Nova (1974–…): Season 43, Episode 14 - 15 Years of Terror - full transcript

Investigate the psychology of a terrorist and examine how radical organizations have grown to make use of modern propaganda and social media tools in order to cultivate an army of self-radicalized killers.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it - foodval.com
---
NARRATOR:
9/11 plus 15.

The footprints
of the fallen towers

are now a haunting memorial
to what and who was lost here.

The waterfalls flow,
and so do the tears.

The children who come here have
lived their entire lives

under the shadow of terrorism.

What has become normal now
was unheard of then.

JOHN CARLIN:
We're in an incredibly
complicated time right now

when it comes
to the terrorist threats.

And what we've seen really is
a fundamental shift in strategy.

NARRATOR:
Al Qaeda had aimed
at this target before.



But in 1993, we didn't awaken
from our slumber.

After 9/11, there was
no ignoring the need

for urgent action.

CARLIN:
We developed

an apparatus that became
really good at figuring out

what they were trying to do
and disrupting it

before they could succeed.

NARRATOR:
We put boots on the ground,

drones in the air,

and systematically killed
the ringleaders.

(explosions)

We tightened security
at airports

and employed new technologies.

Al Qaeda is
drastically weakened,



but terrorism as a strategy
is still with us...

(explosion)

Benefitting from
new technology as well.

The internet and social media
specifically

are really kind of game changers
for extremism.

They offer extremists advantages

that they don't offer
mainstream people.

NARRATOR:
The Islamic State perfected
the pitch online--

professionally produced videos
of warrior heroes

living in utopia, all aimed
at recruiting new members.

HUMERA KHAN:
If you include all its branches,

ISIS has more than
40 media companies

and each of them has
a different specialization.

And so the volume
of what is put out is huge.

CARLIN:
By crowd-sourcing terrorism,

they just called upon people
throughout the world

to, one, join them as foreign
terrorist fighters

in Iraq and Syria

and, two, if they couldn't
join them over there,

"Kill where you live."

NARRATOR:
We saw the deadly consequences

of this new internet-fueled,
self-radicalized terrorism

in Boston, San Bernardino,
Orlando, and Nice.

It is a fact that
many of the cases

that we've seen
in the United States

simply would not have happened
in the pre-social media era,

because the material
just wasn't that accessible.

NARRATOR:
It's no longer just a war
of bullets, drones, and bombs.

Technology has created a new
battlefield, online.

Are there new technologies
to intervene

before vulnerable people
answer the call of extremism?

NARRATOR:
Can science take us into
the mind of a terrorist?

"15 Years of Terror"--
right now on NOVA.

Major funding for NOVA is
provided by the following...

self-radicalized terrorists,
empowered by social media.

The war on terror was
tailor-made to defeat al Qaeda.

But troops, drones,
and tighter borders

offer no defense
against the internet.

It is awash in violence
and venom

produced and propagated
by terrorists.

You can trace the roots,
at least in part,

to a place you'd least expect.

Daphne, Alabama--

a city of 20,000 that sits
across the bay from Mobile.

It's everything you would expect
from the American Bible Belt.

But it was also home to an
unlikely, infamous resident...

Omar Hammami,
an American who took up arms

with Islamic terrorists
and took their propaganda war

into a whole new realm.

What can his story tell us about

how social networking
fuels terrorism?

The clues are there
in his own words--

a self-published autobiography.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
I was brought up like most
of the privileged children

in America.

My mother was a typical
Southern Protestant girl,

which attracted my father's
conservative background.

An Arab from Syria marries

a little Southern belle
from Alabama.

This is a very
strange combination.

MITCH SILBER:
He's the product

of a mixed marriage--

a father who is Muslim and
a mother who is Christian,

a father who was an engineer

and grew up essentially
in an open, tolerant household.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
I was "saved" and baptized in
the Perdido Baptist Church.

My mother used to take me
and my sister.

I was the best student
in Bible school.

I didn't like getting less than
perfect grades from a young age.

My father was not a religious
man in those days.

He did not pray
or go to the mosque.

My mom used to tell us that we
have to keep our religion secret

from our father.

NARRATOR:
That inner conflict he described
in his book was just that.

Outwardly, he was smart,
popular, and easygoing.

He didn't seem to take himself
too seriously.

SHAFIK HAMMAMI:
He was very intelligent.

He's always happy.

He's an all-American boy.

He liked sports, he liked music.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
By seventh grade I was
the class vice president.

By eighth grade I think I was
the most popular guy in school.

The main reason
was that I was funny.

It was the summer of my eighth
grade year when I went to Syria.

My cousins were very happy
to see me,

but they didn't know
who I was exactly.

They must have heard
that my mother was teaching us

Christianity so they started to
try to teach me how to pray.

It was around that time
that I prayed all five prayers

without missing any of them.

I felt so good that day

that I promised to always pray
my prayers on time.

The trip to Syria really was
his religious awakening.

NARRATOR:
J.M. Berger is
a former journalist

and now an author and fellow

at the George Washington
University Program on Extremism.

He had been a popular kid,
confident kid,

who came back from this trip
with a religion

that in Alabama was strange
to his classmates.

