Samuel Johnson once said that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Patriotism, and bad analogies.
For the uninitiated, Godwin's Law is one of the cardinal rules of the Internet. Coined in 1990 by Internet law expert Mike Godwin, the principle -- confirmed by countless contentious comment threads across the web -- is that the longer an online discussion persists, the greater the odds become that someone will make a comparison to Nazis or Adolf Hitler, to the point of near-inevitability. Nothing ends a debate faster than the hyperbolic unsupported counterfactual: "You know who else did [INSERT SUBJECT OF ARGUMENT HERE]? Hitler!"
But Hitler and the Nazis aren't the only recurring straw men used to end debates. Over the past 12 years, it's become clear that the longer a national security debate persists, the more likely it becomes that someone will try to end it by suggesting something -- some policy, some person, some technology -- "could have prevented 9/11."
The implication is that if something "could have prevented 9/11," then it must be justified. It's a trump card, a conversation-ender -- and it's impossible to prove. But that hasn't stopped people from using it -- from FBI Director Robert Mueller testifying on the Hill on Thursday to actor Mark Wahlberg's 2012 tough-guy claims. Here's a brief sampling of the people and policies that "could have prevented 9/11."
Assessments of the 9/11 attacks -- by everyone from members of the independent 9/11 Commission to Bush administration officials -- have time and again pointed out that there was no single point of failure that allowed the attacks to occur, and no "silver bullet" that could have prevented them. But acknowledging that is no way to cut short a debate about national security.
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Forget PRISM, the National Security Agency's system to help extract data from Google, Facebook, and the like. The more frightening secret program unearthed by the NSA leaks is the gathering and storing of millions of phone records and phone-location information of U.S. citizens.
According to current and former intelligence agency employees who have used the huge collection of metadata obtained from the country's largest telecom carriers, the information is widely available across the intelligence community from analysts' desktop computers.
The data is used to connect known or suspected terrorists to people in the United States, and to help locate them. It has also been used in foreign criminal investigations and to assist military forces overseas. But the laws that govern the collection of this information and its use are not as clear. Nor are they as strong as those associated with PRISM, the system the NSA is using to collate information from the servers of America's tech giants.
Metadata is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Content of emails and instant messages -- what PRISM helps gather -- is. An order issued to Verizon by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court instructs the company to supply records of all its telephony metadata "on an ongoing, daily basis." Although legal experts say this kind of broad collection of metadata may be legal, it's also "remarkably overbroad and quite likely unwise," according to Paul Rosenzweig, a Bush administration policy official in the Homeland Security Department. "It is difficult to imagine a set of facts that would justify collecting all telephony meta-data in America. While we do live in a changed world after 9/11, one would hope it has not that much changed."
By comparison, PRISM appears more tightly constrained and operates on a more solid legal foundation. Current and former officials who have experience using huge sets of data available to intelligence analysts said that PRISM is used for precisely the kinds of intelligence gathering that Congress and the administration intended when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 2008. Officials wanted to allow intelligence agencies to target and intercept foreigners' communications when they travel across networks inside the United States.
The surveillance law prohibits targeting a U.S. citizen or legal resident without a warrant, which must establish a reasonable basis to suspect the individual of ties to terrorism or being an agent of a foreign power. In defending PRISM, administration officials have said repeatedly in recent days that the FISA Court oversees the collection program to ensure that it's reasonably designed to target foreign entities, and that any incidental collection of Americans' data is expunged. They've also said that press reports describing the system as allowing "direct access" to corporate servers is wrong. Separately, a U.S. intelligence official also said that the system cannot directly query an Internet company's data.
But the administration has not explained why broadly and indiscriminately collecting the metadata records of millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents comports with a law designed to protect innocent people from having their personal information revealed to intelligence analysts. Nor have officials explained why the NSA needs ongoing, daily access to all this information and for so many years, particularly since specific information can be obtained on an as-needed basis from the companies with a subpoena.
Here's why the metadata of phone records could be more invasive and a bigger threat to privacy and civil liberties than the PRISM system:
1. Metadata is often more revealing than contents of a communication, which is what's being collected with PRISM. A study in the journal Nature found that as few as four "spatio-temporal points," such as the location and time a phone call was placed, is enough to determine the identity of the caller 95 percent of the time.
2. The Wall Street Journal reports that in addition to phone metadata, the NSA also is collecting metadata on emails, website visits, and credit card transactions (although it's unclear whether those collection efforts are ongoing). If that information were combined with the phone metadata, the collective power could not only reveal someone's identity, but also provide an illustration of his entire social network, his financial transactions, and his movements.
3. Administration officials have said that intelligence analysts aren't indiscriminately searching this phone metadata. According to two intelligence employees who've used the data in counterterrorism investigations, it contains no names, and when a number that appears to be based in the United States shows up, it is blocked out with an "X" mark.
But these controls, said a former intelligence employee, are internal agency rules, and it's not clear that the FISA Court has anything to say about them. In this employee's experience, if he wanted to see the phone number associated with that X mark, he had to ask permission from his agency's general counsel. That permission was often obtained, but he wasn't aware of the legal process involved in securing it, or if the request was taken back to the FISA court.
