By David McGuire washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 13, 2004; 7:22 PM
An Internet computer server operated by an Arkansas government agency was transformed last weekend into the online home of dozens of videos featuring Osama bin Laden, Islamic jihadist anthems and terrorist speeches.
State government officials removed the files from a computer operated by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department shortly after they were discovered, a government spokesman said. The case highlights an increasing trend of hackers hijacking vulnerable Web servers for the purpose of advocating radical political and terrorist ideologies.
Links to the files were posted to a message board of a group called al Ansar. The Web site features photos of bin Laden, leader of the al Qaeda terrorist network, and the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers, as well as basic facts about the tenets of Islam and links to chatrooms and other Islamic Web sites. The person who posted the links identified himself as "Irhabi 007"-- or "Terrorist 007" -- said Laura Mansfield, who tracks pro-al Qaeda Web sites for Northeast Intelligence Network, an Erie, Pa.-based private group of analysts that monitors the Internet for terrorist activity.
Arkansas Transportation Department spokesman Randy Ort confirmed that approximately 70 unauthorized files were posted on Sunday to a "File Transfer Protocol" (FTP) site that the agency operates for contractors. FTP sites are widely used throughout the Internet as a way to transfer large files quickly.
Ort would not describe the files, except to say that they were labeled "in a foreign language." He said the department shut the site down on Monday morning after a CNN reporter called to ask what the materials were doing there.
Ort said that the FBI has confiscated the server where the files were located.
FBI spokesman Joe Parris confirmed that the agency took the computers, but would not say whether it was investigating the incident.
Mansfield said hijacking unsecured FTP sites is standard procedure for al Qaeda sympathizers, but it was unusual for them to take over a government site.
"Basically, what they do is they go out, they find a Web site, and they borrow the bandwidth until they get caught and somebody kicks them off," Mansfield said. "Companies and organizations would do well to shut down their anonymous FTP servers nowadays, because they are being misused."
According to a 23-year CIA veteran who has anonymously criticized U.S. counterterrorism policy in a recently published book, "Al Qaeda's most important growth since the 11 September attacks has not been physical but has been, rather, its expansion into the Internet." In his book, "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror," the author says the United States and its allies have staged "information warfare attacks" on some Internet sites, "thereby forcing them off-line and making their producers hunt for new host servers."