Meet the Bouncy Counterterrorist. "Look," Shannen Rossmiller says, pointing at her computer screen. She's in an online chat room, and the name Terrorist11 has just popped up. "He's one of the more popular guys."
To get here, she signed onto alfirdaws.org. Then she clicked into the Paradise Jihadist Supporters Forum. The site is in Arabic, so she turns on the basic Google text translator that renders the discussion into clumsy phrases."Take a charge with caution," warns one jihadist posting, "this thread is monitored." Meanwhile, Terrorist11 is praising the 2004 Madrid train bombings and posting videos of the dead for other jihadist wannabes to enjoy. Old news, terrorism-wise. Rossmiller flips her blond hair. She looks bored. "They are just flaming, ranting and raving," she says. "Do you want to see some blood and guts? Let's go find it."
In her small, one-chair home office in Montana, I sit beside Rossmiller on a little tiled table normally reserved for a lamp. Outside, the vistas stretch across Big Sky Country to the Elk Horn Ridge Mountains. Inside, Rossmiller shows me what she does as perhaps America's most accomplished amateur terrorist hunter.
We're monitoring jihadist chatter, and she has warned me that we're not likely to come across anything too dangerous. Home-brew cyber-counterterrorism, it turns out, is a lot like most police workweeks of tedious beat patrols punctuated by occasional bursts of excitement. And the section of the Internet populated by terrorists is a lot like the rest of the Internetonly instead of commenting on, say, a video of 1,500 prison inmates performing Michael Jackson's "Thriller," everyone's chatting about the death of Americans.
Rossmiller hopes to find some people discussing an actual upcoming plot and then join the conversation. But it's mostly just idle banter today. We come upon a thread in which participants are discussing a Baghdad sniper who has been killing US soldiers. "They call him Juba," Rossmiller says. She suspects there isn't a single sniper but rather a cell, and that the thread is designed to create an identity for Juba, a hero who might attract others to the cause.