4. The metadatabase is widely available across the intelligence community on analysts' desktops, increasing the potential for misuse.
5. The metadata has the potential for mission creep. It's not only used for dissecting potential homegrown terror plots, as some lawmakers have said. The metadata is also used to help military forces overseas target terrorist and insurgent networks. And it is used in foreign criminal investigations, including ones involving suspected weapons traffickers.
For all these reasons, and probably more yet to emerge, it's the metadata that's of bigger concern. By comparison, PRISM is a cool name, a lame PowerPoint presentation -- and business as usual.
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This afternoon, the Syrian Electronic Army, a group of hackers supportive of Bashar al-Assad's regime, appeared to briefly hack into the Onion's Twitter feed. Over the course of about an hour, the SEA tweeted seven times from @TheOnion, and claimed responsibility for the attack on the Onion's @ONN account (the satirical newspaper's parody of 24-hour news networks) before the messages were deleted.
You could say the SEA's attacks have been a bit hit or miss over the past several months. The group's members promoted an alternate narrative of the Syrian civil war when they hacked into @60Minutes last month, but also tweeted fat jokes about the emir of Qatar, a backer of the opposition, when they hacked the BBC's weather account ("Earthquake warning for Qatar: Hamad Bin Khalifah about to exit vehicle").
In one of their strangest strikes yet, the SEA broke into the Twitter feed of the television channel E! on Sunday to "out" Justin Bieber and then to tweet, "Angelina Jolie admits, in E! latest issue, that Jordan is to blame for the Syrian refugees' atrocious conditions" -- a sentence that under no circumstances would ever appear on E!
Today, the SEA fell back on fat jokes about Qatar's ruler ("NASA: 9th planet discovered and identified as the Qatari Emir") and also took a few jabs at Israel -- "UN's Ban Ki Moon condemns Syria for being struck by Israel: 'It was in the way of Jewish missiles;'" "The #Onion CEO: 'We regret taking zionist money to defame Syria. now the hackers are up our ass;'" "Poland to double flights from the Middle East, anticipating Israeli mass exodus. 'The bagel bakery ovens are working over time' ~ Larry" -- after the Israelis reportedly launched two airstrikes against weapons depots in Damascus in the past week.
Whoever was behind the hacking demonstrated a fairly proficient knowledge of the Onion's style (for example, attributing a quote without context to "Larry") and included a well-timed "Futurama Fry" meme as Twitter followers wondered if @TheOnion had been hacked, or if the tweets were simply more satire:
Though the Onion is first and foremost a satirical site, it has also hosted some of the most trenchant commentary on the Syrian civil war, leaving little doubt about why it was targeted. Darkly humorous articles from the past year and a half have included titles such as, "'Help Has To Be On The Way Now,' Thinks Syrian Man Currently Being Gassed," "Having Gone This Far Without Caring About Syria, Nation To Finish What It Started," "Target Pulls All Sponsorship From Publicly Ignored Syrian Conflict," "Alien World To Help Out Syria Since This One Refuses To," and an op-ed by Bashar al-Assad titled, "Hi, In The Past 2 Years, You Have Allowed Me To Kill 70,000 People."
So perhaps it's not a surprise that when the news outlet finally regained control over its Twitter feed, it had this to say:
Syrian Electronic Army Has A Little Fun Before Inevitable Upcoming Deaths At Hands Of Rebels onion.com/11ctVJg— The Onion (@TheOnion) May 6, 2013
On Thursday, I wrote about Google's decision to change "Palestinian Territories" to "Palestine" on the Palestinian edition of its search engine -- a move that at the very least acknowledges the quest for Palestinian statehood. Unsurprisingly, Israel is not happy about the change.
"This change raises questions about the reasons behind this surprising involvement of what is basically a private internet company in international politics -- and on the controversial side," Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Agence France-Presse.
Google, meanwhile, is defending the decision as part of an effort to put the company in line with international standards. "We're changing the name 'Palestinian Territories' to 'Palestine' across our products. We consult a number of sources and authorities when naming countries," Google spokesman Nathan Tyler told the BBC. "In this case, we are following the lead of the U.N., Icann [the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers], ISO [International Organisation for Standardisation] and other international organisations."
Google's action comes on the heels of November's overwhelming U.N. vote to grant Palestine non-member observer state status, a move bitterly opposed by the United States and Israel. Following the vote, Palestinian officials asked international companies, including Google, to refer to "Palestine" rather than the "Palestinian Territories." Google's move "is a step in the right direction, a timely step and one that encourages others to join in and give the right definition and name for Palestine instead of Palestinian territories," Sabri Saidam, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told the BBC.
Given current prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, I suppose the Palestinians will take whatever victories they can get.
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
It's been more than a year since Omar Hammami, an American-born jihadist in Somalia who made a name for himself with lo-fi propaganda rap productions, posted a video telling viewers he feared for his life. The threat he felt came not from the Somali government, which he had come to fight against in 2008, or from the U.S. government, which has branded him a wanted terrorist, but from his own comrades in al-Shabab, the Somali affiliate of al Qaeda.
