These Ain't Masterminds: Would Be Terrorist Crowdsourced Targets On Twitter Using 'Silent Bomber' Handle

from the silent-but-deadly dept

I have to say, it can certainly be quite frustrating to watch dispassionately how terrorism is discussed in the United States. After the fervor in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when terrorism was used either as a reason or excuse to enact all kinds of liberty-diffusing policies and to launch an insane surveillance state that we still haven’t recovered from, I had thought we were quietly entering an era of eye-rolling at the way some in government throw around the word “terrorism.” But, because the home of the brave is so easily whipped into a frenzy of fear, an admittedly horrible terrorist attack half a world away and a shooting spree in California that would have been shrugged off as “Hey, that’s just America” except that the perpetrators had scary sounding last names, has once again meant that our political debates and twenty-four hour news programs are focused on the threat of Islamic extremist terrorism and not all of the other zillions of ways that you might die in the next twenty-four hours.

What all of this fear-mongering has done, which completely escapes my understanding, is create the impression that our enemy is generally devious and technologically intelligent on Bond-villain-esque levels. This is how you create a climate where a legitimate tool such as encryption is under attack as a threat. That’s what makes it so useful to point out when would-be terrorists prove themselves to be bumbling idiots practically begging to be caught. Our own Glyn Moody wrote up a useful piece for ArsTechnica detailing one would-be terrorist’s attempt to crowdsource his targets on Twitter under a not-so-smart Twitter handle.

A would-be UK bomber and his wife have been found guilty by the Old Bailey court of plotting to carry out an explosion in London to mark the tenth anniversary of the 2005 suicide attacks that took place in the same city. Both have been sentenced to life imprisonment: a minimum of 27 years for Mohammed Rehman, and a minimum of 25 years for his ex-wife Sana Ahmed Khan.

Remarkably, Rehman took to Twitter to ask for advice on which of those two targets he should choose: “Westfield shopping centre or London underground?” Rehman asked. “Any advice would be appreciated greatly.” The post carried a link to an al-Qaida press release about the 2005 London bombings. Sky News reports that Rehman’s Twitter name was “Silent Bomber,” with the handle @InService2Godd. As if that weren’t enough, his Twitter bio read: “Learn how to make powerful explosives from the comfort of ones’ bedroom.” The Twitter account has since been suspended.

I have seen the face of my enemy, and it is a very stupid face. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some terrorists and organizations with sophisticated operations, but the homegrown folks we’re always warned to be wary of so often end up looking silly. When they are able to pull off their attacks, I’m often left wondering how we could have the surveillance state we do and yet these people aren’t caught, as public and obvious they tend to be. In fact, far from proving the need for an attack on encryption, more often these attacks and attackers demonstrate the futility of the surveillance we’re already doing.

Curiously, Rehman seems to have expended no effort to hide his online searches for information about how to create explosives, or his plans to carry out an attack. It doesn’t appear that Rehman or his wife used encryption to hide their preparations from prying eyes.

Information about this latest (failed) terrorist bombing undermines further the repeated claim that the world is “going dark” for the intelligence agencies, and that strong encryption poses a threat to society. Once again, all the information that the security services needed to stop the plot was publicly available; fortunately, in this case it was spotted and acted upon.

Which is entirely the point: the best bulwark against terrorist attacks of this nature is the public itself. Anything that reduces the likelihood of the public actively alerting authorities to these threats is counter-productive. Such as the government taking a heavy hand in suggesting that sharing information about the threat is material support for that threat, or acting in a way that erodes trust in the government’s ability to tell terrorism from normal criminal behavior.

The threat from terrorism isn’t null, but the point is these aren’t masterminds, folks, and we shouldn’t be so eager to hand over liberty in favor of safety from what is mostly a really dumb enemy.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “These Ain't Masterminds: Would Be Terrorist Crowdsourced Targets On Twitter Using 'Silent Bomber' Handle”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

“these aren’t masterminds, folks”

Well not all of them, obviously. The smarter ones you don’t hear about until after they’re successful. Generalizing that they’re mostly dumb or mostly geniuses for political spin is equally wrong. Personal intelligence really has little to do with predicting a the severity of a threat anyway.

JMT says:

Re: Re:

“The smarter ones you don’t hear about until after they’re successful.”

And look how incredibly rare they are. Look at the number of deaths from acts of terrorism compared to damn near any other way to die. It’s a stupid thing to throw away your liberty for.

“Personal intelligence really has little to do with predicting a the severity of a threat anyway.”

Can’t agree with that. It’s seems common sense that the smarter the perpetrators are the less likelihood they’ll be discovered beforehand and the more likely their attacks will be harmful, i.e. smarter = higher threat. So where are all the really smart terrorists at?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

So where are all the really smart terrorists at?

Carousing at clubs, kicking back at cafes, going into debt to buy nice cars in the hope of impressing women (and/or men), and saying to each other “Wait, what were we supposed to be doing? Really? Well fuck that, dude. Mas cerveza!”


