tagged w/ anon_operation
In one fell swoop, the candor of the cables released by WikiLeaks did more for Arab democracy than decades of backstage U.S. diplomacy.
Did the Wikileaked State Department cables that described Tunisia's deposed leader Zine el-Abedin Ben Ali as the head of a corrupt police state play any role in encouraging the democratic uprising against him -- and thus spark the wave of protests now spreading across Egypt?
I asked our experts at Human Rights Watch to canvass their sources in the country, and the consensus was that while Tunisians didn't need American diplomats to tell them how bad their government was, the cables did have an impact. The candid appraisal of Ben Ali by U.S. diplomats showed Tunisians that the rottenness of the regime was obvious not just to them but to the whole world -- and that it was a source of shame for Tunisia on an international stage. The cables also contradicted the prevailing view among Tunisians that Washington would back Ben Ali to the bloody end, giving them added impetus to take to the streets. They further delegitimized the Tunisian leader and boosted the morale of his opponents at a pivotal moment in the drama that unfolded over the last few weeks.
This point might not be worth dwelling on, except that it suggests something interesting about how the United States, and the State Department in particular, approaches the challenge of promoting human rights and democracy in countries like Tunisia. Consider the following proposition: None of the decent, principled, conscientious, but behind the scenes efforts the State Department made in recent years to persuade the Tunisian government to relax its authoritarian grip -- mostly through diplomatic démarches and meetings with top Tunisian officials -- had any significant impact on the Ben Ali regime's behavior or increased the likelihood of democratic change. Nor did the many quiet U.S. programs of outreach to Tunisian society, cultural exchanges and the like, even if Tunisians appreciated them and they will bear fruit as the country democratizes.
Instead, the one thing that did seem to have some impact was a public statement exposing what the United States really thought about the Ben Ali regime: a statement that was vivid, honest, raw, undiplomatic, extremely well-timed -- and completely inadvertent.
Had anyone at the State Department proposed deliberately making a statement along the lines of what appears in the cables, they would have been booted out of Foggy Bottom as quickly as you can say "we value our multifaceted relationship with the GOT." Most State Department professionals have long believed that explicit public criticism of repressive governments does little more than make the critic feel good. They argue that real progress toward ending human rights abuses or corruption in countries with which the United States has important relationships, like Egypt or Pakistan or Indonesia, is more likely to come when such problems are raised behind closed doors.
Indeed, one of the most delightful ironies of the leaked Tunisia cables is that they make precisely this argument. One missive -- after laying out more juicy details about how and why Ben Ali had "lost touch with the Tunisian people" (the very commentary that, when publicly revealed, actually seemed to affect the situation on the ground) -- concluded that the U.S. should "dial back the public criticism" and replace it with "frequent high-level private candor."
At least in Tunisia, the State Department did not disavow its condemnation of the Ben Ali government after its publication. Elsewhere, officials rushed to deny the obvious. In Sri Lanka, a leaked embassy cable "revealed" the supposedly stunning insight that the country's leaders can't be counted on to prosecute those who committed war crimes in their recently ended fight with the Tamil Tiger rebels, since the leaders were themselves responsible for those crimes. This only confirmed what everyone knew the U.S. government knew about Sri Lanka. Yet the U.S. embassy in Colombo issued a public statement trying to take it back.
American diplomats have many reasons to avoid saying publicly what they think privately about their less savory partners. An obvious and logical one is that they want to preserve relationships that are necessary to advance other U.S. goals -- securing Egypt's support for the Middle East peace process, for example, or shoring up Ethiopia's cooperation in fighting terrorism, or getting Kyrgyzstan's assent to hosting a U.S. military base.
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~In one fell swoop, the candor of the cables released by WikiLeaks did more for Arab... more
By Marius Bosch and Georgina Prodhan
JOHANNESBURG/LONDON (Reuters) - If anyone needed proof that cyber activists can create havoc in the real world, the last few weeks have provided evidence in megabytes.
Rallying behind WikiLeaks, the thousands of internet activists who made headlines in December by bringing down the websites of MasterCard and Visa have been branching out.
Operating under the banner "Anonymous", their other forms of action have included hacker defacements of websites, real-life protests such as mass leafleting, and a role in Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution".
Anonymous activists attacked and shut down several government websites before the ouster of former President Zine al Abedine Ben Ali. They have also targeted governments they see as enemies of free speech. Last month the website of Zimbabwe's finance ministry was hacked and the homepage replaced by a message from Anonymous.
A report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) this week said such attacks on computer systems are unlikely to cause a global shock on their own, though could do if launched in the midst of a natural disaster such as a large solar flare that wipes out satellites and other key communications hardware.
