Europe wants Israeli technology to spot online lone-wolf terrorists

The phrase “Lone-wolf”, which has dominated news headlines in relation to terrorist activity, is actually a misnomer. The metaphor of wolves hunting on their own doesn’t fit the biological pattern found in the wild, as wolves hunt in a pack. They are gregarious carnivores that live together and coordinate their hunts with much intelligence – seldom allowing more than one or two members to be seen at one time. The young learn from the older, more experienced pack members and the prey is dispatched and devoured in an efficient manner.

There are certainly parallels in these terrorist attacks that can be easily observed. Individual ‘wolves’ belong to a pack – whether it be Al Qaeda, ISIS, Fatah or Hamas – and are trained in real life in mosques and Islamic centers, but even more so – in an ever more popular, very fertile and vast mission field – cyberspace.

The virtual packs round up their individual hunters on websites and online forums where they can then satisfy the curiosity of the new recruit and together explore the most successful hunting methods. They instill in the eager how to execute the next hunt in a way to maximise the death toll. Their cry of “Allahu Akbar” is reminiscent of the spine-tingling howl the wolves make as they close in for the kill.

While ‘lone-wolf’ attacks have made regular news in Israel, there have been increasing strikes occurring further afield such as the atrocious truck ramming in France, the axe attack on a train in Bavaria and most recently the shooting in Munich, Germany. Unable to deny that the slayings are on the rise; authorities in Europe are acknowledging that radicalization by a “hidden wolf pack” is what is empowering the individual wolves.  

The conundrum that global security and spy agencies are facing is how to know in advance and prevent more attacks when the ‘lone wolf’ has already carried out his kill and been eliminated and the pack is nowhere to be seen.

On the 19th of this month, an Intelligence conference was held in Tel Aviv and “developing better means for pre-emptively spotting ‘lone-wolf’ militants from their online activities” was discussed at length. It seems that Europe is looking to Israeli-developed technologies to try solve this prevalent problem.  

For obvious reasons, Israeli officials do not reveal the details of their technology but security consultant, Haim Tomer says,

Nine out of 10 times, the terrorist has contacts with others who provide support or inspiration. When it comes to true lone wolves, even a valedictory Facebook message can often be picked up by Israel.

The former Mossad intelligence division chief explained the difference between low-level ‘green alert’ and a ‘red alert’ which determines how security services handle the urgency of the threat and the corresponding response.

As originally reported by Reuters, EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove attended the conference. He asked, “How do you capture some signs of someone who has no contact with any organization, is just inspired and started expressing some kind of allegiance? I don’t know. It’s a challenge. That is why I am here. We know Israel has developed a lot of capability in cyber.”

He relayed that when asked to monitor their own platforms’ content for suspicious activity, Internet companies complained because unlike pedophile pornography that has automatic detection markers; when it comes to terrorism, the information is too vast to wade through and contextualize. De Kerchove acknowledged that human intervention is necessary and hoped to find more efficient ways to sift through all the information on social networks.

The EU specialist pointed out that European standards of civil rights, such as privacy are different than those in Israel, making the introduction of intrusive intelligence-gathering technologies in the public sphere and aggressive police follow-ups difficult.

Yisrael Katz, Israel’s Intelligence minister, explained that local emergency laws give security services more flexibility than those in Europe, and he said they cooperate with Internet Service providers where at all possible.  

Katz told the conference attendees,

What is needed is an international organization, preferably headed by the United States, where shared (security) concerns need to be defined, characterized.