Monday, March 29th, 2010
Last weekend, the Washington Post reported that in 2008 the US department of defence closed down a “honeypot” website created by the CIA and the Saudi government to attract and monitor Islamist extremists in Saudi Arabia.
Military officials decided that the intelligence value of the site was less important than their belief that extremists were using it to plan attacks on American forces in Iraq. Much backroom wrangling ensued but the Pentagon, citing operational security and backed by the National Security Agency (NSA), won out.
Later that year, the site was attacked by US military operators, to the chagrin of the Saudis and the CIA, and of countries like Germany whose internet assets became accidental collateral damage from the takedown. Because US Central Command (CentCom) decided this was an operational military matter, the decision effectively escaped congressional oversight also.
Experts have long argued about the relative worth of keeping the enemy where they can see him in cyberspace, against more aggressive policies of denying him operational space whenever possible. By keeping online jihadists corralled, agencies can generate intelligence from their activities, to be operationalised as required.
Rather this than chasing jihadists around the internet, goes the argument, especially if they just set up again within one or two days of taking a particular site offline. The ethics of governments creating specific honeypot sites are far more debatable, and might fall foul of statutory limitations on entrapment were they to be carried out domestically. In the foreign context, a 2008 department of defence report obtained during a recent Freedom of Information Act lawsuit states that a US Air Force honeypot operation “targeting non-US persons” was not only a “potential questionable activity”, but possibly unlawful. One wonders how similar reasoning might apply to the present case, if it turns out to be true.
This article was posted: Monday, March 29, 2010 at 4:31 am