[p2p-hackers] NYT on "Internet in a Suitcase" for dissidents

Julian Cain julian at junglecat.org
Sun Jun 12 20:46:26 EDT 2011

On Jun 12, 2011, at 8:26 PM, David Barrett <dbarrett at quinthar.com> wrote:

> Anyway, interesting challenge to consider.  Especially since as Julian 
> claims we'll all be using it ourselves shortly enough.

You may trust our government but I don't. I also do not trust corporations as they are one in the same. Remember I said this and look back in five years. They have the headstart. Prepare.

> -david
> On 06/12/2011 04:56 PM, Julian Cain wrote:
>> Yes. If we don't do this same activity in the USA we will find ourselves unable to speak one day. The Internet isn't free anymore. It's corporate controlled. If your asleep wake up. :-)
>> On Jun 12, 2011, at 7:25 PM, David Barrett<dbarrett at quinthar.com>  wrote:
>>> Thanks Julian, care to comment on the technology elements or any of the
>>> factual items in the article?
>>> -david
>>> On 06/12/2011 04:11 PM, Julian Cain wrote:
>>>> The Obama administration helping dissidents? That's a lie. He's doing the opposite. Sheeple
>>>> On Jun 12, 2011, at 5:47 PM, David Barrett<dbarrett at quinthar.com>   wrote:
>>>>> Anybody know anything about this?  Sounds cool!
>>>>> -david
>>>>> http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/12/world/12internet.html?_r=1
>>>>> The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy “shadow”
>>>>> Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine
>>>>> repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or
>>>>> shutting down telecommunications networks.
>>>>> Multimedia
>>>>> Slide Show
>>>>> Technology for ‘Shadow’ Internet Networks
>>>>> Graphic
>>>>> Creating a Stealth Internet
>>>>> The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cellphone
>>>>> networks inside foreign countries, as well as one operation out of a spy
>>>>> novel in a fifth-floor shop on L Street in Washington, where a group of
>>>>> young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are
>>>>> fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet
>>>>> in a suitcase.”
>>>>> Financed with a $2 million State Department grant, the suitcase could be
>>>>> secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless
>>>>> communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet.
>>>>> The American effort, revealed in dozens of interviews, planning
>>>>> documents and classified diplomatic cables obtained by The New York
>>>>> Times, ranges in scale, cost and sophistication.
>>>>> Some projects involve technology that the United States is developing;
>>>>> others pull together tools that have already been created by hackers in
>>>>> a so-called liberation-technology movement sweeping the globe.
>>>>> The State Department, for example, is financing the creation of stealth
>>>>> wireless networks that would enable activists to communicate outside the
>>>>> reach of governments in countries like Iran, Syria and Libya, according
>>>>> to participants in the projects.
>>>>> In one of the most ambitious efforts, United States officials say, the
>>>>> State Department and Pentagon have spent at least $50 million to create
>>>>> an independent cellphone network in Afghanistan using towers on
>>>>> protected military bases inside the country. It is intended to offset
>>>>> the Taliban’s ability to shut down the official Afghan services,
>>>>> seemingly at will.
>>>>> The effort has picked up momentum since the government of President
>>>>> Hosni Mubarak shut down the Egyptian Internet in the last days of his
>>>>> rule. In recent days, the Syrian government also temporarily disabled
>>>>> much of that country’s Internet, which had helped protesters mobilize.
>>>>> The Obama administration’s initiative is in one sense a new front in a
>>>>> longstanding diplomatic push to defend free speech and nurture
>>>>> democracy. For decades, the United States has sent radio broadcasts into
>>>>> autocratic countries through Voice of America and other means. More
>>>>> recently, Washington has supported the development of software that
>>>>> preserves the anonymity of users in places like China, and training for
>>>>> citizens who want to pass information along the government-owned
>>>>> Internet without getting caught.
