Intelligence Report/Analysis 3
Facebook Marketplace 5
Facebook Account Creation 6
Facebook Regulation Failures 7
Use of Facebook Marketplace by Extremist Groups; Failure of Facebook Leadership to Mitigate Terrorist Use of their Platform
Tactical Rabbit October 2019
Extremist Use of Facebook Marketplace for Malicious Purposes; Failure of Facebook Leadership to Mitigate Terrorist Use of Their Platform
2016 to mid-2019
1. HUMINT, OSINT, CYBINT, FININT
2. Human sources who have a reliable reporting record and are vetted and validated.
3. Deep dive open source methodologies.
4. Operational experiences of various former CIA intelligence officers.
Tactical Rabbit believes with a very high degree of confidence that members of foreign terrorist groups and some American homegrown violent extremists have, and continue to utilize the Facebook Marketplace platform for illicit and malign activities. These activities include communication between terrorist members with the intent to raise money, the transfer of money between terrorist elements, and money laundering. The lack of tight controls on the use of Facebook Marketplace has allowed individual American homegrown violent extremists and designated foreign terrorist groups such as the Islamic State, Hezbollah, Al-Qaida, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to carry out illegal activities while posing as legitimate members, buyers, and sellers on Facebook Marketplace. Facebook’s leadership is acutely aware of the multiple problems and serious issues that plague Facebook Marketplace, but are not taking action to attenuate these terrorist illicit and malign activities.
Multiple Facebook employees who have stated that Facebook is misleading the American public and the U.S. government in regards to the capabilities and success of its internal monitoring and regulatory procedures that are working to mitigate terrorist use of Facebook Marketplace. We assess that Facebook leadership is much more concerned with continuing to generate huge profits and maintain their “image” as a beneficial service to their users rather than addressing the grave issues of extremist use of their platform and the violation international law. We assess that Facebook’s top leadership team is witting and complicit in the continued violent and lethal activities of terrorist groups and extremists who utilize Facebook Marketplace for their malicious purposes.
We call upon Facebook’s leadership team to implement new, stronger, and more restrictive regulations, policies, and monitoring to ensure there is minimal extremist use of the platform for illegal activities. Further, we call upon U.S. government law enforcement and regulatory
authorities to launch full investigations into Facebook’s complicity in allowing continued terrorist use of their platform.
Online marketplaces have become the newest popular form of retail. They are places for multiple buyers and multiple sellers to conduct transactions with one another. What makes an online marketplace unique from in-person retail is its ability to connect people who would not have met otherwise. They act as digital middlemen to introduce individuals, regardless of their
locations. The online marketplace is classified as “no inventory,” meaning that it is merely a platform where individuals and businesses can meet buyers who want to purchase their products. However, these marketplaces do benefit from these newfound connections.
Facebook Marketplace is a digital marketplace where users can arrange to buy, sell, and trade items with other individuals. As of 2018, Facebook Marketplace was used in 70 countries and had 800 million users per month. When selling an item on Marketplace, users create a public listing that can be seen by anyone, on and off Facebook, either in a Facebook group or on the main Marketplace page. This includes users on Marketplace, News Feed, Facebook search, Facebook groups, search engines, and other locations on or off Facebook. Sellers can also choose to post listings to any Buy and Sell Groups of which they are a member. Facebook requires its sellers to use their actual profile to create a business account, which can provide an additional layer of security. When creating an account, Facebook goes through a verification process to confirm the individuals’ identity. Facebook requires a profile photograph of an actual person, among other things that will be discussed later in this report.
Facebook Account Creation
Through the course of Tactical Rabbit’s intelligence gathering, the team successfully created a full, legitimate Facebook account utilizing completely false information under the name of known terror financiers. While there were multiple steps involved in this process (for example, creating a fake, free Protonmail account and generating a Google Voice number), the process
was not burdensome and did not present many technical or security obstacles. A skilled terrorist group member or homegrown violent extremist could master this process quickly and have a completely non-attributable, alias Facebook account for malicious use.
