The idea of escape sounds easy at first -- even inviting. Pick some desolate country in Africa, or the deep bowels of the Amazon, maybe even settle on a deserted island where you can live off tropical fruit and insects. Who would ever find you? However, what if you are directing the world's most sought after terrorist organization... and you must not only continually contact your loyal followers to plan strategy, but periodically pose for video taped messages... and still hide from thousands of military professionals hunting you down. In other words, you are Osama bin Laden. Not only does bin Laden have tremendous help and support to keep hidden, he is 100 percent dependent upon friends for his survival.
Osama (Usama) bin Laden
Leader of: al-Qaeda (Arabic for "the base" -- the origins) Other spellings for the organization: al-Qaida, al Queda, al Qa'ida.
As stated in September 2002 on Think & Ask, the capture of Osama bin Laden in 2001 would have ended George W Bush's war on terrorism.
The severed heads of Berg and Johnson were photographed and posted online according to CNN, the Associated Press, The Washington Post and others. However, how is it that news organizations can view al Qaeda's website... and you may not? Actually, you could if you have enough time to monitor message boards and hit the websites before millions around the world follow your clicks. When links to Johnson's severed head made it across message boards on 18 June 2004, traffic brought the website to a halt.
In preparing this story, it wasn't knowing a secret code to finding al Qaeda online in as much as, it is a full time job keeping track of their new and ever changing IP address. Al Qaeda's leader bin Laden not only evades the US-military, but his website is never online long enough for search engines to crawl. (In this one case, we'll give search engines a break and not call it censorship, but will address that in a few paragraphs ahead.)
First of all, a fair question would be, "Who would host a website for al Qaeda?" But al Qaeda finds ISPs even though once the site is found, the site is closed down quickly. The terrorist organization has in fact nested its website in other websites... without the original website owner's knowledge. I just checked our files by the way, and Think & Ask is okay, al Qaeda is not hiding on our website, for now.
22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199: At one time or another, those two IP addresses acted as al Qaeda domains, but these sites were hacked and taken over by a US-based webmaster, Jon-David Messner. As a side business, Messner runs a successful pornography site, and took it upon himself to hack al Qaeda wherever and whenever it popped up. He could be considered a hero to the US-government for doing a job they've attempted with much less success.
At one point in time, al Qaeda used variations of the organization's name including alneda.com, but in viewing this domain you are redirected to a message board. So, someone keeps tabs on al Qaeda's website(s), closes them down, and yet we (used loosely) cannot find Osama bin Laden. And 'we' have only located two-dozen (out of 3,000 or more) al Qaeda members since 9-11.
Which al Qaeda members are the webmasters or website designers? Which al Qaeda members withdrawal funds from bin Laden's bank account to pay for hosting contracts? After 11 September's raid on US-soil, President George W Bush ordered bin Laden's bank accounts frozen. As we approach the third anniversary of 9-11, less than $6 million in funds remain locked away, or only four percent of what is available to al Qaeda.
The web is super library of information for any subject matter. Despite efforts to crack down on child pornography online, pictures of adults and children engaging in sexual intercourse together, and fetishes -- that this writer has never dreamed of -- are as simple to find as clicking your preferences on Google and checking the radio button, "Do not filter my search results." Depending upon how creative your "image" searches can be, in searching for Berg's and Johnson's pictures from al Qaeda didn't result in their photographs, but everything from food recipes to S&M with a pet cat.
Al Qaeda's roving webmasters however, and Islamic militant website editors, will distribute messages from bin Laden. Why can we find kiddy pornography easily and not bin Laden's messages through search? Maybe it is our own societal priorities, maybe it is indeed censorship. Search engines do block websites they consider inapropriate. Your ISP does monitor your activity and current US-law protects their right to watch you and report your activities without your knowledge or consent.
Some information concerning the websites of al Qaeda is available. When new messages from al Qaeda hit online, website traffic logs report an overwhelming majority of users arrive from bin Laden's home country, Saudi Arabia.
After Johnson's death drew attention to the latest al Qaeda website, that is no longer available for view. However, in a timed excersize for this story the following information is available about the bin Laden family. You should try this search yourself.... you'll have one hour to find as much information as possible....
Go... (or just read what we found.)
Al Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden, 47, is one of 54 children (25 girls,
29 boys.) The London Daily Mail reports 57 children were
fathered by Mohammed bin Laden, and Time magazine reports only
52 children -- with so many offspring, it is no surprise the figure is
Osama is the seventh child of Muhammed, the eldest is Salem bin
Laden, a former Arbusto Energy Inc. associate of George H Bush.
Mohammed built a successful Saudi construction company which
eventually made his family millions of dollars off exclusive contracts with the Saudi Royal family.
Mohammed died in a 1968 plane crash (Salem died the same way years later) and he started The Bin Laden group, a construction business, now called the Saudi Binladen Group employing 34,000 and reporting annual revenue of more than $5 billion. And most of the male bin Ladens have their own ventures including, Baud Telecommunications Company (BTC.)
Osama (also Ussama and Usama) bin Laden inherited $80 million in 1968 upon his father's death. Osama's Saudi citizenship was revoked in 1991. Abdullah bin Laden, 27, Osama's son, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1994 and endowed $5 million to the university to research Islamic law. Abdullah is not to be confused with his uncle of the same name who died 21 March 2002 at age 75. Saad bin Laden, 25, Osama's son, is reportedly climbing the ranks of al Qaeda's network.
Shafiq bin Laden was in conference with George Bush Sr., James Baker, and others for a meeting of the Carlyle Group, when hijackers hit New York City and Washington D.C. Some of Osama's other brothers in the news include, Bakr bin Laden, Ibrahim bin Laden, 57, and Yeslam bin Laden, 59.
Yeslam toyed with an idea of marketing a bin Laden clothing line, but Switzerland's intellectual property revoked the trademark 'bin Laden' following 9-11. Yeslam, a film buff for the past forty years, now focuses his interests on the film industry. One of Osama's younger brothers, Abdullah bin Laden, 38, along with Omar bin Laden lead a youth organization, World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) devoted to humanitarian and relief work in the Muslim world.
The bin Laden family is lauded in the Middle East as a highly respectable family with tremendous wealth and political connections to every industrialized nation on earth. So which family member or business associate helps to keep Osama safe from predators?
Time is up....
Placing a time limit on how much information I could find online about the bin Laden family, highlighted in yellow, took about an hour to weed through using reliable media reports, as well as the Carlyle Group's and BTC's websites, and a few minutes to put it to print. No al Qaeda website though.
Using the Internet as a mobile office, "bin Laden operatives" can post information from an Internet cafe in Saudi Arabia, to a site hosted in England, alert public message boards and within minutes thousands of surfers and the press are on to the posting. Within a few minutes millions of users spike traffic against the URL which usually crashes the server. Saudi Arabia enforces strick rules at Internet cafes; however, the information is out and spread across the world -- long after the original poster has left the cafe. Actually, by the time the government is alerted to the al Qaeda posting, the web editor may have returned to his camp to sip beer with Osama and his friends.
While the address and computer used may be traced, the user escapes without detection. He simply has found the best way to hide.