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MSU audio-forensic expert contributes to New York Times cover story

Thursday Feb. 21st, 2019


A Montana State University researcher was included in a front-page New York Times story on Monday for using audio forensics to help the newspaper confirm the identity of a prominent Islamic State militant.
 
The story, published online with the title "The English Voice of ISIS Comes Out of the Shadows," explains how Rob Maher, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in MSU's Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering, contributed to The Times's investigation of the man who narrated some of the Islamic State's most notorious and gruesome propaganda videos.

The Times quotes Maher as saying that "the speech tone, pitch, cadence and pronunciation" of the narrator's voice matches audio recorded shortly after Mohammed Khalifa was captured in Syria last month by American-supported fighters.
 
According to the article, The Times turned to Maher and two other well-known audio-forensic experts to confirm that Khalifa, a 35-year-old Canadian citizen, was indeed the man who narrated videos for IS. Later, The Times reported, a U.S. official confirmed Khalifa's identity.
 
Maher uses sophisticated software and other tools to analyze recorded soundwaves and has published more than 20 papers on the subject. Most of his audio forensics research at MSU has been funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research and development wing of the U.S. Justice Department. He regularly receives calls from attorneys and investigators and has testified about audio evidence in courtrooms around the country. Maher recently authored a book, titled "Principles of Forensic Audio Analysis," intended chiefly for law enforcement officials and forensic investigators.

According to The Times report, "Terrorism experts say it is hard to overstate the role (Khalifa's) effortless English narration played in bringing the terrorist group’s propaganda to English speakers and luring some of them to its cause."