Facebook 'Likes' Considered Key Evidence In 'Terrorist' Plot

from the signal-of-intent? dept

We've written a few times about how the FBI has been doing a bang up job foiling its own terrorist plots, so we're a bit skeptical every time we see headlines of some giant "terrorist bust." Almost every time, once you dig into the details, it involves some gullible, confused suckers who had no actual connection to terrorists, but were led along by FBI agents and informers until they were "convinced" to take part in a "plot" that was entirely concocted by the FBI. The latest headline-grabbing case of "arrested terrorists" actually appears like it may have slightly more substance, however, in that they may have actually had some sort of connection to al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

That doesn't mean that there still aren't some oddities in the case, however. As a number of folks have sent over, reading through the indictment (also embedded below) shows that a significant chunk of the "evidence" seems to consist of Facebook "likes" and shared content among the accused. From the indictment:
I have reviewed several of the social media web sites for KABIR, SANTANA, DELEON, each of whom has posted radical prom jihad content on their respective pages. Additionally, portions of the social media show that DELEON and SANTANA "liked" postings on KABIR's Facebook page as early as May 2011.

Public items posted by KABIR to his social media accounts include photographs of himself, non-extremist content, radical Islamist content, and items reflecting a mistrust of mainstream media, abuses by the government, conspiracy theories, abuses by law enforcement, and the war in Afghanistan. KABIR's radical postings include videos and links to videos of Al-Qa'ida leader Anwar Al-Awlagi and his lectures, jihad--based videos regarding Afghanistan and elsewhere, videos depicting mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan and elsewhere, videos depicting terrorist training camps and related activities, videos depicting improvised explosive device attacks, and articles regarding the death of American soldiers in Afghanistan. For example, on July 6, 2012, KABIR shared a video to his public Facebook page entitled "Knights of Khorasan Islamic Emirate Operation Against an Army Base in Margha." This video, which I have reviewed, depicts a suicide bombing operation against a large base wherein the suicide- bomber drives an explosives-laden truck into a base and detonates it. The video bears the symbol of As-Sahab, Al-- Qa'ida's media wing, in the lower right corner.

KABIR has "shared" several postings with SANTANA and/or DELEON, both of whom have "liked" or commented on several other postings by KABIR, including the following:
a. On December 7, 2011, KABIR posted a video entitled "Black Flags of Khorasan: Part 2" that he later "shared" with DELEON.- (Based on my training and experience, conversations with other agents, and research of publicly available information, the black flag or banner refers to a traditional flag flown by Muhammad and later by Islamic military leaders. More recently, several jihadi groups and terrorists have adopted the black flag as a symbol for jihad and mujahideen fighters.)

b. On or about January 5, 2012, KABIR shared a link regarding negotiating with the Taliban. SANTANA "liked" the post and SANTANA and KABIR engaged in a public exchange of comments. SANTANA said, "they messed up know?" KABIR followed SANTANA's comment with a comment that appeared to include excerpts of a "Statement of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," which discussed the Taliban's desire to expel the United States from, and establish their own government in, Afghanistan. SANTANA replied to KABIR's comment by writing "Oh yea!!!!"

c. On January 5, 2012, KABIR posted a photo on his Facebook page depicting a veiled and covered woman leaning on an assault rifle. DELEON and KABIR exchanged comments on the photo wherein DELEON said "...hey bro are coming back? whats goin on? how long gona stay there?" KABIR replied "Naa.. not comin back... movin 4wd.... =D.... 1/2 way 2 my destination.. =D."

(Based on the context of this statement, including the fact that KABIR was then in Germany, I believe that KABIR intended to inform DELEON that he had commenced his journey to Afghanistan.)

d. On January 19, 2012, DELEON "liked" a shared link posted on KABIR's page of a video entitled "Dua of Sheikh Muhammad al Mohaisany masjid al haram makkah." The video, which I have reviewed as posted on KABIR's page, appears to be a prayer for the success of the mujahideen and features various photos including Al--Qa'ida leaders Usama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, 9/11 attacks, bloodied adults and children, and Islamic fighters. The video also calls for the liberation of Al-Aqsa, the mosque referenced in the 1998 Al-Qa'ida fatwa described above.

e. On February 13, 2012, SANTANA "liked" two shared video links on KABIR's page, including one for a video entitled "Imam Anwar al Awlaki -- A Story of Courage."

f. On May 28, 2012, KABIR posted two stories regarding the death of Al-Qa'ida leader Usama Bin Laden. DELEON "liked" both stories; SANTANA "liked" one.

