Terrorists and Child Porn, Oh My!

It’s the ultimate movie-plot threat: terrorists using child porn:

It is thought Islamist extremists are concealing messages in digital images and audio, video or other files.

Police are now investigating the link between terrorists and paedophilia in an attempt to unravel the system.

It could lead to the training of child welfare experts to identify signs of terrorist involvement as they monitor pornographic websites.

Of course, terrorists and strangers preying on our children are two of the things that cause the most fear in people. Put them together, and there’s no limit to what sorts of laws you can get passed.

EDITED TO ADD (10/22): Best comment:

Why would terrorists hide incriminating messages inside incriminating photographs? That would be like drug smugglers hiding kilos of cocaine in bales of marijuana.

Posted on October 22, 2008 at 12:57 PM59 Comments


Ed T. October 22, 2008 1:24 PM

Given the harsh penalties for purveyors of child pr0n under Islamic law (Sharia), the notion that jihadists would be using this stuff to further their aims is just ludicrous.


RH October 22, 2008 1:27 PM

That is BLOODY BRILLIANT! Even if you caught the “terrorists,” you couldn’t convict them!

You bring the evidence into the courtroom, and its an “offense to their person” to even suggest that they are connected to such matters.

dob October 22, 2008 1:44 PM

This is the stupidest idea I’ve run across in quite some time. Why would terrorists hide incriminating messages inside incriminating photographs? That would be like drug smugglers hiding kilos of cocaine in bales of marijuana.

If terrorists really wanted to communicate using hidden messages inside images, they’d post them to icanhascheezburger.

RSaunders October 22, 2008 1:46 PM

They were forced to decide between steganographic child porn or writing on marijuana leaves with liquid cocaine. The point, after all, is to make your messages blend into the infidel society. No terrorist would want to call attention to their messages, or invite scrutiny by law enforcement.

Jeff Craig October 22, 2008 1:47 PM

@Ed T
Absolutely, when you use Religious law to train people, you can’t overlook such a powerful part of the religious law. This whole idea is ridiculous

Roy October 22, 2008 1:47 PM

This is absurd on its face. Terrorists needing to communicate with each other would deliberately avoid anything that might draw attention to themselves or their communication. If they want to use steganography, which cover would escape further scrutiny, kiddie porn markets or lolcat postings? The use of any kind of porn would be stupid, since the government workers would happily study porn 40 hours a week, pretending to be looking for terrorists, and they would love to accumulate vast collections of porn for (wink-wink) ‘research’ and (nudge-nudge) ‘training’.

The motive behind this would be, yes, pairing two hobgoblins to spread FUD, to get more money, but the unintended consequence may be a modern day WPA for child pornographers. Imagine a perv getting on the government payroll — with federal-quality health coverage, plus pension — and being paid to study child pornography day in and day out, for years on end. No doubt many of them would take their work home with them.

If the feds want to go after child pornographers, advertise these jobs and investigate the people who apply for them.

Mo October 22, 2008 2:06 PM

Looking at the articles, there seem to be two possibilities – either there are a) terrorists who also happen to collect child pornography; or b) there are terrorists who want access to a secure computer network, and realizing that child pornographers have developed one, have infiltrated it and are adapting it to their own ends.

I recall a professor who, in talking about the drug wars, mentioned that law enforcement rarely considers the adaptability of criminal networks when planning an escalation of crime-fighting technology. Thus, you end up with criminals using cryptography and secret networks.

NM October 22, 2008 2:24 PM

In the comments on the Times pages, Marko from Germany wrote:

« “Islamist terrorist secretly communicate trough childpornograpy.”
sounds like:
“Aliens taking over earth by poisoning urinal deodorizer blocks.”
I wonder which strategy would be more lame. »

I LOL’d!

Miles Baska October 22, 2008 2:37 PM

This is too silly for words. No one in their right mind could possibly buy this, so it must be aimed instead at those who ARE NOT in their right minds. That would, unfortunately, be all the sheeple.

I can’t figure out just how it’s going to bring any benefit — The Times claims it uncovered this link, so perhaps it’s just intended to increase readers.

