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Cyber War in Cairo - But Watch Out For The UN's Coming Net Snatch

Author bio: 
Richard Cottrell

The grand jury of time is not yet ready to deliver its verdict whether Egypt 2011 equals Hungary 1956, or perhaps looms larger in the scale of world history. Cairo presents a striking comparison in many respects with Budapest 55 years ago, yet there is a strong flavor too of the French Revolution of 1789 and the hopes raised there, then dashed, of permanently upending the social order. Perhaps then an 1848-style Arabian ‘Springtime of the Nations’ awakening, given that unrest that spread so quickly from what started as an isolated eruption in Tunisia, setting a trend which is now shaking virtually every state in the Middle East.

The spirit of 1848 fizzled out in the ruins of Paris after the brief experimental commune, so that comparison is not very encouraging either. Yet even now, with the final outcome still clouded by uncertainties, it is possible to suggest that 2011 will be one of those years long remembered as a seminal one for the Arab community and indeed the much wider world in general.

The reaction of the United States seems to be that of Gulliver tied down by competing regional loyalties. The president and Nobel peacenik Barak Obama appears tongue tied compared to loquacious elegies previously heaped on protestors who dared to challenge the Iranian regime. John McCain, possibly one of the dumbest men ever to run for the presidency, notwithstanding Clown Prince Bush himself, peddles the quack logic that this game of democratic skittles across the Middle East is some kind of ‘virus’, spread by toxic Islamists. Unfortunately, this is actually the fixed view gripping the Administration.

The colossal arrogance of the global unipower is blind to the fact that its own policies of bolstering reactionary autocrats to ‘preserve’ Israel and the oil lanes is the driving force of anger and rage at the grinding poverty and denial of opportunity sweeping region.

That said, how ironic that it fell to one of the oldest cradles of civilization, Egypt, to stage the first post-modern revolt. For make no mistake, Egypt’s ossified political establishment has discovered painfully that traditional weapons of repression, such as tanks and soldiers and mass round-ups to quell the unsettled populace, are up against serious competition in the form of street armies millions strong, mobilized by the power of new age communications.

We are watching live in real time the first revolution of the Cyber Age, a volcanic outpouring of popular discontent fuelled with mass power by the new art of social networking. Mobile communications have fallen into so many hands and are so conveniently refreshed with clever new tricks they are arguably the most important technological innovative engine in all world history. Never before have human beings enjoyed the tools of instant communications with the capability to span continents and oceans in micro-seconds, a gift that was supposed to reside only with the ancient gods lounging around Olympus.

The Net has spawned Twitter, Facebook and scores more social interchange sites which. taken with total mobility in communications, form the backbone of an alternative society. Some of these tools, like social networking, are scarcely five years old. Yet here they are deployed in the front line of social change, with devastating effect. This is a stunningly fresh demonstration of power to the people and so to the entrenched establishment order everywhere, whether in communist China, Putin’s Russia or staggering post-empire America, terrifying.

Even more, the fantastic liberation of the individual made possible by the magical touch of a button has turned millions upon millions into techno-geeks with fully wired brains and rapid reaction capabilities, as though suddenly everyone in the mid 1960’s or so suddenly became their own garage mechanic. As the Land of the Pharaohs shook with fury, so both sides, demonstrators and the embattled president and his gruesome court, found themselves fighting in cyber space as well as on solid ground.

Understanding perfectly well the danger posed by the Electronic Liberation Front, Mubarak naturally reached for the internet kill switch. So the protestors restored communications between themselves by switching to the Tor anonymous network which like a conventional redoubt under siege in a heavy bombardment, held out long enough to provide the revolt with reserve oxygen. Teaching informatics to hundreds of thousands of eager young minds turned out to be as risky as handing them all a brand new gun. The number of Egyptians crossing the Tor bridge to the web multiplied 40% as the demonstrations wore on, until the authorities figured out how to crash it, apparently with the aid of Mossad’s flying squad.

That in turn, led to devastating counter-attacks by hackers all around the planet on the Egyptian government’s web sites. So here we see, for the first time our recorded history, how re-enforcements scattered around the world can be brought to bear on events happening thousands of miles away in a matter of seconds.

The corporate big battalions weighed in on the side of authority of course, in the usual cynical revelation of what ‘consumerism’ is actually about when the chips are down. Jumping smartly to attention, British-owned Vodafone instantly shut Egypt’s cell phone and internet service. The Boeing subsidiary called Narus — “the only software company that provides security, intercept and traffic management solutions within a single, flexible system” — had already sold Egypt its surveillance gear with the capability to track dissidents suspects from their voice patterns.