g. On June 16, 2012, SANTANA "liked" a video, produced by Al--Qa'ida's media wing, As-Sahab, shared by KABIR to his Facebook page entitled "Ghuraba." This video, which I have reviewed, appears to depict life as a mujahideen fighter and includes several interviews. The video also features mujahideen fighters firing artillery.

h. On July 5, 2012, KABIR posted a photo featuring Al-Qa'ida leader Anwar Al-Awlaqi which contained a quote from Al-Awlaqi. DELEON "liked" and "shared" the photo.

i. On September 16, 2012, DELEON "liked" KABIR's shared link to a video entitled "The Truth Has Come and Falsehood has perished Part 1 Urdu." This video, which I have reviewed, is a production by As-Sahab and begins with footage of Al-Awlaqi and discusses the war in Afghanistan. The video also features current Al-Qa'ida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri.
On September 17, 2012 SANTANA "liked" KABIR's post of an article entitled "A Public Talk by Ustadz Abu M Jibriel AR: The Truth of The 9/11 Jihad Operation, The Plots Of The Enemies and The Zionist Conspiracy."
There is, of course, other evidence including statements made by all the defendants. For all we know they may have actually been planning attacks on US targets and the indictment is entirely appropriate. But it certainly gives pause to suggest that "likes" and "shares" on Facebook are somehow evidence of terrorist intent. It could certainly be seen as having a chilling effect for anyone who might "like" or "share" content on Facebook that is critical of the US government.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Dixon Steele (profile), Nov 29th, 2012 @ 1:27pm

    It was supposed to be a secret

    How did they know our theme this year was going to be "Radical Prom Jihad?" Did someone say something?
    I'm looking at you, Becky.
    Gawd, I'm so p-o'd right now.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 1:35pm

    Public items posted by KABIR to his social media accounts include photographs of himself, non-extremist content, radical Islamist content, and items reflecting a mistrust of mainstream media, abuses by the government, conspiracy theories, abuses by law enforcement, and the war in Afghanistan.

    The later-enumerated "radical postings" are the only things on that list worth even an ounce of concern. Unless, that is, you're the FBI, in which case posts about "abuses by the government" and "abuses by law enforcement" are very high on the list of Things Only Bad People Do.

     

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  3.  
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    G, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 1:36pm

    Black flag?

    Maybe the agents should check wikipedia to find out what the black flag means?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchist_symbolism

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 1:45pm

    Since when was a detachment from reality a sign of terrorist intent, or is the FBI detached from reality. Please will someone add some adult supervision to the US security services.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 2:00pm

    Sorry, but it IS evidence

    If I go around saying I hate a person, and that person ends up dead and I am a suspect, my statements are going to be used against me.

    It's certainly not PROOF of anything, and could not be used to convict me by iteslf. But it is still evidence, and could be used to establish motive.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 2:08pm

    That is why I do not dare friending Techdirt on facebook: I would be unhireable by so many companies since Techdirt dare utter the word terrorism, which makes for banner ads for some extremely shady sites, which makes NSA interested, which makes them collect and decipher all I do on the internet! When they find out I am not dangerous they lose interest and give the case over to the archive, which is when the dataprotection is weak and some teenage hacker will find the data and release them to stick it to the man, which is when all companies see me associated with terrorism and though I never did anything wrong I will be blackballed.

    Now is the time I ask the government to protect my rights by improving the abilities of the 3-letter agencies to investigate to help my privacy on the internet. Darn you, Techdirt, I cannot do anything because of your negative relations with the companies controlling the government. I can only see one solution and that is to avoid association. The government is here to protect me, so I have to leave you!

     

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  7.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), Nov 29th, 2012 @ 2:18pm

    Sorry, I don't "like" this article. If someone says they like something, I think that is certainly evidence of their intent and motivation.

     

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  8.  
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    Lord Binky, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 2:38pm

    If they post that they 'like' something, that is also saying that they promote and/or support the linked content.

    If you publicly support or promote activities that are illegal, it is reasonable for that to be used as evidence in court to show something like intent. By itself is that very weak evidence? Yes it is! So that alone isn't going to be putting someone in jail.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 2:40pm

    Re:

    Umm....they're talking about Facebook. If someone "friends" another person on Facebook, it's not evidence that the two people are actually friends. If "liking" something on Facebook was proof that the user actually liked it, then:
    On May 28, 2012, KABIR posted two stories regarding the death of Al-Qa'ida leader Usama Bin Laden. DELEON "liked" both stories; SANTANA "liked" one.

