The FBI has charged an American man and computer science student with providing material support for the Islamic State (ISIS), the bureau announced on Tuesday and now faces up to 20 years in prison.
The FBI's complaint alleges that 20-year-old Chicago man Thomas Osadzinski designed a custom Python script to enable other ISIS supporters to archive propaganda in an organized manner with the goal of spreading it online.
The growth and strength of ISIS relies heavily on its digital recruitment and propaganda campaigns, but social media bans have seriously hampered its capabilities. A tool like the one designed by Osadzinski specifically enables operatives to rapidly post content and stay ahead of takedowns to maintain a foothold online.
Osadzinski, whose LinkedIn profile says he is studying Computer Science and Software Development part time at DePaul University, provided the tool to what he believed were ISIS members, but were in fact federal authorities and an informant. The FBI complaint states that, based on university records, Osadzinski had taken classes on Python programming and network security.
“The complaint alleges that Osadzinski designed a process that uses a computer script to make ISIS propaganda more conveniently accessed and disseminated by users on a social media platform,” reads a news release posted by the Department of Justice. “Osadzinski earlier this year shared his script—and instructions for how to use it—with individuals whom he believed to be ISIS supporters and members of pro-ISIS media organizations [...]”
Since the fall of its so-called "Caliphate," ISIS has lost its leader in a much-publicised operation involving American commandos and has faded into an insurgency in Iraq and Syria.
The group’s on-the-ground powers have faded with the loss of its territorial holdings, but ISIS is reportedly inundating various social media platforms with propaganda in hopes of continuing to recruit globally and exert its influence covertly. U.S. authorities have taken note of the infamous terror group’s digital operations.
Osadzinksi told the informant that he had designs in mind to create another custom, lightweight operating system for the terrorist group that he said would make it tougher for authorities to hack and surveil.
“I will (begin) a new and very valuable project I will be developing a custom gentoo linux22 version designed for ansar [ISIS supporters] it can run on any computer and will be very lightweight, fast, and secure,” he told the informant, adding that he would personally issue software updates to a closed group of users. “When there are less things installed the operating system is harder to hack.”