Or perhaps it’s real — the pedophiles are doing it to divert allegations of possession. “That’s not my kiddie porn, officer! See? It’s got jihadist rants hidden in it!”

ottnott October 22, 2008 2:54 PM

I wish the media would credit the original source for the article. Surely it had to be The Onion that came up with this story.

bob October 22, 2008 2:55 PM

Actually, this makes some sense. After all, what percentage of traffic on the internet is pornographic, at least 80%? This maximizes their ability to be lost in the noise.

Furthermore, most of the Koranic interpretations quoted by these extremists say its OK to violate their own mores in order to perform jihad. Such as not wearing beards, not praying publicly 5 times per day, drinking alcohol, being in the company of loose infidel women, even killing other muslims; so this looks like it would fit right in with those behavior.

Roxanne October 22, 2008 3:22 PM

Yeah, that’s a movie plot idea, all right.

Sorry, in the real world, terrorists want their secret messages to be read only by their target audience. Port gets looked at by hundreds of thousands of people who wouldn’t look twice at, say, a message regarding garbage collection in Tibet.

Yeesh. The police must think terrorists are as dumb as, well, the police.

Micawber October 22, 2008 4:03 PM

For the benefit of non-British readers: The Times is not the quality newspaper you may have erroneously believed it to be. Its writers often betray a laughable level of ignorance when it comes to technology.

mayfield October 22, 2008 4:06 PM

hiding messages relating to terrorism in images that you know will attract attention is an interesting concept – flagging yourself as wanting attention, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem like a diversionary tactic …

Tony H. October 22, 2008 4:07 PM

“Of course, terrorists and strangers preying on our children are two of the things that cause the most fear in people. Put them together, and there’s no limit to what sorts of laws you can get passed.”

Drug pushers. Terrorist, paedophile, drug pushers. Preferably of the brown persuasion, with accents and funny headgear. That ought to do it.

Anonymous2 October 22, 2008 4:28 PM

I’m speechless. Is this another example of the news media propagating an “insightful” claim originating on 4chan?

fuchikoma October 22, 2008 4:29 PM

That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve heard all year, but I’m sure people will buy it because they’re afraid, and “think of the children!”

But really… why smuggle something you don’t want found inside something that law enforcement from all over the world will lock onto and hunt you down for??? I mean… seriously. Not to mention that these would probably have to be atheistic terrorists. Not trying to imply the terrorists are a given group, but… when was the last time you heard of an atheist terrorist? (Kaczynski?)

Kermit the bog October 22, 2008 5:44 PM

Fuchickoma: What do you mean when you say these would have to be atheistic terrorists? Are you mad?

Atheists typically have far a far more tolerant and moral view of the world than religious people. Just look at what catholic priests get up to.

BTL October 22, 2008 6:44 PM


If they want to hide their messages, just embed them in images of the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence. You can be DAMN SURE they’re not going to scrutinize those with any significant effort.

Osama October 22, 2008 6:58 PM

Very silly.

We hide secret messages in pictures of American flag and President Bush. These are never examined closely.

bf skinner October 22, 2008 8:11 PM

I can’t figure out who (besides Fox) said it.

Can we start back checking these? News services only press the “news”

“Scotland Yard antiterrorism swoops and in big inquiries in Italy and Spain”

“British security services are also aware”

they don’t even cite unnamed administration officials (or is that just an american thing?)

The only reasonable tie I can think of is fundraising.

Lollardfish October 22, 2008 9:28 PM

“If terrorists really wanted to communicate using hidden messages inside images, they’d post them to icanhascheezburger.”

I’m ready to believe that LOLcats are, in fact, a terrorist plot. We need to stop them now, before it’s too late.

Rabbi Laberer October 22, 2008 10:11 PM

(Watching the TV it appears as if)

In fact behind every bush are sitting drug addicted child porn crazed terrorists, concocting weapons of mass destruction from boullion cubes and shoe polish.

Ergo the library records have to be confiscated, the internet has to be controlled, the homes have to be searched secretly without judicial control etc etc. and everybody with an IQ greater 100 is suspect and has to be shadowed 24/7.

Mat October 22, 2008 10:53 PM

Fox states:
“Secret coded messages are being embedded into child pornographic images, and pedophile Web sites are being exploited as a secure way of passing information between terrorists.”

If a website is being exploited, certainly it can’t be considered a secure means of doing anything. Sounds like Doubletalk to me.

