Army calls social network use an indicator of violent extremism

(AFP Photo / Behrouz Mehri)
When the US Army asked the Asymmetric Warfare Group for a guide to identifying the radicalization of troops into violent extremists, some items — like asking about WMDS — were expected to make the list. But how about involvement in social networks?

Documents obtained by Wired’s Danger Room reveal that the AWG, a US military unit created during the War on Terror to provide additional means of support to American troops, may have had a rather peculiar notion about what breeds extremism among US troops. According to presentations that Danger Room has come to possess, frustration with mainstream ideologies and displaying a concentrated rhetoric among other recruits may be warning sides of radicalization, as well as factors such as being “highly emotional,” involved in “social networks” or being a “youth” also indicating a great risk for expediting the process into identifying as a violent extremist.

The materials are dated from 2011, and that August’s tactical reference tear-sheet on “Radicalization into Violent Extremism: a guide for military leaders,” suggest that the Army division assigned to identifying trends to be weary of on the battlefields and barracks may make just any average American — especially a young one, apparently — on track to become an unpredictable insurgent.

Wired’s Spencer Ackerman says that that AWG assessment in question came to be shortly after Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan went on a rampage at Fort Hood in 2009, but notes that the indicators used to identify any copy-cat attacks on US soil are anything but explicit.

Indicators of radicalization, writes Ackerman, “are vague enough to include both benign behaviors that lots of people safely exhibit and, on the other end of the spectrum, signs that someone is so obviously a terrorist they shouldn’t need to be pointed out. It’s hard to tell if the group is being politically correct or euphemistic.”

While the assessment suggests that a soldier who “inquires about weapons of mass destruction” might be on track to violently revolting, another who “suddenly acquires weapons” could also be plotting an attack. Earlier, less obvious, indicators that should be observed, the AWG writes, include sudden reclusiveness, frustration with mainstream ideology and advocating for violence “beyond what is ‘normal.’”

According to another document, “Insider Threats in Partnering Environments,” complaints waged against other forces are early indicators of emerging inner-group insurgency, as is advocating violence as a solution — something that clearly, doesn’t exist on the battlefield.