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DITC-Listening:How terrorists use the Internet

The Internet is very useful for terrorists. Hsinchun Chen says he can get inside the websites of terrorists and follow conversations. He describes recruitment methods, and the psychology employed. He says the Internet has given terrorists a global reach and influence.

Robyn Williams: Crims use the internet and terrorists use the Internet. Communications technology is so very powerful, obviously they would. Tell me, is it possible from where you are in your university here to go on to your computer and get into the Internet sites...the sort of conversations that the terrorists are having, can you just cut in and find out what they're saying to each other?
Hsinchun Chen: Yes. Those websites are all using the open Internet protocol, so anyone can go to those websites if you know where to find them. I think the trick is where are they, where are they hiding?

Robyn Williams: That's Professor Hsinchun Chen who spends much of his day dipping into conversations Al-Qaeda has with operational people and potential recruits. It's an immense network and a staggering effort to try to keep watch on what's being said.

Hsinchun Chen: We use a combination of collaboration with experts, people in US intelligence community, and we also use a set of programs that we call spiders. These are computer programs reading Java or C# or Python modern languages such that they are probing the web to do expansion of searches following the links by Google, but we are creating Google to collect information about terrorist content.

Robyn Williams: You've been concentrating on a particular it called the Dark Web?

Hsinchun Chen: Yes, the entire project is called Dark Web, it's really trying to collect all the terrorist generated content in the world, and when I say 'all' I mean from websites to forums to chatrooms to blogs to videos to voice recordings and so on, everything they produce. We really want to learn directly from them what are they thinking and what are their strategy, ideology, propagandas and so on.

Robyn Williams: Do they know you are looking in on them?

Hsinchun Chen: I'm pretty sure they know now.

Robyn Williams: They know you're watching, and so is there any pretence at secrecy?

Hsinchun Chen: That's the part...we try to keep our neutrality here because we are really funded by National Science Foundation and many people consider extremists and terrorist definition as very politically driven and in our case we really try to understand them using that as a way to understand their linkage, understand the change of mindset, how do they get influenced by the world events and so on. So we're taking a more scientific approach instead of a law enforcement or security community perspective.

Robyn Williams: How is it that they became so clever at using this new technology in countries where technology is not necessarily so sophisticated?

Hsinchun Chen: I don't think they're using very sophisticated technology but they are very creative, they are very ingenious in using whatever is out there, just like a young kid or young students in colleges, they can use browser combining it with a simple web hosting software, creating their website, they are just using like that. But I think they are really forced into this scenario because they have been tracked, they don't have resources, they're hiding and so on, all the constraining factors that have forced them to be very ingenious about using available technology. I think they also have the will, when there's a will there's a way, and their will is to promote their idea, even though they are really a minority in the Muslim world, but they are using their creativity and their will to create mechanisms that can reach their audience.

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