better ourselves," he says, citing
      as an example pictures of Iraqis demonstrating in front of Baghdad's Abu
      Ghraib prison, where the alleged torture by U.S. soldiers took place.

      "You have to show that it's now safe for them to demonstrate, which is
      something they couldn't do under Saddam Hussein," Pratt says. "You have
      to show how democracy is starting to grow."

      Similarly, U.S. officials should make public the trials of military
      personnel accused of the torturing: "You have to put that out there and
      show how the military cleans out a mess."

      While Hirschmann doesn't expect such isolated killings to become more
      frequent in the future, Pratt says this depended on the media reaction
      to the Berg video. "If there were no reaction, you probably wouldn't
      see it again," he says.

      Analysts agree, however, that unlike the image of a dead U.S. soldier
      getting dragged through the streets of the Somalian capital Mogadishu in
      1993 that ultimately led to an American pull-out, the video of Berg's
      beheading was unlikely to provoke the same in Iraq.

      "The stakes in Iraq are much greater than in Somalia," Pratt maintains.
      "What we have to do is make this country a democracy. If we can't do
      that, this problem is going to be there."

      -- This communication is confidential to the parties it is intended to serve --
      Fred Cohen - http://all.net/ - fc at all.net - fc at unhca.com - tel/fax: 925-454-0171
      Fred Cohen & Associates - University of New Haven - Security Posture
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