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.