Since then, Hammami has been hiding out in Somalia, but he's hardly kept a low profile online. He is the apparent operator of the @abumamerican Twitter account, from which he has criticized al-Shabab's leadership and communicated with journalists and terrorism analysts -- he even gave an interview for a profile by Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman. In the past week, though, his luck living on the lam has been running out.
Last Thursday, Hammami live-tweeted what he claimed was an assassination attempt in which an al-Shabab gunman shot him in the neck in a coffee shop (he quickly posted pictures of blood running down his neck and soaking his shirt). Then his hideout was assaulted by militiamen who, after a shootout, reportedly hauled Hammami before an al-Shabab tribunal. According to Hammami's account on Twitter, the tribunal released him and several members of al-Shabab's leadership issued a fatwa protecting Hammami, but others in the organization still promised to pursue him. Yesterday, as Shabab-affiliated forces closed in around the village where he remains in hiding, Hammami seemed to think he could be killed shortly:
May not find another chance to tweet but just remember what we said and what we stood for. God kept me alive to deliver the mssg 2 the umah— abu m (@abumamerican) April 29, 2013
Today he did find another chance to tweet, reporting that a militia from the Somali province of Gedo is threatening to kill him "even if they lose 100 despite defections."
The apparent end of Hammami's life on the run is certainly high drama, but it's also a rare glimpse into the divisions in al-Shabab's leadership. There have been tensions in the organization before, but "it has not, to my knowledge, resulted in such a public display of discord," wrote Katherine Zimmerman, a senior analyst for the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project, when reached by email by FP.
There seems to be bad blood between Hammami and al-Shabab's emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who also goes by the kunya Abu Zubayr. In Hammami's telling, he went into hiding after a fight he had with Godane over the role of foreign fighters, taxation issues, and trial procedures. "i told him every last detail in person," Hammami told Ackerman in his interview, "leading to the beginning of the oppression." As militiamen gathered last Friday to drag him to the tribunal, Hammami saw Godane's hand: "abu zubayr has gone mad," he tweeted. "he's starting a civil war."
Hammami believes the decision to pursue him has driven a wedge between Godane and his deputies. And sure enough, after he was released by the tribunal, several senior leaders -- Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, the deputy emir, Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Shabab official who ran a rival militia until 2010, and Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, a member of al-Shabab's Shura Council -- issued a fatwa protecting Hammami. "The fatwa," Zimmerman writes, "does indicate that these three have, and will continue to, position themselves on the side of protecting Hammami."
But that doesn't necessarily mean al-Shabab is headed for civil war, as Hammami suggests. "It is still not clear to me that the divisions over the treatment of Hammami and the fighters with him will result in an actual split within al Shabaab," Zimmerman writes, stressing previous tensions in the organization's senior leadership. Specifically, she cited Robow's 2010 decision to withdraw his troops from Mogadishu after rejecting Godane's strategic approach to the city, Aweys's public disagreement with Godane over whether al-Shabab should have a monopoly on jihadist groups in Somalia, and a message Mead addressed to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in which he expressed opposition to Godane's leadership. Despite their differences, Zimmerman points out, they've all remained stakeholders in the organization: "When these divisions surface, some are quick to assume that the group is weaker, but time and again, the group has remained united despite the divisions."
What's more, the internal fight over Hammami's fate doesn't split along what seems to be al-Shabab's largest internal fault line. That would be the fight "between the 'globalists' and the 'nationalists,'" writes Zimmerman, "those who sought to establish an Islamic caliphate in Somalia for the purpose of supporting al Qaeda's vision of jihad, and those who appeared to seek an Islamic caliphate as an end-state." Both Godane and Hammami are in the globalist camp (Hammami's even rapped about it); Robow and Aweys have tended to side with nationalists.
At the end of the day, Hammami seems to be caught in the middle of these rivals' power plays. And though the debate over his fate might not tear the organization apart, his desperate tweets do shine a light on the leadership's stark divisions.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
After the Associated Press tweeted, "Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured," it literally took only seconds for people to debunk the bomb scare.
from here in the WH basement, this acct seems hacked RT @ap: Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured— E McMorris-Santoro (@EvanMcSan) April 23, 2013
Please Ignore AP Tweet on explosions, we've been hacked.— Sam Hananel (@SamHananelAP) April 23, 2013
The fake @ap tweet was tweeted via web. Real AP tweets come from SocialFlow. Carry on.— Ethan Klapper (@ethanklapper) April 23, 2013
AP immediately locked down the account (and it remains suspended as I write), but that wasn't before the Dow dropped 70 points (it rebounded within 10 minutes).
The Syrian Electronic Army, a group of pro-Assad hackers that has been targeting major news organizations for months now, quickly took credit for the false tweet. In the AP's story about the hacking of its own Twitter feed, it stated that the incident "came after hackers made repeated attempts to steal the passwords of AP journalists." The SEA defaced the homepages of Al Jazeera and Reuters last year, and more recently they've been targeting social media accounts in particular. Last month, for instance, they got into the BBC's weather feed. In the past week alone, they've hit NPR and 60 Minutes. They've also gone after non-media targets, including Human Rights Watch and Columbia University.
