A Pentagon attempt to disrupt the Islamic State’s online presence in November 2016 may not have a prolonged impact on the terrorist group, intelligence officers told The Washington Post.
The operation involved locking ISIS terrorists from their social media accounts and deleting battlefield videos all while U.S.-backed allies advanced on the terrorist group’s positions. The Pentagon hailed the operation as an example of integrating U.S. cyber capabilities with ground offensives.
U.S. intelligence officers, however, believe that the campaign was only effective for approximately a month before ISIS simply changed servers and restored its old content.
“Cyber Command and DOD tend to define success as temporary disruptions or distraction of the adversary,” a defense official told The Washington Post. He continued, “the intelligence analysts say, ‘Prove to me what effect you had. Was it or wasn’t it enduring?’”
The operation’s seemingly short lived success highlights the enduring threat of the terrorist groups nimble propaganda network. ISIS predominately uses encrypted messaging apps like Telegram to distribute news releases and videos. These are copied and pasted to dozens of other channels and supporters, making it difficult to remove specific propaganda once it has been injected into cyber space.
“ISIS media isn’t something you can just shut off or directly disrupt,” Site Intelligence Group expert Rita Katz told WaPo. She continued, “The group and its network of supporters are too adaptive and persistent, and they’ll adjust to any attempts to do so.”
The cyber operation also caused consternation within the White House because it involved breaching ISIS used servers in nearly 35 countries, including U.S. allies. Some senior officials worried notification would cause word of the operation to leak and compromise the U.S. efforts. Other said the U.S. needed to notify allies in case they inadvertently found out, which could cause a diplomatic rift.
Ultimately, the U.S. notified 15 countries and word of the operation did not leak.
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