An Intelligence Reserve Corps to Counter Terrorist Use of the Internet

“Never before in history have terrorists had such easy access to the minds and eyeballs of
millions,” declared one journalistic account of the Islamic State’s propaganda machine and
proficient use of Twitter, Facebook, bots, and other modern means of getting its message out.
Such views that the group’s “mastery of modern digital tools” has transformed terrorism
are commonplace and, though usually presented breathlessly, contain some basic truths.1
Successful terrorist groups are good communicators and they employ the technology of
their times. Fighting terrorism today thus requires fighting terrorism on the Internet and
otherwise countering the use of advanced communications technologies. President Trump
himself stressed this in a tweet after a 2017 terrorist attack in London: “Loser terrorists must
be dealt with in a much tougher manner. The internet is their main recruitment tool which
we must cut off & use better!”2 Terrorists are only one dangerous actor on the Internet—and
the one this paper focuses on—but other dangers ranging from hostile state intelligence
services to criminal groups are also lurking. The above journalist’s quote could also apply to
Russian disinformation, sophisticated criminal phishing attempts, and other malicious uses
of the Internet.
This paper proceeds as follows. First, it examines some of the ways in which terrorist groups
use the Internet, focusing on the Islamic State in particular, and the limits and problems
they have had. Second, it looks at several of the historical problems the US government
has had in stopping this use and at the general issues that are likely to plague future efforts
regarding terrorist use of new technologies. Finally, the paper details some of the parameters
of an Intelligence Reserve Corps, describing its benefits and its limits.

Tags: Counterterrorism, Internet, Islamic State