The US military's fight against the Islamic State's (Isis) online propaganda is reportedly failing due to inefficient staff tasked with the responsibility of combating the extremist group's proliferation online. The Pentagon's dedicated programme called WebOps is allegedly plagued with corruption and employs people with limited knowledge of Islam and the Arabic language and culture, according to a report.
WebOps is a psychological operation aimed at thwarting Isis' strong hold and expanded reach on the internet. However, according to an AP investigation, the WebOps programme's staff are ill-equipped to handle operations.
A specialist who worked for WebOps said: "One of the things about jihadis: they are very good in Arabic."
However, according to several former and current WebOps workers, Alabama-based Colsa Corp, which runs the Pentagon programme, has faced challenges in hiring people with Arabic language and culture expertise, who can also get security clearances required for them to handle classified material. The programme allegedly employs "experts" who often mix up on language and dialect that is specific to a region or Islamic sect.
According to a former WebOps employee, the programme's translators routinely confused the Arabic word for "salad" and "authority", which even led to ridicule on social media with references to "Palestinian salad".
Another specialist said she spotted a colleague, who was tasked with analysing Arabic material, discarding large amounts of data. The specialist said she later realised that her colleague had discarded data that he thought was in Farsi and Urdu, when in reality it was in Arabic.
The programme also reportedly included no Syrian or Yemini specialists, despite primarily focusing on the Syrian, Iraqi and Yemini regions.
A former WebOps employee who claimed to have left the programme to find more meaningful work said many of the operatives "don't know the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas".
WebOps frat party
According to a whistleblower who filed a four-page complaint containing corruption and conflict of interest allegations against the-then Centcom chief Col Victor Garcia, the programme's officials routinely drank during office hours when classified work was being done. Numerous contractors supported the whistleblower's allegations of drinking, claiming that the office's atmosphere resembled a frat house, where happy hours started at 3pm.
According to one of WebOps' former employees, Colsa conducted its own assessments of the programme to determine how effective it was in preventing people from becoming radicalised.
However, according to three former members of Colsa's scoring team, the firm's managers allegedly encouraged employees to issue assessments that ranked the programme's progress, even if scoring reports showed no progress. The team was allegedly told that scoring reports should indicate progress, but not so much as to negate the necessity of continuing the funding of the WebOps programme.
The US government is also reportedly seeking to expand the military's psychological operations targeting Isis and other extremist groups with a $500m contract awarded to defence giant Northrop Grumman. The issues surrounding WebOps and the new expansion are some of the challenges President Donald Trump will face. Trump has previously vowed to boost military pending by tens of millions of dollars while also ensuring that contractors are not given sweetheart deals.