When people look at their computer screens they do not normally see a powerful tool for warfare. That, I'm afraid, is not the case when it comes to governments. With growing numbers of people getting "on-line" around the world in recent years, cyber technology is providing those in powers with historic new opportunities. What we have been experiencing in the Middle East lately is the sophisticated fusion of armed intervention, propaganda (psy-ops) and cyber technology into one effective/lethal political tool.
With tens of millions of undereducated and underemployed and increasingly restless youth coming of age throughout the world, strategic planners of the Western alliance are exploiting/harnessing this historic opportunity. Cyber-based psy-ops and military might is being used to attain geopolitical goals - namely that of the remaking of the Middle East. The Anglo-American-Zionist alliance in conjunction with Turks and client states in the Arabian peninsula are currently working on the region's loose ends in preparation for their future attack on Iran. This is a long-term agenda and it will not simply end with Iran. They have bigger obstacles on the horizon such as Russia and China that they will have to eventually negotiate as well. But all in due time.
Keep the following information in mind next time you hear talk about "Twitter" or "Facebook" in the context of revolutions taking place in the Middle East. These "online revolutions" are not as "spontaneous" or as "grassroots" as they are being portrayed by the controlled news media simply because they are being managed and coordinated by special units of Western intelligence services. As much as they would have liked to have kept it a secret, information is now beginning to leak out about Washington's covert involvement in some of the bloody revolutions currently plaguing the Middle East (there also seems to be one or two counter revolts instigated by Iran as well).
When truly confidential information is "leaked", it is primarily done for political purposes and it is usually done by opposing intelligence services, and sometimes by disgruntled employees. Regardless of who released such information and why, what's clear here is that Washington is playing a major role in the unrest that the Middle East is currently suffering. Therefore, as suspected (I didn't need to see to this information to know that it's occurring), the long tentacles of the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance has been exploiting wide-spread public despair and the popularity of modern technology to do its dirty work overseas. The following are some reports on the topic by Russia's RT:
CIA on Facebook & Twitter: Wayne Madsen on info warfare:http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiaToday#p/u/10/d3WY7QtVnyINGOs, an extension of US foreign policy:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-raqX4KKY1Q
Internet nuke bomb waiting to go off: http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiaToday#p/search/20/VO45VBO6SwoAssange: Facebook, Google, Yahoo spying tools for US intelligence: http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiaToday#p/u/17/Hp8rJVWC2a0
According to released information, the US government is apparently using Information Technology to spread pro-United States propaganda essentially within nations where Washington is currently raping and pillaging the natives. In other words, they are putting on an "America is your friend" happy face as they molest vulnerable nations around the world. And when the governments of nations being targeted by the West resort to curbing internet usage in their countries as a countermeasure, they are quickly accused of being dictatorial and/or tyrannical. Thus, it's a no win situation for those targeted.
We must also take into consideration that what is known about what the US government does (even against its own citizens in the US) is merely the tip of the iceberg. If the US government can use the internet to covertly spread "America is your friend" propaganda throughout the world, don't you think it can also use the same medium to instigating violence in targeted nations such as Russia, Libya, Armenia, Iran, Syria, China, Serbia, Venezuela, Lebanon, [fill-in-the-blank]?
Of course it can, and it does! And there is plenty of evidence at hand. All one needs to do is open their eyes. I have posted a number of relevant articles below this commentary.
As a matter of fact, the cyber-based psy-ops against Libya and Syria have been frighteningly well organized and quite public in its implementation. As if overnight, dozens of US-based Libyan and Syrian blogs and virtual organizations have mushroomed and they are all calling for regime change and revolution. Although they are giving the Middle East all the priority currently, there are naturally other targets as well.
Not a week goes by these days without a nasty report about Russia appearing in the controlled press. Virtually every single mainstream American news article or opinion piece about the Russian Federation is either negative or down right hostile. Even the Western world's blogosphere today is saturated by Russia-haters. Specially after the 2008 war in Georgia, Western Russophobia has been very intense and very organized. This is not merely a result of ignorance or chance, this is government sanctioned. The long-term strategic goal of this agenda is to condition and/or manage the emotions of the general public against a targeted nation. When a major nation that is viewed as a competitor is vilified and belittled in the minds of the masses, it becomes much easier to carry out dirty works against it.
Closer to home, there is a whole range of Western-based blogs and organizations that primarily concern themselves with disseminating anti-Armenia propaganda.
The following "online revolution" for instance was attempted in Armenia during last February when the West was maintaining hope that Levon Petrosian would be able to stir trouble again. This particular program was being managed by Onnik Krikorian, a British-Armenian agent posing as an "independent journalist" and a "human-rights" activist. [During the 1960s, special operatives often posed as backpackers and aid workers. These days, they like to pose as journalists and social activists] A brief look at the following two websites is all that is needed to fully understand who Onnik Krikorian is working for and for what purpose:
Armenia: An online revolution in the making? http://frontlineclub.com/blogs/onnikkrikorian/2011/02/armenia-an-online-revolution-in-the-making.html
Washington's large army of cyberspace activists (human and electronic) are saturating different Armenian blogs, news websites and chat-rooms (discussion forums) with Washingtonian inspired political rhetoric and poisonous commentaries concerning the Armenian republic. It's obvious that Armenia has recently become one of the main targets of Washington's sophisticated psyop campaign. Monitor any one of the several major English-language Armenian news websites and blogs and read the posted commentaries at the bottom of the featured news articles. The spirit of many of the commentaries in question range from the absurd to the surreal. The following blog entry is related to this topic. When visiting the sources from which the articles came, please pay attention to some of the commentaries posted at the bottom of the pages:
Washington's Media Blitz Against Armenia - February, 2011: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/02/american-media-blitz-against-armenia.html
Incidentally, Washington isn't the only political entity involved in this high-tech game of manipulation. Israel's intelligence services also carries out sophisticated operations aimed at conditioning the political sentiments of non-Jews. During the 2006 war in south Lebanon, the following curious piece of leaked information was being disseminated throughout the internet:
Next time you find yourself on an online discussion forum and the topic of conversation is not to the Mossad's liking, expect some friendly Jew to show up and start claiming that Armenians and Jews brothers and that the real enemy of the world is Islam or Iranians or Hezbollah or Palestinians, etc. During the 2006, when the world community was basically cheering the heroic actions of Lebanon's Hezbollah, I personally observed this happen on several different occasions.
