By Christine June
/ Published December 01, 2017
By using the internet, terrorists can quickly and effectively recruit, incite violence, transfer funds and organize attacks with relative freedom and secrecy across borders to an almost limitless audience.
“But, their advantage is not absolute,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton, director of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, a German-American security and defense institute based here.
“We can use the internet against them,” Dayton said.
A team of eight experts from the FBI taught 33 participants from 23 countries how to bring the counterterrorism fight to the internet at the Marshall Center’s global counterterrorism workshop titled “Investigating Terrorists Online” held Nov. 27 to 30.
“Working investigations online is really the new world we live in as counterterrorism professionals, and it’s very new and complicated,” said Assistant Special Agent Christopher Serdinak, who is in charge of the counterterrorism program in Chicago for the FBI. “Counterterrorism experts around the world are trying to learn as fast as they can, because it changes so rapidly.”
That’s why Serdinak, who is an alumnus of the Marshall Center’s Program on Terrorism and Security Studies, asked the PTSS Director Jim Howcroft if he could bring a team of experts to teach how to target terrorists online to fellow alumni and 13 legal attachés from seven countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, who routinely work with the FBI.
“Chris’ willingness and initiative to put a team together and teach the latest techniques and tools to our partners around the world in the fight against terrorism was a genius move,” Howcroft said. “This is an evolving and important part of the counterterrorism fight that most people do not know much about, and the FBI has the expertise to teach us how to use this capability.”
Serdinak’s team included FBI agents, analysts and a legal attaché from his unit in Chicago and FBI headquarters in Washington.
“My team is very skilled in counterterrorism investigations,” Serdinak said. “It’s their sole task, and they do it every day.”
Howcroft said the workshop provided an atmosphere for the participants and FBI agents to discuss and exchange ideas, best practices and recommendations on how to investigate and take action against terrorists online.
“What we’ll do here is explore ways to share and cooperate in cyberspace to address this growing global and transnational problem,” Dayton said at the beginning of the workshop. “By the time you leave here, you will be equipped with knowledge and a renewed and expanded network of partners you can turn to when you need advice or assistance.”
Another important aspect of the workshop was that the partner nation, counterterrorism professionals met and got to know FBI agents, Howcroft said.
“This is important, because they will need to go through the FBI to access the social media companies that are based in the United States, like Twitter, Facebook and Google,” he said.
Interactive sessions dealt with identifying derogatory social media accounts, current trends and evolution of the online environment for recruitment and racialization by the Islamic State [of Iraq and Syria], and how to conduct handoffs from the FBI to foreign partners for targeting social media account users.
“A lot of the information we shared was actual technical skill, almost to the computer science level, like using different social media platforms and encrypted apps frequently used by terrorists,” Serdinak said.
‘Results Were Tremendous’
This information has already helped Ravindar Singh’s counterterrorism police team back in Malaysia.
“We only knew how to use Google to get evidence and information, but after the first day here, I learned from the FBI agents how to use different tools and devices to find other activities, which are linked together,” said Singh, who’s the assistant director of the Narcotics Intelligence Division with the Royal Malaysia Police.
“I called my team that night and told them about these new devices, and I just heard from them that the results were tremendous,” Singh added.