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a suburban counterterrorist
October 23, 2007 8:34 PM   Subscribe

Behind Enemy Lines With a Suburban Counterterrorist "In fact, it's distinctly possible that Rossmiller, alone at her computer, has a better track record than the Justice Department. "
posted by dhruva (39 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, just by doing nothing, I probably have a better track record than the Justice Department. Let's not set too high a bar right out of the gate or anything.

Very interesting article, though. This is probably the sort of thing that the Justice Department should be paying attention to, as well as its more low-tech humint analogues. A lot more effective, I suspect, than pouring over people's library checkout records.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:42 PM on October 23, 2007


Not long after his interactions with Hakim, Abu Musa was martyred by Rossmiller. "Abu Musa had been used enough," she says, pointing at the screen. "Here's the last one," she says. "An insurgent gun battle in Ramadi. August 21, 2005. That's when he dies."

Yeah, I think Instapundit blogged it as one of those unreported successes.
posted by dhartung at 9:31 PM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Poor jihadists, now they too know of the perils of Internet anonymity. They can add themselves to the long list of Internet users deceived by women pretending to be middle-aged men.
posted by schroedinger at 10:21 PM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Interesting. Compare to:

http://www.metafilter.com/65521/The-Life-and-Death-of-Jesse-Jubilee-James-Featuring-Harlan-Ellison

and the Perverted Justice discussion in:

http://www.metafilter.com/58516/Perverted-Justice-Dateline-NBC-Repsonsbile-for-Conradts-death-YeaNayOtherwise
posted by tkolar at 10:36 PM on October 23, 2007


It's pretty impressive that this woman has acquired all the skills needed to pursue this kind of work. She's making a positive contribution, though a few of the cases seem a bit like entrapment in the way that she finds people junior to her persona and encourages them to take criminal action. There's all kinds of losers in their momma's basements who just need a little encouragement to do something bad. Still, if she can convince one to take an illegal step, so could a real bad guy, so I think she's justified.

The problem is that for every more or less ethical informant like Rossmiller, there is a loony racist like David Gaubatz of Society of Americans for National Existence who "infiltrates" mosques and defames his neighbors.

On the whole, I'd be happier if we had a competent FBI and didn't have to rely on talented vigilantes.
posted by BinGregory at 10:42 PM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have this idea stuck in my head that everyone else on these boards are also well meaning and extremely dedicated americans trying to find possible terrorists.

And eventually they all get busted for being a terrorist cell, and sent on one way tickets to special detection centers over seas, and then actually become terrorists, as they fit in so well as a result of the increasing dedication to imitating terrorists.

Because really, how much more evidence would the US Gov need to arrest her than what they have on other people who were magically whisked away and tortured overseas. All she has done is said that she is trying to catch terrorists, not actually be one. Like Pete Townsend and child porn.

I guess it helps that she is white, middle class, and from montana.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:55 PM on October 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


What BinGregory said.
posted by -t at 10:56 PM on October 23, 2007


(In hind sight, the townshend reference was a bad choice, as it has not been proven that he ever had child porn)
posted by mrzarquon at 10:59 PM on October 23, 2007


... suburban? Her own web site puts her in north central Montana. That's about as non-urban as you can get in the lower-48.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:17 PM on October 23, 2007


In other counterterrorism news: Prior Permission From Government to be Required for Each Flight
posted by homunculus at 12:31 AM on October 24, 2007


I'm still not sure how she communicates with people. The article mentions that she writes in Arabic, but is it good enough to fool native speakers? I'm guessing she copy and pastes a lot, but how does she banter with people or answer their questions?
posted by Ljubljana at 12:43 AM on October 24, 2007


I was skeptical, but she seems pretty badass, especially if she learned Arabic on her own. Though it was incredibly stupid of her to include her picture and her real name in this article.
posted by afu at 2:36 AM on October 24, 2007


I was thinking that too afu, I am guessing that she was either cleared by her handlers or she's no longer that useful on an asset.

If anyone has seen Spooks or Alias, -good- sleuth work is seemingly all about creating a believable persona. Its impressive how this person can have so many 'legends', but it makes sense given her 'literary' interest in her work. I think during the cold war days, a lot of spies were recruited from the performing and written arts faculties because of their abilities to weave a good tale.

So...less guns more bard?
posted by phyrewerx at 3:55 AM on October 24, 2007


*of an asset.
posted by phyrewerx at 3:56 AM on October 24, 2007


The FBI, on the other hand, has failed in every attempt to modernize its technology since 2001, and it so restricts the software available to agents that they can't even begin to match what Rossmiller does. "The FBI is a dinosaur in many respects," says Cressey.

