WASHINGTON — A Pentagon research team monitors more than 5,000 jihadist Web sites, focusing daily on the 25 to 100 most hostile and active, defense officials said Thursday. And the makers of combat video games have unwittingly become part of a global propaganda campaign by Islamic militants to exhort Muslim youths to take up arms against the United States, officials added.
The team includes 25 linguists, who cover multiple dialects of the Arabic language and provide reports on events sparking anger on extremist Web sites, Dan Devlin, a Pentagon public diplomacy specialist, said Thursday. The researchers, for instance, focused in November on the backlash caused by the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Devlin testified to Congress as part of a briefing on how terrorists use the Internet.
According to the briefing, al-Qaida has advertised online to fill jobs for Internet specialists, and its media group has distributed computer games and recruitment videos that use everything from poetry to humor to false information to gather support. The media group has assembled montages of American politicians taking aim at the Arab world.
"This crusade — crusade — crusade — is going to take a while," President Bush says in one video, edited to make him repeat the word "crusade" six other times.
The officials said they are hoping to give a version of the briefing eventually to all U.S. soldiers in Iraq and the broader region.
The goal is "to help train U.S. forces deploying to Iraq on radical Islam and the need to respect Arabic and Muslim culture," said House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich.
U.S. troops as the bad guys
Extremist propaganda is most often used to recruit jihadist fighters and supporters between the ages of 7 and 25, the officials said. But "we've seen products that are aimed at ages even lower than 7," testified Pentagon contractor Ron Roughhead. His company wasn't identified, for security reasons.
Tech-savvy militants from al-Qaida and other groups have modified war video games so that U.S. troops play the role of bad guys in running gunfights against heavily armed Islamic radical heroes, Defense Department officials and contractors testified.
The games appear on militant Web sites, where youths can play at being troop-killing urban guerrillas after registering with the site’s sponsors.
“What we have seen is that any video game that comes out ... they’ll modify it and change the game for their needs,” said Devlin.
Senate panel weighs legislation
Also Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee discussed legislation that would go after al-Qaida's more private communications using Bush's warrantless surveillance program.
The committee broke without voting on several bills to govern the controversial program, which allows the National Security Agency to monitor — without court warrants — terrorism-related communications between the U.S. and overseas.
Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has introduced a bill that would require the administration to get approval for the surveillance from a secretive federal court every 90 days. He circulated a possible modification to his proposal late Wednesday that Democrats suggested would give the government more flexibility to conduct surveillance.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked Specter to postpone consideration of any bill until she and other lawmakers get more information on the program from the administration. "We cannot fairly consider legislation," she wrote Specter.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.