Saturday, June 03, 2006


As you probably already know, Canada is claiming to have broken up a major homegrown terrorist cell. The Toronto Star says that a key role in the investigation was played by Internet monitoring:

...The chain of events began two years ago, sparked by local teenagers roving through Internet sites, reading and espousing anti-Western sentiments and vowing to attack at home, in the name of oppressed Muslims here and abroad.

Their words were sometimes encrypted, the Internet sites where they communicated allegedly restricted by passwords, but Canadian spies back in 2004 were reading them....

Righty blogger Captain Ed wags a finger:

The issue of Internet monitoring has some in the US uncomfortable about breaches of privacy.... Should the Canadians have eschewed their investigation -- and waited until this group killed hundreds or thousands of people before knowing anything about them? The Internet is not a private network, as some could argue the phone systems provide. Communications are not point-to-point but broadcast, and the expectation of privacy in Internet communications should have disappeared long ago.

If we want to catch these people before they strike, then we had better know when, where, and how they communicate for coordination and recruitment, and be prepared to stop them as the CSIS [Canadian Security and Intelligence Service] has apparently done today.

Er, Ed? I don't know anyone who's arguing that governments shouldn't be monitoring suspect Web sites. It's the unrestricted warrantless dragnets that get us cranky, not cops finding their way to chat rooms where people are talking jihad and making their way in. I cite last summer's New Yorker article about New York's counterterrorism efforts all the time, but it's relevant here:

The intelligence division [of the NYPD] ... has officers fluent in the relevant languages poring over the foreign press or surfing the innumerable jihadist Web sites and chat rooms.

... "When we started, in 2002, we didn't really know what we were doing," Reza, [an] Iranian-born officer, said. "It was trial and error. Viruses beyond belief. But we got the medicine now. We go into the worst chat rooms."

"We're always being tested," Maged, [a] detective from Egypt, said. "You know you passed the test when suddenly somebody gives you a password to a chat room you didn’t know existed." He went on, "We're familiar with the tradition, the background, we speak the slang."...

The cybercops told me that each of them belonged to more than thirty separate e-mail groups, or chat rooms.

"It can take a long time to work your way up the ladder," Maged said. "At first, it might be just some guy in Texas talking with some guy from Saudi, anti-government shit. But other people are listening, and if they see you coming back every day, and you seem serious, they might invite you somewhere else."

"Ninety-seven per cent of the juicy stuff is done P.M.--personal message," Reza said. "Not in chat rooms. But it takes a lot of time -- months, maybe years -- to get this kind of trust." ...

Remember the huge outcry from civil libertarians when that article appeared, Ed? Me either -- because there wasn't one.

If this is what the CSIS did, good for the CSIS. That's not the same as what the Bush administration is doing.

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