British intelligence destroyed several pages of al-Qaida's first edition of Inspire magazine, in one of many instances of Western intelligence sources hacking into jihadi websites, according to Wired.com. However, the issue of disrupting jihadi websites and publications raises questions about the value of cyber attacks, and whether it exposes sensitive intelligence resources.
The case of the al-Qaida's Inspire magazine illustrates the challenge to intelligence. "The head of the newly formed U.S. Cyber Command, Gen. Keith Alexander, argued that blocking the magazine was a legitimate counterterrorism target and would help protect U.S. troops overseas," the Washington Post reported. "But the CIA pushed back, arguing that it would expose sources and methods and disrupt an important source of intelligence."
"The proposal also rekindled a long-standing interagency struggle over whether disrupting a terrorist Web site overseas was a traditional military activity or a covert activity — and hence the prerogative of the CIA."
Although the CIA won out and the proposal was rejected, British intelligence was already hacking the magazine. It took nearly two weeks for al-Qaida operatives to release a corrected version. In the political fallout that followed, House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Tex) included language in the 2012 defense authorization bill which authorized cyber attacks by the military.
Attacks on jihadi websites are nothing new. In April 2009, the Pentagon announced its intention to shut down "Pakistani chat rooms and Web sites that are part of the country's burgeoning extremist underground," as well as rogue radio stations along the Afghani-Pakistani border. In June 2010 a Taliban web forum called Al-Sumud was hacked, presumably as part of the Pentagon's efforts. Earlier attacks on al-Ekhlass.net, what had been the world's most popular jihadi forum, brought down that network in September 2008.