The SEA's level of tact varies: Hackers weren't above making a fat joke about the emir of Qatar when they hacked @bbcweather last month. Other times, as when they broke into @60Minutes, they promoted the Assad regime's narrative that the United States is empowering terrorist groups in Syria. The "media scare" approach seems to be a new development, but it is unclear to what extent SEA attacks are planned and coordinated, or whether they are directly affiliated with the Assad government.
There's the FitBit for fitness fanatics, the Pebble Watch for people who think their cell phones are too big, and Google Glasses for fancy sportsmen or irritating entrepreneurs. And now, there are high-tech life-trackers for human rights activists too -- devices that might save their lives.
Designed by Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), these high-tech bracelets -- dubbed the "The Natalia Project" after activist Natalia Estemirova who, in 2009, was abducted from her home in Chechnya and murdered for her activism -- are designed to serve as the first assault alarm system for human rights defenders at risk of being kidnapped or killed, according to a press release published by the organization on Friday.
When triggered -- either by the wearer or by the device being forcibly removed -- the durable bracelet/personal alarm uses GPS and smartphone technology to send a message with the time and the bracelet's location to the phones of colleagues in close proximity and to CRD headquarters in Stockholm. In an interesting social media twist, CRD will also notify anyone around the world who has signed up to receive distress signal alerts via SMS, Facebook, and Twitter. The organization hopes that those who have signed up to monitor the activists' safety will in turn spread the word via social media, raising awareness and putting pressure on those responsible for the attack or kidnapping.
It's a life-tracking device that could very well live up to its name.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo's Twitter feed disappeared for about an hour today following an online sparring match with a feed operated by the office of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy over Jon Stewart's impassioned defense of Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef. When the embassy's feed returned, a tweet linking to the Daily Show clip had been deleted, and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that embassy officials "came to the conclusion that the decision to tweet it in the first place didn't accord with post management of the site."
There's bad diplomacy, and then there's the Twitter fight that followed this afternoon between the Muslim Brotherhood's English-language Twitter account (@IkhwanWeb) and American radio show host and media personality Rick Sanchez (@RickSanchezTV). The improbable feud started when the Muslim Brotherhood tweeted an Al Jazeera report featuring a comment Sanchez made in 2010 that was widely reported as being anti-Semitic and led to his firing from CNN. The Muslim Brotherhood pointed to the incident as an example of the West's "double standards" about free speech:
The Muslim Brotherhood's confusion about the government-ensured rights of an individual vs. the rights of private employees notwithstanding, Sanchez came looking for a fight this afternoon. Armed with a loose understanding of the situation, Sanchez eagerly began trolling @IkhwanWeb.
The Muslim Brotherhood responded, and from there, it was a good, old-fashioned troll fight. @IkhwanWeb was right that Sanchez didn't have his facts straight, but their defense of Egypt's freedom of speech rang a bit hollow given the circumstances:
.@ricksancheztv Mr. Shanchez, we value freedom of speech, it's what Egyptians fought for & no power can take this fundamental right away— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
.@ricksancheztv perhaps u shld get facts first. He wasn't arrested, but questioned and released re complaint brought by pvt citizen, not us— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
.@ricksancheztv absolutely false, we've nothing to do w investigations, it's a fact & if u ve evidence to contrary plz announce to the world— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
Sanchez then declared victory. Several times.
And that's today's installment of how Twitter is making politics weird. Remember, folks: Don't feed the trolls.
China's People's Daily may have taken some heat this week for publishing what the Shanghaiist described as a "leering" slide show of a "beautiful" journalist, but some news outlets in Kazakhstan have been one-upping the Communist Party daily when it comes to misogyny. This week, in honor of International Women's Day on March 8, the Kazakh website Vox Populi is hosting a Miss Military Kazakhstan contest -- encouraging readers to vote not for models but for "beauties" from various military and law-enforcement units who "wear shoulder straps" and guard the country.
On Wednesday, Kazakhstan's Tengri News reported on the competition as if it were a horse race:
Judging by the current results of voting the National Guard of Kazakhstan has the most beautiful officers. Three girls from the National Guard of Kazakhstan have taken the leading positions in the rating: Sergeant of the National Guard Bibigul Sauytova from Astana is in the first place, Junior Sergeant of the National Guard Saltant Bayzhumanova from Astana is in the second place and Sergeant of the National Guard Natalya Fokina is in the third place.
It's not clear how many times this particular contest has been held, but Tengri News reports that authorities in the country do host an annual Lady of Kazakhstan Police contest, with the winner appearing on the cover of a police magazine.
Which brings us back to International Women's Day. According to the website for the century-old celebration, the "tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts." In keeping with that tradition, Vox Populi will award Miss Military Kazakhstan with a digital camera. And in a separate development, Tengri News is reporting that police in the country will give female drivers flowers and forgive them traffic violations in honor of the holiday. So, there's that.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
When a 10-ton meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia on Friday, Feb. 15, it injured more than 1,500 people, caused $30 million in damage, and sparked nearly 3,000 financial aid applications from residents. Now, it seems, Russians -- including government officials -- are trying to get that money back, using the very rock that caused the losses in the first place.
