Remarks
Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley
Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Joint U.S. Embassy and Philippine Welcome
2nd Tri-Border Conference
Manilla, Philippines
June 28, 2010


Salamat Pagil! Ma bu hai! It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this conference on behalf of the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism. Our office, through the Regional Strategic Initiative is sponsoring this conference on this timely and challenging topic. The next three days promise to provide provocative and lively discussions and I’m looking forward to this exchange of ideas.

The Internet presents us with a paradox. On the one hand, it facilitates free discussion and the exchange of information. It also provides another venue for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of expression. But by the same mechanism, it allows people to seek each other out anonymously; to reinforce their negative views or plan violent action. The challenge for open societies, therefore, is to maintain the free flow of information and respect for freedom of expression, while discouraging those who would exploit it to harm others.

We know why we’re here. This is a universal problem. Anwar al-Awlaqi, a dual citizen of the United States and Yemen, is now in Yemen and has become an influential voice of radicalism on the internet among English-speaking extremists. Al-Awlaqi joins Californian Adam Gadahn as, American born, English speaking propagandists, enabling AQ to project its propaganda to Western audiences. Another individual, Omar Hammami, an American citizen who grew up in Alabama, has become an important al-Shabaab voice on the internet.

These are American citizens, who enjoy all the rights that our Constitution provides, using the Internet to incite violence against the United States and its citizens. The legal and national security issues raised by these examples are complicated and sensitive.

Similar complicated issues of freedom of expression surround militant discussion boards. Our counterterrorism community tends to focus on the tactical information available on these discussion boards, such as weapons manuals and operational planning. But face-to-face interaction is usually required before such tactical information poses a serious threat. What receives less attention, but is more worrisome, is the use of these fora to build communities and launch forays into mainstream websites in search of new recruits. Participants celebrate individual initiative, memorialize “martyrs” to the cause, censor dissent, and distribute incendiary material to the outside world.

Geospatial imagery, such as Google Earth or Microsoft Bing, also present challenges. While such geospatial information systems provide amazing opportunities for the general public to view the world, the risk for abuse by bad actors anywhere in the world – whether terrorists or criminals – in planning and executing attacks is extremely high. The argument by companies that provide these programs that these are tools, and they are not responsible for how they are used, is another challenge. How does the government balance freedom of speech and the protection of companies which provide such services with counterterrorism objectives and national security?

How can we make these virtual communities less attractive without curtailing individuals’ rights? Given that the United States often advocates that more speech is the antidote to offensive or troubling speech, one option for us is to support alternative sites that emphasize non-violent activism. These sites must be frequented and supported by credible Islamic scholars who can attract aggrieved Muslims before they can become radicalized to violence. Reformed extremists have also proven to be particularly strong alternative authoritative voices.

The International Information Programs Bureau at the State Department began addressing this issue in 2006 with its innovative Digital Outreach Team. This team of native Arabic, Persian, and Urdu speakers actively engage on highly-trafficked mainstream news sites and Internet discussion fora in those languages. They identify themselves as representing the State Department, and directly counter online arguments that defend goals and tactics of violent extremists, in particular al-Qa’ida and the Taliban. They’ve found that in many, if not most cases, their interlocutors have welcomed the opportunity to engage with U.S. officials. These discussions have generated thousands of hits at a time, on popular websites such as al-Jazeera Talk. In the last three years, the team has posted more than 7,000 online messages, including YouTube videos on U.S. foreign policy, religious freedom in America, and U.S. cooperation with Muslim communities around the world. These posts have generated well over 600,000 hits for Digital Outreach Team videos alone.

But stopping criminal activity online is also important for the USG. Safe havens in cyberspace and the ability to transfer funds, materiel, and people depend on existing regional underground networks, such as those that exist for narcotics trafficking and piracy. For this reason, fighting cyberterrorism and cyber crime demands a regional response. And Southeast Asia has one of the fastest growth rates of Internet usage in the world.