Naveen JP October 23, 2008 2:57 AM

Considering that terrorists use `ideology’ as a key item to attract people to their fold, this is so stupid.

I also wonder what exactly is the job of people who monitor `pornographic websites’!

wsinda October 23, 2008 3:08 AM

People, please do not debunk this story. (Even though it obviously is bunk.)

Sending the cops after pedophiles has some good effects: they might actually catch real criminals. As opposed to no-fly lists, broad ID laws, and wholesale surveillance.

Ad hominem October 23, 2008 3:36 AM

The Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s ‘News Corporation’ and is no longer held in the regard it once was, largely on account of publishing junk like this editorial.

This touches on a wider issue, namely reporters are incentivised by sales or hits and squeezed by hourly news cycles; so if you’re looking for good investigative journalism, sceptical thinking and balanced reporting then look elsewhere. Perhaps try ‘The Economist’.

Laberer October 23, 2008 4:17 AM

Accusations of child molestation seem to be a standard tool of defamation.

In the US a LDS sect of mormons has been accused of arranged child marriages and child sexual abuse.

The Islam has been accused of furthering the same, based on the traditional legal age of 9 years and the marriage of the prophet to a child bride. This is the matter of broad discussion. See here


So this has a broader basis than simply bad journalism. It is plausible that such claims are also being used in Psychological Operations.

Laberer October 23, 2008 4:32 AM

copied from above site:

Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith
Hadith 5.234 Narrated by Ayesha

“The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became all right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age.”

steve-o October 23, 2008 5:41 AM

It’s easier and more interesting to look for terrorists in porn sites than learning to read and speak Farsi. It’s the kind of work you can do from home with one hand.

Richard October 23, 2008 5:54 AM

If we adopt a baseline view that there are at least some intelligent people in the Police service, then there must be at least some sense behind this. On that basis, where might the sense lie?

  1. Child porn has an established distribution network, and a focus on keeping all its consumers secret
  2. People detecting anything untoward within an image are not likely to put their hand up and say ‘Hey, Police! I’ve found a terrorist message in my child porn!’
  3. Embedding messages into an image is easy to do, software can be downloaded easily, and doesn’t require any sophisticated hardware

It seems ridiculous, and might be abused, but it is not the LOL absurdity that everyone is making out.

Kevin October 23, 2008 6:57 AM

Consider hiding the data in an image that is borderline illegal. You then protect it with all the encryption you can before sending. If later you or the recipient are forced to reveal the password by the police, you have a highly credible excuse for being so paranoid and using encryption. However, if the image is just borderline you won’t actually get prosecuted.

This is a rationalisation too far, and seems unlikely to be true.

Troy October 23, 2008 9:10 AM

Not so sure that lolcats would make such a good distribution channel. I read an article recently (slow train ride) that mentioned that the site receives thousands of submissions per day, which they filter down to about 10. That kind of loss ratio makes it a pretty poor “cable” for information. Even if the noise is beautifully high for hiding the signal.

Magnus October 23, 2008 9:15 AM

“Why would terrorists hide incriminating messages inside incriminating photographs? That would be like drug smugglers hiding kilos of cocaine in bales of marijuana.”

What’s so stupid about that? If you’re the cocaine smuggler, why not hide it in bales of marijuana? You can let the marijuana smugglers do all the dirty work for you, and be damn sure that they’ll go to great lengths to keep it away from prying authorities…

stonedroid October 23, 2008 9:24 AM

Why do we spend gazillions of dollars on either stupid security (airport security, name lists, etc) or ineffective big-brother security (echelon, all-seing-all-logging firewalls, cctv all over, etc) when hardly any effort is spent on monitoring the financial systems. The total number of dollars stolen or embezzled is yet to be seen but this far it is in the range of trillions, the number of deaths and shorter lifespan due to suicide, financial stress, poverty (3rd world) etc will never be known but surely in the millions.

Isn’t it time to stop spending money on trying to fix “small” (relative) problems (file-sharing and terrorism) and start hunting the real bad guys, financial pirates?

nick October 23, 2008 10:29 AM

To everyone who says Islamic law forbids child porn: Didn’t Mohamed himself have a prepubescent bride? Or is the implication that porn in general is forbidden?

derf October 23, 2008 10:54 AM

Sounds to me like a bad excuse for “child welfare experts” to browse porn all day. Makes you wonder what type of people become “child welfare experts”.