This week, authorities in Chelyabinsk announced a design contest for a memorial to mark the "interplanetary visit," and also unveiled plans to develop a logo that entrepreneurs can slap on calendars, magnets, booklets, and other souvenirs. The region's geography and history museum, meanwhile, has already opened an exhibition on the meteorite that will include photos, videos, and meteorite fragments. "The authorities say they will try to make the memory of last Friday's event a great tourist attraction," the Voice of Russia reported.
Then there's the mayor of Chebarkul, who has himself tried to dig up some meteorite fragments by sending divers into the town's lake, where the meteor crashed. And he recently tried to galvanize his constituents by launching a competition for business ideas that would allow Chebarkul to profit from the global attention. The window may be closing fast, though, since Russian scientists say the fragments will soon be covered by snow or blown away by the wind.
Efforts to capitalize on the meteor strike got underway almost as soon as the extraterrestrial stone blew up, spewing tiny fireballs that buried themselves just inches deep in the ground and quickly cooled into little collectibles. Residents rushed to the scene of the explosion and began to dig up bits of meteorite that were often no larger than a centimeter. Apparently enough people were eager to see the meteor that some locals started taxiing them over for a steep price.
Many of the fragments have made their way onto the Russian classified ad website Avito.ru, where prices range from 500 to 300,000 rubles ($16 to $10,000), though the size of the fragments doesn't vary nearly as much. But meteorite aficionados beware: Many of the space particles for sale are raising some eyebrows, and Chelyabinsk police have already looked into a local man who has sold a few chunks for 15,000 rubles ($492) apiece that they believe could be fakes. Given the uncertainty, you might be better off with a good old-fashioned souvenir.
Reddit was once a site by, for, and about the concerns of "internet people." But in the past year, it has seen its popular AMA (ask me anything) sub-forum has become a popular way for celebrities, scientists, politicians and others to gain legitimacy with the online masses. Even President Obama did one.
The latest aspiring leader to allow Reddit users to ask him anything is Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, a long-shot candidate for the Iranian presidency. Amirahmadi is a professor at Rutgers who left Iran for the United States in 1975 because of the political situation. He registered as a candidate for the 2005 presidential election but allegedly was disqualified by the Guardian Council for his joint U.S. citizenship.
Here are some of the highlights from yesterday's session:
In 2005, I put my name down as a candidate, but it was not really serious. I entered the race about one month before the election day and my purpose was not really to stay the course, but rather to make a statement. Much of Iran's intelligentsia was boycotting that election and I was afraid that by boycotting, we are going to get someone elected that will not be hospitable to democracy and human rights. History proven me right.
In my administration there will be no restriction on any type of media. I believe in free speech.
The biggest problem for Iran is a lack of trust between the US Iran. I have lived 40 years in the US, I understand both cultures and laungages. I can easily build trust between the two countries. particularly because I have never been part of the problem between the US and Iran. I have tried to be part of the solution for 25 years.
Why is he doing this? Well according to Amirahmadi:
At this point, no candidate (not me, not Messrs. Ghalibaf, Velayati, etc.) is allowed to publicly campaign in Iran. In that sense, all candidates are in the same boat. No candidate can publicly campaign until he gets the approval of the Guardian Council, which will be delivered in late-May. So far, my campaign has been very active campaigning in the United States, Dubai, and the United Kingdom. We will be travelling to Iran in March, but not for public campaigns. With your help, we want to take our message of peace around the world.
Several Iran watchers, expatriates and Iranians (using proxies to gain access to Reddit) came out claiming that many of Amrahmadi's proposals aren't even within the scope of presidential power, even if he manages to obtain permission from the Guardian Council to run. They're still waiting for a response.
Amirahmadi has promised another AMA on February 12 starting at 6 PM EST. Iran's election is scheduled for June 14, 2013. I suppose an Ahmadinejad AMA might be too much to hope for.
It's an odd match, to be sure: a country with some of the most restrictive internet laws in the world (not to mention its other laws), and a company that still claims "Don't be evil" as its motto, and has been burned by authoritarian governments before. But the AP is reporting that Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea soon -- possibly as early as this month -- accompanied by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
The news comes a day after a rare New Year's Day speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that called for a "revolution" in science and technology in the poverty-stricken Hermit Kingdom. But it also comes just a few weeks after the country received international condemnation for a sneakily-timed rocket launch.
Google didn't officially confirm the story to AP and Schmidt has yet to make a public statement on why he's visiting the isolated country, which does hardly any business at all with U.S. companies. Also, it's not yet clear who exactly Schmidt and Richardson will be meeting with once they arrive. However, Schmidt has been working with former State Department Adviser Jared Cohen on a book called "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business," and has long been an advocate of the power of internet access to improve quality of life and openness.
