A U.S. military program dedicated to countering Islamic State propaganda disseminated across the internet is having little impact due to incompetent operators and inaccurate data, an Associated Press investigation has found.
The multimillion-dollar program, called “WebOps,” relies on Arabic-speaking analysts who are tasked with sifting through social media platforms to identify people susceptible ISIS’s call to arms and to disrupt recruitment.
The AP investigation found that many of those Arabic “specialists” don’t speak the language fluently and have such little knowledge of Islam that they are unable to effectively combat ISIS recruiters. One former employee said it’s been difficult to build close relationships with potential ISIS recruits when translators continue to mix up the Arabic words for “salad” and “authority” and expose the program to online mockery.
Another former worker mimicked the conversations between WebOps managers and potential hires:
“’Do you speak Arabic? … How do you say ‘good morning?’ Oh, you can do that? You are an expert. You are hired.'”
Though the WebOps Arabic program centers on combatting ISIS propaganda in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, it has hardly had any Syrian or Yemeni employees since the Alabama-based Colsa Corporation began running it.
Data manipulation has also become a persistent problem. Four current or former employees reported to the AP that they had personally witnessed WebOps data being manipulated to make the program seem more effective. Calls for the U.S. Central Command to establish independent oversight for the program have gone unanswered.
One former employee said her boss told her to write scoring reports so that they showed progress, “but not too much,” so that data still reflected a dangerous level of militancy online to justify ongoing funding for the program.
Desmond Butler, one of the AP journalists who authored the report, told Fox News on Tuesday that ISIS is “tragically successful” at recruiting through social media, making it all the more troubling that WebOps has been incompetent.