John Naughton writes: A headline caught my eye last Tuesday morning. “Privacy not an absolute right, says GCHQ chief”, it read. Given that GCHQ bosses are normally sensibly taciturn types, it looked puzzling. But it turns out that Sir Iain Lobban has retired from GCHQ to spend more time with his pension, to be followed no doubt, after a discreet interval, with some lucrative non-exec directorships. His successor is a Foreign Office smoothie, name of Robert Hannigan, who obviously decided that the best form of defence against the Snowden revelations is attack, which he mounted via an op-ed piece in the Financial Times, in the course of which he wrote some very puzzling things.
Much of his piece is a rehearsal of how good Isis has become at exploiting social media. Its members “use messaging and social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, and a language their peers understand. The videos they post of themselves attacking towns, firing weapons or detonating explosives have a self-conscious online gaming quality. Their use of the World Cup and Ebola hashtags to insert the Isis message into a wider news feed, and their ability to send 40,000 tweets a day during the advance on Mosul without triggering spam controls, illustrates their ease with new media. There is no need for today’s would-be jihadis to seek out restricted websites with secret passwords: they can follow other young people posting their adventures in Syria as they would anywhere else.”
All of which is spot-on. From the very beginning, Isis fanatics have been up to speed on this stuff. Which raises an interesting question: how come that GCHQ and the other intelligence agencies failed to notice the rise of the Isis menace until it was upon us? Were they so busy hoovering metadata and tapping submarine cables and “mastering the internet” (as the code name of one of their projects puts it) that they didn’t have time to see what every impressionable Muslim 14-year-old in the world with an internet connection could see? [Continue reading…]