Still, North Korea controls its internet with a far heavier hand than China, which Google has tangled with in the past. Those who have computer access mostly log on to a system known as the Kwangmyong, essentially a country-wide intranet run by a lone, state-run ISP provider (the BBC story linked to above includes the amazing detail that any time Kim Jong Un is mentioned on this intranet, his name is displayed slightly larger than the text around it). Just a few dozen families have unfiltered access to the real thing.
Can the power of "connectivity for the individual" be harnessed in a country where the government still cracks down on cell phones that can dial the outside world? Here's hoping Schmidt speaks up soon so we can hear what exactly he has in mind.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Egypt's increasingly influential Salafis won a victory this week by pressuring the government to finally implement a 2009 court ruling, enacted under former President Hosni Mubarak, to ban pornography. On Wednesday, Egyptian Prosector Abdel Maguid Mahmoud instructed authorities to "to take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state."
There are already strong reactions, with many on twitter using #EgyPornBan to either advocate mass downloading before the ban is enacted or to question the legitimacy of restricting freedom of expression.
While it has not been made public how and when the ban will actually be enforced, there are those like journalist and presidential advisor, Ayman El-Sayad, who think that the government should be "more concerned about the drafting of Egypt's new constitution" and other more pressing issues.
The ban does have serious consequences, however, as it upholds the ruling that the "freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism." How Egyptians decide to tackle the issue of who gets to decide what their values are, could have far reaching consequences down the road. There is also the dangerous precedent set by countries such as Russia, China and the United States, who have been accused of using anti-child-pornography laws to implement web censorship.
Egypt's porn ban will make it harder to spread "harmful" content on the internet, but for the Islamist's moral purposes, it probably won't work.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
In June, when Mohamad Morsi was elected president of Egypt, replacing the military transition government, he claimed that he would fulfill 64 promises within the first 100 days. That very same day, the website MorsiMeter was up and running to keep track of his progress. It's been about a week since the 100 day mark has passed and the weighing in has begun.
MorsiMeter is the creation of social entrepreneurs Amr Sobhy, Abbas Ibrahim and Safwat Mohamed, modeled after PolitiFact's Obameter. By crowdsourcing through their mobile app and website, MorsiMeter compiles information from a variety of sources (official, opposition and social media) in addition to direct communication with the presidential office to document initiatives implemented or in progress. MorsiMeter is as 2012 recipient of the U.N World Summit Youth Award which the team also won in 2011 for the anti-corruption initiative Zabatak. They consider MorsiMeter to be a "data tool" and strive to "empower the average citizen through sharing of information about crimes and corruption" while staying as neutral as possible.
Their report is now out and according to MorsiMeter, the baseline stats say that the president has achieved 10 out of 64 goals and that another 24 are in progress. This leaves 30 more promises "not spotted", to use to their terminology.
To provide a more nuanced look at what has actually been done, objectives are broken down into five categories: Traffic, Security, Fuel, Bread and Environmental Cleanliness. Many plans in progress are geared toward using financial incentives tied to citizen satisfaction to promote performance in civil servants and police, coordinating between the government and civil society, or using social institutions such as Friday sermons to promote civic behavior such as not throwing trash on the street.
The president's achievements include cracking down on fuel smugglers, providing waste disposal services for reasonable fees, using radio reports to decrease traffic congestion, and increasing the nutritional value of bread while subsidizing bakeries for potential crises.
Several of the "not spotted" promises, such as building new government centers out of urban areas, are additionally large undertakings that couldn't be accomplished in a 100 days. And to be honest, even if there are campaigns to make people follow road rules and traffic lights, it's not going to take effect immediately.
Is it fair to judge Morsi based on 100 days alone? Maybe, maybe not. Online voters at MorsiMeter have an overall satisfaction level of 39 percent. But given the recent clashes and all the hype surrounding this rather arbitrary deadline, Egyptians need to figure out what their real expectations are.
In the wake of a series of cyber attacks from Chinese I.P. addresses at the height of the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute, Yomiuri Shimbun reports that Japan is pushing a plan to create a "cyber defense network" consisting of Japan and 10 ASEAN countries.
"Under the system, the government intends to share information about cyber-attack patterns and technology to defend against the attacks. It also plans to carry out exercises to verify the effectiveness of the system within the current fiscal year."
More details will be discussed during meetings on information security in Tokyo this week, but the countries reportedly interested in participating include Thailand and Indonesia.
While the network's present plans -- sharing technology and information about attack patterns -- don't seem particularly innovative or groundbreaking, the fact that the network is being formed could be seen as another sign of widespread, cross-border fears of Chinese hackers.
More than a dozen Japanese websites belonging to banks, a government minister, a hospital, and some courts were hit during the row over the Senkaku Islands, many altered to display Chinese flags or to proclaim that the Diaoyu islands belong to China. Similar attacks took place on websites in the Phillipines - again related to a territorial spat over an island - earlier this year (although in fairness, Filipino hackers struck back) while last week saw a flurry of reports claiming that Chinese hackers had targeted the White House in a cyberattack (the White House said the attacks were a simple spear-phishing email, and that no harm had been done).
Yomiuiri Shimbun also reports that ASEAN countries might be interested in the network because their protections against cyberattacks haven't kept up with the increased use of computer equipment that has accompanied economic development.
TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images
A recently discovered video from online hacker group, Anonymous, has threatened to expose collaborators of the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel in retaliation for the kidnapping one of the members of the online collective. The video claimed that they would release the names of journalists, taxi drivers and others who have worked with Los Zetas in the past.
The video, published on Oct. 6, and picked up today by major media outlets, was in response to an alleged kidnapping of an Anonymous member following a street protest in the Veracruz state. The video deptics a man wearing a suit and a Guy Fawkes mask delivered his threat in Spanish. The style is similar to other videos put out by Anonymous group in the past. The original video is embedded below, with a translated version provided by The Guardian linked here.
Global intelligence company, STRATFOR, released a report several days ago, where they argued that any action by Anonymous was certain to lead to more violence on the part of the cartels. In the report, they specified that this could be especially detrimental on bloggers and journalists who have risked their lives to report on the drug cartels activities.
Last month, a separate set of online activists who used social media platforms to deliver news and reports about the drug cartels to local citizens, were found hanging from a bridge. A message found next to their bodies was clear to all passersby: "This is what happens to people who post funny things on the Internet. Pay attention." As a result, many journalists and activists may face a new threat in their quest to increase transparency and report on the crisis facing Mexico.
The Saturday night train crash in eastern China that killed around 40 and injured around 200 (different reports give different figures) has provoked a firestorm reaction on the Chinese internet. A number of locals have accused the Chinese government of burying the trains to cover up evidence. The accusations were picked up and circulated on the Chinese microblogging site and rumor hub Sina Weibo, and even official state outlet Global Times has quoted family members of the accident victims questioning the official death toll.
Official reports have said that the crash was caused by a lightning strike. If so, it's at least the second time in the last three weeks that thunderstorms have caused malfunctions on high-speed rail trains. The first of these incidents occurred on July 10 on a train traveling the newly opened Beijing-Shanghai rail line, though a subsequent investigation from the Shanghai Oriental Post (translated here by the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project) cast doubt on this explanation.
Chinese state media outlet Xinhua says that the government has recovered the "black box" from the latest crash, so an updated report on the cause of the accident should be forthcoming. But a report from Chinese muckraking magazine Caixin argues that the accident would have been "entirely preventable" had the train's automated data collecting system been functioning properly.
Whoa, Nellie. Some international press outlets appear to have mistakenly reported that Google+, Google's new social networking site released yesterday, has already been blocked in China. But a handful of major blog websites in China have since debunked that story. According to their reports, it seems that Google+ is being not blocked, but "throttled." In other words, you can access it, but it's painfully slow. The Chinese have used this strategy before, and to great effect, says tech website Penn Olson's Steven Millward:
Web throttling is a tactic new to China's Great Firewall, and has been seriously slowing pretty much all overseas internet speeds all year. Gmail particularly has been horribly throttled, to the point were it can take five or ten minutes or more to go from the login page to your inbox. It's a very underhanded tactic by Net Nanny: being seen not to block the service, whilst actually rendering it nearly useless to its users.
Shanghaiist isn't impressed with the research techniques behind the mistaken reports:
Washington Post, and others, are only citing GFW [Great Firewall, the nickname for China's internet censorship firewall] check-up sites like Great Firewall of China and Ping. To give you an idea of how unreliable those tests are, we just tried Google+ again on both, and got an "OKAY" from Ping and a "fail" from Great Firewall.
Sadly, when it comes to censorship, Western news outlets have something of a track record with overzealous reporting. This spring, the lede of a New York Times piece purported to expose Chinese propaganda agents cutting off phone calls at the mention of the word "protest." Shanghai-based journalist (and FP contributor) Adam Minter tested the Times' claims and found them overblown, as did Shanghaiist's Kenneth Tan. Later that day, Times researcher Jonathan Ansfield, who was involved with the piece, left a damning comment on Minter's post:
for the record, the contributing reporter's own tests comport with yours. regrettably his input on the story made little difference.
The next day, the Times published a correction saying that the recipients of the calls cited in the article, who were left anonymous in the article, were both Times reporters in the Beijing bureau, adding:
Because scrutiny of press communications could easily be higher than for those of the public at large, the calls could not be assumed to represent a broader trend; therefore, those examples should not have been given such prominence in the article.
A lesson learned, we hope.
Franko Lee/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Anti, the Chinese journalist and political blogger, had his Facebook account suspended in January because, as representatives of the company told him, "Facebook has a strict policy against pseudonyms and that he must use the name issued on his government ID." So Anti was more than a little miffed to learn that Beast -- the Hungarian sheepdog puppy just purchased by Mark Zuckerberg and his girlfriend -- now has his own profile:
Anti, a former journalist who has won fellowships at both Cambridge University and Harvard University, said he set up his Facebook account in 2007. By locking him out of his account, Facebook has cut him off from a network of more than 1,000 academic and professional contacts who know him as Anti, he said.
"I'm really, really angry. I can't function using my Chinese name. Today, I found out that Zuckerberg's dog has a Facebook account. My journalistic work and academic work is more real than a dog," he said.
