Donald Trump keeps repeating that his Muslim ban executive order will prevent the “bad dudes” from entering American and then perform various acts of terrorism. Even if increased vetting procedures might prevent would-be terrorists to enter the country, it’s likely this heavily contested immigration policy will not actually prevent any of the remote-controlled ISIS attacks that might target locations in the US.
A new extensive report reveals that ISIS has dramatically changed the way it plans and executes its attack in recent years. Rather than requiring radicalized volunteers to travel to Syria to pledge their allegiance, ISIS is recruiting members directly from the countries they intend to hit and train them with the help of a variety collection of social apps like Twitter and encryption chat and email services including Telegram, ChatSecure, and others.
Using information from investigations in various foiled terrorist attacks that may have looked like “lone wolf” operations, The New York Times explains how unknown handlers recruit soldiers online, and how they train them for various attacks. The recruits often originate (and live) in the country they’re about to hit — the list includes Australia, Bangladesh, France, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the US — and they never find out the true identities of their handlers.
Using encrypted communication and other protocols meant to prevent law enforcement from snooping in, the handlers provide detailed information to the recruits including moral support.
The handlers teach recruits how to build bombs, and tell them exactly where to pick up getaway vehicles and guns. The handlers themselves are familiar with the locations where an attack is supposed to take place and work with other parties to deliver various goods to the newly formed cells — in some attacks, the handlers instruct recruits to associate themselves with other people who would support ISIS.
The extensive Times report seems to indicate there’s no way of actually catching these people as long as their identities remain hidden. On the other hand, known high-ranking ISIS “officials” who directed such remote attacks have been the targets of successful bombing raids.
The report also suggests that strong encryption can help would-be attackers and their attackers remain hidden. But intelligence agencies managed to thwart various terrorist plots in countries including France, Germany, India, and others, and obtain critical information about how the attackers prepared for the job.
Often, it’s human error responsible for an attacker inability to conduct an operation according to the carefully elaborated plan. At the same time, mass surveillance does work, as in some of these cases, even if encryption was used to protect chats, intelligence agencies were still able to prevent attacks.