I think that that made him
feel isolated

and it may have encouraged him
to think of himself

as special as a way to offset
the rejection.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
When I came back
from my vacation,

I had become a very
different person,

but I was placed back
into my old environment.

It was like a struggle
of two worlds.

The drugs, the girls,
the friends, the TV,

and everything hit me
with a big slap.

Due to the blessings of Allah,

I managed to hold on
to my prayers.

He converted from being
a Baptist

to being a highly observant
Muslim,

which you can imagine
in rural Alabama

was not a typical decision and
also brought a lot of disdain

from his high school classmates.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
It was an upward battle,

but I had some new friends
from the mosque

that used to give me support
on the weekends.

I began to feel that I was being
flung into an ocean

and asked not to get wet.

NARRATOR:
Finding extremists like Omar

as they test the waters
of radicalization

is a he challenge

for law enforcement
and intelligence agencies.

In law enforcement circles,

they call it countering
violent extremism, or CVE.

This room is designed
to make it easier.

This is the room 9/11 built--

the operations center at the
National Counterterrorism Center

just outside Washington, D.C.

On a 24/7 basis, we have
officers here working in shifts

who are consuming, reading,
analyzing, and assessing

every bit of available
information that there is

to try to figure out
what terrorist threats

are aimed at the United States.

NARRATOR:
Nick Rasmussen
is the director here.

This is where they try
to connect the dots.

The nature of the work has
changed dramatically

in recent years.

These folks can get
radicalized by one group

and the baton can be passed
to another group.

NARRATOR:
More lone wolves
and encrypted communication.

REPORTER:
The FBI had this man on
its radar as early as 2013.

NARRATOR:
Fewer face-to-face meetings
and phone calls--

the internet as a source of
inspiration and planning.

Self-radicalization
doesn't have to take

many months or many years.

Increasingly, what connecting
the dots means to me

is dealing with the huge,
huge volume

of publicly available
or open source

or unclassified information
that's out there

that may have terrorism
relevance.

And the work we're doing now

with our partners in the
intelligence community

often doesn't involve really,
really sensitive intelligence.

It involves looking at Twitter

or looking at some other
social media platform

and trying to figure out

who that individual behind
that screen name,

behind that handle,
might actually be

and whether that person poses
a threat to the United States.

NARRATOR:
The term of art in the world
of espionage is SOCMINT--

social media intelligence.

Open source spying.

JEFF WEYERS:
Anybody can track

a war online, can track
a terrorist group online,

can develop informants
and contacts online.

NARRATOR:
Police officer and terrorism
analyst Jeff Weyers is expert

at gleaning intelligence
from social media.

His "operations center"
is in his home.

WEYERS:
I can do more open-source
intelligence work

from my living room than any
analyst could have ever done

even 20 years ago.

NARRATOR:
The data is hiding
in plain view.

All it takes is patience,

persistence, and a little bit of
technical know-how to find it.

For instance,
it's an open secret

that many Islamic State fighters
do not disable

the geographic tracking
capability

built into their mobile phones.

The technology makes it possible
for anyone to track a terrorist.

WEYERS:
If he broadcasts from Raqqa and
then I again see him in Turkey

and then I again see him moving
into Europe,

well, this is a way that
we can potentially interdict

with somebody that is maybe
looking to do an attack.

NARRATOR:
That, combined with some
selfies, might provide

plenty of intelligence
needed for targeting.

If you're looking for a drone
attack and you're seeing

where they're going for morning
coffee, Twitter could tell you.

NARRATOR:
When it comes to terror,

the problem isn't
a lack of data,

it's separating the wheat
from the chaff.

WEYERS:
If you look at
the Orlando shooting

or the recent cases in Germany
and France,

just because the government
has all this data

doesn't mean they have
the capacity

to analyze all that data,
and so how do you then go

and make a determination
as to whether that person

poses a threat to the public?

NARRATOR:
With so many electronic
breadcrumbs

scattered out in the open,
couldn't it be possible

for a computer scientist to
harness the right combination

of software and hardware
to see where they lead?

All right, Howard Marks,
where are you?

NARRATOR:
And make pre-crime arrests...

(screaming)

...as depicted in the
2002 movie Minority Report.

I'm placing you under arrest for
the future murder of Sarah Marks

and Donald Dubin that was
to take place today, April 22,

at 0800 hours...

NARRATOR:
Science fiction now,
but maybe not forever.

At the University of Maryland,

computer scientist
V.S. Subrahmanian is applying

a big data approach
to fighting terrorism.

He is trying to put
more objective analysis

into decisions about which
terrorists to target.

SUBRAHMANIAN:
I'm a scientist,

and when somebody says,
"We degraded al Qaeda

by taking person X out,"

you know, if I can't measure it,
I don't believe it.




NARRATOR:
He and his team focused on the
Islamic terror organization

Lashkar-e-Taiba,

the group responsible for
the 2008 attacks on Mumbai,

about a dozen coordinated
shootings and bombings

lasting four days that killed
more than 160 people.