>>>>> But the latest initiative depends on creating entirely separate pathways
>>>>> for communication. It has brought together an improbable alliance of
>>>>> diplomats and military engineers, young programmers and dissidents from
>>>>> at least a dozen countries, many of whom variously describe the new
>>>>> approach as more audacious and clever and, yes, cooler.
>>>>> Sometimes the State Department is simply taking advantage of
>>>>> enterprising dissidents who have found ways to get around government
>>>>> censorship. American diplomats are meeting with operatives who have been
>>>>> burying Chinese cellphones in the hills near the border with North
>>>>> Korea, where they can be dug up and used to make furtive calls,
>>>>> according to interviews and the diplomatic cables.
>>>>> The new initiatives have found a champion in Secretary of State Hillary
>>>>> Rodham Clinton, whose department is spearheading the American effort.
>>>>> “We see more and more people around the globe using the Internet, mobile
>>>>> phones and other technologies to make their voices heard as they protest
>>>>> against injustice and seek to realize their aspirations,” Mrs. Clinton
>>>>> said in an e-mail response to a query on the topic. “There is a historic
>>>>> opportunity to effect positive change, change America supports,” she
>>>>> said. “So we’re focused on helping them do that, on helping them talk to
>>>>> each other, to their communities, to their governments and to the world.”
>>>>> Developers caution that independent networks come with downsides:
>>>>> repressive governments could use surveillance to pinpoint and arrest
>>>>> activists who use the technology or simply catch them bringing hardware
>>>>> across the border. But others believe that the risks are outweighed by
>>>>> the potential impact. “We’re going to build a separate infrastructure
>>>>> where the technology is nearly impossible to shut down, to control, to
>>>>> surveil,” said Sascha Meinrath, who is leading the “Internet in a
>>>>> suitcase” project as director of the Open Technology Initiative at the
>>>>> New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.
>>>>> “The implication is that this disempowers central authorities from
>>>>> infringing on people’s fundamental human right to communicate,” Mr.
>>>>> Meinrath added.
>>>>> The Invisible Web
>>>>> In an anonymous office building on L Street in Washington, four unlikely
>>>>> State Department contractors sat around a table. Josh King, sporting
>>>>> multiple ear piercings and a studded leather wristband, taught himself
>>>>> programming while working as a barista. Thomas Gideon was an
>>>>> accomplished hacker. Dan Meredith, a bicycle polo enthusiast, helped
>>>>> companies protect their digital secrets.
>>>>> Then there was Mr. Meinrath, wearing a tie as the dean of the group at
>>>>> age 37. He has a master’s degree in psychology and helped set up
>>>>> wireless networks in underserved communities in Detroit and Philadelphia.
>>>>> The group’s suitcase project will rely on a version of “mesh network”
>>>>> technology, which can transform devices like cellphones or personal
>>>>> computers to create an invisible wireless web without a centralized hub.
>>>>> In other words, a voice, picture or e-mail message could hop directly
>>>>> between the modified wireless devices — each one acting as a mini cell
>>>>> “tower” and phone — and bypass the official network.
>>>>> Mr. Meinrath said that the suitcase would include small wireless
>>>>> antennas, which could increase the area of coverage; a laptop to
>>>>> administer the system; thumb drives and CDs to spread the software to
>>>>> more devices and encrypt the communications; and other components like
>>>>> Ethernet cables.
>>>>> The project will also rely on the innovations of independent Internet
>>>>> and telecommunications developers.
>>>>> “The cool thing in this political context is that you cannot easily
>>>>> control it,” said Aaron Kaplan, an Austrian cybersecurity expert whose
>>>>> work will be used in the suitcase project. Mr. Kaplan has set up a
>>>>> functioning mesh network in Vienna and says related systems have
>>>>> operated in Venezuela, Indonesia and elsewhere.
>>>>> Mr. Meinrath said his team was focused on fitting the system into the
>>>>> bland-looking suitcase and making it simple to implement — by, say,
>>>>> using “pictograms” in the how-to manual.
