U.S.-Based ISPs Count Known Terror Groups as Clients
Herndon, Va.-based Network Solutions said Wednesday that it suspended Hizbollah.org, an official site of Hezbollah, a Lebanese political and paramilitary group.
Turns out, Network Solutions, which was one of the original firms in the domain registration business, was accepting payment for the domain in violation of a U.S. law that bars American companies from doing business with organizations listed by Uncle Sam as terrorist groups. Closer inspection also reveals that Network Solutions and other U.S.-based Internet service providers and domain registrars provide services to other groups on the government's list of terrorist organizations.
For example, Network Solutions also is the registrar for The Palestine Information Center (palestine-info.com), a Web site tied to Hamas, a group listed on the U.S. State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. FTOs are designated under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which makes it illegal "for a person in the United States or subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to knowingly provide 'material support or resources' to a designated FTO."
In addition, Network Solutions collects registration fees for Hamas Web properties palestine-info-urdu.com, palestine-info.net, and fm-m.org, the Web site for the Hamas publication "Filistin Almusalima".
Aaron Weisburd, a terrorism expert who tracks terror-related Web sites at his site InternetHaganah.com, said he alerted Network Solutions to the offending domains more than a year ago.
"This has been going on for years," Weisburd said.
A spokeswoman said the company was investigating the claims. In a written statement, Network Solutions said that it does not "proactively police the content of our customers' sites," but that "if a complaint is received, however, we do conduct a review to determine whether the site's content violates our company's acceptable use policy."
The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control maintains a far more expansive list of foreign entities with which U.S. businesses are prohibited from doing business. On its Web site it publishes guidance to help companies remain within the law when doing business abroad, and it frequently fines companies (usually banks) that ignore those restrictions. But OFAC doesn't publish guidance specificaly for ISPs, nor could the agency provide evidence than any ISP had ever been penalized for providing services to terrorist groups.
While ISPs can be criminally liable for providing support to terror groups, most ISPs -- upon receipt of a complaint about a problematic or legally murky customer site -- will simply cease doing business with the offending party, citing violations of their terms of service, said Perry Aftab, an Internet attorney who specializes in cybercrime law.
Matthew Devost, president of Total Intelligence Solutions, a risk management firm based in Arlington, Va., said for federal law enforcement agencies, the intelligence benefit of leaving such sites operating is often greater than shutting them down.
"In some cases, it may be that companies and or the government is aware of these sites, but what they post there gives us intelligence that we'd rather have," Devost said. "Sometimes there's a general concern that if you shut down these sites, while they might move to somewhere else online where they start making it password protected or otherwise harder to get access to the content."
Below are a few more examples of sites linked to groups on the government's list of designated foreign terrorist organizations that are operating online with the help of U.S. companies:
* kataebaqsa.org: A Web site belonging to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade - currently #3 on the government's FTO list - is hosted on servers run by New York City-based Endurance International Group Inc.
* alqasem.info: Bellevue, Wash. based eNom is the registrar for this site, linked to Asbat al-Ansar, #6 on the government's FTO list.
* wa3ad.org: Another site that Weisburd and others have connected to Hezbollah, is powered by servers at R&D Technologies LLC in New York City. The site is registered through GoDaddy.com Inc., which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
* filistinetkinlik.com: Also known as Hamas TV, this site is registered through PublicInterestRegistry.com, based in Beaverton, Ore. Another Hamas site, alqassam.com, is hosted via servers at Los Angeles based Oversee.net.
* Qudsnews.net and shikaki.net: Weisburd said both are affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad -- #30 on the government's FTO list. Both are registered through directNIC.com, the domain registration arm of New Orleans based Intercosmos Media Group, Inc. Shikaki.net is hosted on servers at Softlayer Technologies Inc. in Dallas.
* Aleph.to: the new name for Aum Shinrikyo (the Japanese cult responsible for the deadly sarin gas attacks in a Tokyo subway in 1995) is supported by domain name services offered by Ultradns.net, a division of Sterling, Va. based Neustar Inc.
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