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"Wired" Cites RFE In Article About Taliban Communications Efforts

In a recent post on "Wired" magazine's 'Danger Room' blog, Spencer Ackerman cites an article from Radio Azadi's Bashir Ahmad Gwakh. In discussing the Taliban's use of new media to bolster propaganda efforts, Ackerman references interviews conducted with Afghanis familiar with the Taliban's recent communications surge.

Taliban Texts Terror To Afghan Phones

Spencer Ackerman | Wired

March 17, 2011

One of the Taliban’s most effective tools to persuade Afghans not to work with the U.S. or its allies is the night letter — a note warning people they’ll be targeted for death unless they change their infidel-loving ways. But that’s too analog. These days, the Taliban is mass texting gruesome videos to Afghans’ cellphones to spread the same message.

The insurgency’s media committee produces videos like this one — which we won’t embed — glorifying suicide bombers and posts them on Taliban websites like and Befitting the growing importance of social media to insurgents, Facebook pages purporting to be adjuncts of Taliban propaganda networks pop up to display the imagery, hoping to slip past Facebook’s usage police.
But to maximize the videos’ reach, insurgents send them out through SMS chains, until they eventually reach unsuspecting Afghans. It’s a quick way to take night-letter videos viral — and disguise the usage chain from its origin, preventing authorities from shutting down the distribution system.

The necessary cost of the SMS-borne videos is a departure from the intimidating specificity of the night letters. But it doesn’t seem to have reduced any effectiveness. After watching one of them, a Paktia resident told Radio Free Europe, “I could not even sleep because I was just thinking of this scary video in which Taliban were slaying young men.”

Radio Free Europe translates part of an interview with Abdul Sattar Maiwandi, editor of the Taliban’s al-Emarah site, in which Maiwandi explains that his site’s “news” features are crunched down into SMS-ready formats and sent to subscribers. “Each of them sends it to his acquaintances inside and outside Afghanistan, and so a chain of dissemination begins,” Maiwandi explains.

Taliban web forums have come under mysterious electronic attack in the past. And recently, a hacktivist known as th3j35t3r has been tweeting links to extremist websites that he/she claims to have taken down. But unless sites like al-Emarah get stopped before their content goes to SMS, there’s not really any way of stopping the video distribution, short of the disruptive step of taking down entire service networks in Afghanistan.

“We give operation licenses to telecom companies so they can provide communication services to people,” a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Information and Technology Ministry tells Radio Free Europe. “It is neither ours nor the company’s responsibility to identify who uses the services for what purposes.”