WASHINGTON, A 24-hour Jihadi Help Desk has come together using a series of different communications platforms allowing terrorists to train and plan in ways making it difficult for intelligence agencies to track widely dispersed people planning attacks, according to counterterrorism analysts.
Although not a traditional call center, the five or six senior members of the Islamic State, also identified as Daesh and by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, function as a group of IT experts helping facilitate attack planning and offering training for members of the group to cover their digital tracks.
The help desk, which exists on YouTube and Twitter, is also heavily available on the IS channel on Telegram, a communications app, and includes information on how to conceal telephone numbers or identifying information on social media, the best apps to use for phone calls, and how to securely browse the web, Dr. Aaron Brantly, a cyber fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, told CNN Money.
“They’ve developed a series of different platforms in which they can train one another on digital security to avoid intelligence and law enforcement agencies for the explicit purpose of recruitment, propaganda and operational planning,” Brantly told NBC News. “Clearly this enables them to communicate and engage in operations beyond what used to happen, and in a much more expeditious manner. They are now operating at the speed of cyberspace rather than the speed of person-to-person communications.”
Brantly called the help desk “a fairly large, robust community” beyond just the five or six senior members, who he said have at least collegiate or masters level IT training. Groups of other IS members are available 24 hours a day answering questions.
The CTC has acquired more than 300 pages of documents that cover security software and encryption, in addition to instructions about concealing identities and safely trading information through the social networks and communications platforms that make up the online training network.
“They will engage in encrypted person-to-person communications, and these are extremely hard to break into from a cryptographic perspective,” Brantly said. “Imagine you have a problem and need to solve it and go to YouTube — they have essentially established the same mechanism [for terrorism].”
By Stephen Feller