The Naval Postgraduate School & The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Online Radicalization: The Rising Threat in Cyberspace

Computer Monitor Released today by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), the new report entitled "Countering Online Radicalization in America" discusses the evolving nature of threats in cyberspace. In the last decade, the rise of social networking and virtual communities has provided the framework under which online radicalization has flourished. In an article at the beginning of the week, Project Co-Chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, speaking in support of the report, commented that "terrorists are using these and other tools to spread their ideas, connect with each other, make new recruits, and incite illegal and violent action. [...] Online radicalization is here to stay, and future terrorist attacks against the homeland will involve individuals who have been radicalized - at least in part - on the Internet." The first and most critical recommendation emerging from the report is that the White House should not tarry in implementing its 2011 counter-radicalization strategy. Beyond that, the BPC report explores three ways in which online radicalization should be addressed: 1.) Strategies that are focused on "restricting freedom of speech and removing content from the Internet" should be halted. According to the research, policies to this end are neither effective nor practical and can often hinder intelligence gathering. 2.) Government should instead focus on "reducing the demand for radicalization and violent extremist messages." The goal is to essentially create an environment in which radicalization and extremism are "drowned out" by democracy and pluralism. As such, the government should act as an "enabler" that can "create awareness, convene relevant non-governmental actors, build capacity, and foster media literacy." 3.) The authors put the most faith in the third recommendation: government should exploit the cyber-presence of terrorists and extremists, and make "maximum use of the information they are sharing with others." The report promotes the gathering of strategic intelligence via these radicalized persons. Not only should the government collect tactical information on the networks and plans of terrorist groups, but they should also collect evidence that could be used in prosecutions. This report provides an engaging look into the development of online radicalization and how terrorists are using the Internet. Recommendations are communicated in clear detail, and challenges and obstacles are also examined.