>>>>> In addition to the Obama administration’s initiatives, there are almost
>>>>> a dozen independent ventures that also aim to make it possible for
>>>>> unskilled users to employ existing devices like laptops or smartphones
>>>>> to build a wireless network. One mesh network was created around
>>>>> Jalalabad, Afghanistan, as early as five years ago, using technology
>>>>> developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
>>>>> Creating simple lines of communication outside official ones is crucial,
>>>>> said Collin Anderson, a 26-year-old liberation-technology researcher
>>>>> from North Dakota who specializes in Iran, where the government all but
>>>>> shut down the Internet during protests in 2009. The slowdown made most
>>>>> “circumvention” technologies — the software legerdemain that helps
>>>>> dissidents sneak data along the state-controlled networks — nearly
>>>>> useless, he said.
>>>>> “No matter how much circumvention the protesters use, if the government
>>>>> slows the network down to a crawl, you can’t upload YouTube videos or
>>>>> Facebook postings,” Mr. Anderson said. “They need alternative ways of
>>>>> sharing information or alternative ways of getting it out of the country.”
>>>>> That need is so urgent, citizens are finding their own ways to set up
>>>>> rudimentary networks. Mehdi Yahyanejad, an Iranian expatriate and
>>>>> technology developer who co-founded a popular Persian-language Web site,
>>>>> estimates that nearly half the people who visit the site from inside
>>>>> Iran share files using Bluetooth — which is best known in the West for
>>>>> running wireless headsets and the like. In more closed societies,
>>>>> however, Bluetooth is used to discreetly beam information — a video, an
>>>>> electronic business card — directly from one cellphone to another.
>>>>> Mr. Yahyanejad said he and his research colleagues were also slated to
>>>>> receive State Department financing for a project that would modify
>>>>> Bluetooth so that a file containing, say, a video of a protester being
>>>>> beaten, could automatically jump from phone to phone within a “trusted
>>>>> network” of citizens. The system would be more limited than the suitcase
>>>>> but would only require the software modification on ordinary phones.
>>>>> By the end of 2011, the State Department will have spent some $70
>>>>> million on circumvention efforts and related technologies, according to
>>>>> department figures.
>>>>> Mrs. Clinton has made Internet freedom into a signature cause. But the
>>>>> State Department has carefully framed its support as promoting free
>>>>> speech and human rights for their own sake, not as a policy aimed at
>>>>> destabilizing autocratic governments.
>>>>> That distinction is difficult to maintain, said Clay Shirky, an
>>>>> assistant professor at New York University who studies the Internet and
>>>>> social media. “You can’t say, ‘All we want is for people to speak their
>>>>> minds, not bring down autocratic regimes’ — they’re the same thing,” Mr.
>>>>> Shirky said.
>>>>> He added that the United States could expose itself to charges of
>>>>> hypocrisy if the State Department maintained its support, tacit or
>>>>> otherwise, for autocratic governments running countries like Saudi
>>>>> Arabia or Bahrain while deploying technology that was likely to
>>>>> undermine them.
>>>>> Shadow Cellphone System
>>>>> In February 2009, Richard C. Holbrooke and Lt. Gen. John R. Allen were
>>>>> taking a helicopter tour over southern Afghanistan and getting a
>>>>> panoramic view of the cellphone towers dotting the remote countryside,
>>>>> according to two officials on the flight. By then, millions of Afghans
>>>>> were using cellphones, compared with a few thousand after the 2001
>>>>> invasion. Towers built by private companies had sprung up across the
>>>>> country. The United States had promoted the network as a way to
>>>>> cultivate good will and encourage local businesses in a country that in
>>>>> other ways looked as if it had not changed much in centuries.
>>>>> There was just one problem, General Allen told Mr. Holbrooke, who only
>>>>> weeks before had been appointed special envoy to the region. With a
>>>>> combination of threats to phone company officials and attacks on the
>>>>> towers, the Taliban was able to shut down the main network in the
>>>>> countryside virtually at will. Local residents report that the networks
>>>>> are often out from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m., presumably to enable the Taliban
>>>>> to carry out operations without being reported to security forces.
