The U.S. intelligence community is doing something about al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine; they’re sabotaging it. The magazine, which offers first-person accounts of terrorist acts, inspirational messages for jihadists, and do-it-yourself advice, which accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev confessed gave him and his brother Tamerlan the information to build the pressure-cooker bombs they used, has been targeted by various methods.
The latest online issue found its second page garbled; the next 20 pages were empty. That version was quickly removed by al-Qaeda. One intelligence official said, “You can make it hard for them to distribute it, or you can mess with the content. And you can mess with the content in a way that is obvious or in ways that are not obvious.”
The White House, Pentagon and Office of the Director of National Intelligence had no comment on the sabotage effort.
That latest issue, which was released May 14, featured a cover with a fighter in a heavy coat, holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher on his shoulder and a Kalashnikov rifle. The caption read, “How Did it Come to This?” It was removed in 30 minutes.
There has been vigorous debate within the government on the wisdom of interfering with online sites devoted to terrorism.
One intelligence official said Inspire is dangerous and “has a specific readership — a following. People will look for it, as opposed to something randomly posted. Two, it is very user-friendly. Inspire uses pictures and step-by-step diagrams, and that’s a problem.” But he added, “There’s a robust debate in the community about where do you draw the line on whether or not you should interfere with or take down certain sites.”
Some officials have said that Inspire instigates imminent lawless action, which would cancel any protection it derives from the First Amendment protections.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, agreed:
I don’t think al-Qaeda has a First Amendment right to put out its propaganda, to encourage people to commit acts of terrorism. Unfortunately, I think Inspire magazine is a significant threat to the extent that it disseminates information about how to build a bomb or encourages people to get radicalized. It has shown a dangerous effectiveness. And one that’s difficult to address.
Others propose a different approach. Michael E. Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, stated, “The only way that you’re really going to be effective is to help amplify more mainstream moderate Muslim voices. That’s vastly more effective than trying to disrupt radical voices.”
Speaking of the magazine’s death threat to Molly Norris, a cartoonist who created a satirical cartoon about the prophet Muhammad and about whom Anwar al-Awlaki wrote, “She should be taken as a prime target of assassination,” one former official said, “It’s obvious if people are calling for crazies to murder a U.S. citizen, why wouldn’t you stop it?” He mentioned the debate where National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander argued in favor of sabotaging terrorist publications.
Officials admitted that every new issue of Inspire is considered for sabotage by officials from the NSA, CIA, Pentagon, State Department and Justice Department. One method cited was to alter bomb-making instructions so the constructed device would not work successfully.