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August 23, 2012
Notes from the Pentagon

Taliban infiltrate social media
Taliban insurgents are using Facebook, YouTube and more recently Twitter to try to recruit terrorists and incite terrorist attacks, U.S. military officials say.

The increasing use of the Internet and cellular telephones with access to the Web is a relatively new feature of life in Afghanistan, and military officials say the Taliban are exploiting the new social-media platforms for their Islamist aims.

“Overall, it’s probably too early to talk about trends, but I would say the Taliban, just like the rest of the world, are trying to use social media to achieve their aims,” said Lt. Col. T.G. Taylor, a U.S. Central Command spokesman. “How effective they are remains to be seen.”

A defense official said U.S. intelligence agencies that monitor the Internet for terrorist activity in the past have detected Taliban insurgents and other violent extremists using social media. When that happens, Central Command is notified, and, in the past, the command has contacted outlets like Facebook and Twitter, urging them to halt terrorist recruitment or inciting violent attacks noting that it violates their terms of service.

Facebook has been the most responsive, deleting some accounts of Taliban insurgents or those posing as Taliban.

In Afghanistan, the use of Facebook is the most prevalent form of social media among many Afghans who use the service to contact family members and associates, to share Internet links and to post status reports, photos, videos and comments.

Along with the general population, Afghan insurgents and jihadists now are using social media such as Facebook and more recently Twitter, officials said.

The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, the military command that is in charge of information operations against the Taliban, has been very concerned about the terrorists’ use of social media.

Military officials say the Taliban have proven to be an adaptable enemy and are now using cyberspace as a new battlefield.

In addition to recruitment, the Taliban use social media to provide information, including false and misleading “disinformation,” to various audiences both domestically and internationally.

In some cases, the Taliban’s use of social media has outpaced that of NATO and U.S. forces, which have been struggling to wage effective information-warfare campaigns against the Islamist insurgents.

The military is trying to balance the need to gather intelligence from such media and cellphones with efforts to prevent the enemy from recruiting more fighters or influencing populations, a defense official said.

“A balance has to be struck, not just with Twitter, but especially with cellphones,” said the official. “If we hear Bad Guy A talking to Bad Guy B, do we let them have the conversation and listen, or do we shut it down and not let them talk?”

U.S. intelligence agencies are continuing to watch Israel closely for signs the Jewish state will conduct a military strike on Iran.

The latest indicator came from an Israeli news report last month that revealed Israeli Defense Forces launched a large-scale program to fortify strategic facilities likely to be targeted in a conflict.

The Tel Aviv news outlet Ynetnews reported July 31 that a large number of critical infrastructure facilities that supply water, power, gasoline and communications are being hardened against attack. The project is being headed by the Home Front Command, and the security upgrade is being carried out by Israeli companies in charge of the infrastructure. All the facilities being strengthened, with reinforced concrete and other defensive measures, were identified as “strategic facilities” likely to be targeted in any military attack against Israel.

A total of 15 facilities are getting the increased defenses, and the security includes better defenses against anticipated cyber attacks.

Iran has medium-range missiles that can reach Israel and is said to be developing cyber warfare attack capabilities.

A senior House Republican on Wednesday criticized the Army’s current hosting of a Chinese military visit as akin to allowing a Nazi leader to visit U.S. military bases during World War II.

“This is equivalent to inviting Hermann Goering to visit American air bases in order to further a spirit of cooperation between the U.S. and Nazi Germany,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on government oversight and investigations. Goering was founder of the Nazi Gestapo and ran Nazi Germany’s economic planning until the regime was defeated in World War II.

Mr. Rohrabacher was referring to the visit by Chinese Lt. Gen. Cai Yingting, deputy chief of staff for the Communist Party-controlled People’s Liberation Army, and a group of four other PLA generals, who will visit three Army bases this week.

“He doesn’t have to visit to understand what’s going on. All the Chinese hackers who bombard the Pentagon on a daily basis can give him that information,” Mr. Rohrabacher said of Gen. Cai.

The military exchange began Monday and ends Aug. 28. It is part of the Pentagon’s efforts to develop closer ties to a Chinese military that, in published military writings, routinely identifies the United States and especially the U.S. military as its main enemy.

Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Peggy Kageleiry said Gen. Cai will visit Army bases in Texas, Missouri and Hawaii before coming to the Pentagon. The visitors will “see Army capabilities and discuss issues of mutual interest with Army senior leaders,” Col. Kageleiry said.

“The United States and China have individual and shared economic and security interests in establishing a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive framework for our bilateral relationship,” she said. “Transparency and reciprocity are the foundation of a sustained, reliable, and meaningful military-to-military relationship.”

“Transparency” is Pentagon-speak for U.S. efforts to penetrate excessive Chinese military secrecy, a major stumbling block in the military exchange program. China in past talks has refused to disclose information about its key strategic nuclear and conventional weapons, such as its growing arsenal of ballistic missiles, its increasing warhead stockpile and its asymmetric weaponry, including anti-satellite weapons, anti-ship ballistic missiles and cyberwarfare capabilities.

The Chinese military visit also comes amid growing tensions between China and the United States and its Asia allies. The State Department recently criticized China’s setting up a new military garrison aimed at the South China Sea, prompting an angry response from Beijing to “immediately correct the wrong behavior.”

China’s government also let loose throngs of Chinese nationalists around the country who protested the visit to Japan’s Senkaku Islands by Japanese nationalists.

The Philippines and Vietnam also remain locked in potentially escalating disputes with China over disputed maritime claims to islands in the resource-rich South China Sea.

Col. Kageleiry said the Chinese visit includes stops at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; and Fort Shafter, Hawaii.

In addition to Gen. Cai, other senior PLA generals on the trip include Lt. Gen. Wang Ning, chief of staff of the Beijing military region; Lt. Gen. Zheng Qunliang, deputy commander of the Jinan Military Region; Lt. Gen. Jia Xiaowei, chief of staff of the Guangzhou military region; and Maj. Gen. Chen Shoumin, deputy chief of staff of the Strategic Planning Department.

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