Rossmiller agrees. "I went to a meeting in Great Falls, and we got to talking, and someone had to look something up online," she says. "I asked, ‘What do you use for Internet access?' and one agent said, ‘We have to go to the public library down the street.'"


scary
posted by caddis at 4:27 AM on October 24, 2007


The photos are from a hotel room, the hair is a wig, and the lighting is so bad she (or he) could be made up six ways from Sunday and you'd never realize it. If "Sharen" loves to make up backstories and personalties, this article almost certainly is another one -- with the collusion of Wired. I like it -- how very meta.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:04 AM on October 24, 2007


Seems to me that if she were serious, she wouldn't be bragging about her hobby in a prominent magazine article. Kind of poisons the well.
posted by Coventry at 5:51 AM on October 24, 2007


The FBI, on the other hand, has failed in every attempt to modernize its technology since 2001
What the fuck happened to the billions of dollars that we''ve spent on the War on Terror, supposedly the greatest threat we've ever faced ever? Especially considering that the FBI's technological backwardness was a vulnerability that the 9/11 hijackers benefited from. These knuckleheads can't even fight the last war right.

posted by kirkaracha at 6:46 AM on October 24, 2007


She doesn't seem to be trying to keep to low of a profile. Here is her homepage.

Wikipedia claims she is a judge, which puts her vigilantism into an interesting light.

One of the people who she helped convict, Michael Curtis Reynolds, has tried to use the "running an independent sting operation" defense.
posted by afu at 6:49 AM on October 24, 2007


One key logger recipient was a Middle Eastern journalist who had been a known contact of al Qaeda members. Rossmiller passed along the information she got to government officials.

This is the only information on that incident which the article gives. Are we to assume the nature of his relationship with aQ was nefarious?

She befriended Hakim, who lived in a country bordering Iraq [... she IDs him and sets the trap ...] The local authorities took over from there.

These are the countries which border Iraq:

Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia. We can discount Syria, as Rossmiller's persona is 'summoned' there. We can discount Iran for obvious reasons. I encourage you to visit HRW and see what the remaining countries do to their prisoners, let alone suspected terrorists.

It's pretty clever. If you catch these fuckers/journalists yourself, you are responsible for their welfare (and it's increasingly difficult to render them unto somewhere else). If you have them caught in places that you know will make sure they're never a threat/irritation again, so much the better. But if you can create the impression that this is a civilian activity - that you, the state, are simply a conduit, which concerned citizens use for patriotic activity - you're pretty much above the law.
posted by topynate at 7:01 AM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm really surprised that she's going public like this. Isn't she, like, afraid for her life or something?
posted by Afroblanco at 7:07 AM on October 24, 2007


Holy fuck. I remember the first few seasons of the X-Files, where the show would end ambiguously, the message being that Mulder and Scully were a device to explore ideas, and they were the unwitting conduit into a world we could never understand, but was undeniably real and fascinating.

Turns out the point of the show was the FBI is head-up-the-ass crash-helmet retarded.

Seriously, holy fuck, thousands of hospitals and schools worth of money into Anti-terrorism and war business and the best results are coming from the local soccer mom??
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:16 AM on October 24, 2007


She's been public for a while, Afroblanco.
posted by Wulfgar! at 7:20 AM on October 24, 2007


Hey Wulfgar!, nice to see you come around. It's been awhile.
posted by caddis at 7:30 AM on October 24, 2007


Its interesting. Her website is blocked at work because it 'relates to a criminal enterprise.'
posted by sfts2 at 7:37 AM on October 24, 2007


What the fuck happened to the billions of dollars that we''ve spent on the War on Terror, supposedly the greatest threat we've ever faced ever?

Wasted, of course.
posted by scalefree at 7:48 AM on October 24, 2007


Seriously, holy fuck, thousands of hospitals and schools worth of money into Anti-terrorism and war business and the best results are coming from the local soccer mom??

Looking at her website I probably don't agree with her politics. But what she's doing isn't really a bad thing. It is exactly what our government should be doing and it shows that the way to stop Al Queda et al is through good police work and not going to wars with other countries.

Seriously, did no one at the FBI think, "Hey lets put a few arabic speakers in a room with computers and let them troll terrorist chat rooms"? What the fuck are they doing?
posted by afu at 7:52 AM on October 24, 2007


"I have this idea stuck in my head that everyone else on these boards are also well meaning and extremely dedicated americans trying to find possible terrorists."

On a trivial note - I remember when Curtis Sliwa - the Brooklyn-based founder of the subway's Guardian Angels - came to the UK to train a similar outfit to patrol the London Underground.

It was, of course, considered too gung-ho and American for British sensibilities!

One of the UK quality papers ran a very merry piece after "infiltrating" the inaugural London training session.

