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The Post-Snowden Age
ISIS Goes Offline

ISIS, which became famous for using social media such as Twitter to spread pictures of its atrocities—beheadings, crucifixions, mass shootings, etc.—has decided to go “dark” since the U.S. began its air campaign last month, The Financial Times reports:

The owner of an internet café in an Isis-controlled area in Syria that is frequented by the group’s members said there had been a big fall in the numbers of fighters using platforms such as Twitter. “A few stayed online, but no one posts selfies next to chopped-off heads any more,” he said.

As one might suspect, the shadow of Edward Snowden looms large over this electronic evasive maneuvering. ISIS, the FT reports, is aware of and takes into account America’s abilities to monitor metadata, even going so far as to hand out a manual on the subject to its forces:

An Arabic language manual distributed among Isis fighters, a copy of which was seen by the Financial Times, gives detailed instructions on how to remove metadata from content being put online.

“A number of security gaps have appeared that have benefited the enemy and have helped expose the identities of some brothers or identify some sites used by the mujahideen with ease,” it begins, going on to explain in detail what those gaps are and the way they expose “data that could turn your hair gray”.

Naturally, ISIS could not accomplish its aims without some beheadings and paranoia: some 20 accused “spies” have been executed for allegedly planting chips that led to U.S. drone attacks in Raqqa, among other supposed offenses related to what we would call signals intelligence.

For those of us who do not have security clearances, the debate about matters such as Snowden’s revelations will always occur at least half in the dark. Yet sometimes flashes of light, such as this report, illuminate matters. The report lends credence to an argument made by Snowden’s critics—that his disclosures would carry a high cost for the United States and its allies during actual wartime operations.

After thirteen years of low-level conflict, many in the West long not only to stay out of the fray, but to have those who do our dirty work for us do so by sanitized means. But real life doesn’t work like that. Our enemies are by no means as ignorant as we sometimes like to pretend, and such high-mindedness creates real problems for those trying to deal with such foes.

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  • Sibir_RUS

    Comment by the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia in connection with the incorrect publications in the media on the anti-terror cooperation between Russia and the United States in the context of the events in the Middle East

    In connection with the reports in the media that Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry allegedly agreed at the 14 October meeting in Paris to share reconnaissance information on the fight against terrorism and that Russia will take part in training and consulting the Iraqi security forces, we have to make the following clarifications:
    These issues were raised by the US Secretary of State. Sergey Lavrov stressed in turn that Russia has been consistently fighting terrorism for many years and helping other countries to combat the terrorist threat, including by providing significant assistance to Syria, Iraq, and other countries in the region, helping them strengthen their military capabilities. Russia will continue these efforts, but will not join any “coalitions,” created without consent of the UN Security Council and in violation of international law. Mr Kerry’s attention was also drawn to the fact that an anti-terror group existed under the auspices of the Russia-U.S. Bilateral Presidential Commission, within which the sides shared mutually beneficial information. However, the activities of the Commission and all of its mechanisms, including the anti-terror group, have been unilaterally terminated by the American side.

    • FriendlyGoat

      If Russia was less willing to veto things in the UN Security Council for the purpose of frustrating the West, it might have more coalitions to join, wouldn’t it?

      As merely one “average” American, I wish Russia and the USA were in agreement and partnership on nearly everything. There are differences, but our nations should be the “grown-ups” of the world, working together on everything we possibly can, shouldn’t we? Mitt Romney once called Russia the “greatest geopolitical foe” of America. I hope he was not right. If he was right, why would that be the case? For what?

      Vladimir Putin has made a point that bipolarity is necessary. Why?
      Why aren’t we together?

      • rheddles

        Ego. National as well as personal.

        • Sibir_RUS

          “Ego. National as well as personal.”
          Theory of American exceptionalism has not was realized in practice,
          it had withered in embryo and should disappear as a relic of history.
          From the point of view of geography, Center of America located in Nicaragua, from the point of view of international law, between Honduras, United States and all other countries on this planet sovereign equality. If Barack Obama sad from this, I can only regret him.

      • Sibir_RUS

        “Vladimir Putin has made a point that bipolarity is necessary”???

