Greg Miller and Souad Mekhennet coauthored a fascinating article in the Washington Post last week about ISIS’ media wing, making the group the social media juggernaut that counterterrorism professionals have come to both respect and loathe. By interviewing ISIS defectors in a Moroccan prison, they note:
Camera crews fan out across the caliphate every day, their ubiquitous presence distorting the events they purportedly document. Battle scenes and public beheadings are so scripted and staged that fighters and executioners often perform multiple takes and read their lines from cue cards.
Cameras, computers and other video equipment arrive in regular shipments from Turkey. They are delivered to a media division dominated by foreigners — including at least one American, according to those interviewed — whose production skills often stem from previous jobs they held at news channels or technology companies.
Based on the article, here are four ways the U.S. could degrade ISIS’ fearsome media apparatus—right now:
1. Follow the personnel. The U.S. has significant aerial presence over ISIS territory; there are camera crews going out to tape almost every day. Given these crews are identifiable due to the new Toyota Hilux trucks that ISIS issues to them, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one out on a mission. Once the crew has been identified, it should be simple enough to follow them around until they eventually return to a media branch office scattered throughout Syria/Iraq, or even to ISIS’ media HQ in Aleppo.
Then, wait for an all-staff meeting. Like any bureaucracy, ISIS holds meetings. One indicator will be multiple Toyota trucks showing up at a given location at the same time.
Then apply appropriate force. Here’s a model of how it might be done.
2. Identify buildings with large electric generators. The article indicates ISIS installed large generators by its media buildings in order to keep the electricity flowing when the grid fails. Even if the generators are hidden from view, the structure itself would use more electricity than the other buildings in the area—after all, all those computers and post-production machines must consume more power than anywhere else.
Then wait for that all-staff meeting.
3. Identify the American who defectors claim runs the technical aspects of ISIS’ propaganda wing. This mysterious American whom the article refers to but never actually identifies seems to be very high up in the ISIS propaganda food chain. Who is he? How did he get there? And what is his background? After this article, his profile should be appropriately raised.
4. Identify ISIS’ internet provider in Turkey. The Post notes “Internet access went through a Turkish wireless service.” I’d hazard a guess that it shouldn’t be too difficult to determine which company is providing one of the most murderous organizations on the planet with its connectivity to the outside world.
Once this company is identified, surely there can be a way to use certain specialized means to infect ISIS with a computer virus that destroys everything in its Media HQ—or at least determine where is the end user and then utilize kinetic means. Turkish authorities can also clamp down on this company and subvert it so Ankara can control the Internet coming and going into ISIS-controlled lands.
Of course, these efforts won’t completely stop ISIS’ propaganda wing from functioning. The group will continue to churn out slick media, such as the English-language webzine Dabiq, or more traditional videos via al-Furqan, even if the Defense Department does everything I suggest. But we can certainly raise the price for engaging in the conflict of ideas by targeting its facilities and its personnel.
People and building are replaceable. But given the emphasis ISIS places on its propaganda efforts, it might be time to significantly raise the temperature and cause its personnel to become a lot more paranoid about their chosen profession.
We’re in a war, after all.
photo: a screenshot of the now-deceased Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, responsible for the November 13 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.