So what you see here is the
terrorist network corresponding

to the terrorist group
Lashkar-e-Taiba,

and each node that you see here
corresponds to an individual.

NARRATOR:
They compiled 21 years of data
on the group and its actions.

All of it is analyzed
by some sophisticated software

that he calls STONE,

for Shaping Terrorist
Organization Network Efficacy.

It's a schematic
of a terrorist network

identifying individuals,
subgroups, and affiliations.

The software assigns a number
to measure the lethality

of the terror organization.

The higher the number,
the more dangerous the group is.

So what would happen if you
targeted the leadership?

Let's take a look at the leader
of the group here, number one.

If you right-click on him,

we will see some information
about him.

NARRATOR:
He is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed,

a man with a $10 million bounty
on his head.

Let's pretend we are in the role
of an analyst

and we're considering the
consequences of targeting him

and removing him
from the network.

NARRATOR:
Here's what's surprising:

the software predicts
if you take out the boss,

the lethality of the group
actually goes up.

SUBRAHMANIAN:
You may be faced with a
situation where the new leader

is either much more aggressive
about carrying out operations

or much better liked
or much more competent

in carrying out his operation.

NARRATOR:
The software makes it possible
to run scenarios

to figure out who to target.

So what would happen if Saeed's
three top deputies

were all taken out?

The number goes way down.

Lashkar-e-Taiba becomes
much less of a threat.

SUBRAHMANIAN:
You can have a much more
efficient

counterterrorism operation

that significantly weakens
a group

by targeting
just the right people.

NARRATOR:
So can the same software
predict an attack?

Sort of.

SUBRAHMANIAN:
We could have predicted
the Mumbai attacks.

However, we could not
have predicted

exactly where they would have
occurred.

So we can say things like,

"We expect these kinds of
targets to be hit

in the next one, two,
three, four months."

But we cannot say, "This
specific target will be hit

in the next one, two,
three, four months."

If I could reach
in the terrorism world

the level of sophistication
in predicting hurricanes today,

I would be very happy.

So we're not there yet.

NARRATOR:
In 2001, Omar Hammami had
enrolled in college in Mobile

and a storm was gathering
inside him.

(thunder rumbles)

Isolated and out of place
on campus,

the radicalism seeded
in Syria grew.

He was ripe for
an external event

to trigger something
more sinister.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
I was in university when
September 11 happened.

I came to class one day and this
non-practicing Muslim

told me to check CNN,

where I saw a plane going
into the towers.

I was mixed between
the hatred of terrorism

and my real hatred for America,
the disbelievers,

and their oppression
of the Muslims.

But 9/11 didn't "radicalize" me,
as they say.

I took things a bit more
intellectually than that.

NARRATOR:
But that changed when U.S.
troops marched into Baghdad.

(explosions)

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
By the time the Iraq war
started,

I could not find any way for us
to say that it is anything less

than obligatory to fight
the Americans there.

One day I just couldn't take the
futility of it all any longer.

I went to the dean's office
and I withdrew my name

from the university.

Eventually I became so averse to
America that I wanted to leave.

SILBER:
Subsequently, he left university
and went up to Toronto,

where he started to explore
literature and theology,

and started to adopt
a Salafi ideology.

BERGER:
Salafists believe that there's

a mythical, pure form of Islam
that they can restore.

It's very puritanical.

And Salafi jihadists--

al Qaeda and ISIS and
movements like that--

believe that not only does this
mythical, pure form of Islam

exist but that they need to
achieve it through violence.

They need to fight to institute
that form of Islam.

(gunfire)

NARRATOR:
When Omar arrived in Toronto
in the fall of 2004,

he entered the radical phase
of his metamorphosis.

He was trying extremism on
for size and it seemed to fit.

Omar married a newly arrived
Somali immigrant--

19-year-old
Sadiyo Mohamed Abdille.

In short order,
they were expecting a baby.

But Omar was in no mood
to settle down.

SILBER:
He wanted to travel overseas,

to a land that was
sufficiently Islamic.

NARRATOR:
Less than a year
after arriving in Toronto,

he decided he wanted to move
to Egypt.

Sadiyo reluctantly agreed.

They arrived in Alexandria
in June of 2005.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
When I got there, I realized
it was a terrible place.

I looked at the face of my wife
and she was devastated.

But I still didn't care.

NARRATOR:
Not long after they arrived,

Omar's wife Sadiyo gave birth
to a baby girl, Taymiyyah.

Omar had planned to study
at a local university,

but it didn't pan out.

He spent his days at internet
cafés reading and posting

on jihadi forums.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
I was surfing the net one day
and I found someone

who sounded like an American.

About an hour later,
I met one of my best friends

and closest brothers:
Abu Muhammad al-Amriki,

Daniel Maldonado.

NARRATOR:
Daniel Maldonado,
an American from New Hampshire,

was a high school dropout
who converted to Salafi Islam

in 2000.

The two men became fast friends.

BERGER:
They're in the same city
but they met online.

I think it's important
to understand

the power of these networks
in making connections

really helps extremist groups.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
Abu Muhammad managed
to give me guidance

about which books are necessary
to read about jihad.

Any remaining doubts
had been removed.

