American ISP's give the Taliban a leg up

What would you say if I told you the same lovely bunch that was killing American soldiers in Afghanistan was being assisted by American internet providers in getting their message out?

Hard to believe?

On March 25, a Taliban Web site claiming to be the voice of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" boasted of a deadly new attack on coalition forces in that country. Four soldiers were killed in an ambush, the site claimed, and the "mujahideen took the weapons and ammunition as booty."

Most remarkable about the message was how it was delivered. The words were the Taliban's, but they were flashed around the globe by an American-owned firm located in a leafy corner of downtown Houston.

The Texas company, a Web-hosting outfit called ThePlanet, says it simply rented cyberspace to the group and had no clue about its Taliban connections. For more than a year, the militant group used the site to rally its followers and keep a running tally of suicide bombings, rocket attacks and raids against U.S. and allied troops. The cost of the service: roughly $70 a month, payable by credit card.

The Taliban's account was pulled last week when a blogger noticed the connection and called attention to it. But the odd pairing of violently anti-American extremists and U.S. technology companies continues elsewhere and appears to be growing. Intelligence officials and private experts cite dozens of instances in which Islamist militants sought out U.S. Internet firms -- known for their reliable service and easy terms that allow virtual anonymity -- and used them to incite attacks on Americans.

Why use US firms?

"The relatively cheap expense and high quality of U.S. servers seems to attract jihadists," said Rita Katz, co-founder of the Site Intelligence Group, a private company that monitors the communications of Muslim extremist groups. Even al-Qaeda has sometimes paid American companies to serve as conduits for its hate-filled messages, said Katz, who has tracked such activity since 2003.

This is always a prickly issue of free speech but when it comes to promoting and advocating violence, there is no discussion. At the same time, intel people say that it is sometimes better to leave the websites up because they can glean information about the groups that use them by reading their stuff.

The blogger who
exposed the website was none other than Rusty Shackleford of the Jawa Report. Of course, the Washington Post did not mention the site or Rusty by name. Par for the course when bloggers do the work of the media and get no credit for it.