Nevertheless, what's obvious here is that Washington and friends are pulling the strings of the rebellions and revolutions we are currently seeing take place all across the Arab world. This, in a sense, reveals just how deeply compromised that region of the world has become. With the exception of Libya, Iran, Syria, segments of Lebanon and formerly Iraq, rest of the region's dictatorships/kingdoms (particularly Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan) are client states of the Western alliance.
Thus, looking at the playing field as it currently exists, it is quite easy to see what nations will be violated and what nations will be supported - regardless of silly little things like democracy and freedom.
The sheeple in that region of the world may be rebelling, protesting or demonstrating for legitimate reasons, their shepherds, however, are carrying out the orders of the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance. In fact, as many of us already know, wars that are raging in the very troubling public revelation: and today were planned by Western military planners many years ago. The following Democracy Now video clip of a 2007 interview by the soft-spoken war-criminal is a
The geopolitical agenda of the Western alliance is commencing in full force throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of Africa. This 21th century project to remake certain parts of the world was planned during the 1990s, when the Anglo-American-Zionist global order became a hyperpower at a time when Russia and China were no where to be seen. And the grandiose plan in question was fully commenced in late 2001 - in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks against the United States by still unknown assailants.The Plan - according to U.S. General Wesley Clark: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXS3vW47mOE&feature=youtube_gdata_player
The following is a video clip of a speech neoconservative war criminal (and one of the masterminds of the wars we have raging today) Paul Wolfowitz gave to West Point graduates shortly before the events of September 11, 2001. In hindsight, the tone of his "get ready to be surprised" speech is very curious:
Wolfowitz chilling speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcxI5wpDueE
The words you will hear and read with the following posts are that of Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the main masterminds of the Western alliance. The first link is to a 2010 speech he gave in Montreal during a Council on Foreign Relations meeting. The text at the bottom of the video link are excepts from "The global political awakening", an article by Brzezinski that appeared in the New York Times in 2008. Please pay close attention to Brzezinski's choice of words:
Well folks, there you have it. Right from the source. But is anybody listening? Looking at the masses of undereducated, underfed and underemployed, Brzezinski said - "[the sheeple's] physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred". Isn't this exactly what's going on overseas today? It's also interesting to note that these Western officials look at their native activists as coming from "often intellectually dubious tertiary level educational institutions of developing countries".CFR Meeting: Zbigniew Brzezinski Speech (2010): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEHsUojUgzk
The global political awakening
For the first time in human history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive... The resulting global political activism is generating a surge in the quest for personal dignity, cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world painfully scarred by memories of centuries-long alien colonial or imperial domination... The worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening... That awakening is socially massive and politically radicalizing... The nearly universal access to radio, television and increasingly the Internet is creating a community of shared perceptions and envy that can be galvanized and channeled by demagogic political or religious passions. These energies transcend sovereign borders and pose a challenge both to existing states as well as to the existing global hierarchy, on top of which America still perches... The youth of the Third World are particularly restless and resentful. The demographic revolution they embody is thus a political time-bomb, as well...
Their potential revolutionary spearhead is likely to emerge from among the scores of millions of students concentrated in the often intellectually dubious "tertiary level" educational institutions of developing countries. Depending on the definition of the tertiary educational level, there are currently worldwide between 80 and 130 million "college" students. Typically originating from the socially insecure lower middle class and inflamed by a sense of social outrage, these millions of students are revolutionaries-in-waiting, already semi-mobilized in large congregations, connected by the Internet and pre-positioned for a replay on a larger scale of what transpired years earlier in Mexico City or in Tiananmen Square. Their physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred...
[The] major world powers, new and old, also face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.
Former U.S. National Security Advisor
Member of Council on Foreign Relations
Co-Founder of the Trilateral Commission
Member, Board of Trustees, Center for Strategic and International Studies
The army of "human rights" advocates, "political activists" and "independent journalists" operating in Armenia today are enthusiastically serving Satan in the name of - truth, justice, and the American way... as well as a few dollars and round trip tickets to Armenia. And the funny part is that in reality these peasants are looked upon by their Western masters as nothing more than cannon-fodder.
We Armenians simply must not allow these demons to comfortably settle in Armenia like they have done elsewhere. We must not show Armenia's many Western operatives and activists any tolerance. As a matter of fact, all those in Armenia that maintain ties with the Western alliance, in any capacity, regardless of who they may be, should be placed under state surveillance. Those that actively promote Western agendas need to be expelled from the nation.
Armenia does not have the resources, the strength, the expertise or the experience to effectively counter the machinations of the West. The only cure against the corrosive/destructive power of the political West in Armenia is better and closer relations with the East. Some foolishly think Armenia would be able to ward-off Western designs against Armenia simply by providing Armenians with a higher standards of living. These people utterly fail to realize that despite our best efforts, due to Armenia's less-than ideal geographic location and geopolitical circumstances in the Caucasus, attaining any form of a higher standard of living for the population in Armenia will prove elusive for many years.
Libya had perhaps the highest standard of living in the entire Arab world, did that stop its mutilation by the Western alliance? At the end of the day, Russia and to some degree the Islamic Republic of Iran and China are Armenia's last hope for survival in what may yet become the bloodiest century we have had.
