America

Cyber Countershot: U.S. Challenges Al-Qaida's Yemen Affiliate's Web Narrative

Update at 4:53 p.m. ET. U.S. Is Not 'Hacking':

This 2010 image, provided by IntelCenter, shows Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi in a posthumous video message posted on extremist websites. The al-Qaida double agent killed seven CIA operatives, a Jordanian spy and himself when he set off a bomb strapped to his body at a base in Afghanistan in December 2009.

hide captionThis 2010 image, provided by IntelCenter, shows Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi in a posthumous video message posted on extremist websites. The al-Qaida double agent killed seven CIA operatives, a Jordanian spy and himself when he set off a bomb strapped to his body at a base in Afghanistan in December 2009.

AP/IntelCenter

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston tells us State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland made it clear that the United States is not "hacking" the websites that appeal to al-Qaida. Instead, they are "countering propaganda with a counter-narrative that we believe is closer to the truth of the situation."

In her All Things Considered report, Dina provides an example:

"A couple of weeks ago, a tribal website linked to al-Qaida's affiliate in Yemen began an ad campaign of sorts.

"It linked to photographs of coffins draped with American flags and called on followers to kill more Americans.

"'We put up a counter post of coffins draped in Yemeni flags to indicate that it is Yemenis who are dying at the hands of al-Qaeda terrorists in Yemen,' Nuland said."

Note that because of this new information we have also changed the headline of this post.

Our Original Post Continues:

State Department specialists have replaced anti-American ads put on Yemeni websites by al-Qaida with postings that detail the "deadly impact of al-Qaida tactics on Yemenis themselves," Associated Press correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talked about the successful hacking of the terrorist network's online efforts during a conference Wednesday in Tampa that was attended by "hundreds of U.S. and international special operations commanders," Dozier adds.

Clinton told the group that because of the State Department's effort, "extremists are publicly venting their frustration and asking supporters not to believe everything they read on the Internet."

Evan Kohlmann, a consultant on terrorism issues who tracks such websites, tells The Washington Post that highlighting the deadly effects of al-Qaida's actions does do "a tremendous amount of damage" to the network's image, "recruitment campaigns and its effort to launch renewed attacks." But he has doubts about whether the websites that State has hacked reach a very wide audience.

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