“OK, we have Tails & Tor. Found a selection of unsecured wifi hotspots. We’ve got some fake IDs, mail drops, & burners. Wow, that was a lot of work… screw buying bomb materials and guns, let’s order up some hookers & blow.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The smart ones realized that 1 non-virgin wife > 28 virgins in heaven...

The smart ones have realized that the “religion” that promises them 28 in the bush over 1 in the hand is a big joke. There is a reason a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, you can’t use what you don’t have (or what you won’t be around to use once you finish your mission).

If those in charge really believed in their cause, they would all be dead by now so that they could have their 28 virgins, but even they know it’s all a hoax to control ignorant masses and get them to do unspeakable things for promises of glory in the afterlife.

Give them some silver spray paint and body tattoos and you’ve got your next mad-max cult crew…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The smart ones realized that 1 non-virgin wife > 28 virgins in heaven...

Actually the real smart ones have realised that violence is counterproductive.

Instead they deflect criticism with the “Islamophobia” meme whilst gently pushing their islamicisation agenda at every opportunity. Their goal is the same as that of the terrorists but they are smarter in their methods. The violence will only kick in when they feel they have the critical mass to win. That will take decades (if we are lucky) but they play a long game. Look at the gradual decline of non-islamic religion in the middle east and indonesia for examples.

Anonymous Coward says:

The threat from terrorism isn’t null

but it’s darn close. Keep in mind that it’s still true that the average America is more likely to be killed by their own furniture than by a terrorist…yet we don’t see mass hysteria over rogue bookcases and malevolent tables.

Any American who says “I’m afraid of terrorism” is not only a coward, but an absolute moron. They should be silenced instantly and — if in public office — removed immediately and blacklisted from it for life.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

In case you haven’t noticed, the 1st Amendment has been pretty well shredded already — at the behest of the cowards who fear terrorism or at least pretend to in order to use it as a pretense for the destruction of civil liberties.

Anyone who says they’re afraid of terrorism is weak, cowardly, stupid, and a traitor to the principles of courage, liberty and freedom on which the United States was founded. And I see no reason to allow such inferior, unworthy, cringing “people” any rights: they are disposable.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Not so. Anyone expressing the belief that terrorists are actually a credible threat are either misinformed or ‘weak, cowardly, stupid’, and lacking courage, but the best way to counter that is not to silence them, it is to expose their cowardice and/or ignorance. Point out that on the list of ‘things that might kill you today’, ‘terrorism’ is way, way down the list, behind such horrid threats like ‘driving’, ‘walking on a slippery floor’ and ‘furniture related accidents’.

If, after having seen the numbers they still continue to claim that terrorism is an actual threat, and moreover one worth sacrificing freedoms for, then you call them out on their cowardice and keep doing so until they’ve lost all credibility on the matter.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:


First of all the purpose of terrorism is to make people afraid. That people become afraid is an indicator that terrorism worked, even if the proposed terror is fiction. Interestingly, I have yet to see any methodology to ascertain if anyone is actually afraid.

It would be better if the public stood up to terrorism by saying, “bring it on, we are not afraid”, and then deal with whatever did actually happen in some sensible manner. I have yet to see a demonstration of that.

That people fall prey to terrorism is a shame, not a sign of moronic tendencies. The members of government and the press that extol the possibility of terror in order to extend terror or actually practice terrorism are those that deserve derision.

That those in public office abuse terrorism to establish laws that make a joke of their oaths of office is something to be abhorred. The real issue is that constituents fail to un-elect those that abuse their oaths of office. If only there was a system in place that would allow that.

The two party system, or actually any system that allows political parties will never allow the righteous to rule.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The building of parties is nothing more than an end game to control candidates!

The trick is to get people to THINK they have power through election, the solution to that problem is to form political parties so that you can circumvent that!

There is a reason that parties build their own little power structures, so they can more effectively reign in dissidents politicking under their badges and to give the illusion that someone one NOT politicking under one of their badges is somehow not worth your time.

George Washington warned of us these party systems a long time ago in his farewell address. Quite possibly the greatest president we have ever had or will ever have sadly!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The two party system, or actually any system that allows political parties will never allow the righteous to rule.

I’d go further: the righteous will never rule as long as those who hold office are doing so by choice or desire. Randomly press-gang a thousand people, and ask each one if he or she would be willing to be President. Choose the next President from the subset of those who answered “no”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Absolutely. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that a Star Trek future is an idealist’s dream. Adams, however, has provided more than a few reasonable, viable, and pragmatic responses to situations caused by the unfortunate problem of the existence of people.

The wrench we jammed in the works, though, was developing the SEP field generator before anything else. Kinda short-circuits the whole deal.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

First of all the purpose of terrorism is to make people afraid. That people become afraid is an indicator that terrorism worked, even if the proposed terror is fiction. Interestingly, I have yet to see any methodology to ascertain if anyone is actually afraid.

Actually it is an economic war and it is surprisingly successful. The economic cost of all the securoty is truly staggering.