During the seconds half of the 20th century, the Soviet Union was an easy thing to hate and fear. Moscow's threatening posture at the time as well as the prospects of communism coming to a nation nearby helped conceal the true face of the political West. Since the Soviet collapse, the mask has come off. Being stupid during the Cold War was one thing... being stupid now, in this information age and after what we have seen and experienced during the past twenty years is totally inexcusable.
The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda. A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.
The project has been likened by web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives. The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as "sock puppets" – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.
The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries". Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said: "The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US."
He said none of the interventions would be in English, as it would be unlawful to "address US audiences" with such technology, and any English-language use of social media by Centcom was always clearly attributed. The languages in which the interventions are conducted include Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto. Centcom said it was not targeting any US-based web sites, in English or any other language, and specifically said it was not targeting Facebook or Twitter.
Once developed, the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with any number of co-ordinated messages, blogposts, chatroom posts and other interventions. Details of the contract suggest this location would be MacDill air force base near Tampa, Florida, home of US Special Operations Command. Centcom's contract requires for each controller the provision of one "virtual private server" located in the United States and others appearing to be outside the US to give the impression the fake personas are real people located in different parts of the world.
It also calls for "traffic mixing", blending the persona controllers' internet usage with the usage of people outside Centcom in a manner that must offer "excellent cover and powerful deniability". The multiple persona contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a programme called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others ranged against coalition forces. Since then, OEV is reported to have expanded into a $200m programme and is thought to have been used against jihadists across Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East.
OEV is seen by senior US commanders as a vital counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation programme. In evidence to the US Senate's armed services committee last year, General David Petraeus, then commander of Centcom, described the operation as an effort to "counter extremist ideology and propaganda and to ensure that credible voices in the region are heard". He said the US military's objective was to be "first with the truth". This month Petraeus's successor, General James Mattis, told the same committee that OEV "supports all activities associated with degrading the enemy narrative, including web engagement and web-based product distribution capabilities".
Centcom confirmed that the $2.76m contract was awarded to Ntrepid, a newly formed corporation registered in Los Angeles. It would not disclose whether the multiple persona project is already in operation or discuss any related contracts. Nobody was available for comment at Ntrepid. In his evidence to the Senate committee, Gen Mattis said: "OEV seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of suicide bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda." He added that Centcom was working with "our coalition partners" to develop new techniques and tactics the US could use "to counter the adversary in the cyber domain".
According to a report by the inspector general of the US defence department in Iraq, OEV was managed by the multinational forces rather than Centcom. Asked whether any UK military personnel had been involved in OEV, Britain's Ministry of Defence said it could find "no evidence". The MoD refused to say whether it had been involved in the development of persona management programmes, saying: "We don't comment on cyber capability."
OEV was discussed last year at a gathering of electronic warfare specialists in Washington DC, where a senior Centcom officer told delegates that its purpose was to "communicate critical messages and to counter the propaganda of our adversaries". Persona management by the US military would face legal challenges if it were turned against citizens of the US, where a number of people engaged in sock puppetry have faced prosecution. Last year a New York lawyer who impersonated a scholar was sentenced to jail after being convicted of "criminal impersonation" and identity theft.
It is unclear whether a persona management programme would contravene UK law. Legal experts say it could fall foul of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, which states that "a person is guilty of forgery if he makes a false instrument, with the intention that he or another shall use it to induce somebody to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act to his own or any other person's prejudice". However, this would apply only if a website or social network could be shown to have suffered "prejudice" as a result.
• This article was amended on 18 March 2011 to remove references to Facebook and Twitter and add a comment from Centcom, received after publication, that it is not targeting those sites.
US launches cyber spy operation
The users controlling the false personas would be hidden in a variety of ways, including randomizing the IP addresses they accessed the software with, traffic mixing or blending web traffic with that outside of CENTCOM. The US cyber espionage operation will enable false online personas, also known as sock puppets, to seem like real people when they monitor online discussion blogs, message boards and more. The online persona project is thought to be completely under the sway of Operation Earnest Voice, which watches over CENTCOM's Information Operations.
According to CENTCOM commander James N. Mattis, the project "seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda." Meanwhile, the spyware would not be used in America, or by American owned companies or major social network services such as Facebook and Twitter, the CENTCOM said. "We do not target US audiences, and we do not conduct these activities on sites owned by US companies," CENTCOM spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said.
Julian Assange: Facebook Is 'Appalling Spy Machine'
In an interview with Russia Today (RT), Julian Assange called Facebook the "most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented." He told RT's Laura Emmett,
Here we have the world's most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations, their communications with each other, their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to U.S. intelligence.
It's not new ground for the Wikileaks founder. In March, Assange told Cambridge University students that the Internet is "the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen." During the Russia Today interview, Assange explained that Facebook, Google and Yahoo all provide automated interfaces for the U.S. intelligence (starts around 2:00 in the video below). "When they add their friends to Facebook," Assange said, "they are doing free work for United States intelligence agencies." Unlike The Onion's prescient fake news piece that poked fun at Facebook's success as a CIA program earlier this year, Assange says that these Web sites aren't being run by the government. Instead, the intelligence community is able to "bring to bear legal and political pressure to them."
Rebels Hijack Gadhafi's Phone Network
A Group of Expatriate Executives and Engineers Furtively Restore Telecommunications for the Libyan Opposition
A team led by a Libyan-American telecom executive has helped rebels hijack Col. Moammar Gadhafi's cellphone network and re-establish their own communications. The new network, first plotted on an airplane napkin and assembled with the help of oil-rich Arab nations, is giving more than two million Libyans their first connections to each other and the outside world after Col. Gadhafi cut off their telephone and Internet service about a month ago. That March cutoff had rebels waving flags to communicate on the battlefield. The new cellphone network, opened on April 2, has become the opposition's main tool for communicating from the front lines in the east and up the chain of command to rebel brass hundreds of miles away.
