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Thu November 1, 2007
SC Mom Hunts Terrorists Online
By Peter Biello
Wilmington, NC – A typical day for Laura Mansfield starts like this: she wakes up at 6 am, makes pancakes for her family and drops off her 9-year-old son at school. Then she sits at a workstation in her dining room, pushing aside piles of markers, toys and books. She cracks open her laptop and starts up SandSpider , a program she created to locate Jihadist videos. Within minutes, her computer has created a list of links.
These are videos that've just been announced out of Iraq, she says. When the Bin Laden video was announced, it came out the same way, it was a banner about this shape, saying it was going to come very soon.
Mansfield squints at the computer screen. At fifty, she needs bifocals to read the tiny Arabic letters. She stumbles across a new video that shows a gang of little kids shouting and waving machine guns.
He's basically quoting the prophet Muhammad, she says. You've got this whole group of kids, they're just little kids, they've all got guns and they're all shouting Allahu Ackbar.
Mansfield began watching these videos after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. She learned Arabic in the eighties when she lived in Egypt with her husband. She eventually moved back to the U-S and became a fulltime web developer. And during the past year she's scoured the Internet for Al-Qaeda videos. What started as a hobby became an obsession to know what's going on.
You become totally immersed in it, she says. The more you learn the more you want to learn.
Mansfield has turned that knowledge into money. She sells subscriptions to her translations through her website, lauramansfield.com and has written books of translations, which are bought mostly by students writing masters theses. Mansfield does provide her findings to the U-S government for free, a service Shawn Brimley says is invaluable. Brimley is with the Washington-based Center for a New American Security. He says since the 9-11 attacks the number of freelance translators has swelled.
Laura Mansfield is one of them. You know, people who speak the language, who are familiar with the region, familiar with the culture, are putting themselves out there as people who can offer some sort of net benefit to the intelligence community and indeed the country.
Mansfield offers her services for at least fifty hours a week. She says she tries to set aside weekends and mealtimes for her family.
I think the biggest annoyance is that when something comes out at dinner time and I end up having to order fast food instead of cooking with my family.
Mansfield even receives fan mail from people thanking her. But online threats from Al Qaeda have her concerned about her family. She uses the pseudonym Laura Mansfield and says the overseas intimidation is partly why she's moving from South Carolina.
It's not the ones that post the threats that worry me. It's the ones that don't, she says.
She ignores the threats as she signs-in to a chatroom called Ansar . Here, Jihadists give live speeches while listeners type messages to one another. She says it's nothing but the same old recruitment pitch. She could listen all day, but she has to pick up her son from school.
After returning home, Mansfield reviews her son's homework and shields his view of the computer. After she's checked it all, he turns on the TV in the next room. Once he's out of earshot, she says it's safe to scan the Internet for the latest from Al-Qaeda.
This story first aired on Day to Day on Monday, October 22. Click here to listen to the original broadcast.