I had become a jihadi.

NARRATOR:
Omar had learned
an important lesson

in the value of the internet

to promote and facilitate
extremism.

It is a lesson that
he clearly took to heart.

He and Maldonado decided
to go to Somalia to fight

with the Islamic terror group
known as al Shabaab.

They departed for the
battlefield in 2006.

Omar left his wife
and daughter behind.

Does this fit into the profile
of a typical terrorist?

Is there such a thing?

It does not work that way,

there is no one profile
of the terrorist.

NARRATOR:
But psychologist Arie Kruglanski
believes

they share an important trait.

They are looking for certainty,

for clear-cut answers
in a chaotic world.

The psychological term is
cognitive closure.

KRUGLANSKI:
The need for cognitive closure

is the need for certainty

and the need to be confident
about a topic,

the need to know for sure.

NARRATOR:
Kruglanski and his team have
authored reams of research

on the Sri Lankan
terror group known

as the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam-- the Tamil Tigers.

The group invented
the suicide belt

and pioneered the use
of women in those attacks.

Kruglanski's team has
interviewed thousands

of these former terrorists,

conducting one of the few
longitudinal studies

of the terrorist mindset.

He discovered a clear link
between feelings of self-worth

and the desire to join a group.

KRUGLANSKI:
You feel that you're humiliated,
you're insignificant,

you do not matter.

And that predisposes people
to listen to ideologies

that tell you, "I'll tell you
how you're going to matter.

You're going to matter"--

and this is in the case
of ISIS and radicalization--

"You're going to matter
by joining the fight."

NARRATOR:
In other words,
when people are struggling,

they are more vulnerable
to group think.

You guys can go ahead
and come on in.

NARRATOR:
Kruglanski has tested this
theory with a simple experiment,

which he replicated for us.

Our subjects: four University
of Maryland undergraduates.

The purpose of this
experiment is to...

NARRATOR:
They all played a simple
videogame called the Duck Hunt.

Okay, Ben, do you want
to come on?

NARRATOR:
The game was set to be
impossibly hard for two of them

and incredibly easy
for the other two.

They were told a score of 100
or more

predicts all kinds
of success in life.

Scores lower than a hundred
strongly predict failure.

So you're going to be
playing that game today.

NARRATOR:
Ben Weinberg had it easy.

He was knocking ducks
out of the sky right and left

and waltzed to the hundred-point
threshold.

Afterward, he took a brief
survey and had a quick debrief

with graduate student
Marina Chernikova.

WEINBERG:
It felt good when I got it
on the first try.

It was a little more frustrating
when I took a few clicks

to get the duck.

NARRATOR:
But when it was Mara Lins' turn
in the hot seat,

there were no sitting ducks.

Not even close.

(metal music playing)

It was really hard.

I felt really frustrated because
the duck was just going so fast

I couldn't ever really click
on it that well

and the score just kept going
more down.

It made me really uncomfortable,
actually.

CHERNIKOVA:
Okay.

NARRATOR:
The survey included
two dozen questions

designed to assess people's need
for support from a group.

KRUGLANSKI:
So this person seems to be
scoring

very high on interdependence--

do you know what
condition was he in?

Yes, this one was in
the failure condition.

KRUGLANSKI:
What we find time and time again

is that if you're successful,

you feel relatively independent
of your group.

You can hack it on your own.

But when you feel humiliated
and weakened,

that's the circumstances
that lead you to undertake

sacrifices on behalf of the
group in order to feel rewarded

by the group by a sense
of heroism and significance.

NARRATOR:
So what about lone-wolf
terrorists,

those who are self-radicalized
online?

KRUGLANSKI:
Yes, the group is there
virtually.

The group does not need to be
physically present and salient

and they can imagine that
the group will approve

of their deeds and
they can pick up a knife,

a machete, or a vehicle
and go out and kill people.

NARRATOR:
In 2006, Omar Hammami arrived
in Mogadishu, Somalia,

where he joined a very deadly
group of terrorists:

the al Qaeda affiliate
al Shabaab--

Islamic terrorists waging
an insurgency

against government forces.

Al Shabaab was well known

for aggressively recruiting
Americans.

Omar Hammami was quickly
welcomed into their ranks.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
That night leaving
for al Shabaab

was the night I was given
my AKM, which I still have.

I felt like I had just been
given an atomic bomb

that might blow at any second.

NARRATOR:
The leadership of the terrorist
organization quickly tapped in

to Omar's unique mix of
charisma, computer skills,

and fluency in English
and Arabic.

He made his debut as a terrorist
in October 2007

in an Al Jazeera news report.

His new nom de guerre:
Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki.

All Muslims of America,

take into deep consideration
the example of Somalia.

After 15 years of chaos
and oppressive rule

by the American-backed warlords,

your brothers stood up
in order to establish peace

and justice in this land.

When I first saw the interview,

I knew that was the end of...
life as we know it.

We will never be the same again.

It's devastating for both of us;
he's our only son.

We only have one son.

Now we have none.

(singing in Arabic)

NARRATOR:
In 2009 al Shabaab released
a widely distributed

propaganda video in English
featuring an ambush in Somalia.