While cellphones haven't given rebel fighters the military strength to decisively drive Col. Gadhafi from power, the network has enabled rebel leaders to more easily make the calls needed to rally international backing, source weapons and strategize with their envoys abroad. To make that possible, engineeers hived off part of the Libyana cellphone network—owned and operated by the Tripoli-based Libyan General Telecommunications Authority, which is run by Col. Gadhafi's eldest son—and rewired it to run independently of the regime's control. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, asked about the rebel cellphone network, said he hadn't heard of it.
Ousama Abushagur, a 31-year-old Libyan telecom executive raised in Huntsville, Ala., masterminded the operation from his home in Abu Dhabi. Mr. Abushagur and two childhood friends working as corporate managers in Dubai and Doha started fund-raising on Feb. 17 to support the political protests that were emerging in Libya. By Feb. 23, when fighting had erupted, his team delivered the first of multiple humanitarian aid convoys to eastern Libya. But while in Libya, they found their cellphones and Thuraya satellite phones jammed or out of commission, making planning and logistics challenging. Security was also an issue. Col. Gadhafi had built his telecommunications infrastructure to fan out from Tripoli—routing all calls through the capital and giving him and his intelligence agents full control over phones and Internet.
On March 6, during a flight back to the United Arab Emirates after organizing a naval convoy to the embattled city of Misrata, Mr. Abushagur says he drew up a diagram on the back of a napkin for a plan to infiltrate Libyana, pirate the signal and carve out a network free of Tripoli's control. What followed was a race against time to solve the technical, engineering and legal challenges before the nascent rebel-led governing authority was crushed under the weight of Col. Gadhafi's better-equipped forces. After a week of victories in which the rebels swept westward from Benghazi toward Col. Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, the rebel advance stalled and reversed on March 17, when the United Nations approved a no-fly zone and government forces kicked off a fierce counterattack.
In a sign of deepening ties between Arab governments and the Benghazi-based administration, the U.A.E. and Qatar provided diplomatic support and helped buy the several million dollars of telecommunications equipment needed in Benghazi, according to members of the Libyan transitional authority and people familiar with the situation. Meanwhile, rebel military commanders were using flags to signal with their troops, a throw-back that proved disastrous to their attempts at holding their front lines. "We went to fight with flags: Yellow meant retreat, green meant advance," said Gen. Ahmed al-Ghatrani, a rebel commander in Benghazi. "Gadhafi forced us back to the stone age."
Renewed signal jamming also meant that rebel leaders and residents in Benghazi had little warning of the government forces' offensive across east Libya and the March 19 attempted invasion of Benghazi, which sparked panicked civilian evacuations of the city. Mr. Abushagur watched the government advances with alarm. His secret cellphone operation had also run into steep problems. The Chinese company Huawei Technologies Ltd., one of the original contractors for Libyana's cellular network backbone, refused to sell equipment for the rebel project, causing Mr. Abushagur and his engineer buddies to scramble to find a hybrid technical solution to match other companies' hardware with the existing Libyan network. Huawei declined to comment on its customers or work in Libya. The Libyan expats in the project asked that their corporate affiliations be kept confidential so that their political activities don't interfere with their work responsibilities.
Without Huawei, the backing from the Persian Gulf nations became essential—otherwise it is unlikely that international telecom vendors would have sold the sophisticated machinery to an unrecognized rebel government or individual businessmen, according to people familiar with the situation. "The Emirates government and [its telecommunications company] Etisalat helped us by providing the equipment we needed to operate Libyana at full capacity," said Faisal al-Safi, a Benghazi official who oversees transportation and communications issues. U.A.E. and Qatari officials didn't respond to requests for comment. Emirates Telecommunications Corp., known as Etisalat, declined to comment.
By March 21, most of the main pieces of equipment had arrived in the U.A.E. and Mr. Abushagur was ready to ship them to Benghazi with three Libyan telecom engineers, four Western engineers and a team of bodyguards. But Col. Gadhafi's forces were still threatening to overrun the rebel capital and trying to bomb its airport. Mr. Abushagur diverted the team and their equipment to an Egyptian air base on the Libyan border. Customs bureaucracy cost them a week, though Egypt's eventual approval was another show of Arab support for rebels. Egypt's governing military council couldn't be reached for comment. Once in Libya, the team paired with Libyana engineers and executives based in Benghazi. Together, they fused the new equipment into the existing cellphone network, creating an independent data and routing system free from Tripoli's command.
The team also captured the Tripoli-based database of phone numbers, giving them information necessary to patch existing Libyana customers and phone numbers into their new system—which they dubbed "Free Libyana." The last piece of the puzzle was securing a satellite feed through which the Free Libyana calls could be routed—a solution provided by Etisalat, according to Benghazi officials.
Syria's Twitter spambots
As demonstrations rage on Arab streets, a different battle is happening on Twitter. In Morocco, Syria, Bahrain and Iran, pro-revolution users of the site have found themselves locked in a battle of the hashtags as Twitter accounts with a pro-government message are quickly created to counter the prevailing narrative. Deemed a revolutionary tool in many of the region's uprisings, Twitter has been used to great acclaim for disseminating news and images, often from the ground. In Egypt, where Twitter users number in the tens of thousands, tweets using the hashtag #Jan25 from Tahrir Square helped paint a picture through weeks of demonstrations. Elsewhere across the region and beyond, observers and even journalists turn to Twitter to get a handle on what's happening in the streets.
Though often a tool for good, Twitter can be used by anyone for virtually any purpose. Journalist Nick Kristof incurred the wrath of the Twitter masses after covering stories of protesters in Bahrain being attacked by police forces. During Morocco's 20 February protests, pro-monarchy tweets targeted anyone using the #Feb20 hashtag. And back in 2009, reports abounded of Twitter being used to throw off supporters of Iran's green movement.
The latest news comes from Syria, where Twitter use remains low despite – until recently – a ban on certain other social networks, including Facebook. Nevertheless, Syria's dedicated Twitter users have taken to the microblogging site to post news, images and photos of the demonstrations taking place across the country. Using the hashtags #Syria, #Daraa and #Mar15, they've managed to bring attention to a movement – and ensuing crackdowns from security forces – that hasn't seen much global media attention.
