In the early morning of September 9, 2016, Bill Moore, CEO of the Austin-based walkie-talkie app company Zello, contacted the Middle East Media Research Institute. He was seeking a copy of a report MEMRI had recently published describing how ISIS members and supporters were using Zello, which allows people to send voice messages to each other in private and also public channels. Moore had learned about the findings through a Google Alert.
“Can you share a copy of the report explaining ISIS uses Zello? I'm the CEO of Zello,” the message read, according to emails reviewed by WIRED and confirmed by Moore and MEMRI.
Hours later, MEMRI deputy director Elliot Zweig sent him the report. While MEMRI hadn't collected actual messages, its findings included screenshots of Zello users whose avatars featured photos of ISIS’s iconic black flags, and public channels with names like “Islamic State Channel.” One channel called simply “Jihad.” described itself this way: “For the Brothers who desire to be with Mujahideen & to talk about Jihad and Islam.” Some of the channels had been advertised by ISIS sympathizers on another encrypted app, Telegram. The list wasn't comprehensive, and didn't reference any specifically troubling conversations; it was just a snapshot of accounts and channels MEMRI found easily at the time.
In his response, Zweig offered to connect Moore with the executive director of MEMRI, Steven Stalinsky. When he heard nothing back, Zweig extended the offer again. This time, Moore replied: “Confirming receipt, thank you very much. No need from our side to discuss now.”
A few weeks later, Zweig tried one more time. “We note that the ISIS and other jihadi accounts mentioned in our report are still active on your service, and would like to again offer the opportunity for a briefing/conversation with our executive director,”