COLLEGE PARK – For terrorists and extremists worldwide, the Internet is increasingly becoming a place to share information, such as how to build bombs and execute attacks.
The good news for counterterrorism agencies is that much of that information is riddled with errors, a Penn State professor said this week at a panel on technology and terrorism.
“Some of these materials may actually help them, but many of them also contain flaws,” said Professor Michael Kenney at the Technology, Crime & Terrorism symposium at the University of Maryland on Wednesday.
Many of the recipes for bomb-making material that are passed around, for instance, are simply incorrect, he said.
“Page after page contain glaring errors,” said Kenney, a fellow at Penn State’s International Center for the Study of Terrorism. “The manual combines different recipes for different types of explosives for a single preparation, and you can’t tell where one recipe ends and another one begins.”
But Gary LaFree, director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, said the ease of access terrorists have to sensitive information, regardless of its accuracy, is an ongoing problem.
“This is an area where it’s an increasingly difficult issue, because open societies are especially vulnerable to that kind of mischief,” LaFree said.
LaFree’s consortium works to provide research and data on the causes and repercussions of terrorism around the world. It has compiled one of the largest databases of terrorist activity in the world, chronicling more than 87,000 acts of terror worldwide since 1970.
Kenney said the existence and use of inaccurate materials is a detriment to terrorists, but it doesn’t stop extremist activity.
“Violent militants may learn the technique involved in building weapons or building bombs by studying manuals, but to develop hands-on proficiency in these activities, they must eventually put the book down,” Kenney said.
And, he said, improving access to technology will eventually lead to more accurate materials falling into the hands of extremists.
“The case could simply be that these terrorists don’t have their act together yet,” he said.
LaFree agreed. “As technology continues to improve, it lowers the threshold for what it takes to get into some serious things,” he said.