Petraeus says efforts to beat extremists online are lacking
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. isn’t doing enough to stop the Islamic State group from using the internet to spread its propaganda and recruit new members, former CIA Director David Petraeus told lawmakers Wednesday.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Petraeus, a retired Army general, said so-called counter-messaging initiatives are inadequate and urged a greater collaboration with the private sector similar to the effort to block child pornography from being peddled online. He did not mention any specific programs.
The remarks from Petraeus came a day after The Associated Press published an investigation that found a counter-propaganda program aimed at thwarting the Islamic State group’s use of social media for recruiting is plagued by incompetence, cronyism and skewed data.
The program, known as WebOps, is run by defense contractors at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.
A command spokesman declined repeated requests for information about WebOps and has not commented on AP’s investigation.
Petraeus, who served as the top officer at Central Command from 2008 to 2010, said in response to a question from Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., that he understands the challenge of preventing extremists from using the internet and social media.
But he said “as close as we can get to a solution is going to come from much greater partnerships with the internet service providers and those who oversee the social media platforms that are so important in enabling Islamic extremists to communicate, proselytize, to share tactics, techniques and procedures, (and) to issue orders.”
Petraeus said advanced technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence present a greater opportunity to identify specific people and shut down the extremists. He said he’s had preliminary conversations with Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, the founder and president of Jigsaw.
WebOps relies on dozens of Arabic-speaking analysts who scour Twitter and other social media platforms for people whose postings suggest they are vulnerable to the Islamic State’s siren call. Using fictitious identities, the civilian analysts then reach out to these potential recruits and urge them not to join the extremists.
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