You can join up the dots to work out for yourself what they’re doing back home.

In yet another psy-op cyber-war first, once Vodaphone and its rivals were back on air they found themselves swamped with love machine messages generated by the regime and posted to every registered user, traffic they had no choice but to carry. Yet the Mubarak cabal found themselves blindsided on the cyber field of war as a direct result of their own actions. According to the boffins at OECD in Paris, it turned out that Egypt’s increasingly anemic economy suffered to the tune of $90 billion in the course of the five-day total Netout. So, the junta was forced into the humiliating posture of restoring partial service of that jugular vein without which no economy on earth can now function.

By this means the history of war was changed forever, in an instant. It means the field manuals of battling insurrections will all have to be re-written.

It means too that other people too will have to do some serious thinking about pat solutions like pulling the plug on the Net. Consider for a moment the impact on the US economy if Obama gets his way with his own internet kill switch, which is transparently intended to contain mass unrest in the States should the economy continue to tank. Now we learn, from Egypt of all places, that it may not be quite so simple. If the US went down, to speak, then all the inter-connected economies around the globe would take a real bashing too. Net black outs, Mr President, will make Wall Street skullduggery look like parlor games.

As demonstrated by events in Egypt the kill switch is the cyber equivalent of the prehistoric caveman’s club. Imagine however his future hunting prospects if that clumsy tool were suddenly equipped with a sharp biting edge. That is exactly what is going on with the Orwellian sounding World Information Society (WIA), which is nothing less than a blatant New World Order wheeze to sacrifice the wild, untamed Net to faceless UN bureaucrats.

Six years ago the Summit for the World Information Society first appeared on the public stage in Geneva, a gathering of politicians and side actors anxious to regulate the Net. Another meeting convened two years later to consider a draft highly detailed charter to pull the teeth of the Net. Aware that no-one but those who fear free speech had any interest in such an idea, the UN solemnly designated March 17 every year as ‘World Information Day’, a blatant act of propagandizing designed to garner some crumb of wider recognition. The world yawned.

All the windy epistles of wisdom that emanate from an anonymous office hidden away in the UN quarters in Geneva amount to nothing less than gutting the great Alexandrian library of knowledge, stripping the market place of the rich gossip and chapter which makes up human society. Out the window goes any form of ‘hate speech’ since we are informed that we the have the basic right to be ‘protected’ from anything which basically upsets offends someone else on grounds of politics or religion and so forth. File under this heading the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

To offer some obvious examples the Vatican will be delighted that all those unfortunate tales of priestly dalliances with the choir boys after Matins will no longer get airtime. Ditto bestialities in Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. Ditto whistleblowers and file-dumpers of all ilks. Wall Street can breath a collective sigh of relief. 9/11 or London 7/7 Truth? Forget seditious material like that. The octopus will strangle in all directions. Amazon will have to stop promoting controversial works that conflict with the authorized version of what society may be permitted to see. This post that I am writing now would never see a monitor screen..

As for being ‘protected’, we can do that already by either not looking at the offending items or going for a walk. But in future the armies of Winston Smiths in the world guardian’s employ will quietly blue pencil the messages which had millions of Egyptians on the streets in millions to get rid of a degenerate monster who looted Egypt to the tune of $70 billion. Generally speaking when thoroughly undemocratic, corrupt from the basement up organizations like the UN start speaking of protecting people from themselves, we need rather more than a dose of the smelling salts.

Of course its much more than old fashioned censorship. The Web will get a charter of governance and a council of bigwigs nominated by such champions of freedom and justice as Zimbabwe, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Israel, the gaggle of Central Asians Stans renowned for boiling people, Venezuela, the Russian Federation, the ghastly Congo twins, and under new management, the same old Egypt that is on fire right now.

This is sold as ‘democratizing’ the Net over which the Americans are said to have too much control. This is exiguous humbug. The US is rapidly becoming no more democratic than those countries mentioned above and in any event there is a virtual Congressional consensus that the Net needs to be brought under control. As Joe Lieberman has put it, what China does today, the US should not hesitate to copy tomorrow.

So far I have not touched on access rationing but that’s on the menu of the World Information Society coming soon to a computer or handset near you. The ISP’s and domain registers will, naturally, be swept into the bag, So the proclaimed justification of ensuring freedom for all belongs with the customary worship of human rights by countries such as the US and the UK who preach to the world what they neglect to practice at home.