Twitter users have to contend with competing interests as protests continue elsewhere in the region, but also with a cabal of pro-regime accounts, set up recently for the sole purpose of flooding the #Syria hashtag and overwhelming the pro-revolution narrative. As the Syrian blogger Anas Qtiesh writes, "These accounts were believed to be manned by Syrian mokhabarat (intelligence) agents with poor command of both written Arabic and English, and an endless arsenal of bite and insults." These accounts, run by individuals, harassed users but had little effect on the hashtag search. Another set of accounts, however, managed to inundate the #Syria tag. Using a Bahraini company, EGHNA, bots are sending messages – sometimes several a minute – using various Syria-related search terms. Under the heading "Success stories", the EGNHA website says:
"LovelySyria is using EGHNA Media Server to promote interesting photography about Syria using their Twitter accounts. EGHNA Media Server helped LovelySyria get attention to the beauty of Syria, and build a community of people who love the country and admire its beauty. Some of their network members started translating photo descriptions and rebroadcasting them to give the Syrian beauty more exposure. LovelySyria is using their own installation of EGHNA Ad Center to generate the Twitter messages, their current schedule is two messages every five minutes."
Nevertheless, although Twitter shies away from moderating content and removing users, the search functionality favours users with a complete username, profile and photograph, and users who automate their tweets can be removed from search.
After numerous complaints, that's exactly what has happened to the #Syria bots. Though they can still be viewed by their followers and those who input the URL directly, Syrian hashtag searches – vital to many hoping to gain firsthand news from the country – are no longer flooded with links to photographs and football stats. Syrians still face numerous obstacles online – from the fear of security forces infiltrating their accounts, to the red lines placed on free speech – but this one small victory means that, in the battle for narrative at least, they've won.
U.S. denies support for Syrian opposition tantamount to regime change
The State Department denies it is seeking to undermine the regime of Syrian President Bahsar al-Assad, despite the revelation in diplomatic cables unveiled by WikiLeaks that it is financing groups seeking to overthrow him. The cables, first reported by the Washington Post, reveal the State Department disbursed at least $6 million for anti-government programs inside Syria, with the money going to a group of Syrian exiles, living in London, called the Movement for Justice and Development. It has also supported the reformist satellite channel Barada TV.
Malik al-Abdeh, Barada TV's editor in chief, called the channel "a platform for Syrians to air their grievances about their government, to promote democratic awareness, empower civil society, highlight human rights abuses and break the regime's stranglehold on media and give Syrians a voice." Although Abdeh is on the board of the Movement for Justice and Development and his brother is the director, he insists there is no connection between Barada TV and the group.
The source said that the U.S. government currently is providing technical support to the group, including providing bandwidth and access to satellites in order to broadcast. Iranians have started blocking the network at the behest of the Syrians, the source said. Abdeh denied the U.S. government is providing such support and said the channel broadcasts on a commercial satellite. Acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner declined to discuss specific activities Washington was undertaking with the Syrian opposition but said they were "no different" than similar democracy and governance programs the United States was undertaking in democratic countries around the world.
"We're not working to undermine that government," Toner said. "What we are trying to do in Syria, through our civil society support, is to build the kind of democratic institutions, frankly, that we're trying to do in countries around the globe. What's different, I think, in this situation is that the Syrian government perceives this kind of assistance as a threat to its control over the Syrian people."
According to the diplomatic cables, the assistance began in 2005 under President George W. Bush and continued under the Obama administration, although it is unclear to what extent U.S. funding is still being given to Syrian opposition figures. The Obama administration has sought to engage the al-Assad regime and appointed an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in six years. Although the administration has condemned the brutality of Syrian security forces on protestors, Washington has not called for al-Assad to step down from power. According to the WikiLeaks cables published by the Washington Post, the U.S. embassy in 2009 voiced concern that President Barack Obama's efforts to engage al-Assad would be in jeopardy as a result of the U.S. activities with opposition groups.
Syrian officials "would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change," read a diplomatic cable from April 2009. "A reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive," the cable said, adding the U.S. needed to "bring our U.S.-sponsored civil society and human rights programming into line a less confrontational bilateral relationship."Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/04/18/us.syria.opposition/index.html?hpt=T2
In an apparent attempt to bolster the Syrian government’s claim that this week’s protests were the result of a foreign plot, Syrian state television has broadcast what it called a “confession” by an Egyptian-American who was detained in Damascus on Friday. The official Syrian state news agency reported that Muhammed Radwan, an Egyptian-America engineer who has worked in Syria for about a year, “said that he visited Israel in secret and confessed to receiving money from abroad in exchange for sending photos and videos about Syria.” The report also claimed that “a Spanish-speaking person from Columbia” had contacted Mr. Radwan “because he lived in Syria and carries a camera-equipped mobile phone” and offered to pay him 100 Egyptian pounds (about $16) in return for photographs and video.
One of Mr. Radwan’s cousins in Egypt, Nora Shalaby, told The Lede by e-mail on Saturday that the Syrian report is “all lies. He has never been to Israel, and he does not speak Spanish.” Ms. Shalaby added that Mr. Radwan, who was educated in the United States and took part in protests in Cairo last month, posted an update on his @battutta Twitter feed from his phone on Friday suggesting that he was observing a protest at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. As The Lede reported on Friday, another American, Tik Root, a college student from Vermont studying Arabic in Damascus, was arrested by the Syrian government during a previous protest on March 18 in the Umayyad Mosque. The State Department told The Associated Press on Saturday that it was looking into the reported arrests. In recent weeks, Mr. Radwan had posted a small number of updates on Twitter about the growing unrest in Syria.
