Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Al Qaeda Documents Encoded Within Seized Pornography

CNN reports today that included among digital storage devices seized from an individual by German police was a pornographic video in which "more than 100 al Qaeda documents" were encoded.  CNN explains:
On May 16 last year, a 22-year-old Austrian named Maqsood Lodin was being questioned by police in Berlin. He had recently returned from Pakistan via Budapest, Hungary, and then traveled overland to Germany. His interrogators were surprised to find that hidden in his underpants were a digital storage device and memory cards.
Buried inside them was a pornographic video called "Kick Ass" -- and a file marked "Sexy Tanja."
Several weeks later, after laborious efforts to crack a password and software to make the file almost invisible, German investigators discovered encoded inside the actual video a treasure trove of intelligence -- more than 100 al Qaeda documents that included an inside track on some of the terror group's most audacious plots and a road map for future operations.
In a recent post, I mentioned earlier assertions that "terrorists" had been communicating with each other via hidden messages encrypted in pornographic videotapes in order to make the point -- that is all the more relevant in light of today's CNN report -- that the level of sophistication attributed to "terrorists" or "jihadists" is often wildly inconsistent.  I contrasted the example of encrypted pornography with the statement in a recent article by a military intelligence officer on the exploitation of captured documents that the "true significance of DOMEX lies in the fact that terrorists, criminals, and other adversaries never expected their material to be captured."  The latter assumption, particularly in light of the former example, seems to me to be dangerous, especially if applied indiscriminately.

Some individuals who are accused of being "terrorists" are sophisticated while others are not, but I have often feared that final conclusions about the significance of seized materials are often driving the level of sophistication attributed to the "terrorist" rather than the other way around.  This presents significant dangers in both directions. Sometimes the owls are not what they seem and sometimes pornography is just pornography.