By now, you may have already seen Vice News’s extraordinary documentary “The Islamic State.” (As of this writing, it’s been viewed on YouTube more than 3 million times and counting since mid-August.) Vice boasts that “reporter Medyan Dairieh spent three weeks embedded with the Islamic State, gaining unprecedented access to the group in Iraq and Syria as the first and only journalist to document its inner workings.” Dairieh’s access is indeed unprecedented, and the product is gripping. He is shown traveling with ISIS fighters, interviewing Muslims who migrated to the caliphate, speaking with prisoners in an ISIS jail who proclaim their repentance and gratitude to the caliphate, and bouncing around the Syrian city of Raqqa in the jeep of the new “morals police” (hisba), who are also, in the video at least, met with the profuse gratitude of the locals. It is a journalistic score that would make any ambitious reporter or news organization envious, and a feat now almost impossible for Western journalists after the executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
It could also be construed as a federal crime if the U.S. government wanted to prosecute Vice or Dairieh.
The law that the documentary may violate is a prohibition on providing material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs), or even just “terrorists.” Of course, the U.S. wants to block the flow of money, materiel, and men to groups like ISIS or, say, the ultra-Zionist Kach movement, which, like ISIS, is among the 59 groups on the State Department’s FTO list. (Incidentally, this is also the law that prevented the families of Foley and Sotloff from paying ransoms.) But the government’s definition of material support goes beyond, well, material, and encompasses “service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, [and] expert advice or assistance.”