Schneier on Security
A blog covering security and security technology.
« Sometimes CCTV Cameras Work |
| Realistic Masks »
December 14, 2010
Interesting profile of Evan Kohlmann:
Evan Kohlmann spends his days lurking in the darkest corners of the Internet, where jihadists recruit sympathizers from across the globe. He has testified in over two dozen terrorism trials -- and sees danger everywhere he looks. Is he prescient or naïve?
Posted on December 14, 2010 at 5:35 AM
• 30 Comments
To receive these entries once a month by e-mail, sign up for the Crypto-Gram Newsletter.
Why do I get that creepy feeling of the "communist witch trials" instigated by Senator Mcarthy. Where there were "star witnesses" who tesstified against hundreds of people. And in some cases later admitted they made it all up.
So...there aren't really terrorists?
Based only on this profile - this guy needs help.
"Kohlmann’s indispensable font of evidence is the web"
See here's the thing - EVERYTHING is on the web. Truth things, false things, opinion, reason, fact, sociopathy, psychopathy, insanity.
Talk, it's only talk. Arguments, agreements, advice, answers. Articulate announcments, it's only talk.
Talk, it's only talk. Babble, burble, banter, bicker bicker bicker, Brouhaha, boulderdash, ballyhoo
It's only talk. Back talk.
The web is a sky full of clouds waiting for any mind to come make a pattern out of it. It's a field of dots waiting for us to draw a pail and a spade. And, becuase it destroys distance, it distorts the true size of things. A single criminal with a PC can appear to be a multi-national bank.
"the Internet is not only helping helping terrorists organize but is also serving as a recruitment tool to turn jihad sympathizers who have no connection to Al Qaeda into terrorists themselves."
Replace word "terrorist" (and scratch jihad and al qaeda) with words "non-profit", "buisiness", "protestors" "company" and we find, what? The basic utility of the internet is that it is broadly useful. That Al Qaeda adapted their organization to network centric function is interesting. But their basic goals of blowing crap up pre-dates the internet.
Also, news agencies report on criminal behavior 24/7 and spawn more than a few copy-cats. Confusion of modality vs morality. Words can be written in any order from stiring nobility to demonic exhortation.
"Roshonara Choudhry, a 21-year-old British woman, stabbed a British M.P. after downloading and listening to more than a hundred hours of Al-Awlaki’s sermons."
So if I were to download and bulk up on hundreds of hours of violent content I would pick up a knife and kill little piggies? Irrelevant. The socio and psychopaths in our own country do this without placing it in the context of jihad. This is the same back door argument for banning violent or sexual content. Some types of information MAKES people do things.
"just the kind of indefatigable obsessive we need"
"testifies to what he sees on the web and what he sees frightens him very much."
"get to know the people that I’m studying better than I know members of my own family, Kohlmann once testified. "
Talking about bombs, rockets and DIY videos "There. Look it’s the same guy,"
So "prescient or naïve"?
I'd have to come down on the side of 'in need of therapy.' Red flags -- he's lost any emotional detactment or objectivity. He's immersed himself into a reality tunnel that is affecting his base emotional state. He's fearful, has few real world human contacts, is 'studying' terrorism without any apparent foundation in critical reasoning. He claims a closer relationship with terrorists than his family. Emotional compromise.
He reminds me of some people I knew who got really deep into the occult, y'know? Those who had gone through therapy, who did the hard work on themselves, knew their own minds, were all right as a rule. Those who didn't...got lost; lost their nut in a house of mirrors.
Commies under the bed. Cop thinking; everyone is guilty, just not caught yet. Conspiracists who believe there are supernatural evil forces pervading every aspect of life on the planet. Old school Christians believing that demons prowl around us. Criminal offshore bankers plotting to liquidate 3/4s of the planet's population. The second gunman on the grassy knoll. Tim McVey getting help in his bomb making from extremists in Indoneisa. Satanists sacrifing tens of thousands of undocumented babies every year, yet somehow covering it up.
This is all froth from the noisy echo chamber of the subconcious. The internet can amplify and make permanent some pretty grotty fantasies and if our Government is using someones' pyschopathology to send people to prison for life or execution then there is a significant risk of injustice.
Oh and since Open Source intelligence is the cheapest easiest to get and a staple of the CIA analysts since the 50s why are they only NOW getting around to it?
What's an old school Christian?
Sandals, robes, etc...
"Over the past decade, Kohlmann has patiently assembled one of the world’s largest collections of jihadi material—terabytes’ worth ..."
I don't know about the US, but that in itself is criminal here in Britain, AIUI.
i'm using this in the sense that Montague Summers described himself.
One who has a middle ages mindset, who belives in the physical reality of the Devil and all the demons, it's daily threat.
The kind who would read malleus maleficarum and says "yeah baby".
