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Cyber Embargo: Countering the Internet Jihad

Gregory S. McNeal, Pennsylvania State University - Main Campus

Abstract

Terrorists are engaged in an online jihad, characterized by the use of the internet to fundraise, distribute messages and directives, recruit and proselytize. It is impossible to shut down the entire presence of terrorists on the internet; however, this article details a proposal which can have a marked impact on the presence of terrorists on the internet. Using existing statutes, it is possible to regionalize terrorist websites, limiting them to an extremely small number of countries from which they may receive internet services. Once the terrorist message is limited to a particular region, a modification of current laws can allow for a cyber embargo on jihadist websites and their supporters. These efforts coupled with diplomatic cooperation can further the effort to curb the impact of jihadist websites, while simultaneously increasing the ability of governments to monitor these websites and, when necessary, shut them down.

In this article I outline my proposal using as an example the active and official website of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a designated terrorist organization. In Part 1 I provide a brief overview of the status of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and its brazen efforts to stay online despite government efforts. I outline a three step process by which the PIJ web presence and others like it can be eliminated.

In Part 2, I detail the threat posed by the cyber jihad. I explain how terrorists use the internet to recruit, train for attacks and coordinate those attacks. I describe the clear advantages terrorist organizations enjoy by using websites and explain the current state of affairs. This sets the stage for a discussion of the current statutory framework which has to date only enjoyed moderate success.

In Part 3, I move beyond the threat and detail the legal and policy implications of using existing statutes to eliminate the web presence of terrorist organizations. I also detail the limitations of the current statute and prepare the reader for a discussion of how, with slight modifications, the existing statutory and policy framework can markedly diminish the advantages terrorist organizations enjoy through their web presence.

In Part 4, I detail the critical next step in countering the cyber jihad. I explain the advantages of creating a cyber embargo of companies who provide material support to terrorist organizations, but who for legal or policy reasons may be beyond the reach of the material support statute. The creation of a cyber-embargo rests upon a non-criminal material supporter designation which will prevent U.S. companies from conducting business with designated material supporters. In essence, this process involves the creation of virtual persona non grata. I also detail the diplomatic efforts necessary to globalize the reach of this counter terrorism strategy. Through cooperation with foreign governments, loopholes in the jihadist web presence can be closed and terrorist organizations can be forced to a limited number of potential host countries.

I conclude the article by discussing the implications of following my approach, and the new counterterrorism opportunities such tactics present.

Suggested Citation

Gregory S. McNeal. "Cyber Embargo: Countering the Internet Jihad" Case Western Reserve University Journal of International Law 39 (2008): 789-826.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/gregorymcneal/15