Starring Omar, it was tailored
to recruit Americans.

We're waiting for the enemy
to come.

We heard that the numbers are
close to a thousand or more.

So, what we're planning to do
is put them in an ambush,

try to blow up as many of their
vehicles as we can,

and kill as many of them
as we can,

and take everything they've got,
inshallah.

(rapid gunfire)

BERGER:
When the Ambush at Bardale video

came out, he became a bit
of a media sensation.

HAMMAMI:
♪ Bomb by bomb,
blast by blast ♪

NARRATOR:
It featured a rap written
and performed by Omar.

HAMMAMI:
♪ Word by word,
Bush said it true ♪

♪ You with him or
you're with the Muslim group. ♪

BERGER:
Al Shabaab was very impressed

with the traction
these rap videos got.

The only reason we're staying
here, away from our families,

away from the cities, away from,
you know, ice, candy bars,

all these other things,

is because we're waiting to meet
with the enemy.

BERGER:
At the time, I thought of him
as kind of a novelty act

with the rap video and his
sometimes awkward attempts

to sort of morph into more of
a kind of a scholarly role.

One of the things that we seek
for in this life of ours

is to die as a martyr.

So the fact that we got two, uh,
martyrs is nothing more

than a victory in and of itself.

So if you can encourage
more of your children

and more of your neighbors
and anyone around you

to send people like him
to this jihad,

it would be a great asset
for us.

BERGEN:
Omar Hammami was somebody

that Shabaab put front and
center to try and recruit people

into the group
because he spoke English.

HAMMAMI:
♪ Night by night, day by day ♪

♪ Mujahidin spreading
all over the place ♪

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
The real fear that the Americans
feel when they see an American

in Somalia talking about jihad,
is not how skillful he is

at sneaking back across the
borders with nuclear weapons.

The Americans fear that their
cultural barrier has been broken

and now jihad has become
a normal career choice

for any youthful
American Muslim.

BERGEN:
Shabaab lured

up to about 40 Americans
to come and fight with them.

And they had a whole foreign
fighter kind of crew

from people around
the Muslim world.

It was kind of an early
precursor of what ISIS did.

NARRATOR:
The recruitment
and propaganda push

by terrorist organizations
online

has put a lot of pressure

on the big social networking
companies.

But how should they crack down?

It wasn't long ago
that these companies took

a laissez-faire approach
to terrorist content.

They claimed they didn't want
to hinder freedom of speech.

But that started to change
in 2013.

During a terrifying assault at a
shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya,

attackers with al Shabaab

live-tweeted for hours as they
shot more than 175 people,

killing 67.

WEYERS:
That was the first time

where Twitter
was actively removing

the content
that they were posting.

And the reason for that is,

they were actively tweeting
their attack online,

and it was the first time
we really saw that.

ISIS completely blew that
out of the water.

They took that concept and
magnified it by a million.

NARRATOR:
Today, Twitter claims
it aggressively takes down

accounts linked to terror,

360,000 of them
since the middle of 2015.

But repeat offenders simply open
new accounts time and again.

WEYERS:
And now they start to talk
about reverting back to Facebook

so they're talking

about reopening
their Facebook account,

and here's a link to go to it.

NARRATOR:
Facebook is the largest
social networking platform

on the planet.

It says it has a zero-tolerance
policy for extremists,

but it must contend
with a tsunami of content.

Facebook has more
than one billion users

actively posting every day.

The company says about one-half
of one percent of flagged items

are linked to terrorism,

but that's still
a lot of material.

Monika Bickert
is Facebook's head

of global policy management.

We use photo-matching technology

to identify when somebody's
trying to upload to Facebook

an image
that we've already removed

for violating our policies.

Of course, the image may
or may not violate our policies

when it's uploaded again

because it could be somebody
who's sharing a terrorist image

as part of a news story
or to condemn violence.

So we use automation
to flag content

that we will then
have our teams review.

NARRATOR:
But are there
more advanced ways

to stop the extremists' messages
from spreading?

Is there a better
technological solution?

HANY FARID:
We have the technology

to disrupt, not eliminate,

but to disrupt
the global transmission

of extremism-related content.

NARRATOR:
Hany Farid is a computer
scientist at Dartmouth College.

His challenge is significant:

how to identify and stop
the spread of images

made by, of, and for terrorists
on the internet.

The sheer volume of the problem
is daunting.

FARID:
So a video is just a bunch
of images stacked together.

A short video, a few minutes,

you're talking about thousands
of images you have to analyze,

and you have to do this fast and
you have to do it accurately.

And it is a spectacularly
difficult problem

because really, somebody turned
on the firehose of data

and you are just trying
to keep up

with this massive number
of pixels coming in.

NARRATOR:
Billions of uploads a day,

each of them with millions
of pixels.

Can a computer program possibly
be capable

of sorting through it all

and find the images
that inspire new recruits...

(singing)

NARRATOR:
...incite new violence...

MAN:
Allahu akbar!

NARRATOR:
...and horrify us all?

So here is the actual raw frame
that you're seeing,

processing one frame at a time.

