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American Forces Press Service

Terrorists Use Internet for Propaganda, Defense Officials Say

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2006 Terrorist networks are skillfully using the Internet to raise money, recruit and train members, and to spread a message of hatred, defense officials said here yesterday.

"The enemy's message, of course, is a gross distortion of American policy," Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for policy and international security affairs, told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. "It is at bottom an incitement to hatred, extremism and terrorism."

Rodman, along with U.S. defense contractors, presented a briefing to Congress that demonstrated how terrorists have used the Internet for propaganda purposes. The briefing was developed by Defense Department contractors in conjunction with the Marine Corps, in particular the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, he said.

"The briefing draws on over two and a half years of research done by these contractors as they have been examining Arab media in the context of our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the broader war on terrorism," Rodman said.

The defense analysts employed a method called full cultural context, where they try to capture as much of the nuances in the analysis as possible.

"The monitoring of Arab media, which these particular contractors do, while its immediate purpose is force protection, provides other products of analysis which are shared with other agencies and which seem to be widely appreciated as a useful contribution of the interagency effort of public diplomacy," Rodman said.

Defense contractors said they were continuously amazed at how terrorists are able to grab multimedia products or images off the Internet and repackage them to fit their own goals and objectives. For instance, terrorists use the Internet to download DVDs, CDs, training manuals, pamphlets, and copies of sermons and speeches, and then distribute them at a local level.

Wherever there's Internet availability, terrorists can disseminate information to a greater range of people in the oral tradition that they've grown up with. Terrorists in Iraq pass their message over the Internet, via Web sites that constantly go up and down, through songs and stories that appeal to disaffected youths, defense contractors said.

The target audience for terrorist propaganda is recruitment-age youth - ages 7 to 25. Defense contractors said they have even seen products that are aimed at ages younger than 7.

Rodman said the terrorist message is also meant to try to convince the Iraqi people and other Arabs that their insurgency is working. "It is not necessarily directed at our forces at all, because our forces knows that the claims they're making are not true," he said.

The capturing of journalists, murdering of relatives, the bombing of homes and crowded markets are all "methods of intimidation aimed at specific things, and they want to ensure that they get their time in the media," he said.

He said terrorists in Iraq are losing their audience because of the large numbers of innocent Iraqis killed by their violent acts. "The core of our strategy in this part of the war on terror is precisely to bolster the mainstream Muslims, who are our allies, and the moderates, who are themselves on the frontline of the struggle against the extremists," he said.