I have a problem with experts that only testify for the prosecution. If he can use his observations to 'detect' when a person is likely to commit an act of jihad, should he not also be able to detect a wannabee? He should be able to publish what criteria he uses to determine when a threat is serious. If he cannot, then he is just a fraud.
You forgot 'sheep'.
"Is he prescient or naïve?"
From the article:
Once, when he brought a woman home, she was startled to find herself surrounded by dozens of pictures of bearded jihadists. She pointed at the image of Abu Hamza al-Masri, the disfigured London-based radical cleric who has hooks for hands, and told him, “You’ve got to take that guy off your wall.”
That's not normal behavior. But it does explain why the government loves him as an "expert" witness.
And not exhibiting "normal" behavior.
terrorists are not born, they are made, youth and desire for adventure along with the same moral superiority of everyone who has nationalist egotism, is not enough to make one, it also requires social injustice. when injustice is not the standard for those in power, and it is!, here and everywhere, then there will only be the lone nutjob terrorism. will there be a world without lone nutjobs?, no, get used to it, security is an illusion at best, a metorite or some frozen poop from an airplane at 30,000 feet can fall on your head if it has your number on it as the infantry used to say
I must admit I had never heared of Mr. Kohlmann before, but the article makes for an interesting read. Some of us are passioned about our work, our children, sports, collecting stamps or even about squid. Evan Kohlmann and his assistant definitely have a passion for terrorism, and more in particulary identifying, charting and following up on jihadi networks. At first sightn They seem very dedicated people, well-documented and appear to be having a fine track record.
Although it's a thin line between passion and obsession, I see nothing wrong with what he does as long as from a research and legal point of view his methods are sound.
It's hardly a surprise such a person prefers to work as a freelance consultant (see http://www.globalterroralert.com ). He doesn't look like a character that would fit the profile of a payroll employee in an intelligence agency, having to cope with internal politics, chain of command, classification, communication, accounting and other issues that just get in the way of what he does.
He's definitely not prescient or always right. His initial analysis of the attempted Time Square bombing was totally wrong, taking it for a right wing plot. Is he naive ? I don't know him well enough to make such an assumption. What I do know is that any passion or obsession by definition carries a high risk of tunnel vision and a distorted perception of reality trying to fit it to your own thoughts. I do hope he's aware of that too.
But should we totally dismiss his work because he's available as a hired gun for the government or gets a lot of information from the internet ? I think not. How many security professionals on this forum turn down any government contract whatsoever on general principle ? I suppose defense attorneys can hire him just as well as a witness à décharge to exonerate their clients. Likewise, none of us ever use information found on the internet to support a thesis ? All information found on Wikileaks is just a forgery ?
So far, I haven't found any convincing proof of Mr. Kohlmann being a government puppet, having taken a stand against fear mongering republicans on several occasions, and even being slammed as a total idiot by conservative political journalists like Debbie Schlussel.
Like Bruce and many others, I agree that resilience and determination are our best defense against terrorists. Then again, that doesn't mean that I support an attitude of just sitting back and doing nothing at all, dismissing any material and research on Jihadi networks as lunacy, government conspiracy or entrapment. Unless you've spent the last decade on Mars, there really are people out there that give just as little about your civil liberties - your life for example - as our governments do. In my opinion, the information and analysis work of Mr. Kohlmann have their place in identifying and stopping them. Neither are they a bible on terrorism, nor should they be discarded as Mad Magazine.
I don't think most people here are disturbed by this because he's a government puppet. Most people here are disturbed by this because he's clearly a loon...
@jason at December 14, 2010 7:21 AM
Oh, there are terrorists. There were also definitely Communists in the 50s, and likely at least one or two people in Salem that read a book or two about the occult. In none of these 3 cases are 'witch-hunts' going to catch anybody but the innocent.
@BF Skinner: you make waaay too much sense. Don't expect any gubmint to understand you. :-)
@Dirk Praet "as long as ... his methods are sound. "
I would agree but. . .
it's a Big if.
How can his method be sound if he's not in a position to be challanged?
It almost sounds like a case of reverse Stockholm syndrome. (no not lima syndrome...maybe call it Stocholm by proxy)
He's trapped by what the jihadist say and do, on the web. He doesn't believe to do what the calls say, but he does believe them. Believes in the fact of them. The intent of them. The estimate of the size of the threat based on them.
He's buying into their psychopathology, buying into their world view as stated as legit. And because of that he's legitimizing his oppressor, his captor. (worst thing in the world with dealing with Bin Laden was to go to war with him. That validated him, made him mighty in the eyes of many who are suffering. Second worst thing was not finding and ending him. That made him mythic.)
If I pointed out a paranoid schizophrenic to you and you had a long lucid discussion about the politics of Venus...would you believe it was real? If you only had what has been posted on the web and actions generated by neurotic pain (say bombings by the Venusian Liberation Front reported from a removed point of view)...would you believe it was real? Reality is notional at best.
Given that there ARE people who will use terrorist tactics and propaganda to achieve thier goals him doing this without a support structure is dangerous. It's very easy to get confused.