There is no end to the nonsense coursing through the New Electronic Environment, each clamp down on freedom of expression disguised as an advance in civil liberties. At the top of the pyramid sits Big Brother himself, the Communication Rights Ombudsman ( Chief Detective Inspector) who will adjudicate complaints from those booted off the Net. His judgment is final. You can bet on it, one way.

The excerpts I have quoted are snipped from the earlier-mentioned draft treaty dating back, with later revisions, some five years. In terms of fronting the project, attracting critical fire away from the UN itself and generally sanitize Net robbery as somehow possessing popular appeal and consent, the torch is being carried by another self-proclaimed institution, the EU-larded Internet Governance Forum (IGF) which makes the hollow claim that it acts on behalf of stakeholders in the Net. (That’s mainly you and me, by the way, but we don’t seem to be in the consultation loop). The IGF is run incestuously from the UN building in Geneva. Its own web site leaves no doubt that its real job is to ‘support the United Nations Secretary-General in carrying out the mandate from the World Summit on the Information Society.’

The so-called mandate is of course a complete fiction created by a few back-slappers who want to shut down the Net, effectively. They include he of the Dracula fangs, the one and only Rupert Murdoch, who has been publicly stating that ‘the web is finished.’ Nice one Rupert, because you and your fellow media barons get star treatment among the precious stakeholders in the World Information Society. Wet print newspapers are as dead as dodos. Ergo, a Net that looks and sounds like Fox News plus that huge global ad market.

I will pass the last word on this subject to Vint Cerf, the man widely regarded as the Genesis figure behind the Net. He is working now at Google and this is what he posted in his blog at the company’s website last December.

‘The beauty of the Internet is that it’s not controlled by any one group. Its governance is bottoms-up - with academics, non-profits, companies and governments all working to improve this technological wonder of the modern world. This model has not only made the Internet very open – a test bed for innovation by anyone, anywhere -it's also prevented vested interests from taking control.’

Quite, but unfortunately these words might carry more conviction but for the widespread perception of Google itself as a global – and to its critics, selective - monopolist of recoupable information, not to mention controversies aroused by Google Street View's all-seeing eye and the reports of info-swapping with the National Security Agency.

The IGF's latest bulletin from mission control is headed: Internet Governance - Opportunities For All. Does that perchance include future protestors like those in Egypt, Yemen. Tunisia, Jordan, clamoring for a fair share of the cake and an end to repression.

I rather think not.

To finish, a closing and possibly very revealing comment on Egypt. I indicated my doubts over some rolling flower power with a hidden hand, presumably the CIA, manipulating the puppets. It can’t be ruled out because the CIA is accustomed to such deeds, and Tunisia, at least, may have come from that box of tricks. But with so much huge collateral damage to the imperial power, I rather suspect this is a classic demonstration of unintended consequences, or Blowback, as the late Chalmers Johnson, an old CIA hand himself, observed invariably accompanied American adventures involving regime change overseas.

So far as I know the Christian Science Monitor (February 5) is alone in observing the unique horizontal rather than top down management of the Liberation Square demonstrations, viz:

The crowds in Cairo have demonstrated the roots of a future Egyptian democracy by securing people’s safety with checkpoints, by ensuring medical care, by letting anyone speak, by making decisions only after widespread discussion, etc. This is “civil society” without the form of organized civil-society groups.

For those who suspect another hidden hand, militant Islam, or the Hermit in the Distant Grotto.

And the secular nature of the demonstrations has initially bypassed the country’s largest private group, the Muslim Brotherhood. That Islamist organization relies on the concept that only a few individuals can claim religious authority over Muslims and that sharia rule must trump secular.

The Monitor notes that the mood of the people at large at war is summed up by the hundreds of elderly women – who by tradition rarely venture outdoors – joining arms with young demonstrators behind the barricades. This, to me, suggests a deep and organic inspiration behind the events in Egypt at least, and supporting the message that every Arab, anywhere, of whatever age or persuasion, believing themselves crushed by tyranny, may be inclined to try out the highly inclusive model of the Egyptian revolution. In which case, containment of John McCain’s virus may not be the order of the day. The fatuous Condoleezza Rice once trilled gleefully as the Israelis hammered the Gazans and the Lebanese: ‘We are watching the birth pangs of the new Middle East.’

Perhaps, after all, we really are now.

Richard Cottrell is a former European MP and the author of Gladio: NATO’s Dagger At The Heart of Europe, a coming attraction from Progressive Press.