EXCLUSIVE: If you're on Facebook, Al Qaeda wants to friend you.
Terrorist groups are using Facebook to share operational information and to target, recruit and radicalize members of the general public, according to a Department of Homeland Security report obtained by FoxNews.com.
The DHS report, "Terrorist Use of Social Networking Sites: Facebook Case Study," notes while terrorists have been using social networking sites for quite some time, their strategies for exploiting Facebook have evolved and that they have learned "the inherent value in exploiting a non-ideological medium."
According to the November report, terrorists and jihadists use Facebook as:
— a way to share operational and tactical information, including bomb recipes and weapons maintenance;
— a gateway to extremist forums;
— a media outlet for propaganda;
— a source of remote reconnaissance for targeting purposes.
“Every person who connects to the Internet with a computer needs to take this issue seriously," says Steve Graham, senior director for EC Council, a cybersecurity certification membership organization. "Reports like this show we are figuratively sitting next to terrorists. So are our friends, our kids and anyone else who types www.”
DHS found that among the materials available to Facebook's more than 500 million members are:
— Informational videos titled “tactical shooting,” “getting to know your AK-47” and “how to field strip an AK-47.” Those videos can be found on the page of a radical public Facebook group that is dedicated to jihad and has more than 2,000 members.
— A group discussion page featuring Arabic-language IED recipes for explosive ammonia and poisonous smoke bombs, and instructions on how to prepare nitric acid, which is used to make explosive mixtures. The same recipes were also posted on a radical forum, suggesting “some cross-over between radical content disseminated on Facebook and on Islamist extremist forums,” according to the report.
Some radical Islamist forums also maintain Facebook pages. “In this way, Facebook acts as a gateway or launching pad for further radicalization and for easy access to sites where explosives recipes and IED information are regularly posted,” the report says.
While DHS notes that Facebook is not the only social networking site employed by extremists, its report cites discussion threads collected from well-established radical forums that indicate jihadists are specifically targeting the site:
This [Facebook] is a great idea, and better than the forums. Instead of waiting for people to [come to you so you can] inform them, you go to them and teach them!
God willing, the mujahedeen, their supporters, and proud jihadi journalists will [use the site, too]. [First,] it has become clear that the market of social networking websites is developing in an astonishing manner and that it fulfills important needs for Internet users, particularly younger ones. [Second,] Facebook has become very successful in this field; therefore, it is our duty to use it, as adherents of jihad and [members] of the blessed jihadi media.
[I] mean, if you have a group of 5,000 people, with the press of a button you [can] send them a standardized message. [That] means if you send one message with a link to [forum names], a clear [path] to jihadi media is open.
I entreat you, by God, to begin registering for Facebook as soon as you [finish] reading this post. Familiarize yourselves with it. This post is a seed and a beginning, to be followed by serious efforts to optimize our Facebook usage. Let’s start distributing Islamic jihadi publications, posts, articles, and pictures. Let’s anticipate a reward from the Lord of the Heavens, dedicate our purpose to God, and help our colleagues.
One forum user outlined "General Goals of the Invasion":
1. Reach the wide base of Muslims who [use] Facebook.
2. Encourage brothers to devise new online media in support of jihadi media.
3. Form a solid base on Facebook and shed light on it as a medium for reaching people.
4. Move from an elite society ([on] jihadi forums and websites) to mainstream Muslims, [encourage] their participation, and interact with them.
5. Advance media operations and encourage creativity, innovation, flexibility, and change. Reach large [numbers] of Crusaders, broadcast the losses of their armies, expose the lies of their leaders, and call Muslims to jihad.
“These posts call for the organized, strategic exploitation of Facebook, recognizing its value as a platform for reaching a wider, younger audience,” the report states.
Posters recognize that forums are visited by already-radicalized jihadi supporters, “whereas Facebook offers a space to interact with “mainstream Muslims” and attract and recruit new supporters.”
“[S]ocial networking interfaces whose purpose is to virtually connect people based on such common social bonds clearly lend themselves to extremist use and recruitment efforts,” the report states.
Other posts demonstrate security savvy by recommending the use of proxy servers to provide anonymity, while others show strategy employed to recruit new members.
A "concerning factor here is the speed at which an entire demographic can be located and communicated with," Graham said. "DHS mentions the use of social media to find groups with similar interests.
“Fact is, what used to take months to get a few recruits who meet the right criteria is now on a harvested mailing list. Groups are being communicated to in the hundreds, speeding up recruiting efforts."
Jihadists use cyber propaganda material to target youths on Facebook, said Jeff Bardin, chief security strategist at security firm XA Systems.
"The youth who come to Facebook looking for jihadist information are the Generation X and Y youth who also don't worry too much about the security of their profiles and what they post, providing easy prey for intelligence agencies worldwide to access, infiltrate and fully penetrate those wishing to learn," he said.
Facebook tries to filter out terrorist activity by checking for names of terrorists and terrorist organizations provided by the State and Treasury Departments.
The DHS report states:
“According to Facebook Rights and Responsibilities on the website, 'You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.' It also states that 'We can remove any content or information you post on Facebook if we believe that it violates this Statement.' However, information is not screened before it is posted, so posts that violate the rules remain on the site until they are detected and removed.”
Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes told FoxNews.com:
"We take our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR) very seriously and react quickly to reports of inappropriate content and behavior. Groups that threaten violence towards people are taken down, as are groups that express hatred towards individuals and those sponsored by recognized terrorist organizations. The goal of these policies is to strike a very delicate balance between giving people the freedom to express their opinions and viewpoints – even those that may be controversial to some – and maintaining a safe and trusted environment."
"In addition to using the State and Treasury Department lists, and the fact that our SRR prohibits anyone on those terrorist lists from using our service, we are also proactive in screening for those names and organizations. Our internal systems also employ keyword searches related to associated terminology. We give high priority to reviewing and responding to user reports in this area as well."
DHS spokesman Bobby Whithorne provided FoxNews.com with this statement:
“The Office for Bombing Prevention (OBP) facilitates a constant feedback loop with our law enforcement partners on TRIPwire, and as a result of ongoing discussions on the topic, OBP developed a case study on the use of social networking sites to better inform our partners about techniques, tactics and procedures used by terrorists. It is well known that terrorists recruit and share instructions to develop improvised explosive devices online, and we will continue to provide situational awareness and share information with our law enforcement partners on a range of topics in our shared efforts to deter and disrupt terrorism.”