The Belmont Club recounts the story of a Montana woman who investigated Jihadi websites and interrupted terrorist plots.
Shannen Rossmiller is a municipal judge who wanted to help after 9/11. So she took it up on her own to learn Arabic and go undercover to infiltrate terrorist networks. It’s an unorthodox way of helping… and it’s an amazing story that should get more attention.
Shannen Rossmiller tells her story here.
Before 9-11, I had no experience with the Middle East or the Arabic language. I was a mother of three and a municipal judge in a small town in Montana. But the terrorist attacks affected me deeply. … I began to read vociferously [voraciously] about Islam, terrorism, extremist groups, and Islamist ideology.
She paid to learn Arabic from Online courses and began to troll Jihadi websites, forums, and chatrooms for intel. Throughout she pretended to be a Jihadi herself.
As I learned more Arabic, the jihadi websites opened for me. Certain individuals stood out for either their radicalism or the information that they sent. I followed and tracked these individuals and kept notebooks detailing each website and person of interest.
I created my first terrorist cover identity on the Internet on March 13, 2002, to communicate and interact with these targets. In my first chat room sting, I convinced a Pakistani man that I was an Islamist arms dealer. When he offered to sell me stolen U.S. Stinger missiles to help the jihadists fighting the U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, I used the Persian Gulf dialect of Arabic to ask him to provide me with information that I could use to confirm his claims, such as stock numbers. Within a couple of weeks, the missile identification numbers were in my computer inbox.
Stock numbers and the e-mail correspondence in hand, I intended to drive to the closest field office for the FBI here in Montana but was afraid that the FBI would not take me seriously. What were the chances of a Montana mom showing up at their door with information about an individual in Pakistan who was trying to sell Stinger missiles? Instead, I submitted the information to the FBI’s online tips site.
A few days later, I received a telephone call from an FBI agent from New Jersey who proceeded to question me. It felt like an interrogation. Several days later, the same agent called to thank me and say that the stock number information for the Stingers did match some of the information that the government had about the missiles.
Encouraged by this success, I continued to communicate with these jihadis online and proceeded to gather more information. Using various Muslim personalities and theatrics for cover, I began monitoring the jihadist chat rooms into the early hours of the morning while my family slept. Plunging in, I started making headway into the world of counterterrorism.
She encounted “Amir Abdul Rashid”, the new name of Ryan G. Anderson. Rashid converted to Islam and tried to help Islamists attack American targets. Mrs. Rossmiller reported him to the FBI, leading to his arrest and the end of her cover identity.
Counterintelligence, even at home at the computer, has its dangers. She got too close to fanatics to get away easily.
After the media picked up my identity at Anderson’s Article 32 hearing in May 2004, I received numerous threats and, on December 5, 2004, someone stole my car out of my family’s garage. It was later found wrecked two counties away from my home, riddled with bullet holes. As a result, I now have permanent security.
I have still continued my online sleuthing.
And she continued to uncover more plotting online. Her work led to the arrest of a second American, Michael C. Reynolds, who plotted to attack oil pipelines for al-Qaeda. She intercepted plots from overseas groups from Lebanon to Iraq.
I wish her well.
She certainly seems to be doing more work than anyone in the CIA. There are similar stories of citizen activism in uncovering terrorist plots and networks. For example, Citizens called federal attention to “Islamberg”, a radical Islamist community in upstate New York near Hancock that is linked to the Jamaat ul-Fuqra terrorist organization.
Richard Fernandez calls this the “networked counterinsurgency”, the logical way to counter the network insurgency of Al-Qaeda. It is something akin to a nation-in-arms, which provides the West greater defense in-depth than anyone previously believed.