National Security & Defense

A Day in the Life of the ISIS 24-Hour Help Desk

The IT Crowd

In the aftermath of Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, it’s been reported that the assailants may have used the encrypted technology of PlayStation 4 and WhatsApp to communicate while avoiding surveillance. For anyone who has attempted to pull off a heist in Grand Theft Auto V Online while teammates scream unintelligibly into their mics and several other people scream in the background, this doesn’t really come as much of a shock: Communicating over PS4 for any other purpose besides plotting jihadist attacks is pretty much pointless. (If these reports are true, it also probably helps explain where the jihad jeep tactic came from in Battlefield 4.)

NBC News also revealed that ISIS has a 24hour help desk:

Counterterrorism analysts affiliated with the U.S. Army tell NBC News that the ISIS help desk, manned by a half-dozen senior operatives around the clock, was established with the express purpose of helping would-be jihadists use encryption and other secure communications in order to evade detection by law enforcement and intelligence authorities.

Personally, I’m not sure there’s a worse fate than quitting your comfortable job to run off and join the caliphate, all psyched to defeat the infidels, only to be told you’re being stuck on the graveyard shift at the IT desk, and you start tomorrow, oh, and if you don’t like it they’ll put you in a cage.

So what do the ISIS help-desk guys do exactly? “They answer questions from the technically mundane to the technically savvy to elevate the entire jihadi community to engage in global terror,” explained counterterrorism analyst Aaron F. Brantly. This apparently covers everything from the proper way to handle a Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Device to simply blowing into the cartridge of a crude PETN device made from an old Nintendo game.

What kind of job training does this entail? Does an ISIS IT person already need to have formal training and experience, or do they just receive an instruction manual on everything from spotting the CIA on Tinder to ridding their Windows Vista of pesky spam-ware to “how to handle an angry jihadist who feels he isn’t being assisted properly”? Are they then transferred for more training to the mid-level manager down the hall, who is also dealing with “that idiot Abu in Mosul who keeps calling because he still can’t figure out the difference between a shock tube and a slapper”?

Also, as anyone who deals with IT knows, every IT department has “that guy” manning the help desk. The technical advice he gives will go something like this: An ISIS jihadist is rigged to blow from head to toe and something goes wrong with his trigger. He makes a panicked phone call to the ISIT desk, and it rings. And keeps ringing. Keeps ringing. Finally IT picks up and simply reminds him to “try turning it off and on again.”

Then imagine the embarrassment of an experienced jihadist in the field having to call IT to admit that he can’t get his replica of the bomb “that smart kid in Texas” made working properly, and ISIT having to send him a YouTube link to break the news to him.

#share#There’s also the question of what kind of hold music ISIT will have for jihadists waiting to have their questions answered about how to rewire DIY plastic explosives or panicked over the CIA monitoring their Twitter account. Osama bin Laden was a fan of Whitney Houston, but I’m pretty sure when a field jihadist is at a checkpoint and his suicide belt fails, the last thing he wants to hear is “I’m Every Woman.”

Not to mention the dilemmas the ISIT desk will face. Does the IT rep alert his manager, who is still dealing with Abu in Mosul, if he hears a sudden explosion on the other end of the line while attempting to walk an operative through the proper way to wire a timed explosive, or does he go the safe route and simply claim they were disconnected?

#related#Also consider the working environment. What kind of benefits package does ISIS offer its IT workers? Do they get paid leave or a living wage? Overtime or hazard pay? The benefits would have to be generous, especially given that the severance package is more often than not vaporization by an unmanned American drone.

There’s no doubt that deciphering encrypted messages across multiple platforms and disrupting technical networks will be a great challenge for our intelligence agents. But if they could start by targeting and drone-striking the terrorists yelling into microphones during Grand Theft Auto raids, that would be a good start—one that I would greatly appreciate.

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