War on Terror: send in the Hackers?

Should Snowden work for the government?
Net neutrality is a hot-button issue these days. In principle it sounds good. After all, do you want your Internet Provider (IP) to restrict what you can watch?  Isn't control the slippery slope to censorship? Like so many debates in our society, net neutrality is falsely configured as an either/or scenario. Freedom is not synonymous with unfettered libertine behavior. Think of "free" speech–one does not have the liberty to endanger public safety, incite riots, or use speech to conspire to commit crimes. So why do we think the Net is any different?

Leave it to ISIS and its barbaric analogs to raise the ugly profile of freedom. It has thrived on posting beheadings such as recent screenings of the dismemberment of two innocent Japanese men. Evidence suggests that some of the monsters that wiped out the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris were stirred by radical videos and websites. Misguided individuals view such content as evidence of muscular Islam, and some become recruits. Logic dictates that a useful tool in the war on terror would be to temper net neutrality talk and take the battle into cyberspace. 

Job one for any gathering movement is to call attention to itself. Shutting down the PR pipeline is akin to cutting off the supply of oxygen. Haters can still do harm, but deprived of a public podium, they are more likely to be relegated to the ranks of fools and ghouls. So let's shut them down. There are several ways to do this.

First, revamp security agencies. Clean out the desk-occupying careerists whose views on spying were shaped by Cold War thinking. Let's recruit some tech-savvy younger spooks that can channel their hacking proclivities for good rather than mischief. Maybe we ought to call Edward Snowden in from the cold and let him set up a unit. Charge these folks with tracing the origin of hate group websites, hacking into the codes, and engaging in a game of disrupt, disrupt, disrupt….

Second, go after the IPs that distribute hate content. Make them responsible for content and let them know that if they post such materials, we will shut them down. That's easy in the US—use the Federal Communications Act and simply pull the plug. It's probably not as hard to do abroad as one might think either. It's not all that difficult to trace where particular content is distributed. If, for instance, we know that a beheading video originated in Turkey, tell the Turkish government that all US aid will be withheld until the Turkish government identifies the IP that first posted it and shuts it down. Then follow the trail. Was the content viewed in Lebanon? Which IP transmitted it? Same deal. If nothing else, the hacking trail helps identify true allies from the smiling, lying fakes. (Yes, you, Saudi Arabia! You too, Pakistan!)

Sadly, US aid dollars are often the enablers of terror infrastructure. That's a sin we can lay at the feet of Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter set up mechanisms by which US foreign aid was linked to human rights, but Reagan insisted that trade and aid ought not to march to a moral drummer. Reagan was wrong. We don't necessarily need to bomb IT or TV stations abroad–though that might need to be considered, especially in places without civil authority–but we surely shouldn't allow taxpayer dollars to flow to lands that turn a blind eye spreading terror.

Third, make possession of hate materials a controlled substance like some drugs. I assume that the FBI has spies within the ranks of various hate groups. Instead of "monitoring" their activity, come down hard. If we know that a group has gathered to view a tape of a beheading, swoop in and arrest them all for illegal possession. Deport those who are not citizens and charge the others with hate crimes. Sound harsh? Homeland Security routinely deports Mexican immigrants for such 'heinous' crimes as driving without a license and shoplifting. Which is more of threat, a poor campesino ripping off a Wal-Mart or some martyr-wannabe gloating over the murder of innocents? And don't you think it's a bit odd that many public high schools have stronger hate crime codes than city, state, and federal governments?

While we're at it, turn the hackers and trackers loose on domestic hate groups. Would new standards lead to a shut down of websites for the Ku Klux Klan and radical anti-choice groups? I can live with that.

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