Shut the Information Highway To Terrorists

For the last several weeks, all eyes have been on American efforts to stem ISIS terrorists from overrunning large portions of Iraq and Syria. U.S. warplanes have pounded ISIS positions, permitting much-needed food, medical supplies and arms to enter villages and cities that had been besieged by the terrorist organization.

While it’s vital that ISIS be destroyed in the Middle East in order not to turn the region into another Afghanistan, we also have to make sure that we don’t take our eyes off the very real threat of ISIS-inspired terrorists here at home. The sick ISIS ideology provides a pretext and inspiration to those who delight in violence and the murder of innocent people. Most of these domestic attacks have been perpetrated by citizens, not by individuals who used phony passports or visas to infiltrate the country.

Last week’s hatchet attack on four New York City cops by a 32-year-old Muslim man, Zale Thompson, in Queens, was a grim reminder that homegrown radical terrorists are a growing menace and that ISIS-type radicalization and mindless brutality aren’t unique to the Middle East.

The New York attack followed on the heels of the killing of two Canadian soldiers only a few days earlier. On Monday, a radical Islamist plowed his car into two Canadian soldiers, killing one. Then, on Wednesday, a terrorist shot and killed a soldier standing guard at Canada’s war memorial. The gunman then stormed the Parliament, where he was shot and killed.

This year we have witnessed an increasing number of cases of homegrown terrorism: the beheading in Moore, Oklahoma; the mall shooting in Seattle, Washington; and the killing of Brendan Tevlin in West Orange, New Jersey, in September. And 2013 saw two naturalized U.S. citizens ruthlessly plan and execute the bombings that killed three people and wounded 264 more.

Of course, thwarting some of these lone wolf attacks is difficult, but many of them share a common thread, that being that the terrorist(s) used the internet and social media as either a source of information, a vehicle for communication or a forum for propaganda — or all three.

We have to stop the use of the internet as a terrorism information highway, stop permitting the use of social media as a free and easy way for terrorists to get out their twisted message.

The recent web-browsing history of Thompson, the Queens hatchet attacker, revealed that he had visited the radical web sites of ISIS, al-Qaida, and al-Shabab, where the brutality of these savage organizations is encouraged. He also, apparently, had viewed videos of some of the savagery committed by these groups. Thompson left comments on social media sites supporting jihad against the West. Similar web browsing of hate sites was reported regarding the Canadian attackers.

Adhering to the First Amendment while imposing some form of censorship is always a tricky business; nevertheless, there have always been instances where, to preserve national security or to protect society from harmful information, restrictions have been imposed on what can and should be made available to the public. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., famously said in his 1919 opinion of Schenck v. United States, the First Amendment doesn’t grant the right to shout fire in a crowded theater.

The time has come for us to get serious about shutting down sites that promote hate and barbarism, taking away one of the most potent tools in the terrorists’ arsenal. Google and other search engines should stop terrorist sites from appearing in search results. They should also flag any sites with links to such organizations. Video and image-hosting web sites should filter out any posting by terrorists of footage or images of their despicable acts of savagery. Web service providers should responsibly block the download of videos that preach their hateful message of snuffing out innocent lives.

Terrorism, like any other criminal enterprise, has a strong monetary component. Terrorist leaders living luxuriously in Dubai profit handsomely from donations given by their duped adherents. The internet has made it easy to transfer funds to these terrorist fat cats. We have to cut off any source of fund-raising these barbarians are conducting through the internet, eliminating all access they have to any electronic payment systems. Banks or credit card companies that look the other way and process these transactions should pay heavy penalties.

We can’t shut down every terrorist site, but we have to make a concerted effort to hamper the ability of terrorists to communicate and spread their vile propaganda. Those who insist that we should not monitor and impede terrorists from using our computer networks, should ask themselves this: Should we have allowed the Nazis or the Japanese warlords to broadcast their propaganda over our radio networks during World War II?