Of course, you already know this. Last year, many of you participated in the first Tri-Border Area conference that was co-hosted by Indonesia and the United States. This conference brought together law enforcement and government representatives from our four nations to share experiences on use of the Internet by terrorist groups. Among the recommendations that came out of the conference were specific proposals calling for greater policy and legal coordination.

As pioneers in this area, you began to develop specific steps to increase and encourage more disciplined regional collaboration. This will help counter cyberterrorism on both the law enforcement side and technical side. This conference should build further on your previous discussions and result in further steps to address these various challenges.

For us in Washington, countering cyberterrorism and “terrorist misuse of the Internet” includes thwarting terrorist recruiting and training; stopping the financing of terrorist activities through money transfers and cyber crime and hindering the coordination of terrorist attacks against the USG’s and other governments’ critical infrastructure. This infrastructure includes banking and other financial institutions, control systems, energy systems, public health, transportation, and other sectors.

One of our key tools to counter terrorist misuse of the Internet is our flagship capacity building program, the Antiterrorism Assistance Program. We provide our partner nations with the training, equipment, and technology needed to increase capabilities to find and arrest terrorists. Over the last seven years, the ATA Cyber Training Program has delivered over 260 overseas training events and/or consultations in twenty different countries with almost 3,000 overall participants. In addition to the police cyber investigative and/or forensic units that have been created and efforts are ongoing in four additional countries to enhance IT infrastructure and government network security. Because of this training, the opportunity exists to integrate these trained professionals into specific regional and global networks to facilitate improved and needed multilateral communications on cyber crime and terrorism activities.

Effective counterterrorism policy requires strong international partnerships, as terrorism is too big a security threat for any one country to face alone. To be sure, terrorism is a common challenge shared by nations across the globe—one that requires diplomacy. The U.S. administration has been working at reinvigorating alliances across the board and reengaging in multilateral fora concerned with counterterrorism and cybersecurity.

We work to counter terrorist misuse of the Internet in traditional multilateral fora. At the UN, we support the General Assembly’s Counterterrorism Implementation Task Force’s working group on Terrorist Use of the Internet. In the G8, we have supported Russia, France, Germany and the UK’s efforts to compile national practices for countering Terrorist Use of the Internet. This work helps us identify and promote good practices, and take the project’s second step which is to promote international cooperation.

In APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum, we support cybersecurity efforts – both political discussions to share information, and workshops aimed at providing capacity building to help members develop Computer Security Incident Response Teams. We are also participating actively in regional organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The net effect has been a strengthening of the international sense of resolve against cyberterrorism and terrorist use of the Internet, a renewed commitment to capacity-building, and development of global norms so that countries can work together toward better security. Our work on these issues in these fora is critical to balancing each nation’s security in cyberspace and the free flow of information.

We are working to engage more with the private sector and nongovernmental organizations, who both own infrastructure and offer opportunities as donors and partners in capacity building, as solutions to these issues require strong engagement with all stakeholders.

The Internet is analogous to the Sulu/Sulawesi Sea tri-border region: terrorists are networked across state lines and seek to exploit porous borders and gaps between countries in the cyber domain, just as they do in the physical world. In both, regional cooperation has been key to combating terrorism. Since 2001, the sustained commitment to counter terrorism by your governments and citizens has significantly weakened Jemaah Islamiya (JI), Abu Sayyaf (ASG), and other regional terrorist groups. Southeast Asia’s combination of multilateral cooperation, capacity building, popular support, and the strong political will to fight terrorism has resulted in significant progress in several important areas. Whether in diminishing the threat of terrorism, upholding rule of law, or in developing the institutions and economic conditions necessary to deprive violent extremists of exploitable grievances.

Our success in dealing with these issues requires both effective policies and capable partners who can strike the balance between taking action against violent extremists’ abuse of the Internet, while still protecting our commitment to the free flow of information and freedom of expression.

I have no doubt that by sharing our experiences and expertise we will all benefit, and I wish you all several interesting and fruitful days of discussions.

I will now turn over the microphone to (Philippine counterpart).

SA LA MAT PO! (Thank you)

[This is a mobile copy of Terrorist Use of the Internet]