And in a frame,
we actually analyze

multiple blocks within it.

The yellow crosshairs
that you're seeing

are enumerating
the various blocks of the video

that we're analyzing.

This yellow histogram is
a distribution of measurements

that we're making
from each individual block,

and then that gets translated
into an actual digital signature

which I visualize here
with a stemplot.

NARRATOR:
He got the idea ten years ago.

The internet had become
a platform

for child pornographers.

The technology is called
"robust hashing."

All that is,
is a very simple idea,

is that from an image or a video
or an audio recording,

you extract
a distinct signature.

NARRATOR:
As the images move
through the internet,

the signatures never change,

no matter how many times
the images are modified.

FARID:
So if there's just one image

in an upload of yours

that has child pornography,
we...

the account can be frozen,

the contents of that account
can be assessed,

and new content
can be discovered.

People don't trade
one or two images.

They trade hundreds
and thousands of images.

And you can very organically
grow the space of known content.

NARRATOR:
It worked.

The commercial product
that he helped create

is called PhotoDNA.

It has greatly reduced
child pornography

on the big social networking
sites.

Today, PhotoDNA is deployed

on almost every major internet
company both here and abroad.

It is, by my understanding,
eliminating

upwards of four million
child pornography images a year

from being redistributed.

NARRATOR:
Farid is advocating a similar
approach to terrorism,

but will the social networking
platforms go along?

BICKERT:
Our mission is
to connect people,

so we do want people to be able
to share content

that may even be controversial,

if it is important to them

and it's something
that they want to communicate.

However, we also know

that people won't share anything
about themselves

if they're not in a safe place.

We don't allow beheading videos.

We also don't allow
any terror group

to maintain a presence
on our site for any reason.

NARRATOR:
But persistent terrorists
find a way,

and extremist content
is readily available.

Social networking companies say
they have a hard time

drawing the line when it comes
to defining extremism.

FARID:
What we have
is a problem of will.

They do not want to be put

at the nexus
of criminal organizations,

extremist organizations,

and law enforcement
and national security.

They feel like they don't have
a responsibility there.

NARRATOR:
It was March of 2012,

long before the social
networking companies

cracked down on terror.

Somewhere in Somalia,

Omar Hammami was once again
using the internet

to reach a global audience,

this time posting a plea
on YouTube for his life....

(speaking Arabic)

NARRATOR:
Speaking first in Arabic
and then in English.

It is plainly evident
to the world...

HAMMAMI:
To whomever it may reach
from the Muslims...

NARRATOR:
...he has worn out his welcome

with the leadership
of al Shabaab.

HAMMAMI:
I record this message today

because I feel that my life may
be endangered by al Shabaab

due to some differences
that occurred between us

regarding matters of the sharia
and matters of strategy.

That was extremely
unusual break.

Prior to that, jihadi disputes

tended to be carefully managed
behind the scenes.

So this was a big deal
when he showed up

and made the statement

that al Shabaab was trying
to kill him.

In order to promote that video,

he had signed up for a number
of social media platforms.

NARRATOR:
He also had a book to promote.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
Due to the unpredictable nature
of the environment

in the lands of jihad,

I decided now is as good a time
as any

to release the first part
of my autobiography.

Although nothing special,

I thought my addition
to the jihadi library

could at least provide
some benefit.

NARRATOR:
He took to Twitter
like no terrorist had before,

interacting with a wide range
of analysts, reporters,

and terrorism experts.

He did change the flavor
of the environment of Twitter

and the accessibility of Twitter
for people.

He engaged with a lot of people.

He was trying to talk.

BERGEN:
We didn't see terrorists
tweeting in this manner before.

He was writing in English,

you know, had a reasonably
good sense of humor.

He's tweeting about jihad,

and he's an accessible guy,
and it's easy to follow him.

He would show up,
and he was talking,

and I was, like, "Well, I should
just keep talking."

NARRATOR:
At first, J.M. Berger approached
Omar with journalistic intent.

At first, I was trying
to pump him for information

about what was going on with him
and al Shabaab,

and, you know, it was
sort of utilitarian.

NARRATOR:
He began his dialogue with Omar
in May of 2012,

first via email,
and then moving to Twitter,

long before any crackdown
on tweeting terrorists.

They debated the rationale
for targeting civilians,

how religious scholars
justify jihad,

and the morality
of drone strikes.

BERGER:
It just kind of turned,
after a while,

into a regular conversation

like I have with lots
of other people,

colleagues that I have online,

except that he is not
a colleague.

Kind of an extraordinary
regular conversation,

I'd say, huh?

It was... it was strange;
it was surreal.

NARRATOR:
And, at times, humorous.

At one point,
Omar jokingly asked Berger

if he ever considered
switching sides.

BERGER:
"I'd miss the music, bikinis,
and bacon too much."

(computer making tweet sound)

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
I see your bikinis

and raise you
four wives in this life,

72 in the next!

When Omar emerged
onto social media,

he was not the first jihadist
to get on Twitter,

but it was something
that hadn't really been done

by somebody who is
in a war zone, representing.

