TOP U.S. INTELLIGENCE OFFICER FOR IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN SAYS INTERNET IS TERRORISTS' BIGGEST RECRUITING TOOL -- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY ON CBS
America's top intelligence officer overseeing Iraq and Afghanistan says terrorists have made the Internet their most important recruiting tool. Brig. Gen. John Custer tells Scott Pelley that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda are influencing Islamic youth to join their cause through Websites devoted to jihad, or religious war. Pelley's report will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, March 4 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"I see 16, 17-yr.-olds who have been indoctrinated on the Internet turn up on the battlefield. We capture them, we kill them every day in Iraq, in Afghanistan," says Custer. "Without a doubt, the Internet is the single-most important venue for the radicalization of Islamic youth," he tells Pelley.
Potential recruits can be lured to sites that offer news or information that contain links to other sites featuring violence against people the terrorists say are enemies of Islam. Those sites often show American soldiers being killed and military vehicles blown up, as well as journalists and contractors being murdered or shown in captivity. Custer says the sites can convince potential recruits that American soldiers are on the run. "It's a war of perceptions....They don't have to win on the tactical battlefield. They never will. No platoon has ever been defeated in Afghanistan or Iraq, but it doesn't matter."
The sites also provide religious justification for waging a holy war and celebrate suicide bombers by showing their farewell videos and depicting them enshrined in heaven. Chat rooms and message boards also play a role, manipulating visitors with religious guilt. Ultimately, the terrorists are trying to hijack Islam says Stephen Ulph, an expert on militant Islam and a consultant to West Point from the Jamestown Foundation. "[The terrorists] say 'You're not a proper Muslim, nor are your parents.' Very important implication here. If your parents aren't proper Muslims and if the sheik of a mosque isn't a proper Muslim, What are you doing obeying them?" says Ulph.
The Internet allows terrorists to use increasingly sophisticated methods, such as music videos distributed by media organizations, to reach more potential recruits with more effective messages. "Now they are able to distribute...anything they want anywhere they want. This is unheard of in history," says Ulph. "We're witnessing this ideological war on our own desktops."
To Custer, it's the end of conventional war. "Can you imagine thousands of tanks on a battlefield now? I can't," he tells Pelley. "It's a different type of warfare. It's a battle of perceptions and Al Qaeda understands it and America needs to understand it."