A few nights a week at 3 a.m., while the rest of America sleeps, Shannen Rossmiller sits in front of her computer terminal, transforms herself into a radicalized bloodthirsty mujahideen, and sniffs out Jihadist cyber-terrorists.

Although it might sound like a computer game scenario, it’s not. Rossmiller plays for real.

Shannen Rossmiller gives a powerpoint presentation on working undercover.
Photo by Chris Taggart

A former Montana judge and mother of three, Rossmiller presented “Penetrating Minds of Mayhem: Inside the Psyche of an Islamic Extremist” at the final day of the Fordham/FBI International Conference on Cyber Security on Jan. 8.

In the last five years, Rossmiller has assumed dozens of fake identities to carry out counterterrorist activities online. She has been Abu Zeida, an Al Qaeda recruiter and financier involved in a terrorist attack against a United Nations Headquarters in Afghanistan; and Abu Khadija, a training camp operator in Pakistan, among others.

The latter identity helped secure the nation’s largest conviction in the war on terror against Ryan Anderson, a member of the Army National Guard who wanted to defect to Al Qaeda.

Once she is finished using an identity, she said, “I martyr it.”

Rossmiller has provided the FBI with more than 200 incidences of intelligence against known terrorists with names like Juba, the Baghdad Sniper, Ihrabi 007 and the female holy warrior Oum Obeyda.

She also helped prosecute American Michael Reynolds, a drifter and petty arsonist who tried to purchase $40,000 in vehicles to use in a plot to blow up the Trans-Alaska pipeline, the Northeast Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line and two refineries.

“There are over 5,000 terrorist sites and forums at any given time,” Rossmiller said. “They are used for propaganda, fundraising, planning attacks and as recruitment tools. The cyber insurgency has effectively turned the Internet into a primary resource.”

What is particularly disturbing, said Rossmiller, is that it is no longer necessary to travel to Afghanistan to become a Jihadist. “It didn’t take them long to figure out online training camps,” she said. “If you are interested in bomb making, they’ll tell you how to do it. Have a niche for guerilla warfare? That is available as well.”

Rossmiller advocates the creation of a private agency, or a cybercorp, to monitor such subversive activity and to work with federal law enforcement in building legally binding cases against terrorists. Her presentation included successful steps in how to go undercover: choose a viable identity and profession such as recruiter, financier, or courier; get a proxy server application that creates a fake IP address from a middle eastern locality; study the international laws against crime and terror; and familiarize yourself with the language and culture (Rossmiller has studied Arabic, learned about tribal affiliations and read the Koran.)

“I’m just a private citizen who recognizes the value of government in fighting terror, but also recognize the need for private individuals to engage in this,” Rossmiller said. “I do this because I love my country.”

The three-day conference drew some 300 international participants from law enforcement, academia and industry to discuss global solutions to cyber crime.


Janet Sassi is editor/associate director of internal communications. She can be reached at (212) 636-7577 or [email protected]