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[infowar.de] Internet pro hijacks al-Qaida web site
Internet pro hijacks al-Qaida web site
By D. IAN HOPPER, AP Technology Writer
WASHINGTON (July 30, 2002 6:26 p.m. EDT) - When Web operator Jon Messner
gained control of one of al-Qaida's prime Internet communication sites, he
offered it to the FBI to use it for disinformation and collecting data
What followed, he says, was a week of frustration.
FBI agents struggled to find someone with enough technical know-how to set
up the sting. By the time they did, the opportunity was lost as militant
Islamic Web users figured out the site was a decoy, said Messner of Ocean
"It was like dealing with the motor vehicle administration," said Messner,
who runs Web sites, many of which sell pornographic materials. "We could
have done something that could have seriously impacted things. It took me
so many days just to get somebody who understood the Internet."
Barry Maddox, a spokesman for the FBI's Baltimore office, said he "cannot
confirm or deny" that his office worked with Messner earlier this month.
"If we received information of any sort from anything related to 9/11 or
any continuing terrorist type activity, we would take it under
consideration and pass it on," Maddox said. "We're not going to turn down
Though many of his Web sites involve pornography, Messner said he became
interested in Alneda.com, a militant Islamic Web site that promotes the
Al-Qaida terror organization and carries messages from its top members.
Alneda originally was registered in Malaysia but has been chased out of
several countries after pressure by authorities. It also has shown up on
computers in Michigan and Texas.
Messner used a software program that probes Web site addresses whose
registrations are about to lapse, meaning the address will go into a pool
available for sale. When it did, Messner snapped it up and filled the site
with Web pages from the original Arabic site.
He hoped U.S. officials could use the site for disinformation campaigns or
to collect data on visitors who used its message boards or other resources.
Even though some features didn't work yet, his decoy site fooled some Web
Almost immediately after putting the site online July 16, he saw visitors
from Arab nations and references to it on other militant Islamic Web sites.
"I (was) tracing back to hostile message boards that say when translated,
'Praise Allah, the Alneda site is back up,'" Messner said.
Since he couldn't write any new articles in Arabic, he needed the FBI's
help to keep the site alive. He said FBI officials in Baltimore and
Salisbury, Md., encouraged his work but took too long to decide how to help
Within a week, other Arabic Web sites outed Messner's site as a phony and
warned visitors away. He shut it down.
Since Messner gave up the Internet address, the Alneda Web site is back up
again, this time hosted in Dayton, Ohio, and carrying a new interview with
an Al-Qaida field commander describing battles against American forces.
Messner said he handed over the data he gathered to the FBI.
Intelligence experts said the gamble on a fake Alneda site might not have
Rather than a traditional sting operation - a routine task for the FBI -
Messner's decoy site would be available to everyone on the Internet, said
John Pike of Globalsecurity.org. That means the FBI might have
inadvertently helped terrorists communicate.
"There is a difference between tossing a kilo of coke into a guy's lap and
then cuffing him, versus going out and selling it to little children," Pike
said. "I'm sure there would have been somebody at FBI who would have said
this information is going to be publicly accessible. We don't even
necessarily know all that is going to be communicated here."
Pike said that concern, coupled with the pressure caused by the Internet's
breakneck speed, makes the lost opportunity understandable.
"It's too new, and they were probably scared," Pike said. "And they might
have well-founded fears."
Former CIA counterterrorism expert Vincent Cannistraro said relying on the
public to do intelligence work is dangerous.
"It may be looked on as a large resource for law enforcement. On the other
hand, it does lend itself to massive cases of abuse," Cannistraro said.
"When it comes to monitoring the Internet and exploiting it, you have to
leave it to the professionals."
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