Lone genius's laboring in obscurity and arriving at fundamental truths of the universe is the stuff of movies.
He needs to be able to let air and light of other people's thinking into his room.
I'll begin Plan 9 and write in passive voice and remove all adverbs.
Win! Take the rest of the day off.
@ BF Skinner:
"He needs to be able to let air and light of other people's thinking into his room."
I absolutely agree with that. Isn't that why we are all here ? Like I said, I had never heared of him before, and my assumptions are pretty much based on the fact that indeed his methods and findings are sound and can stand a challenge. I'm just not the kind of person that immediately throws out everything that looks unlikely or bizarre, even when the messenger at first sight sounds like a lunatic.
For as far as Bin Laden is concerned: I'm actually very much convinced that the powers that be know his exact whereabouts quite well, and that he's much more worth to them on the loose than in captivity or dead.
They say if all you have is a hammer then everything starts to look like a nail.
This kid seems to take all the jihadi talk at face value. What's missing from this and a lot of the FBI sting ops is any meaningful understanding of the radicalization process.
Change Osama all the jihadi stuff to, say, Marilyn Manson and darker rock music. By Kohlmann's logic and methods, every kid who goes to such a concert would be a potential Columbine.
One name leaps to my mind: Matthew Hopkins.
In the two years 1645-47, during the English Civil War, his testimony hanged more witches than had been executed in the preceding century.
He was, of course, an informer paid by the authorities to inculpate the women. Whether he consciously perjured himself is a subject on which historians disagree.
Another excellant article, I can't possibly tell you how much your steady work is appreciated.
Listen, we got good documents for our upcoming "field trip" to D.C., but the boyz continue to be a bit worried about this facial recognition and AIT technology. Please continue to work against their implementation.
Hopefully Evan will be helpful in some manner convicting the crazies associated with this:
"The people of Sweden are coming to terms with the first suicide bombing on their soil, an attack which stunned the nation and in the words of the country's foreign minister could have been "catastrophic."
Authorities say that only the premature detonation of Taimour Abdulwahab's device likely prevented many others from being killed.
"Fifty, 60, 70 people could have been killed -- this was not amateur hour," Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense College, told CNN.
The incident did not surprise counter-terrorism experts. "For some time Swedish officials have been worried about a growing threat, both from overseas terrorists and from home-grown extremists within the country," says Michael Taarnby, a Danish terrorism expert, who has extensively researched Islamist militants in Scandinavia."
Twit. If you could have you would have.
The only other thing that keeps occuring to me about Evan Kohlmann is that in his case? The terrorists have won.
Outstanding discussion folks. One of the best in long while.
@BF Excellent posts!
@BF Skinner "He is hired to educate juries on the history and structure of Al Qaeda and on the methods it uses to finance itself and recruit new members."
It's about the money. And when its about money, objectivity goes out the window. If this is a psychological problem it lies at the root of all capitalism.
"my assumptions are pretty much based on the fact that indeed his methods and findings are sound and can stand a challenge."
But they most certainly are not! They might pass the pathetic muster of being admissible as expert testimony in these trials, but it's pretty clear this man has lost all sense of objectivity and sense of reality. *Any* data that comes from him, even if it were obtained with accepted means unlike his internet trolling (as in, what you do for fish), should be considered tainted beyond all repair.
The man is by his own admission obsessed, his data is worthless.
Could you be "entrapped" into building bombs to kill men, women, and children?
The FBI's sting operations are invaluable to prevent terrorist attacks.
No jihadist wannabe can be entirely sure that the friendly senior jihadist plying him with bomb belts and wiring diagrams is a legit terrorist... or an undercover agent for the Feds.
And that's as it should be.
“No jihadist wannabe can be entirely sure that the friendly senior jihadist plying him with bomb belts and wiring diagrams is a legit terrorist... or an undercover agent for the Feds.„
On an unrelated note no revolutionary can be sure that their not being into violence when someone brings up the idea of violent struggle.
These sting opperations existed time immemorial.
If their used often enough organizations will adapt against sting operations.
If their not used often enough, any hypothetical jihadist can bet money that the guy on the other side is legit.
I have had the opportnity to listen to a lecture this guy gave in New Jersey several years ago. I agree with most on here that the guy is a phony. He talks about terrorism as an expert. That would be tha same as a kid who takes a course in high school economics applying for a job as a wall street trader. Kohlmann is a fraud who built this title "terrorism" expert by gleaning internet info and reading other reports available to the general public, and compiling it into his so called expert opinion and philosophy.
Listen to him sometime and really listen to what he says to determine if there is really any subtance to it. There isi not.
Ask how many times this clown has been to the middle east as anything else than tourist?
He is fraud but the networks all want to puff up their talking heads blabber with experts, and he is as close and eay to get on by dialing 1 800 Middle East Bullshit Artist!!!
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.