In an op-ed published by Slate.frAki Peritz, a former CIA analyst specializing in anti-terrorism, proposes an idea to suffocate the activity of Daech's recruiters on the Internet: drown them under an avalanche of trolls, these messages that enter into a conversation to create controversy in order to disrupt it. The idea came to him when he discovered a scam that Chechen Internet users ran on the accounts of recruiters from the Islamic state. Not such a silly idea if we managed to mobilise a massive mobilisation of the world's Internet community.
«Last month, a group of Chechen teenage girls trapped Islamic state recruiters on the Internet. They arranged for their jihadi suitors to send them money under the false pretext that they wanted to travel to Syria to marry Daech fighters. Except that once these "jihadist brides-to-be" received the money, they deleted their online profiles, only to reappear shortly afterwards to relieve another recruiter of the Islamist group of his dirty money.
While the authorities generally do not approve of the work of Internet crooks, these Chechen teenage girls have exposed a very real loophole in the recruitment methods of the Islamic state - one that could be used against the IA for a fraction of the cost of the US bombings.
Recruitment abroad, a key role
Contrary to what the media suggest, there are relatively few people who decide on their own to go to Syria to swell the ranks of the Islamist group. Usually there is an intermediary (a social network recruiter or a friend already enlisted) who coaxes and incites the undecided to join the so-called caliphate. These men (and women) play a vital role in attracting foreign fighters to Syria and keeping the war machine of the Islamic state running.
You can't stop any potential recruit from joining the Islamic state, it's at the other end of the chain that you have to stop the machine.
Rukmini Callimachi of the New York Times recently painted a portrait of a young woman in Washington who almost fell into the clutches of EI, lured by a middle-aged man in England she met on the Internet and who sent her money and gifts in the mail. The same story is told of a man from Orange County, California, who, in the words of an American lawyer, "succumbed" to EI's Internet appeal. Last year, three teenagers from Colorado also nearly ended up in Syria thanks to the methods of an EI online recruiter.
Overwhelming the middlemen
The U.S. government will certainly not be able to prevent any potential recruits from joining the Islamic state: there are simply too many people likely to join the group. Recently, the FBI's methods seemed a bit exaggerated to catch a couple from Mississippi who had simply asked about possible ways to get to Syria on social networks (and the couple wasn't really dangerous). Rather, it was at the other end of the chain (targeting recruiters) that intelligence, police, and even individuals, could radically stop the machine.
Given that many Islamic state contenders are put in contact with charismatic intermediaries on the Internet (even just to talk about the logistical requirements to get to Syria), the governments of the world could overwhelm the EI recruitment system by creating hundreds of fake individuals interested in the Islamist group, potential fake recruits who would come into contact with the recruiters.
To begin with, one can be almost certain that the Islamic state has a limited number of possible recruiters capable of achieving their ends. An AI fighter who speaks only Arabic, for example, will not be able to coax an English-speaking person living in the United States, especially over a period of weeks or months. And even if a person has the language skills, it doesn't mean that he or she will have what it takes to convince someone to come to Syria to fight and die for the cause of jihadists.
The FBI already uses similar methods to catch pedophiles...
Therefore, wasting their time and getting money out of them is a good first step in making recruiters pay dearly for their activities (and it wouldn't cost millions). Recruiters, after all, are human, and therefore may lack the mental capacity to handle dozens of fake profiles. Just as there is a community on the Internet that scams Nigerian scammers, there would be a large number of individuals willing to deceive and harass IE recruiters on their own time.
So much for the first step. The second step is for the U.S. government to get enough information on these recruiters to build a profile of them to better identify them. The best ones are cunning and smart enough to reveal minimal personal information. Even so, a number of them, in addition to the data collected by intelligence and police services, could end up being used to block their activities or arrest them if they live in the West or in other allied countries. And if they are in Syria, perhaps enough information could be gathered to put them out of harm's way.
Police forces have a lot of experience in this kind of thing: the FBI already uses similar methods to catch pedophiles, whether on American soil or in the rest of the world. It should therefore not be too complicated for their services to fabricate several false identities in order to trap recruiters from the Islamic state.
An international team
Other countries can help to hinder these recruitment networks. Counter-terrorism is a team sport. Countries in Europe and the Middle East, like Russia and China, can help overwhelm the human networks of EI (and they will know how best to shape their messages to deceive recruiters who speak their language). Recovering money from the Islamic state will also shed light on how the organization's funds cross borders and perhaps even find out which financial institutions support it.
Very quickly, the prevailing paranoia in such organizations will make itself felt, perhaps deterring group leaders from coming into contact with real recruits. As a result, governments around the world will turn the EI recruitment campaign against it.
Crushing global recruitment networks and disabling recruiters will have great strategic value. It won't win the war against the Islamic state, but it will make it much harder for the group to fill its ranks. And it's already one way to stop the machine. »