Al-Qaida is becoming a media organization that engages in terrorism, rather than the other way around, said counterterrorism expert Jarret Brachman Wednesday at a seminar conducted at the University of Maryland.
Brachman noted how As-Sahab, al-Qaida's media arm, has become more visible than the terror group itself. On this new digital battlefield, we are monitoring them and they are watching us, said Brachman, and by effectively using our own words against us, they are doing it better.
The event, entitled "Technology, Crime, & Terrorism," brought together a wide array of experts—from academia, the intelligence community, and public office—to discuss the role that technological advancement has played in shaping the threats we face. These are as diverse as international terrorism to local street gang activity. The event was hosted by the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, with coordination from the START Center.
More than 9 years since September 11, 2001, the global jihad movement has adapted and grown from a top-down organization with a defined group of core-leadership, to today's fragmented model that has "transcended individuals," said Brachman.
He pointed to Osama bin-Laden's most recent audio release about relief work and humanitarian causes to highlight the jihadist media's growing use of what he termed "frame extension"—the piggy backing on other grievances to build support from otherwise disconnected camps.
Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler gave the keynote address, highlighting the double edge of living in the digital age and how it both helps and hinders law enforcement. "Technology is way ahead of where we are in the law," said Gansler.
As many of the day's panelists suggested, closing that gap is going to be a challenge for years to come.