Once the Tactical Rabbit team had created our alias Facebook account, we were able to create and operate a Facebook Business account easily. We were then able to use this Facebook
Business account to offer a fraudulent “Ghost” item for sale. (“Ghost” meaning the item did not exist.) Various iterations of this basic process can, and are, being used by terrorists on Facebook Marketplace to covertly move money between members around the world and generate revenue for use in future terrorist attacks. This process could easily be duplicated by individuals looking to sell fake items they list on this site, disguised as a legitimate sale to facilitate a money laundering transaction. Facebook Marketplace is a massive platform that can reach millions of users per day, and these pages could be directed to a URL affiliated with a terrorist organization (and remain indefinitely to go entirely undetected).
The largest obstacle faced during this account creation process was that once the original account is logged out of for the first time, and if the account is deemed “suspicious” to Facebook, the creator is required to verify an image when logging back into the account. The challenge is finding an image that Facebook interprets as “YOU,” so the account can be completely verified and usable. Once verified, the individual has complete access to the Marketplace, with abilities to buy and sell at their discretion. Even if the individual is on a formally designated U.S. government sanctioned list, (like the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned terrorist individuals list), they can use the site as
long as they continue to verify the image as legitimate. It is then evident that anyone may create a Facebook and a business account to list and sell products to buyers who view the page.. In 2018, Facebook created new Marketplaces in Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco, which operated through the Facebook site. Those countries are home to significant, known terror-financing operations.
Facebook Regulation Failures
In May 2019, research was released showing that Facebook Marketplace was a breeding ground for the sale of looted Middle Eastern antiquities, including ones taken by Islamic State militants. This research stated that there are at least 90 Facebook groups, mostly in Arabic, connected to the illegal trade of Middle Eastern antiquities, with tens of thousands of members.
These members often post items or inquiries in these Facebook groups, then move the discussion to the Messenger application or WhatsApp messaging, making it difficult to track. This is an extreme vulnerability of the Facebook Marketplace platform.
Tactical Rabbit is virtually certain that individual extremists, many of whom may be located inside the U.S., and members of foreign terrorist groups like the Islamic State, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaida have and will continue to use Facebook Marketplace for their illicit activities. This includes not only traditional foreign terrorist groups, but also what we classify as “state- sponsored enemies” of the U.S. – specifically the Iranian government’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force.
The groups and organizations noted previously share three distinct traits – they are all designated as foreign terrorist groups by the U.S. State Department, individual members of the groups have been designated as subject of severe financial sanctions by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, and the groups have killed American citizens and continue to carry out operations with the explicit goal of killing more Americans.
Tactical Rabbit has a high degree of confidence that terrorists are utilizing Facebook Marketplace to generate revenue for their terrorist groups to use in violent and lethal attacks against Western and American targets. Facebook Marketplace is also being utilized by terrorists to discreetly and securely move money around the world between individual terrorist group members. Facebook Marketplace has refused to implement strong anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism controls. Facebook officials continue to demonstrate an arrogant, disdainful attitude when faced with calls from both the American public and the U.S. government to strengthen their internal controls and monitoring of Facebook Marketplace to mitigate extremist use of the platform for nefarious purposes. For these reasons, we assess that Facebook is witting and complicit in creating a permissive environment which fosters terrorist activities on their platform. This has the effect of allowing foreign terrorist groups to utilize Facebook Marketplace to generate revenue which is then directly used to plan, develop and carry out lethal operations worldwide that result in the killing of innocent Americans and other westerners.
Tactical Rabbit strongly recommends that the top management of Facebook immediately develops and implements tighter and more stringent controls, regulations, and internal monitoring procedures on users of the Facebook Marketplace platform. The objective of these enhanced security measures would be to identify and then deny access to members of designated
foreign terrorist groups and American homegrown violent extremists who are currently using Facebook Marketplace for illicit and malign activities. If Facebook fails to take this course of aggressive action, Tactical Rabbit strongly urges the appropriate U.S. government authorities (the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Department of Treasury) to open and conduct full investigations into Facebook and hold its leadership team accountable for “providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist group.”
Everett A. Stern, M.B.A. Intelligence Director, Tactical Rabbit Former U.S. Senate Candidate
www.TacticalRabbit.com / www.EverettStern.com