by Hampton Stephens
It's no secret that terrorists know their technology. Many militant Islamist groups use the Internet to share bomb designs and spread their destructive know-how. What is less widely acknowledged is the role U.S. companies play in making that possible. The Society for Internet Research estimates that 70 percent of militant Islamist Web sites are housed on computers at U.S.-based hosting companies. The firms say it's simply a market reality. "The vast majority of quality hosting is still based in the United States," says Christian Dawson of ServInt Internet Services, a leading Internet service provider (ISP).
But doesn't that run counter to U.S. efforts in the war on terror? The U.S. government says it is working to combat the problem to the extent it can. Lt. Col. Randi Steffy, with the U.S. Strategic Command, which directs the military's computer network operations, says it "does not monitor domestic commercial ISPs." That responsibility falls to the FBI, which is limited to investigating cybercrimes that violate U.S. laws. Because the First Amendment is permissive of even the most hateful Internet speech, as long as Islamist Web sites don't directly incite violence or raise money, the FBI considers them lawful.
Some experts say that situation isn't all bad. "I want to know what the enemy is thinking," says Stephen Schwartz, director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. "The only way I can know that without spending all my time in a Muslim country ... is to read these Web sites." Sometimes knowing your enemy is easier when he's a click away.
Hampton Stephens is a Washington, D.C.-based writer.
Note: The content of external articles does not necessarily reflect the views of Center for Islamic Pluralism.