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Taliban website cyber-attack

April 27, 2012

By Tim Foxley

The Taliban website appears to have been victim of a cyber-attack this week, according to the Long War Journal, who picked it up and report:

“For the third time in less than a year, the Taliban’s El Emara website has been hacked. Images of pigeons and Taliban executions of women were combined with various messages in English, Pashto, and Arabic that support the Afghan government, replacing the Taliban’s usual pabulum of exaggerated battlefield claims and anti-government commentaries… By early evening, the website appeared to be mostly down, with the exception of the Pashto version of El Emara, which seemed to be operating normally. This marks the third time in the past 11 months that unidentified hackers have disrupted the Taliban’s leading Internet-based propaganda dissemination platform…”

It is never clear who is undertaking such attacks, but it is likely that both Western intelligence agencies and enthusiastic amateur hackers have had attempts to take down the site, over the years.  The Guardian reports Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid:

The Guardian, 27 Apr: Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters that the website was hacked around 12.30am on Thursday and fixed in three hours, before being breached again at midday and put out of commission again. It was still being repaired on Friday.

“It was hacked again by enemies and foreign intelligence services,” he said. “The enemy tries to push its propaganda. The enemy is worried by what gets published in our webpage. It’s confusing for them, so they try to react.”

Such attacks appear to have only a temporary impact upon the Taliban’s ability to send out its chosen messages – indeed this attack has a real smack of naivety.  Taliban media operations have developed in sophistication.  However, the content of their message (mainly exaggerated claims of battlefield prowess and only minimal discourse on political, social and economic issues) shows much less evolution than the technological means to get the message out and the overall control of the message.  Indeed, it is not impossible that such attacks are forcing the Taliban’s media group to adapt and enabling them to improve – “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, so to speak.

And in the longer term, I wonder how much real impact the Western/ISAF-led media war is having on the Taliban.  ISAF have sporadically engaged in media tweet wars against twitter sites who may or may not be part of the official Taliban media machine, but only at the level of sophistication that evokes a school playground dispute.  The Taliban leadership appear very much aware of the ebb and flow of the “hearts and minds” war and Mullah Omar’s statements regularly make reference to the dangers of Western “media trickeries”.  Clearly some of the messaging is striking home – the Taliban are often very sensitive to bad publicity and falll over themselves to deny and denounce – but it will remain hard to gauge the impact.

But if genuine, realistic and sustainable dialogue is to be generated with the Taliban, perhaps it is more sensible to avoid blatant and clumsy attacks on the means that might actually form part of a real communication process.

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