NBC News has learned that ISIS is using a web-savvy new tactic to expand its global operational footprint — a 24-hour Jihadi Help Desk to help its foot soldiers spread its message worldwide, recruit followers and launch more attacks on foreign soil.
Counterterrorism analysts affiliated with the U.S. Army tell NBC News that the ISIS help desk, manned by a half-dozen senior operatives around the clock, was established with the express purpose of helping would-be jihadists use encryption and other secure communications in order to evade detection by law enforcement and intelligence authorities.
The relatively new development — which law enforcement and intel officials say has ramped up over the past year — is alarming because it allows potentially thousands of ISIS followers to move about and plan operations without any hint of activity showing up in their massive collection of signals intelligence.
Authorities are now homing in on the terror group’s growing cyber capabilities after attacks in Paris, Egypt and elsewhere for which ISIS has claimed credit.
“They’ve developed a series of different platforms in which they can train one another on digital security to avoid intelligence and law enforcement agencies for the explicit purpose of recruitment, propaganda and operational planning,” said Aaron F. Brantly, a counterterrorism analyst at the Combating Terrorism Center, an independent research organization at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Brantly was the lead author of a CTC report on the Islamic State’s use of secure communications, based on hundreds of hours of observation of how the Jihadi Help Desk operates.