Data leaks and whistle blowers in the past decade have demonstrated the democratizing force of information. It has almost become a kind of movement, or as a form of protest by those such as Edward Snowden. Now it is happening to ISIS and it couldn't be to a better end.
Over 22,000 members of the terrorist organization have fallen victim of their own data leak.
A defector from within the ranks of ISIS has made off with a USB drive that contains very specific data about individuals; information they gave to the organization upon signing up. For starters, names, phone numbers, hometowns, and even blood types. A variety of news organizations have obtained and affirmed the authenticity of the information in the leak including a Syrian opposition newspaper, Sky News, and CNN, as well as German intelligence.The ISIS data leak would appear to take up a majority of the estimated number of fighters afforded by the Islamic State. Previous numbers the research firm Soufan Group estimated there to be around 31,000 ISIS fighters a few months ago, but is now believed to be around 19,000-25,000.
What the data represents for security officials is huge.
It includes names and nationalities of origin of ISIS fighters, as well as lists of countries visited by the individuals before the form was filled out. Security officials could possibly map out the path that people joining the ISIS usually take and it could be used to prevent those that have cooperated with the organization from returning home with being apprehended by authorities.
Matthew Levitt, a counterterrorism analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that the information is a "treasure trove" from a macro-intelligence perspective, according to Wired.
"There may be someone's phone number that's come up some place else that could be put together with this to create a holistic picture of things that we didn't know were important at the time," says Levitt.The leak represents an idea of general patterns that can be lifted from the information and give counter-terrorism experts the edge they need to stop people from joining ISIS. A majority of ISIS fighters are foreign, and although airstrikes and Kurdish forces have massively reduced their numbers, preventing recruitment will prevent their numbers from replenishing.
Levitt also goes on to state that the information available in the leak gives everybody a glimpse at what ISIS is made out of. Since they operate completely in a close group, geographically and socially, they are not easily penetrated by physical intelligence operations. Most of the information gathered by intelligence networks is accumulated indirectly. Not only is it informative, it satisfies the curiosity of those that make it their job to keep the group under observation.
"ISIS operates largely in denied physical space, and penetrating its virtual space has been very difficult, too," he says. "When someone provides you this kind of information, it's very exciting."
According to Lisa Daftari with The Foreign Desk, a man named Abu Hamad, formerly of the Free Syrian Army and ISIS convert, was responsible for the USB drive and kept it close to his person at all times. Authorities are beginning to put the data to good use as Germany's Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA) and Justice Department are working to use this crucial information, which they have already authenticated, to indict former ISIS fighters who may have returned home.
[Image courtesy of Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images]