NARRATOR:
A terrorist on the front lines
of jihad,

speaking, debating, cajoling,
even joking,

an AK-47 in one hand,
a global megaphone in the other.

BERGEN:
I think he was a harbinger.

ISIS didn't come into existence
until 2014,

and they took that model

and they kind of amplified it
significantly.

NARRATOR:
Omar was now on the run,

taunting the leadership
of al Shabaab via Twitter

even as he tried to evade them
in the forest.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
Shabaab has changed strategy--

from choosing
the best legitimate targets

to hitting whatever target
they can

and then legitimizing it later.

NARRATOR:
In March 2013,
the U.S. government

put a $5 million bounty
on Omar Hammami's head.

Al Shabaab assassins
came for him a month later.

Because he was creating

a huge amount of publicity
and bad press for al Shabaab,

al Shabaab had to respond.

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
Just been shot in the neck
by Shabaab assassin.

Not critical yet.

(computer makes tweet sound)

BERGER:
"Seriously? You shot?"

(computer makes tweet sound)

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
Yeah, sucks.

He live-tweeted
an assassination attempt.

BERGER:
He uploaded a couple of pictures
of his injury.

He had been grazed.

It wasn't a serious injury.

(computer tweets)

BERGER:
"If you want to get out of this,

I'd do whatever I could
to get you a liveable deal."

(computer tweets)

HAMMAMI (dramatized):
You know I'm not on it.

I appreciate the compassion,
though.

I think he would have gotten
out of Somalia,

maybe, if he could have,

but he did feel like this was
a fight that he had a part in

and that he should stick
with it.

KHAN:
He said, "If I come back,

"I'll be in jail
for the rest of my life.

So why would I come back?"

BERGER:
It was kind of amazing

that Omar managed to hold out
as long as he did.

Once he made that break,
he was eventually going to die.

HAMMAMI:
The reason why I'm
in the forest right now

is because I'm one
of the few people in Somalia

who stood out against
the Shabaab

blowing up innocent civilians.

NARRATOR:
September 3, 2013:

Omar granted
a telephone interview

with the Voice of America.

INTERVIEWER:
Are you a terrorist?

HAMMAMI:
I'm definitely a terrorist.

But I'm not a member of al Qaeda
or a member of Shabaab.

I do believe in following
my religion

even if that requires me
to use explosives

or use an AK-47.

INTERVIEWER:
What about coming back
to your family

here in the United States?

HAMMAMI:
That's definitely not an option

unless it's in a body bag.

NARRATOR:
Nine days later, Omar Hammami
was killed in an ambush.

The meaning of Omar's life

ended up being conflicted
at best

and kind of empty at worst.

He literally gave his life for
this kind of jihadist movement,

and yet his story is really
just a cautionary tale

about why you shouldn't
join these groups.

His death was a boon
for counterterrorism efforts

and countering violent extremism
efforts.

He gave us a narrative to use

to counter
this recruitment pitch.

NARRATOR:
Omar Hammami seemed intent

on his path
toward violent extremism.

But could a person so determined
be thwarted along the way?

Does terrorism respond
to an intervention?

The idea is gaining new traction
in the West.

In Toronto, Mubin Shaikh
is a leading advocate

of what's known
as "deradicalization."

He has walked the walk

and walked it all back.

SHAIKH:
I think we've long acknowledged

we cannot kill an ideology.

We can kill a whole lot
of people

who subscribe to the ideology.

If you are going to have
a battle of ideas,

better ideas win.

That's proven.

NARRATOR:
He is living proof.

He is the son of conservative
Islamic parents

who emigrated from India.

As a teenager, he embraced
secular Western culture.

It led to a rift that eventually
propelled him toward extremism.

Ironically, six years later,
9/11 made him rethink it all.

Mubin, I think, is an
interesting example of somebody

who, you know, went
all the way down that path

and then came back,

and now, is attempting
to dissuade other people

from doing the same thing.

He understands the process
by which some of these people

have gone down this path,

and I think
that's very powerful.

He can talk about this in a way
that no one else can.

NARRATOR:
He went to Syria
to study the Koran,

to understand where he had been

and where he was going.

And he met the right imam
at the right time.

SHAIKH:
We started talking,

and he realized that, you know,
I was this Western kid,

looking the way that I looked,
big beard, long robe,

and for whatever reason,
decided,

"Hey, I'm going to work
on this guy."

And...

You know, I spent a lot of time
with him,

and led me
through the Koran, man,

verse by verse by verse.

NARRATOR:
Mubin Shaikh soon saw the Koran
in a whole new light.

SHAIKH:
I always give this example
of chapter nine, verse five.

You know, it says,
"Kill the unbelievers

wherever you find them."

The sheikh who taught me
said to me,

"Do you normally start
from verse five

"or do you start from verse one?

Let's start from verse one."

And then you get the context,
"This is about the treaty

that we had with the pagans
at that time."

Oh, so it's a very
specific context.

Then verse four, the one
right before five, says,

"This does not apply
to those polytheists

"who did not break the treaty

and did not fight you
because you're Muslims."

By the end of the two years,
I realized,

"Man, I had it wrong all along."

