U.S. Behind in Fighting Islamic Radicalization Via the Internet?
Islamic terrorist groups have the edge on the internet, reports the Washington Post. Islamic bad guys are using the internet to radicalize youth here in the U.S., contends a study done for the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
But is this the problem that the Senate committee study claims it to be? If so, what will Uncle Sam's solution be? More control of the internet or a more savvy approach to combating terrorists across cyberspace? Or both. Will Washington seek to diminish liberties?
The Washington Post cites the case of Zachary Chesser, a twenty-two-year-old now doing a twenty-five year stretch in the federal pen for terrorism crimes. The Senate committee study claims that Chesser was transformed via Islamic extremist sites "from an average American kid to a hardened supporter of terrorist organizations" in less than a couple of years.
But there are red flags about the study's contention that Chesser was just an "average" kid. Fox News reported in the spring of 2010:
But Chesser also had a dark side. He was a "loner," a former classmate said, one who frequently drew pictures of Satanic figures in his notebooks and had just a few friends, most of them male.
"He was definitely sort of weird," the classmate [of Chesser's] told FoxNews.com. "He was very into violent industrial music, borderline Satanic bands and stuff like that. He had dark undertones in his interests."
Chesser's not exactly Greg Brady, if the Fox News report is accurate.
The Senate Committee study asserts:
"Chesser represents a growing breed of young Americans who have such comfort and facility with social media that they can self-radicalize to violent Islamist extremism in an accelerated time period, compared to more traditional routes to radicalization."
Chesser, who converted to Islam after graduating high school in 2008, is "a harbinger, not an outlier," according to the report.
Most young Americans -- these days, those under forty -- have a "comfort and facility with social media." Preponderantly, most don't self-radicalize on the internet. Most don't join satanic cults. Most don't become stalkers. Most don't even become porn-crazed.
It appears that Chesser was a young man in search of a radical, if not violent, outlet. Chesser could well have fixated on the Columbine High School killers as much as Mohammed and jihad. Chesser is more persuasively an outlier than a harbinger, contrary to the study's claim.
Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) is offering legislation - "The Cybersecurity Act of 2012" (SB-2105) - to redress potential threats to "critical systems like mobile networks, power grids and telephone/cable systems deemed to be at risk of cyber-attack."
The threat is real, but Senator Lieberman's legislation would give the federal government increased authority to access personal information in private networks in cyberspace. The potential for abuse by Washington through greater internet authority needs to be carefully addressed, with strong and obvious checks against government overreach built into any legislation.
This isn't to gainsay the value of the internet as a communications, education, and recruitment vehicle for Islamic terrorists. Nor is it to suggest that there aren't cybersecurity threats to the nation, which the Senator's legislation attempts to address. But it's to caution that the balance between the nation's security and citizens' freedoms is delicate.
Citizen vigilance in safeguarding liberties and ensuring the nation's security is no option, but a necessity. Americans need to closely question the Senate committee study's conclusions. Senator Lieberman and his colleagues need their constituents to raise concerns about potential violations of liberties that SB-2105 might pose.