More October 23, 2008 10:58 AM

Talking about porn… the way you catch these terrorists is to look for the one with a drawing of Mohammad as a kid.

Often these disgusting photos or images are hidden in the soles of their shoes, or on the inside liner.

Anyone that does that is clearly a threat.

thoreau October 23, 2008 11:00 AM

1) As was said above, if underage pr0n networks are so secure, how could terrorists infiltrate them with greater ease than the cops? I mean, yeah, the authorities can be pretty clueless, but a lot of the alleged terrorists being trotted out these days (e.g. Seas of David) don’t strike me as the most resourceful, sharp-thinking go-getters either.

2) If this is true, then consider how Bin Laden might be caught:

Chris Hansen: Please, Mr. Bin Laden, have a seat right there.

Osama: I was just…I just need to….

Hansen: Please, have a seat. Thank you. Do you mind telling me what you were doing here?

Osama: He told me he was thinking of doing a suicide bombing on a synagogue.

Hansen: Really? And what exactly did he say about this bombing?

Osama: Well, there was a lot of discussion about something that would be hidden in his pocket.

Hansen: I see. Did he tell you how old he was?

Osama: He said he was 18.

Hansen: 18. Hmm…

Osama: Yes. 18.

Hansen: You see, I have the chat transcript, and that’s not what was actually said.

Osama: You don’t understand. All this sex talk was just a code. A code, to keep our bombing secret. And when he said he was 13, that meant he’d do the attack on the 13th of the month. It’s all in code.

Hansen: But it looks pretty explicit right here.

Osama: Please, Mr. Hansen, I am not a pervert, just a loyal jihadist doing Allah’s will. Please don’t let them charge me with sex crimes.

Hansen: Well, that’s not my decision. If you have anything else to say to me, we’d love to hear it, otherwise, you’re free to walk out that door.

Osama: Thank you, Mr. Hansen.

(Walks outside)

Cops: On the ground! Now!

fuchikoma October 23, 2008 2:53 PM

Kermit the bog: That was really my point. I can’t think of a single religion that would allow this, and I’m hard pressed to think of terrorists who had no religious motivation.

…so this story itself is pretty silly. Not that I’d put it past them to smuggle plans using the same TECHNOLOGIES.

Koray October 23, 2008 3:48 PM

The marijuana/coke analogy is actually not precise. Once law enforcement finds either your marijuana or the coke inside it, you’re labelled a drug dealer.

Once they ‘think’ that they found your child porn, they’re less likely to keep on analyzing until they figure out the images are hiding terror plans. You could have been sending these images to terrorist associates as well as regular pedophiles, increasing your noise to signal ratio.

I’m not seriously advocating that this is a good idea. But, there could be something to it.

moo October 23, 2008 9:30 PM


But the whole idea is still retarded. Once law enforcement finds the child porn, they will obviously hunt down whoever they can who’s associated with it and throw their ass in jail. Those kind of guys tend to get long sentences, and be treated rather harshly by the other prisoners (to put it mildly).

It would make far more sense for them to hide their secret messages in innocuous flickr vacation photos or stupid blog posts or, well… just about anything other than child porn pictures.

Nils October 24, 2008 8:21 AM

The talk about “Didn’t Muhammed have a child bride” just goes to show how effective the government is at demonizing Islam. I mean, I am the first to agree that a lot of Muslims seriously need to grow up (just recall the violent protests against the Danish cartoon portraying Islam as violent…) but Muhammed lived, what, almost 1400 years ago. By your logic, we would now have to consider all Christians based on the crusades, the inquistion, and the bloody colonization of the Americas. And I am sure it wouldn’t be difficult to find a Christian holy man who liked to fondle little boys a thousand years ago (hell they are still at it, judging by the scandals of the past years).

Really, people. Get a grip. The whole idea of using utterly illegal child porn to hide terrorist messages is absurd, no matter what religion may be involved. Stock market scams, viagra spam, whatever, sure, why not, but child porn? Either the claimants are completely ignorant or deliberately spreading misinformation to scare people into giving up more of their freedom.

pip61 October 24, 2008 10:48 AM

“I can’t figure out who (besides Fox) said it.” & “Either the claimants are completely ignorant or deliberately spreading misinformation to scare people into giving up more of their freedom.”