His rueful revelation was that every single volunteer at the first session (apart from Curtis) was an undercover journalist.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:13 AM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Young terrorist hopefuls worldwide will now hesitate when sending out that application email to the far-off training facility. Good work super-efficient fluent-enough-in-Arabic terrorist hunter lady, taking out the bad guys whilst making omelettes. Between her and Jessica Lynch, the war will be one in another week or so.
posted by romanb at 8:20 AM on October 24, 2007


I'm still not sure how she communicates with people. The article mentions that she writes in Arabic, but is it good enough to fool native speakers? I'm guessing she copy and pastes a lot, but how does she banter with people or answer their questions?

Well, there are a lot of Muslim countries where people don't speak Arabic, except insofar as they learn a little here and there as part of their religious studies. So she can construct a pretty convincing persona by learning a smattering of Arabic and reading the Koran For Dummies, because that's probably what 90% of Muslims around the world know, too.

As long as she picks her country of origin and background appropriately, there's not really any way to expose her on linguistic grounds. The radical Muslim population -- as a subset of the Muslim population as a whole -- is pretty diverse.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:33 AM on October 24, 2007


I'm profoundly impressed. This woman is a character from a movie written by John Le Carré and directed by the guy who did Napoleon Dynamite.

It also goes to show you, as noted above, that the human side of espionage is just about the only part that matters. Super duper spy technology means nothing if you don't know where to point your super duper satellite camera. And even from the technological side - if the spooks supposedly made a miscalculation by going into technology, then why the fuck can't they operate at least as smoothly as your typical Harry Potter fanfic troll?

The scariest part of all this is that there's more computer firepower and cunning on a *chan board than in what is supposedly the world's most sophisticated intelligence community.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:37 PM on October 24, 2007


Wouldn't she be an antiterrorist? When I think counterterrorist, I think of the SAS Pagoda Troop and all that. (Operation Nimrod. The Final Option.) Lotsa black Nomex and Kevlar and H&K MP5SDs.

This gal's technique echoes the Special Boat Service motto: "Not By Strength -- By Guile." I like her style.

Sorry I didn't include links; I'm at work now & a bit distracted.
posted by pax digita at 12:43 PM on October 24, 2007


I’d have to disagree with the underlying assumptions here that it a matter of competance (or even choice) rather than political considerations interfering with investigations.

“What do you use for Internet access?' and one agent said, ‘We have to go to the public library down the street.'"”

F’ing A scary. Gotta ask yourself - why is it that way?
(followed by - then where the hell is my tax money going?)

Still, she makes her kids eat Jimmy Dean sausage *gag*.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:47 PM on October 24, 2007


topynate's comment nails it.

She's neither an anti-terrorist nor counter-terrorist. She's a useful idiot.
posted by dabitch at 3:13 PM on October 24, 2007


There's all kinds of losers in their momma's basements who just need a little encouragement to do something bad.

It's a two-way street… a thought that is, frankly, quite scary. Losers have done some pretty nasty damage. Unabomber, McVeigh, must be a couple more.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:35 PM on October 24, 2007


860,000 Name Long Terror Watch List Scrutinizes Americans Most
posted by homunculus at 8:03 PM on October 24, 2007


Yeah, I was thinking about that last night after posting: instead of racial profiling or "random" airport security checks, they should just be profiling momma's-basement-dwellers. They could boost their detection rate for wannabe jihadists, scriptkid hackers, anti-fed militiamen, and kiddie porn traders all in one fell swoop.

[Vaguely related: I lived in a house that the Unabomber once lived in, and my parents live a stone's throw from the farm where McVeigh practiced blowing up stuff. ]
posted by BinGregory at 8:05 PM on October 24, 2007


Thanks for that article, homunculus. That coarse filter stuff is so ineffective. I returned to the US this summer with my 9 year old son and 7 year old daughter. When the HS officer scanned my son's passport it was flagged and we were taken to the back room for further processing. The officer in the back room just glanced at my son, stamped his passport and said 'have a nice day'. Clearly my son was not the Muhammad Ridhwan Zayn Al-Abideen they were looking for. My thing is, leave aside all the constitutional/privacy aspects of it, can't they even use the technology effectively? Like, along with name, couldn't they have age range, country of origin, etc in the database just as easily? I mean, I originally thought my son got flagged because he's a US citizen born abroad, spent half his life outside the US, muslim, male and a youth. Certainly those are very general but plausible criteria for GWOT suspects. But can you believe they don't have a system even that discerning? That it was just because of his name? As if a security-risk type individual would enter on his own name! I'm just shocked we can't even run a police state efficiently is all I'm saying.

[Sorry for all the personal anecdotes, GYOB, I know I know]
posted by BinGregory at 8:24 PM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


[...] Her gallows humor is just a way of dealing with the world she lives in. (Imagine the kind of jokes you'd have to tell yourself if the hookers and chop-shop thugs in your Grand Theft Auto game were real.)

... and she's a housewife from montana, and he was like, BUSTED!

posted by yoHighness at 6:31 AM on October 25, 2007


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