Unlike the revolts in Egypt, Tunisia and even Libya, which were televised to the world, Syria’s revolt is distinguished by the power of a self-styled vanguard abroad to ferry out images and news that are anarchic and illuminating, if incomplete. For weeks now, the small number of activists, spanning the Middle East, Europe and the United States, have coordinated across almost every time zone and managed to smuggle hundreds of satellite and mobile phones, modems, laptops and cameras into Syria. There, compatriots elude surveillance with e-mailed software and upload videos on dial-up connections. Their work has ensured what was once impossible.
In 1982, Syria’s government managed to hide, for a time, its massacre of at least 10,000 people in Hama in a brutal crackdown of an Islamist revolt. But Saturday, the world could witness, in almost real time, the chants of anger and cries for the fallen as security forces fired on the funerals for Friday’s dead. The activists have staggered the government of President Bashar al-Assad, forcing it to face the reality that it has almost entirely ceded the narrative of the revolt to its opponents at home and abroad. “The government’s paranoid style has become obvious,” said Joshua Landis, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma. “These activists have completely flipped the balance of power on the regime, and that’s all due to social media.”
Still, though few question the breadth of the uprising, there are differences on its depth in towns and cities. Cyberactivists outside of Syria fashion slogans of unity for a revolt that the government insists is inspired by militant Islamists. The voices of protesters smuggled abroad have drowned out the sentiments of the president’s supporters, who include the prosperous elite and frightened minorities of Christians and heterodox Muslim sects.
Mr. Nakhle, 28, finds himself in an unlikely locale to wage that contest. Imbued with youthful idealism, he left his hometown in 2006 for Damascus, where he discovered the Internet. “A completely new world for me,” he called it, and he soon broadened his activism with Internet campaigns to free political prisoners and, more dramatically, end Syria’s equivalent of martial law. He came up with a pseudonym, Malath Aumran — an inside joke based on family nicknames — and came up with a portrait for Twitter and Facebook that was a composite photograph of 32 men.
By last December, the secret police were pursuing him. “That’s all they need — suspicions,” he said. In a harrowing journey the next month, smugglers on motorcycles carried him to the border, where he narrowly escaped the police and spent the night in a rocky valley before making his way to a working-class neighborhood here. Frills are few; in a sparse apartment, cigarettes, tea, Nescafé, sugar and a drink from boiled leaves of yerba maté crowd his coffee table. “I’m a cyberactivist,” he said. “As long as I have the Internet, that’s it.”
Gaunt and with bloodshot blue-green eyes, Mr. Nakhle navigated a cascade of information Friday — a frenetic conversation on Skype with 15 people in Syria, a snippet of video from Tartus, a phone call from a friend in Damascus, and queries from journalists for contacts in remote towns. Someone he believed to be a secret police officer flashed him a taunting message: “There is news that a member of your family has been taken by security services.” Mr. Nakhle changed the sim card on his phone and called home, without taking his eyes off his computer screen. The news proved false. A message came in via Skype that a protest was dispersed in Aleppo. “I won’t publish this one,” he said knowingly.
Mr. Nakhle is part of a network that literally spans the globe, whose members include a Syrian-American woman in Chicago who said she grew tired of simply watching Al Jazeera and Ausama Monajed, a Damascus-born activist in London who drives with his Internet-enabled laptop open in the passenger seat, running speech-to-text software. Mr. Monajed estimates that 18 to 20 people are engaged in helping coordinate and cover the protests full time, though he boasts that he can find someone in his broader community to translate English to French at 4 a.m. He has a contact in every Syrian province, who in turn have their networks of 10 people. “And the regime can’t do anything about it,” he said.
Several say they relied on Syrian businessmen — abroad or in Syria — to finance one of their most impressive feats. After witnessing the Egyptian government’s success in shutting down the Internet and mobile phone networks in January, they made a concerted attempt to circumvent a similar move by delivering satellite phones and modems across Syria. Ammar Abdulhamid, an activist in Maryland, estimated that they delivered 100 satellite phones, along with hundreds of cameras and laptops.
The impromptu network has been allowed to guide events against a government that hews to the Soviet-era notion of Information Ministries and communiqués. A Facebook page called Syria Revolution, administered from abroad, has become the pulpit for the revolt — its statements de facto policy of the uprising. Mr. Nakhle said he had urged people to use slogans that are free of the sectarian or religious bent popular with Islamic activists. “We have to worry about these people,” he admitted.
The unprecedented power of the long-distance activists to shape the message troubled Camille Otrakji, a Damascus-born political blogger who lives in Montreal. Where others see coordination, he sees manipulation, arguing that the activists’ mastery of image belies a revolt more sectarian than national, and deaf to the fears of minorities. “I call it deception,” said Mr. Otrakji, a somewhat lonely voice in the Internet tumult. “It’s like putting something on the wrapping of a product which has nothing to do with what’s inside. This is all being manipulated.”Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/24/world/middleeast/24beirut.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=syria%20internet&st=cse
Omran, 28, fled to Lebanon a few months ago, after learning that orders for his arrest had been issued by the Syrian security services which had questioned him on several occasions over his Internet activities. "From the first day people took to the streets with one goal in mind, the fall of the regime... but because there were few protesters at first they were afraid of announcing it openly," he told AFP. "But as the numbers grew the fear factor was broken and the fall of the regime became the slogan and the demand" of demonstrators, according to the activist. His comments came just hours after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signed decrees ending nearly five decades of emergency law, abolishing state security courts and allowing citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations.
The moves are aimed at placating more than a month of unprecedented protests across Syria. Amnesty International says about 220 people have been killed in a crackdown on the protests, which first broke out in the capital on March 15. But for Omran, 28, who has more than 2,800 friends on the social network Facebook and more than 3,000 followers on Twitter, Assad's decrees and the unveiling of a new government tasked with promoting reforms are "useless." "How will the new government be of any use, when we all know that governments in Syria only implement the orders of the intelligence services?" he asked.