Looks like Wupert’s up to his dirty tricks again.

Hugh October 24, 2008 1:17 PM

It almost seems like propaganda on propaganda. Why should we assume that they are using public channels to communicate their private information like one of our vice presidential nominee.

laberer October 25, 2008 12:01 AM

The amalgamation of terror, drugs and child molestation has been used to justify bold action against terrorists without judicial control, but also to generally demonize Islam. This is not new. A similar propaganda has been used by the nazis against jews, see Julius Streicher “Der Giftpilz” (The poisonous mushroom) from the early nazi time. Link here on what I believe to be a neo-nazi website.


Note how the jews give candy to little children or abuse innocent young women. These are classical methods of propaganda. The connection between terror and drugs please take from elsewhere in the daily press. This unites the greatest fears of a hysterical society, and can be used to justify almost all kinds of bold actions without judicial control. It is not new. After Julius Streicher came the SA Stormtroopers. History tends to repeat itself.

John Waters October 25, 2008 2:32 AM

This is what happens when you get a bunch of “experts” that know virtually nothing about security or Islam, and ask them to come up with threats.

This is patently absurd, clearly, but even more absurd once you live in a place like Saudi Arabia for a few weeks. The place of young children, at least in Saudi society, seems to me to be of a higher station than that of adults. Kids are treated VERY well here, as witnessed by the food courts in the malls here. I have seen full sized ice skating rinks, roller coasters, bumper cars and bumper boats, ferris wheels, and so on INSIDE the food courts of malls.. Its insane, Hunter Thompson should have lived to see the spectacle; but I digress. These folks clearly love their kids, to the point where most of them are little brats with a near pathological sense of entitlement.

Second is the fact that shariah strictly prohibits child abuse.

Nick: There is contention about the age of Aisha, radiallahu anha, as it was customary to drop the leading “tens” column of a number if it stays constant during a discussion. Example:

Oud, the resin-rich aagarwood used as incense here, might cost seventy-something riyals for 10 grams.
“Bilal gave me nine (and seventy) riyals for this ‘Oud, but I only think that it is worth (seventy) two. We agreed at a price of (seventy) five.”

This is not common in today’s colloquial arabic, but in classical times it was. If I had Lane’s Lexicon handy I might be able to find more documentation for you, but I can not.

Anyway A’isha may have been five or fifteen or twenty five. Is it controversial? yes, but A’isha’s place in Sunni Islam as a transmitter of prophetic ahadith (traditions) and as a guide for the early muslim community is undeniable.


Bort October 26, 2008 4:40 PM

Actual paedophiles should consider doing the reverse — hiding their child porn in jihadist videos or rambling anti-American screeds. That way, if police intercept any of their communications, they can plausibly claim they’re just harmless terrorists, not paedophiles. So then the police will say “Oh, sorry” and leave.

Hell, why not go for a crossover and hide your child porn or terrorist communications in bales of marijuana? Wait, I know, you could smuggle cocaine by hiding it amongst containers of anthrax, and then in turn hide CDs containing child porn in some of them — that’ll really confuse the police! I can’t see any reason why that wouldn’t work.

God bless people like Rupert Murdoch who have the courage to bring us the stories the liberal media doesn’t want us to know about, eh?

Mark October 27, 2008 4:28 AM

@John Waters
Second is the fact that shariah strictly prohibits child abuse.

One likely source of confusion is that the definition of “child” 15 hundred years ago in South West Asia may well be different from what it is now.

Indeed it’s a quite modern idea to have a group of people who whilst physically “adult” are legally considered “children”.

Peter November 15, 2008 8:29 AM

Sorry for the late comment, I just got the monthly newsletter.

Instead of cocaine in a bale of marijuana, how about a dirty bomb. We know that ports are being watched for such weapons, just have the bad guys who transport pot unknowingly bring in something much worse.

Patrik November 15, 2008 9:47 AM

Well, 4 percent of the population is pedophiles so it’s reasonable to believe that this includes the so called “terrorists”. The police is bound to found some “terrorists” with immoral pornography on their computers, say 4 percent of the time.

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via https://michelf.ca/projects/php-markdown/extra/

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.