An FBI program is making it possible for U.S. military drones to apprehend and kill computer specialists, including social media experts, hackers, recruiters, and propagandists working for the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
As a result of the FBI joining forces with the U.S. military, the U.S. government has killed nearly a dozen Islamic State-linked computer experts and apprehended nearly 100, reports The New York Times (NYT), citing former and current U.S. officials.
In explaining how the FBI program works, the Times reports that the agency uses its ability to sift through the information of thousands of ISIS sympathizers on social media and pinpoint individuals who have been inspired to carry out terrorist attacks.
The agency then shares its findings with the U.S. military, a move that has reportedly resulted in the death and apprehension of many jihadists.
In the last two years, the FBI effort has yielded the arrests of an estimated 100 people affiliated with an ISIS cell of computer specialists, identified as “the Legion.”
U.S. and allied forces have also killed nearly a dozen of the most important members of the Legion, including its leader, influential ISIS hacker and recruiter Junaid Hussain.
NYT describes members of the cell as “English-speaking computer specialists who had given a far-reaching megaphone to Islamic State propaganda and exhorted online followers to carry out attacks in the West.”
Meanwhile, the newspaper identifies the program as a “secretive campaign that has largely silenced a powerful voice that led to a surge of counterterrorism activity across the United States in 2015 as young men and women came under the influence of its propaganda.”
Despite the campaign’s successes in taking out and arresting ISIS social media experts one by one, the U.S. military, in addition to intelligence and law enforcement officials, conceded that ISIS still maintains a sophisticated social media arm capable of inspiring deadly attacks like those that took place in San Bernardino, CA, and in Orlando, FL.
The ISIS social media arm “remains a potent foe suspected of maintaining clandestine cells in Europe,” reports NYT.
Nevertheless, U.S. officials “point to the coordinated effort against the Legion as evidence of the success the United States has had in reducing the Islamic State’s ability to direct, enable or inspire attacks against the West.”
The threat posed by the Legion had been initially considered a problem for law enforcement, rather than the military.
The Times adds:
But as the threat worsened last year, and the F.B.I. stepped up the monitoring of terrorism suspects around the country, the bureau pressed the military to focus on the group, according to current and former American officials
While American and British forces conducted a series of drone strikes on members of the group, the F.B.I. sifted through thousands of the Legion’s followers on social media to figure out who had actually been inspired to take action.
ISIS has been unable to replace Hussain and other members of the Legion with hackers of the same caliber.
However, Andrew McCabe, deputy director of the FBI, points out, “We are still dealing with the repercussions of that development and that recruitment of that network to this day.”
Hussein has been linked to the release of personal information of 1,300 U.S. military service members and government officials, urging jihadists to behead them.