Terrorist Innovation: Homegrown Terrorism and the Internet

Publication Type:

Book Chapter


The Dangerous Landscape, p.79-86 (2013)


Between September 11, 2001 and October 2009, the United States faced 32 “domestic” incidents of terrorism with thirteen of them occurring in 2009. At this point, it remains unclear whether 2009 represents an increasing trend or merely a spike in domestic incident. It is, however, clear that the threat of do-mestic terrorism is real. While these incidents share similarities, it is their dif-ferences that indicate multiple threats are emerging from multiple sources. Thus, it is important for the counter-terrorist professional to examine both the successful and failed attacks and understand the similarities and differences displayed by the adversary in each case. This can be a laborious process in-volving many variables. This paper seeks to launch the debate by narrowing the broader subject to one focusing on how terrorist groups innovate and more specifically, assessing how Internet-based communication is influencing the innovation process. The paper concludes that terrorist use of the Internet can be characterized as serving informational, operational, and knowledge transfer needs and that the competition for the communication battle space will con-tinue. Furthermore, it identifies some approaches to combating this effort. Terrorist use of the Internet is well developed in three relevant areas – re-cruitment, radicalization, and exploitation of events which includes not only the media coverage but the more subtle process of “peer review” that either encourage or dissuade others from using the tactic. If information transfer represents the first generation use of Internet, the second generation is knowl-edge transfer which encompasses the enhanced ease and value of the Internet’s growing interactivity that facilitates tactical, operational, and strategic situ-ational awareness. The November 2008 Mumbai attacks epitomized the tactical use of interactive Internet-based technologies. The terrorists’ efficiency and effectiveness was enhanced through the gathering, fusion, and sharing of in-formation gathered from a variety of sources. Although in its infancy, knowl-edge transfer or learning via the Internet, as discreet from information trans¬fer, is a strategic concern for those concerned with counter-terrorism.