Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Agent Storm: Inside Al Qaeda for the CIA" on CNN tonight; also, discussion of ISIS and social media on Lemon's show; could social media really be shut down for security?

CNN Special Reports Tuesday night aired “Agent Storm: Inside Al Qaeda for the CIA”, with main link here. Nic Robertsen hosted the documentary about Morten Storm, based on the book by the same name by the ex-spy (with Tim Lister).  The CIA did not stop the publication of the book but waned Storm that he was on his own.
Storm, a boxer at one time, converted to Islam and radicalized himself.  He at one point accepted the idea that Islam (as radicals interpret it) had the only truth and that any non-believer is an “enemy”, which is an idea that makes no sense to western civilians.  But after joining, and being rejected for “service” in Somalia, he became disillusioned over the violence against civilians, and contacted intelligence agencies, first in Demark.  He wound up working with Danish, British and US intelligence.

Storm's self-radicalization was very sudden, reading in a library;  so was his de-programming, when he started looking for "contradictions within Islam" on the Internet.  He demonstrated his de-conversion by ordering beer and pork in a restaurant.  Later, while setting up a rendez-vous, he changed plans without the CIA's permissions when he discovered that a particular place in Vienna served alcohol, and had to go to a nearby McDonald's.  

He even found a future bride for al-Awlaki( himself in Yemen), meeting her in Vienna. Much of the plot to get to al-Awlaki concerned the fake marriage.

Much of the film is shot in Copenhagen, which I visited in 1972.

Storm, with his red hair and somewhat portly appearance, looks out of place as a radical Muslim in the film. He resembles a “transfer agent” character, Lurku, in my own novel “Angel’s Brother”, who operates in Russia in my book.  In fact, he’s pretty much what I had visualized for my character, even the same body language.

Had my early life gone differently, or had I not had my college expulsion incident over homosexuality in 1961, I probably would have made a good intelligence analyst, although I wouldn’t have the temperament for covert work in the field, and I don’t recruit people.

Storm points out that the Muslim culture and religion emphasizes belonging to a group or tribe and absolute loyalty to it, to the extent that "unebelievers" are automatically viewed as enemies against Allah (or against the tribe) in the most extreme groups, and fair game just like soldiers.  The sense of morality is far removed from western ideas of individualism and "personal responsibility". 

Later Tuesday, on Don Lemon’s hour, experts were asked about the way ISIS and other terrorist groups recruit with social media.  Earlier today, CNN had talked about ISIS’s new magazine, Dabiq, and compared it to Inspire (New Republic story here ). Lemon mentioned the arrest today of a man in upstate New York for trying to recruit for ISIS and was caught in part through social media.  There was a debate on whether to “jam the signals” or leave them open and eavesdrop (Alan Turning style).  I was rather shocked when the idea that social media (especially Twitter and probably Facebook) could be shut down to stop the recruitment.  No, the panel said, we shouldn’t do that, we should monitor it (particular Twitter, which has fielded rather bombastic threats for closing accounts) and listen in.  But the fact that a shutdown could even be proposed (so the idea could be shut down) was shocking enough. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Copenhagen picture here

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