The time has come for us to take the new technology available to terrorists seriously. The United States recently crowned Anwar al-Awlaki the newest “most dangerous terrorist in the world.” And yet an American company, YouTube, has been giving al-Awlaki open access to the world’s largest bully pulpit.
In response to this outrageous turn of events, I have begun the battle to remove this man from our airwaves and end his reign of E-terror.
Al-Awlaki had been dubbed “the bin-Laden of the Internet.” I call him the “YouTube Terrorist” for his dangerous and extremist sermons that are broadcast over the web via YouTube. My staff began an exhaustive search of the website and we found over 700 videos of this man preaching his hateful and dangerous message, with more than three and a half million views.
The threat al-Awlaki represents is not just a hypothetical one. His fingerprints have been on many of the recent terrorist attacks on American soil, resulting in the shedding of innocent blood on more than one occasion.
Three of the 9/11 hijackers were documented as attending al-Awlaki’s sermons, and there are reports that two of them even met with him privately.
Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the accused shooter at the U.S. Army base in Ft. Hood, was also a devotee of al-Awlaki’s. U.S. intelligence investigating the attack has intercepted at least 18 e-mails between Hasan and al-Awlaki. In one of these correspondences, Hasan wrote: “I can’t wait to join you in the afterlife.”
The “Christmas Day Bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, also had a relationship with al-Awlaki, having met with him and also having admitted that al-Awlaki participated in the training leading up to the execution of his terrorist plot.
In one of his most recent videos, posted just this month, al-Awlaki declares that “Americans are from the party of devils, and no special permission is needed to kill them.”
The obvious question is: If al-Awlaki is so dangerous and has been shown to recruit terrorists and plan their attacks, why is he given free rein on the world’s largest digital platform to carry out his evil work?
It takes YouTube mere minutes to remove videos that infringe on the copyrights of private companies or that contain unauthorized audio tracks. I found it particularly disturbing that YouTube has the apparatus in place to remove videos and yet still has not taken down all those that have been posted by Anwar al-Awlaki.
I have no problem with YouTube. It is a profitable American company that creates jobs for New York, and it acts as a clearinghouse for ideas and stories that reach millions around the globe. But with great power comes great responsibility. In this case, its behavior has been inexcusable.
Last month I wrote to the CEO of YouTube and demanded al-Awlaki be taken off the website. At first, YouTube and its parent company, Google, hemmed and hawed that their policy already included taking down violent and objectionable videos in a timely fashion. I was, however, ultimately able to demonstrate to them that their existing “policy” was failing miserably.
The company has since taken down many of al-Awlaki’s videos and has even created a new system on its website in which viewers can flag videos for YouTube’s attention as being terrorist-related, just as they can flag videos for being inappropriate or infringing on copyrights.
It is, however, too early to claim victory. My office staff has been able to spot new videos from al-Awlaki on YouTube. Al-Awlaki is a vigorous and persistent enemy, perhaps blessed – to our misfortune – with American ingenuity, as he was born here. The fact that he speaks fluent English is one of the things that make him so dangerous.
I will remain watchful over YouTube’s parent company, Google. New media is good for business and the sharing of ideas. However, it opens up a whole new front in the war on terror – one that can be fought inexpensively but requires that we pay close attention.
Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, represents New York’s 9th Congressional district (parts of South Brooklyn and South Central Queens) in the U.S. House of Representatives.