>>>>> The Pentagon and State Department were soon collaborating on the project
>>>>> to build a “shadow” cellphone system in a country where repressive
>>>>> forces exert control over the official network.
>>>>> Details of the network, which the military named the Palisades project,
>>>>> are scarce, but current and former military and civilian officials said
>>>>> it relied in part on cell towers placed on protected American bases. A
>>>>> large tower on the Kandahar air base serves as a base station or data
>>>>> collection point for the network, officials said.
>>>>> A senior United States official said the towers were close to being up
>>>>> and running in the south and described the effort as a kind of 911
>>>>> system that would be available to anyone with a cellphone.
>>>>> By shutting down cellphone service, the Taliban had found a potent
>>>>> strategic tool in its asymmetric battle with American and Afghan
>>>>> security forces.
>>>>> The United States is widely understood to use cellphone networks in
>>>>> Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries for intelligence gathering. And
>>>>> the ability to silence the network was also a powerful reminder to the
>>>>> local populace that the Taliban retained control over some of the most
>>>>> vital organs of the nation.
>>>>> When asked about the system, Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the
>>>>> American-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, would
>>>>> only confirm the existence of a project to create what he called an
>>>>> “expeditionary cellular communication service” in Afghanistan. He said
>>>>> the project was being carried out in collaboration with the Afghan
>>>>> government in order to “restore 24/7 cellular access.”
>>>>> “As of yet the program is not fully operational, so it would be
>>>>> premature to go into details,” Colonel Dorrian said.
>>>>> Colonel Dorrian declined to release cost figures. Estimates by United
>>>>> States military and civilian officials ranged widely, from $50 million
>>>>> to $250 million. A senior official said that Afghan officials, who
>>>>> anticipate taking over American bases when troops pull out, have
>>>>> insisted on an elaborate system. “The Afghans wanted the Cadillac plan,
>>>>> which is pretty expensive,” the official said.
>>>>> Broad Subversive Effort
>>>>> In May 2009, a North Korean defector named Kim met with officials at the
>>>>> American Consulate in Shenyang, a Chinese city about 120 miles from
>>>>> North Korea, according to a diplomatic cable. Officials wanted to know
>>>>> how Mr. Kim, who was active in smuggling others out of the country,
>>>>> communicated across the border. “Kim would not go into much detail,” the
>>>>> cable says, but did mention the burying of Chinese cellphones “on
>>>>> hillsides for people to dig up at night.” Mr. Kim said Dandong, China,
>>>>> and the surrounding Jilin Province “were natural gathering points for
>>>>> cross-border cellphone communication and for meeting sources.” The
>>>>> cellphones are able to pick up signals from towers in China, said Libby
>>>>> Liu, head of Radio Free Asia, the United States-financed broadcaster,
>>>>> who confirmed their existence and said her organization uses the calls
>>>>> to collect information for broadcasts as well.
>>>>> The effort, in what is perhaps the world’s most closed nation, suggests
>>>>> just how many independent actors are involved in the subversive efforts.
>>>>> From the activist geeks on L Street in Washington to the military
>>>>> engineers in Afghanistan, the global appeal of the technology hints at
>>>>> the craving for open communication.
>>>>> In a chat with a Times reporter via Facebook, Malik Ibrahim Sahad, the
>>>>> son of Libyan dissidents who largely grew up in suburban Virginia, said
>>>>> he was tapping into the Internet using a commercial satellite connection
>>>>> in Benghazi. “Internet is in dire need here. The people are cut off in
>>>>> that respect,” wrote Mr. Sahad, who had never been to Libya before the
>>>>> uprising and is now working in support of rebel authorities. Even so, he
>>>>> said, “I don’t think this revolution could have taken place without the
>>>>> existence of the World Wide Web.”
>>>>> Reporting was contributed by Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Andrew W. Lehren
>>>>> from New York, and Alissa J. Rubin and Sangar Rahimi from Kabul,
>>>>> Afghanistan.
>>>>> _______________________________________________
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