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TMCNet:  Inland Empire men used social media to help carry out their terrorism plot

[November 23, 2012]

Inland Empire men used social media to help carry out their terrorism plot

ONTARIO, Nov 23, 2012 (Inland Valley Daily Bulletin - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Two of the Inland Empire men arrested on terrorism-related charges not only used Facebook and Skype to communicate their plans, they also shared radical pro-jihad content on their social media sites.

According to the FBI complaint released this week, Ralph Deleon, 23, of Ontario and Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales, 21, of Upland had plotted to join al-Qaida to kill Americans overseas.

In the 70-page complaint, the FBI revealed the role social media had in their plot to kill American soldiers.

The document shows the FBI monitored the activity between Deleon and Santana in which the two shared everything from their dislike for mainstream media, conspiracy theories as well as videos of al-Qaida leader Anwar Al-Awlaqi.

It also showed that Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, of Pomona shared several postings with Deleon and Santana, in addition the two exchanged several comments on various posts.

Deleon and Santana as well as Arifeen David Gojali, 21, of Riverside had hoped to join Kabir in Afghanistan who was arranging contacts with the terrorist organizations.

In January, Deleon and Santana used Skype to discuss their travel plans to Afghanistan, but before they were getting ready to leave, they deleted any content related to Islam on their Facebook pages.

"Most people have no understanding that anything they post on the cyberspace is easily captured and seen by anybody because it's not encrypted," said Chris Feudo, a national cybersecurity expert and president and CEO of Virginia-based Secureant, an advanced telecommunication company.

In this case, the agency had the assistance of an informant, who was following their accounts and sharing details. But the National Security Agency and CIA have classified keywords they monitor in the fight against terrorism, Fuedo said.

Fuedo, who who has been involved in cyber security for almost three decades, said this incident is a reminder to the public that the FBI and NSA are tracking activity on the web and even monitoring phone calls.

And it does so under the Patriot Act, which was enacted more than 10 years ago to protect the nation against terrorism.

"Anything you post is open to everybody," he said. "Once you have posted to the Internet you have lost all privacy." Oftentimes, the public doesn't know about this openness to their privacy and only hear about it when a news organization obtains the documents or the government releases the information as a way to let the public know they are one step ahead of the issue, as was the case earlier this week with the breakup of the terror plot, he said.

"I think a majority of Americans wouldn't say anything if they knew it could stop something like this," he said. "They wouldn't have a problem." Using cyberspace as a threat to national security wasn't always an issue.

Just 10 years ago, the FBI wasn't really doing much in terms of cyber terrorism, but, right now, every law enforcement entity is familiar with the Patriot Act, Feudo said.

Even though sites such as Facebook, which has privacy policies, the government can still access the content.

The same goes for local agencies.

In Ontario, a police official acknowledged that cyber information has become more and more a resource for the city's Police Department.

"We do have the ability to a search warrant and ask a judge to grant us permission to view anything on a social site," police Sgt. David McBride said.

The department has used it to catch predators.

"As with anything in the electronic field, it has grown tremendously," he said.

And while a lot of the information is easily accessible to the public, utilizing social media content is becoming a tool to bringing people to justice, McBride said.

Almost all content providers view the government's surveillance as an intrusion. Their opposition is an effort to protect their users, Feudo said.

If a user becomes aware the CIA can or has tracked individual activity on a social media site, such as Facebook, then they will most likely avoid the service in the future, he said.

If that happens, "they know they lost that user," Feudo said.

And as the public becomes more aware of the government wiretapping phones and its surveillance on the Internet, Fuedo said he believes a new software will hit the market in the next year or so that can block access.

While it may appear to provide some privacy for the user, he notes that the government is given "the code to encryption," to any software sold in the United States. Especially anything going overseas.

The new software only means "it'll take a little longer" for the government to monitor activity, he said.

Encrypting computers or phones isn't widely popular in the United States right now because of what Fuedo refers to the generation "right now." Encrypting websites or cell phones takes a bit of time, something this generation isn't necessarily keen on.

"It takes a little bit of time to get the results," he said.

As a result, you have a user like Deleon who shares information that almost anyone could access.

A quick search on Deleon's Facebook account not only provides more insight on who he was, but it reveals a little more on his future plans.

Deleon used one of his aliases Rafiq Abdul Raheem on his Facebook page.

On Nov. 5, he posted a link from Craigslist that showed he was attempting to sell his 2004 Nissan Altima.

In the post, he was asking for $7,000 and indicated that he would probably accept any offer.

On Nov. 7, Deleon wrote on his Facebook page "No matter how reclusive we tend to be, we picture the after-life as a community of souls. It is one thing to seek privacy in this life; it is another to face eternity alone." That same day he changed his cover photo to an image of a black-and-white cat with the wording "f-- the police." He also shared a series of Youtube videos, including a "Why I Hate Religion, but love Jesus" as well as a video from rapper Mos Def called "Leaving on A Jet Plane." The last video was posted Nov. 14, just two days before he was apprehended by the FBI.

His Facebook account also provides more insight on Deleon's life such as a photo of him with a hookah and several photos around Los Angeles.

It also states that he currently lives in Los Angeles and graduated from Cal State San Bernardino in 2011.

On the other end, there was Osama bin Laden, who refused to use any technology and why the government had such a hard time tracking his whereabouts, Fuedo said.

"He used real people to carry out his message because he knew the minute he used a phone he was being tracked," he said.

Reach Liset via email, call her at 909-483-8556, or find her on Twitter @DBOntarioNow.

___ (c)2012 the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, Calif.) Visit the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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