But this misses the point. Global chaos is not Anonymous' aim. As the WikiLeaks and Tunisia cases show, the group targets specific institutions and its attacks are designed to temporarily delay more than destroy. Think of them not as acts of cyber war but as high-profile guerrilla strikes.
A look inside some of the main online forums suggests that those behind the WikiLeak-inspired attacks are patient, coordinate almost organically, and remain wary of outsiders. That all means that their next moves remain unpredictable.
In the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels -- chat rooms where up to 3,000 participants at a time can discuss strategy and plot attacks -- reporters are treated with suspicion. Over the past few weeks, though, a few Anons -- as activists refer to themselves online -- agreed to talk to Reuters.
There is anecdotal evidence that Anonymous is growing stronger. Several Anons told Reuters the arrest of Assange and the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against Visa and Mastercard -- in which company websites were bombarded with so many requests they crashed -- inspired them to join the group.
"Saw it on a news article, joined the IRC, and things went on from there. 4 months ago," one Anon nicknamed "tflow" told Reuters in a private message on the IRC channel.
"I was angry at the arrest of Assange and how the credit card companies shut down WikiLeaks' accounts. Been here since," said another, going by the name of Noms9001, referring to the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Britain.
"I'm not a rebel, I can say that. For me, it's been an issue of governments and corporations attempting to control what we say and hear online."
One said they had been involved with Anonymous since the group's Project Chanology protests against the Church of Scientology in 2008. Another blamed a failed late December attack on Bank of America on a splinter group of Anonymous, and said an expected drop by WikiLeaks of documents related to the bank could provide an opportunity for a renewed effort to bring down its site.
Targets are chosen by consensus and can be attacked by as many as 10,000 computers simultaneously. Communication is mainly through IRC but supporters also use micro-blogging site Twitter and video-sharing site YouTube to release information.
The activists claim to come from all over -- Europe, the United States, China and elsewhere in Asia -- and share an almost paranoid concern with covering the tracks left by the software they use.
During the attacks on Tunisian government websites over the past couple of weeks, activists warned Tunisian citizens in the OpTunisia IRC channel against joining an assault on local internet hosting organisation ATI.
"If you are Tunisian, do not participate in the DDoS attack. Chances are that you will get traced and arrested. Unless you have means to conceal your IP and know what you are doing, do NOT attack," warned one activist.
"Do NOT give out any personal information on this IRC network. This is a public chat and you can be sure that it is monitored," the activist added.
There's a good reason for the caution. Two Dutch teenagers were arrested in December in connection with cyber attacks by WikiLeaks supporters. Both have been released and are awaiting trial.
And the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation raided a Texas server-hosting company last month looking for evidence that Anonymous had used its servers to launch attacks on PayPal, according to an affidavit obtained by The Smoking Gun website.
Some activists hope their sheer numbers will prevent authorities from trying to trace them. "Imagine tracking 9,000 plus computers across the planet for an arrest," Calgarc said in the IRC channel in reply to a question on how an attacker can hide his tracks.
3> FIRE YOUR CANNON
All you need to wage cyber war is a fast-paced internet forum packed with hundreds of determined activists and a simple piece of software called a Low Orbit Ion Cannon. Activists download the LOIC -- initially developed to help internet security experts test website vulnerability to DDoS attacks -- and start firing packets of data at the targeted website.
If enough people join in, a DDoS attack prevents the overloaded server from responding to legitimate requests and slows the website to a crawl or shuts it down totally.
Attackers can even listen to a dedicated internet radio station, Radiopayback, during attacks.
A quarter of a million copies of the LOIC software have been downloaded from sourceforge.net so far, more than half of them since November when Web hosting and banking organisations began withdrawing support from WikiLeaks.
One in five downloads since the start of November was in the United States, with a few hundred in Tunisia, and a handful in bandwidth-deprived Zimbabwe.
Users of the software can be traced. A study by Dutch researchers found last year that the tool did not mask the host computer's internet protocol (IP) address.
Barrett Lyon, a security expert who specialises in protecting companies against denial of service attacks, said the LOIC program is fairly rudimentary but effective if used by thousands of people. "It doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles. It's not as focused as it could have been. If they got their software together in a more sophisticated kind of way, this kind of thing could have gotten easier with more violence."
Lyon said depending on the time of day there were 500-10,000 computers involved in the attacks.
"10,000 people have quite a bit of fire power," he added.
4> CREDIBLE COUNTERFORCE
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By Marius Bosch and Georgina Prodhan
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