Last night I guest lectured in Stephen Tankel’s class on Al Qaida and information operations. We were discussing AQ’s lack of television stations and one student noted that the convergence between television and the Internet will probably solve that problem for Al Qaida (or its successors) in the medium term. After all Al Qaida has a robust presence on the Internet. I thought that was a very interesting point. Straight to the head of the class!
PBS’ Frontline is broadcasting a really excellent show about Wikileaks and Bradley Manning. HOWEVER…they just strongly implied that a batch of a dozen State Department cables about corruption in Tunisia that Wikileaks released helped spark the uprisings in Tunisia and hence the whole Arab Spring movement.
Is there any real evidence for this? Surely the people of Tunisia knew that their government was corrupt. I can’t imagine that they needed Wikileaks to tell them that the State Department thought there was corruption at work before they got it.
To me this sounds like another case of people making the United States out to be more powerful than it is and denying agency to people elsewhere in the world.
Given that Leah Farrall is in Australia, I’m alarmed that I’m awake when she is posting, but she’s got a very interesting piece up about the recent toner cartridge bomb plot and what it says about the relationship between Al Qaida and Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Check it out.
Also, there’s a nifty rant against the “Shaykhs of the Religious Satellite (Channels) and Their War Against the Advocates of Islamic Forums” on the Ansar al-Jihad English language forum. This article is just the latest piece to show how the jihadists are, from their point of view, very much isolated within the Islamic world.
Meanwhile, there’s a delightful new piece of “jihadist strategic studies” just out that I will be blogging about tomorrow, inshallah. And when I say “tomorrow,” I mean later today. Sigh.
I just ran across a devastating satirical video about Israel’s efforts to get kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit back from Hamas.
It’s well worth looking at and it adds an interesting perspective to the ongoing debate about whether social media such as Facebook empower the forces of liberalism (note the small “l”) at the expense of the forces of oppression, aggression, and reaction or vice versa. The debate has largely focused on how social media affect the interaction between opposition groups and governments. However, this video points out that social media can also affect the interaction between governments and other governments (or government-like entities such as Hamas) by tying the hands of the more liberal party.
Also at INFOWARCON, I heard a very interesting but lamentably short talk by Austin Heap, the founder of Haystack, a small company in San Francisco that is a spin-off of the Censorship Research Center. Haystack’s product is software which can be run off of a flash drive or a CD so that nothing incriminating is on the hard drive. It allows Iranians to surf the Web freely.
Haystack put extensive research into determining precisely how the Iranian government filters the web and has designed the software specifically to counter those measures. In broad terms, Haystack’s software both encrypts signals and hides them inside innocuous-looking traffic. Austin says that he is prepared for the Iranian government to adjust its filtering in response to Haystack’s efforts and that he has another generation or two of strategies ready to roll out when that happens.
Haystack is also preparing software for two additional countries, which he named to me when I chatted with him after his talk. However, I noticed that he declined to name them on NPR, so I shan’t here. Suffice to say, that one of them is in the news a lot. Haystack’s efforts there could turn out to be of very important to American national securityover the long term. Right now, Haystack is in the research phase, determining how each of these countries do their filtering, so it will be a good while before the new software makes its appearance.
If you want to get a sense of Austin’s talk at INFOWARCON, you can listen to him on NPR’s “On the Media” where he also appeared last weekend. I’ve got to say that watching this guy–a kid, really–in his blue jeans, long hair, sunglasses pushed up on his head talking from notes on his i-Phone standing in front of a room of military officers, defense contractors, and assorted inside-the-Beltway types made me proud to be an American.
I can’t mention this topic without pointing to the work of Evgeny Morozov, a native of the bastion of democracy known as Belarus (ha!), who is deeply skeptical about the democratizing power of the Web. Frankly, I don’t agree with him, but his arguments cannot be ignored in this context. See, for instance, his “How Dictators Watch Us On the Web.” At base, Morozov’s argument is that the Web (and new media generally) do provide useful tools for dissidents but that it enables government repression to an even greater extent, primarily by giving the government sources of intelligence about the identity of dissidents and the links among them.