        It is not true. Putin could not say this. Bipolarity in the XXI cannot be repeated.
        After the cold war the world has become multipolar – again.
        “Enshrined in the UN Charter the principle of unanimity among the five permanent members of the Security Council in fact meant capturing the CONCEPT(!) of a multipolar world. The cold war brought it to bipolarity. Now everything is back in place.” – the sooner you understand this, the better.
        Sergey LAVROV, Russian Foreign Minister: “All of America’s friends — and we regard ourselves as ones — should help the United States to make a “soft landing” in multipolar reality. I am convinced that the idea to develop the Euro-Atlantic arena as an entity based on trilateral collaboration between Russia, the EU, and the United States across a broad range of issues would facilitate this task. This collaboration is already taking place in various configurations with the involvement of other countries and organizations. It is important to ensure the steady dynamics of this kind of collective leadership. In relations with the United States, we find ourselves recalling the proverb that “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” How should America’s true friends behave in the prevailing situation? Two scenarios are conceivable. First: Put a shoulder to the wheel and unconditionally participate in all America’s ventures. Second: Take a principled stance proceeding from the true interests of partnership and international community in general. Briefly then, we should be telling the truth. As Chancellor Aleksand Mikhaylovich Gorchakov pointed out in his day, “the best way to live in full accord with all governments is not to conceal our thoughts.” Not everyone will dare to take this stance. Therefore, this burden is for those who can bear it. Russia does not aspire to the status of a superpower, including an energy superpower. We are absolutely happy with what we have: The position of one of the world’s leading states. We do not want others to obey us; we want them to listen to us and to take our opinions into account. Russia has no interests that are incompatible with the international community’s interests. We will not allow ourselves to be drawn into confrontation. We are ready to work with others to create a just and democratic world order that guarantees security and prosperity for all, not just for the chosen ones.”

        • FriendlyGoat

          Our understanding here is that Mr. Putin regards the collapse of the Soviet Union as a great geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century—-destroying a bipolar balance—–, not as a good thing ending bipolarity and restoring a multipolar world “back in place”, as you put it.

          Americans do not necessarily “aspire to the status of a superpower” either, because it involves great responsibility. Russia, though, happens to possess a nuclear arsenal and energy reserves which make it a superpower whether it wants to be or not—-same as us. It’s hard to understand why we must be in some sort of vague and unexplained competition. We ordinary folks here would really prefer, as Gorbachev recommended, that thoughts not be concealed.

          Many of us here haven’t the faintest idea why Russians rally around Putin who, in fact, seems to be promoting the very confrontations you claim you will not allow yourselves to be drawn into. Again, for what?

          • Sibir_RUS

            Most Russians agree with him – it was a disaster primarily associated with the separation of the Russian people, but not only. But Putin at the same time says that Russia does not intend to restore the Soviet Union. Many countries of the former USSR are part of the Commonwealth of independent States is the beginning of a return to multipolarity. China and India, Brasilia and Iran too are important centers of attraction in the multipolar world system. Unfortunately the EU at this stage are in a passive position (bloc thinking), but this is temporary. I am sure, soon the EU countries will be showing signs of independence from the whims of Washington and become independent players in foreign policy. This will strengthen multipolarity. I see no other sustainable alternatives in the XXI century.
            My country has a veto in the UN – this is a big responsibility.
            If you suspect that Russia, China and other countries consciously forcing the U.S. to respect the norms of international law, that’s no reason to think that you’re not normal.

          • Sibir_RUS

            Sergey Lavrov’s open lecture on Russian foreign policy

  • FriendlyGoat

    The benefits of ISIL (“issul”, like rhymes with missle) going dark are greater than our losses of ability to monitor them. ISIL was growing, not shrinking, by use of media. The more they are reluctant to use media, the better, isn’t it?

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “After thirteen years of low-level conflict, many in the West long not only to stay out of the fray, but to have those who do our dirty work for us do so by sanitized means.”

    This completely misrepresents my reasons for staying out of the fray. I was all for attempting to drain the swamp that was spawning all these Jihadists, by planting a Democracy in the middle of Islamoland Iraq to change Muslim culture. But that strategy was abandoned by the weak and stupid Obama, and no strategy on how to actually win against the Jihadists has replaced that strategy. Instead what we have is a flailing about by Obama in a political attempt to show that he’s doing something, when he is really just creating spin.

    The only strategy that makes sense at the moment is that of “Divide and Conquer”, encourage the Sunni Jihadists to focus all their resources on killing the Shiite Jihadists and vice-a-versa. This will make innocents in the west safer because the Jihadists will have no resources with which to murder them, and keeps the unifying target of western Infidels out of the combat zone. This strategy has the benefits of costing the west nothing, while still killing large numbers of Jihadists. Also, there is a possibility that eventually Islamic culture will recoil in shame at the vile criminals it is spawning that do murder, rape, robbery, and enslavement all in the name of God, and legal under Shariah law.

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