Recent protests in Iran have failed to gain traction -- despite growing demonstrations in neighboring countries and Iran's own 2009 massive protest movement. What's the status of the Iranian opposition movement, what challenges does it face and could a regime change ever happen peacefully? A blogger from Iran weighs in. Peyman Bagheri is a blogger whose articles against the Iranian government have prompted him to flee his native land for fear of being arrested and imprisoned. He recently spoke via phone from Europe with CNN's Asieh Namdar.
Are you surprised the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt failed to galvanize Iranian activists to take to the streets on levels similar to what we saw in 2009? What's the status of the opposition movement in Iran?
The bitter reality is Iranians are more worried about the economy, jobs and putting food on the table for their families. The economy is in shambles. It's difficult for Iranians to think about protesting and putting their lives at risk, when they are just trying to survive. Many are barely making it. Simply put, the events seen around the world are taking a back burner to real issues at home. The opposition movement is alive but underground. People are afraid of violence, of getting thrown in jail. Activists are spreading their messages through social networks. Lately, they've started writing anti-government slogans on the walls. So to answer your question, the opposition movement is there, just not visible to your eyes.
What's the biggest problem with Iran's opposition movement?
The biggest problem is that there is no clear leader who can unite and please everyone. Even among activists, there's no consensus on how to move forward. No unity, no organization. But the movement has been successful in some ways. The regime has weakened, and facing political, social and economic crisis. I think it's just a matter of time that this regime will collapse.
When do you think that could happen?
Nobody knows for sure. Right now it's going downhill. Internally, there's a lot of division and infighting among high-ranking leaders. The system is starting to fall apart from within. In my opinion, when it happens, regime change in Iran will not happen peacefully. In most cases, autocratic regimes and dictators can't share power with anyone. They are paranoid, and paranoia leads to more repression.
Why did you flee from Iran this year?
I've written more than 50 articles against the government in the past two years. Somebody didn't like my blogs. I was threatened on the phone. The person who called said he'd report me to the government if I continued my writing. I don't know who it was. My home was under surveillance, I felt I was a target. I said to myself, "It's time to go."
Tell us about the open letter you wrote on one of your blogs to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It was one of the most visited blog posts I've ever written. I questioned the legitimacy of his leadership, and the human rights abuses. I asked him "what kind of leader are you?" I wrote about how, while he might be able to rule with terror and fear, that won't last forever because he doesn't have people's hearts on his side.
Do you know any bloggers who are in jail now?
I know of two. [One] was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2009. [Another] vanished a month ago; no one has heard of him. He's probably in jail. Bloggers, if caught, normally get up to 20 years. Between 60 and 70 bloggers are currently in jail awaiting trials.
Iranian media covered events in Egypt with praise -- but no mention of the protests in Syria why?
Iran and Syria are powerful allies. Iran will not condemn the crackdown, and in this case even acknowledge them. The two countries have deep roots, are very close. You won't find news about Syria on state-run TV, since it's all filtered. Egypt had very close ties with the U.S. so no surprise for Iran to call government critics and protesters there "heroes."
What needs to happen for us to see a peaceful change towards secular democracy in Iran?
In my opinion, change in Iran can't happen peacefully. Dictators fight till the end. The only peaceful option is reform within the system. But real reform could mean the beginning of the end for this regime. This is why the government can't accept any kind of genuine reform. It would open the door to bigger things, maybe another revolt.
Do you want to return to Iran someday?
Yes, but not now. They'll arrest and throw me in jail. The regime is threatened by bloggers like me, who're spreading the message through words and blogs. They are afraid of their intellectual influence on people. They see us as a huge threat. ... As long as this government is in power, I will not see my homeland. I should add four of my blogs are completely shutdown --- I can't access any of them. For the government, this is absolute proof of my guilt.
In one sentence, can you give us a glimpse of life in Iran for the younger generation?
I can describe it in two words: "hell" and "hopelessness."
The First Twitter Revolution?
Friday evening, Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali boarded a jet for Malta, leaving his prime minister to face streets filled with protesters demanding a change of government in the North African country. The protests began weeks earlier in the central city of Sidi Bouzid, sparked by the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate whose informal vegetable stall was shuttered by the police. His despair exemplified the frustration that many Tunisians felt with their contracting economy, high levels of unemployment and inequality, censored media and Internet, and widespread corruption. Protests spread from city to city, with trade unions, lawyers, and countless unemployed Tunisian youth demanding a change to an economic system that appeared to benefit a small number of families close to power and leave ordinary citizens behind.
As the protests intensified, Ben Ali offered concessions to his people: 23 years into his reign, he agreed to step down in 2014. He ordered the security police to stop using live ammunition on protesters after nearly 70 had been killed, cut the price of basic foodstuffs, and promised to allow a freer media and end Internet censorship. This morning, as pressures increased, he offered new elections within six months. But all that failed to placate the crowds, who finally got what they wanted later in the day: a Tunisia sans Ben Ali.
While the future of Tunisia's governance is extremely uncertain at present, it seems we've witnessed the rarest of phenomena, a popular revolt toppling an Arab dictator. Audiences in the Arab world have been glued to Al Jazeera, which has covered the protests closely. Many states in the region suffer from the same problems -- unemployment, slow growth, corrupt government, aging dictators -- that brought Tunisians into the streets. Protesters have taken to the streets in Algeria and Jordan, demanding jobs and affordable food. Whether these protests erupt into the revolution Tunisia is experiencing is impossible to know. What's clear is that the actions taken by Tunisians are reverberating around the region.
Outside the Middle East and the Francophone media sphere, the events in Tunisia have gotten little attention, certainly not the breathless, 24-hour coverage devoted to 2009's Iranian election protests. When the protests began in Sidi Bouzid, much of the English-speaking world was focused on the Christmas and New Year's holidays. As protests in Tunis heated up, U.S. eyeballs were focused on the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Had the Tunisian protests hit during a slow news month, it's still unlikely they would have been followed as closely as events in Iran, which is larger, of greater international security concern, and has a large, media-savvy diaspora who helped promote the 2009 protests to an international audience.