Now I'm empowered with this new
understanding that I have.

And the guy told me,
he says, "Go back.

"Go back and teach the people,

"and keep your people safe.

"This is not our way.

Show them the way."

NARRATOR:
Which is what he did.

A father of five, he has devoted
his life to the idea

that what he learned
can be taught to others.

SHAIKH:
You have to show them
that what they're doing

is actually not Islam at all.

It's this other thing
that they've created,

thinking that it's Islam,

thinking that it's a solution,
but in fact it's the problem.

REPORTER:
ISIS was quick

to claim responsibility
for today's attack...

NARRATOR:
As the world searches
for answers to extremism,

more and more people
are listening

to messages like Mubin's,

asking whether what helped him

can be implemented
on a more widespread basis.

In the United States,
the idea is new,

but it's now being tested
in the heartland.

Minneapolis.

The metro area is home

to the largest Somali-American
community in the U.S.:

25,000 live here.

Many came in the mid-'90s,

when their home country was torn
by civil war.

In this refuge
from their homeland,

they found relative peace
and prosperity,

a peace that was recently
shattered.

REPORTER:
These are the type

of terrorism-related arrests

that we're seeing more often
in the U.S.

NARRATOR:
Nine young men,
all in their teens or early 20s,

were arrested.

They planned to make their way
into Syria

to fight for ISIS.

...dozens of whom have traveled,

or attempted to travel,
overseas...

NARRATOR:
The case of these young men
is one chapter

in a long, sad story
here in Minnesota.

The exodus began in 2007,

as young Somalis were called
by the likes of Omar Hammami

to join the ranks of al Shabaab

in the country
of their ethnic origin.

We need more like him,

so if you can encourage
more of your children

and more of your neighbors...

NARRATOR:
But these nine young men were
called to Syria by ISIS.

Minnesota has the greatest
number of terrorism prosecutions

of any of the federal districts
in the United States.

NARRATOR:
Chief Judge John Tunheim
believes

it's time for a new approach.

But this is uncharted territory.

There is no national protocol,

no evaluation tool
that we are able to find.

So that's why we decided
we would take the lead

on trying to develop tools,

so that we can provide that kind
of assistance to judges

and ultimately, hopefully,
to the Bureau of Prisons.

NARRATOR:
Right now, U.S. federal prisons

do not have
any deradicalization programs,

but the judge is pushing
for them to start.

For now, he's trying
to determine

which of these young men
could be deradicalized.

To find out, he turned to this
man in Stuttgart, Germany.

DANIEL KOEHLER:
It's like peeling an onion.

Layer by layer,

you try
to work yourself to the core

and offer something that gets

more and more attractive
to that person,

to compete with a narrative
of groups like ISIL or al Qaeda.

(chanting)

NARRATOR:
Daniel Koehler has deradicalized
neo-Nazis for years,

and he says the approach
is much the same,

but the enticement to religious
extremism is very compelling.

It's the opportunity to become
a hero, to become a martyr,

to serve a cause
greater than your own.

NARRATOR:
Psychologist Arie Kruglanski
believes

it is very difficult to offer
an alternative to that,

but he has data that shows
deradicalization works.

In Sri Lanka, he studied the
Tamil Tigers at different times

during their first year home
after a long civil war.

Some were exposed to a full
deradicalization program,

others were not.

KRUGLANSKI:
We found a significant decline
in violence

in the experimental group
that received the treatment,

as compared to the control group

that received
only minimal treatment.

Human minds, human psyches
are malleable.

They are pliable.

In the same way
as a person gets radicalized,

changes from, you know,

a mainstream kind of person
to a fringe kind of person,

they can be brought back,

and also, they can be
re-radicalized.

NARRATOR:
This is risky business.

A failed deradicalization
attempt

can make things even worse.

KOEHLER:
If you fail to convince someone

that that certain ideology
or that narrative

is inherently wrong,

you will inoculate that person
against these arguments.

That person will leave the room
as much more radicalized

and much more convinced
that he or she is actually right

about their beliefs,
about their viewpoints,

and they can go on,
radicalize others

and spread that message.

That would be one risk.

NARRATOR:
Indeed, prisons in Europe have
become jihadi universities.

And Judge Tunheim wants to make
sure that doesn't happen here.

Still, setting up
a deradicalization program

is neither cheap nor easy

and there are many possible
approaches.

But there is no doubt
in Mubin Shaikh's mind

that these efforts can work,
if they are done right.

SHAIKH:
It's closer to more art form
than it is science.

A lot of it is interpersonal
communication.

It's, a lot of it is, like,
mediation principles,

talking to people, understanding
where they come from.

Principles of social work apply
to this.

So it draws
from multiple disciplines,

but at the end of the day,

it comes down to the person
that's delivering it.

NARRATOR:
Unfortunately, this potential
solution moves a lot slower

than the wildfire
it aims to douse.

Deradicalizing an individual
takes time.

Do we have it?

SHAIKH:
There're so many young people
that are being lost to this.

What are we waiting for?

Stop waiting, we don't have
the luxury of time.

This NOVA program is
available on DVD.

NOVA is also available
for download on iTunes.