On Thursday, ABC News reported that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security were alerting various government officials about a terrorist "hit list" posted on jihadi websites targeting prominent U.S. politicians, military officials and members of the media. On Friday night, The Atlantic Wire obtained the list of 179 names and it's an odd collection by any standard: well-known political figures in the Obama and Bush administrations, executives at companies associated with Iraq war contractors such as KBR and Blackwater, Bill Gates, Henry Kissinger along with a decidedly random assortment of media figures such as News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, Washington Post publisher Donald Graham, PBS anchor Charlie Rose, along with Time magazine columnist Joel Stein and Fox News anchor Brian Kilmeade.
While the headlines may have made this sound like the United States military list of "high-value targets" it uses in Afghanistan and Iraq, the description in the Fox News report makes it sound less like a concerted strategy session and more like a bunch of internet commenters mouthing off in an exercise of crowdsourced terrorism. A post first appeared on the password-protected Jihad discussion site Shumukh, Fox News reports, "from someone identified as Al-Assad Al-Thaer urging supporters to compile the list of executives and officials who supported the 'war on our nation,' calling them part of the 'Zionist Crusaders Alliance.' The post said the list would then be screened by 'the leaders of Jihad' to determine where to attack."
We reached out to the Middle East Media Research Institute to ask if they had a copy of the list that had prompted the warnings. They provided it to us and MEMRI president Yigal Carmon explained how it was created. On June 6, a jihadist operating under the handle Yaman Mukhadad asked fellow users to contribute names of U.S. targets he would then provide to Al Qaeda leaders. This all took place on the web forum Shumoukh al-Islam. "The web site is accredited by Al Qaeda but the list did not come from Al Qaeda," Carmon explained. Apparently, users in the forum were so enthusiastic about contributing names, Mukhadad asked them to stop. "He said 'enough, enough'" explained Carmon. Then, on a second jihadist forum called Ansar al-Mujahideen, another user began soliciting names for a target list. According to Carmon, that was the 40-member list ABC News reported about yesterday. Carmon said the list he provided to The Atlantic Wire is the sum total from both crowdsourcing efforts.
Now, should poor old Charlie Rose feel threatened? It depends on your assessment of the situation. Aaron Weisburd, director of the Society for Internet Research, who monitored the discussion for Fox News, told them that the users were "brainstorming" and that they'd still need to convince someone to carry out an attack. Or as Danger Room puts it: "This is basically a wishful casting call for a jihadi snuff film." We contacted the Department of Homeland Security which said in a statement, "A DHS Open Source Information Report about an online posting by a user of an Arabic-language violent jihadist forum, which listed specific individuals and businesses that the user believed were legitimate targets, was disseminated by the Office of Intelligence & Analysis (I&A) and also cited in a June 9 joint DHS-FBI intelligence note sent to federal, state, local, tribal and private sector partners." They added: "While we have no information of any imminent terrorist threat to the United States or any US persons, as always, we urge federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as the general public, to maintain increased vigilance for indications of preoperational or suspicious activity."