Iran's diaspora was especially effective at promoting the Green Movement to an online audience that followed tweets, Facebook posts, and web videos avidly, hungry for news from the front lines of the struggle. Tens of thousands of Twitter users turned their profile pictures green in solidarity with the activists, and hundreds set up proxy servers to help Iranians evade Internet filters. For users of social media, the protests in Iran were an inescapable, global story. Tunisia, by contrast, hasn't seen nearly the attention or support from the online community.
The irony is that social media likely played a significant role in the events that have unfolded in the past month in Tunisia, and that the revolution appears far more likely to lead to lasting political change. Ben Ali's government tightly controlled all forms of media, on and offline. Reporters were prevented from traveling to cover protests in Sidi Bouzid, and the reports from official media characterized events as either vandalism or terrorism. Tunisians got an alternative picture from Facebook, which remained uncensored through the protests, and they communicated events to the rest of the world by posting videos to YouTube and Dailymotion. As unrest spread from Sidi Bouzid to Sfax, from Hammamet and ultimately to Tunis, Tunisians documented events on Facebook. As others followed their updates, it's likely that news of demonstrations in other parts of the country disseminated online helped others conclude that it was time to take to the streets. And the videos and accounts published to social media sites offered an ongoing picture of the protests to those around the world savvy enough to be paying attention.
One way to understand the significance of social media in Tunisia is to examine the government's attempts to control and silence it. Tunisia has aggressively censored the Internet since 2005, blocking not just explicitly political sites, but social media sites like video-sharing service Dailymotion. Video-sharing sites were a special target of government censors because Tunisian activists are extremely tech-savvy and had released provocative videos online, including one that documented the first lady's frequent shopping trips to Europe using the presidential jet.
Not content just to filter content, last summer Tunisian authorities began "phishing" attacks on activists' Gmail and Facebook accounts. By injecting malicious computer code into the login page of those services through the government-controlled Internet service provider, Ben Ali's monitors were able to obtain passwords to these accounts, locking out the activists and harvesting email lists of presumed activists. When the riots intensified last week, the government began arresting prominent Internet activists, including my Global Voices colleague Slim Amamou, who had broken the story of the government's password phishing. (Amamou was released, apparently unharmed, Thursday night.)
But if the web was such a threat to the government's authority, why did the regime not block Facebook or shut down the Internet entirely? It's critical to understand that Ben Ali was, first and foremost, a pragmatist. As late as Friday morning, he was looking for a solution that would allow him to remain in power, offering concessions in the hope of placating protesters. Internet censorship was already one of the grievances protesters had aired -- when Ben Ali offered concessions to protesters Thursday, loosening the reins was one of the promises that were warmly, if skeptically received.
Pundits will likely start celebrating a "Twitter revolution" in Tunisia, even if they missed watching it unfold; the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan already revived the dreaded phrase Thursday. Others are seeking connections between unfolding events and a WikiLeaks cable that showed U.S. diplomats' frustration with Ben Ali, and with denial-of-service attacks by online activist group Anonymous, which has been targeting entities that have tried to stop the dissemination of WikiLeaks cables, like the Tunisian government. But any attempt to credit a massive political shift to a single factor -- technological, economic, or otherwise -- is simply untrue. Tunisians took to the streets due to decades of frustration, not in reaction to a WikiLeaks cable, a denial-of-service attack, or a Facebook update.
But as we learn more about the events of the past few weeks, we'll discover that online media did play a role in helping Tunisians learn about the actions their fellow citizens were taking and in making the decision to mobilize. How powerful and significant this influence was will be something that academics will study and argue over for years to come. Scholars aren't the only ones who want to know whether social media played a role in the end of Ben Ali's reign -- it's likely to be a hot topic of conversation in Amman, Algiers, and Cairo, as other autocratic leaders wonder whether the bubbling cauldron of unemployment, street protests, and digital media could burn them next.
Egypt's Facebook Revolution: Wael Ghonim Thanks The Social Network
Shortly after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power on Friday, activist Wael Ghonim spoke with CNN's Wolf Blitzer and credited Facebook with the success of the Egyptian people's uprising. Ghonim, a marketing manager for Google, played a key role in organizing the January 25 protest by reaching out to Egyptian youths on Facebook. Shortly after that first protest, Ghonim was arrested in Cairo and imprisoned for 12 days. Since his release, Ghonim has become a symbol for the Egyptian movement, although he has rejected this notion. "I'm not a hero. I was writing on a keyboard on the Internet and I wasn't exposing my life to danger," he said in an interview immediately after his release. "The heroes are the one who are in the street." On Friday, Ghonim told CNN that Facebook and the Internet were responsible for the uprising in Egypt. From the interview:
I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him [...] I'm talking on behalf of Egypt. [...] This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. This revolution started [...] in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I've always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet. [...]
Listen to the rest of the interview (below), which is played over video of rejoicing in Tahrir Square. For the latest updates from Egypt, visit our live blog.WATCH: [via All Facebook]
According to Iskandaryan, the events taking place are not only a single phenomenon. “In different Arab countries, there are very different factors and these can’t be presented as a single phenomenon. A social revolt is taking place in Egypt which is due to the grain price increase, and Egypt is that country where 30% of the population has received subsidies for its bread supply.
“In Yemen, there are disagreements between the north and the south, which has always existed, and after unification, it became so that the political elite represents one part of Yemen while the other part feels offended.” As for events in Libya, Iskandaryan called them “inter-community [tribal] wars.”
These events unite only the “United Information Space, Al Jazeera,” he said. The Armenian media present the aforementioned events, according to the analyst, as something general: “Look here, people are fighting against the regime.” He also stressed the importance of what’s happened, since “that region is not far from Armenia and there are Armenians living there too.”