     

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  10.  
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    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), Nov 29th, 2012 @ 2:40pm

    DAMN - I accidentally "liked" LOLKATZ

    now if they ever plot to overthrow the world I'm screwed by association!

     

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  11.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Nov 29th, 2012 @ 3:03pm

    Re: Black flag?

    Some symbols have more than one meaning in more than one context. The black flag is *also* a well-known symbol of Islamist rule and jihad.

     

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  12.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Nov 29th, 2012 @ 3:08pm

    Critical reading

    But it certainly gives pause to suggest that "likes" and "shares" on Facebook are somehow evidence of terrorist intent. It could certainly be seen as having a chilling effect for anyone who might "like" or "share" content on Facebook that is critical of the US government.


    That's not how I read it. More like "likes" and "shares" of material that is openly jihadist in nature" is evidence of agreement with the jihadist philosophy expressed in the material. Just like, if I were to "like" a certain singer and "share" content related to that artist, one might reasonably conclude that I was a fan of theirs.

    It's circumstantial evidence, to be sure, but it's circumstantial evidence that makes sense, and misreporting it as "your Facebook likes can be taken as evidence of terrorist intent" really doesn't do much to strengthen the case you're trying to make here...

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 3:16pm

    Did anyone else catch that whoever wrote that indictment doesn't understand how Facebook's share feature works?

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 4:11pm

    Re:

    That's awful evidence, people 'like' things all the time without understanding what the point or intent of things are.

    What if people liked a sarcastic or joking comment that went too far? Or maybe even followed up with their own hyperbole or sarcastic comment? Can we start banning sarcasm on the internet yet?

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 4:13pm

    Re:

    Negative, 'Like's don't give statistics as to why the post was liked. All it gives is an indication that something inside the post was interesting to that person. It is not a certain sign of agreement or intent by any means.

    It's a amorphous point. It has no meaningful magnitude or direction, just an indication that someone's mouse clicked something at some time.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 4:17pm

    Re: Sorry, but it IS evidence

    Clicking an icon can't establish motive, intent, or even if that post was something the original person agreed with.

    All it means is that some circumstance lead that person to clicking that icon. Maybe this person thought it was funny, maybe they wanted to save it for later, maybe they are just a troll, maybe they didn't think the person was being serious.

    Saying "Well, clicking an icon on the internet IS evidence that in some way, they are related or agreed with one another" has to be some kind of ridiculous hyperbole. People's opinions and motives are not the same as clicks, we're not dolphins here.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 4:47pm

    Re: Sorry, but it IS evidence

    evidence of what crime?

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 4:50pm

    Re:

    Not to mention for some pages you have to "like" them just to post a complaint about them.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2012 @ 10:21pm

    Is this another win for the Federal Bureau of Instigation?

     

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  20.  
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    btrussell (profile), Nov 30th, 2012 @ 3:23am

    Like, after reading like this article like, I was like, wtf?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 5:25am

    Re: Sorry, but it IS evidence

    You're not a lawyer, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 5:29am

    Re: Re:

    "What if people liked a sarcastic or joking comment that went too far?"

    Yup - some people simply do not understand sarcasm, they take it literally and the results can be quite strange.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    The Real Michael, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 7:30am

    Re:

    They list "mistrust of media" as if it were an attribute of a criminal, which is BS. I for one certainly don't trust the mainstream media. It's so heavily biased that it's unbearable. Everything is politics, politics, politics.

    Trust is something that's earned, not freely given.

    And since when was pointing out abuses by the government/law enforcement and conspiracy theories considered a crime? Are the FBI the thought police?

     

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  24.  
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    random_user, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 3:47pm

    Seriously people?

    Seriously guys? This isn't evidence? It's obviously evidence of intent and/or motive. As someone else said, if you hold a sign that says "I hate John Smith" and then John Smith is killed, that's evidence of your motive to kill John. It isn't enough to convict by itself, true, which is why the government has other evidence.

    Someone said "All it means is that some circumstance lead that person to clicking that icon."

    Yes, and if you're holding a sign that says "I hate Jim" that just means somehow your hands came to be wrapped around that particular piece of cardboard and thrust it into the air. Give me a break. A reasonable person would conclude you hate Jim from that evidence, that's what the jury might think, and that's what the law cares about. Now if there's evidence that these guys were posting things to be sarcastic or whatever, that will also come out at trial. But given the amount of content posted, that seems unlikely.

    If you literally "like" al-Qaida, a terrorist organization dedicated to kiling Americans, on Facebook, you're a) not every good at being a terrorist and b) shouldn't be surprised when the FBI pays you a visit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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