” In a post-9/11 interview with Al Jazeera, bin Laden remarked at length on the financial impact of the attacks. He concluded that the total cost to America was “no less than $1 trillion,” in comparison with the approximately $500,000 al-Qaeda spent to make it happen.”

Quoted in Gartenstein-Ross, “Bin Laden’s ‘War of a Thousand Cuts’ Will Live On.”

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Keep in mind that it’s still true that the average America is more likely to be killed by their own furniture than by a terrorist…yet we don’t see mass hysteria over rogue bookcases and malevolent tables.

Anything you hear about on the news is something you don’t need to fear because it is something unusual. CNN doesn’t interrupt a show to update you on the number of people who have died from heart disease or car accidents today – that’s for things that hardly ever happen.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And unless a regular citizen had not alerted them to it, all of the massive spying machinery would have missed it.
So much focus on imaginary plots that only the best super secret tech can spot…. they are ignoring that humans can be stupid.

Looking for the cat burglar with the laser trip wire dodging skills & pocket super computers to disable the alarms…. while a duffer with a bat walks in, cracks the case open and walks out with the treasure.

We don’t live in a world populated with burglars with superhuman skills, why are we spending so much money to catch them instead of the dolt with a bat?

Aaron Walkhouse (profile) says:

Some of these wannabe martyrs are resting on a couple of
reasonable, if naive, expectations:

They assume they won’t be caught in time to stop them;
because they have seen plenty of examples of that in the
news over the past decade.

They expect to die, so don’t bother protecting themselves
from detection or defenses they will meet on the way to
martyrdom and imaginary heaven.

With both of these in mind it becomes easier to get on with
their crimes because it is so much simpler to skip precautions,
alternate targets and escape routes.

They don’t have to be particularly stupid to operate like this
but it says a lot about their lack of wisdom when they first
decided to die as “righteous” killers.

Lets not forget that these are not military campaigns or missions
at all, and are not being treated as such. They are suicides
by people who want to be remembered.

Cleverness, to these types, is a sin; not a virtue.

Anonymous Coward says:

If no one has noticed yet, all this FUD is about one thing. Increasing surveillance on the populace. By far, the majority go about their own lives with no intention of bothering anyone, much less terrorist activities.

When you go looking at all the successful terrorist acts nearly none of them used encryption, most were already known about, the majority of them under the watchful eye of some security branch for a while then decided not to be a threat and dropped.

But all this spying on the populace isn’t about terrorism. It appears to be about the fear of revolution when you go to looking at things like OWS. Looking back on that, they were declared terrorist so that the governmental machine could rather intelligence, plan, and disperse those plans across the nation to where the demonstrations were. The group was about non-violence. Yet there were the anarchists in there to cause trouble who were not of the OWS group. It doesn’t take much brain power to figure out these were the official branches creating a reason to be involved, unofficially done of course.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The government has been at the infiltrate, subvert, and poison game for a long long time.

OWS was still a filthy stinking joke though. I have nothing against malcontents and would like to see more demonstrations, but if your leadership does not even know how to properly demonstrate or comes off as some whacko hippie liberal new age woodstock then it is little wonder you will not get traction.

OWS looked and sounded more like a bunch of crybabies crying that they had to settle for cheap androids instead of expensive and HIP iPhones.

I guarantee you that everyone contributed WILLINGLY & BLINDLY to the very system they bitched about!

Anonymous Coward says:

See Something, Walk Away

“Anything that reduces the likelihood of the public actively alerting authorities to these threats is counter-productive.”

I no longer voluntarily interact with members of any police, security, or intelligence arm of the government at local, county, state, or federal levels. Maybe, if terrorists could believably be credited with at least as many deaths in the U.S. each year as drunk drivers, my sense of anxiety about the threat they pose would outweigh my distrust of the authorities. The current model of police-state in the U.S. has moved me into the almost totally self-preserving anarchist category.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: See Something, Walk Away

This needs to be expanded.

More like distrust of power should NEVER outweigh our rights to protect ourselves and our privacy.

Far to many people think the police are here to protect us and they are not! They are here for only 1 purpose, to fine or capture and punish anyone breaking the law. In their own words the gun on their hip is for THEIR protection not yours!

Cliff says:

Four Lions

Four Lions is a British film from a few years back – it is about a group of would-be jihadists, and is EXTREMELY funny and most importantly is very disarming. It’s not anti-Islam, it’s not xenophobic, it is a great watch. And it uses humour to disarm prejudices and terror. Of course it’s dark in places, has a good dose of pathos, and won’t be to all tastes, but give it a try.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

They don’t even have to proactively ‘help’. It’s even easier than that.

Intelligence Community Business Plan:
1. Demand more money and power to fight terrorism.
2. Slack off, do a half-assed job, wait for disaster.
3. Repeat.

Only industry where failure guarantees you a raise.
(This gets mentioned so much that I think TechDirt needs a tdtropes section.)

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...