Zuckerberg recently set up a Facebook page for "Beast," complete with photos and a profile. Unlike Anti's, however, the page for the puppy doesn't violate Facebook's policies because it's not meant to be a personal profile page. Rather, it's a type of page reserved for businesses and public figures that fans can "like" and receive updates from on their own Facebook pages.
Facebook said it does not comment on individual accounts, but added that it believes a "real name culture" leads to more accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for people who use Facebook.
Cute puppies aside, Facebook's explanation seems bogus. In just my list of Facebook friends I can find at least a dozen people using pseudonyms, nicknames, or variations on their names. Moreover, Anti is a relatively well known public figure under that name. He's been writing articles under that name for years and his Twitter account has nearly 36,000 followers.
The timing of Anti's suspension, coming just a month after Zuckerberg's "vacation" tour of Chinese Internet companies, is equally unfortunate.
Hat tip: China Digital Times
As events continue to unfold on the streets of Cairo and throughout Egypt, I spoke with Jillian York, project coordinator for the OpenNet Initiative at Harvard's Berkman Center and writer on Middle Eastern politics and the Internet for Global Voices and others, about the implications of Egypt's nationwide Internet shutdown:
JK: Can you give me a sense of the sequence of events last night as the Internet began going down in Egypt?
JY: I was online online chatting with an Egyptian friend who lives outside of Egypt at around last night. At around 1 a.m. [Egypt time], he pinged me and said that Internet had been cut off entirely. Then shortly after that he wrote that there was one ISP that was still up.
That still seems to be the case now. One ISP, Noor, is still accessible, but it looks like very few of the people who were tweeting or posting online have access to that. Looking at the folks on Twitter that we know have been posting, we only have about five people who are still connected, that I'm aware of.
JK: Is this an unprecedented move? Has a country ever been removed from the Internet in this way before.
JY: Burma was one example. Burma's military shut down the Internet on Sept. 29, 2007, [during the nationwide monks' protests against the country's military regime,]. That was the first time that anything like this had ever happened.
JK: When the government blocked access to Twitter a couple of days ago, there were a number of ways people were getting around it using third-party applications. Is there any way to circumvent this shutdown?
JY: Dial-up is still working. Jacob Applebaum, [a U.S. computer-security researcher assosiated with WikiLeaks] has been Tweeting the number for a dial-up connection that people can get to through a French ISP.
A lot of the international community is trying to help.There's even a Twitter account called Jan 25 Voices that is literally reporting via Twitter on phone calls back to Egypt. But in terms of actual connectivity, it's just dial-up and this one ISP.
JK: I read your piece a couple of days ago on how the demonstrators are using social media. Has the black-out changed your views?
JY: You can say, "Wow, it's a 'Facebook revolution' or a 'Twitter revolution', but as soon as these are cut off, it will be interesting to see what the success of this is without social media. It's early to judge, but from what we've been seeing, it seems that people are still out there and still organizing despite this. They definitely seemed prepared for what happens when the Internet gets shut off.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
Judging by my Twitter feed, Time has managed to tick off the entire Internet in selecting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as its "person of the year" -- the youngest to earn the title since Charles Lindbergh. The magazine's rationale: "for connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them; for creating a new system of exchanging information; and for changing how we all live our lives" is not likely to mollify the Twitterati, who tend to be a snobbish crowd. (Sample: "Time Magazine just named its Person of The Year 2007.")
Snark aside, it's unclear what's particularly 2010 about this pick. Facebook has been huge for a while now, and if anything, it may be headed for inevitable decline. I suppose it's a step up from 2006,when Time's editors picked "You" as its POY, citing the rise of "Web 2.0" sites like Facebook, Wikipedia, MySpace (remember that?), Second Life (ditto), and YouTube.
This year, just like in 2006, the magazine asked its readers to cast their votes, and just like in 2006, it ignored them. Back then, it was Hugo Chávez who stirred the masses (though Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the official runner-op); this year it was Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame, who ran away with the online poll.
I suppose we'll now be treated to a dreadfully predictable debate about whether Time wimped out by not choosing Assange, and maybe those crazy Anonymous hackers will seek revenge on Time's servers. I'm sure the magazine's editors will embrace the discussion in any event: Controversy sells.
Yesterday, the Internets were abuzz with the discovery of Julian Assange's OkCupid profile, under the alias HarryHarrison. Now, it seems HarryHarrison also had a profile set up (members only) on CouchSurfing.org, a site that helps travelers find hosts to stay with when traveling.
The picture is certainly Assange and the profile does feel real. His last login was December 17th, 2006 from Budapest and his occupation is listed as "Investigative journalist / rabble rouser." In case you're wondering about his taste in movie/books/music, he likes "Obscure works produced under difficult circumstances by courageous authors". The people he enjoys include, "Voltaire. Richard Feynman. My parents."
Anyone who hosts him can look forward to "Many stories from attempted assassinations in Africa to telephone taps in Australia, to under cover in Egypt, election rigging, deportations, Russian mafia, scientific expeditions, politician's wives..."
The reviews from other users who have hosted "HarryHarrison" or stayed at his place in Melbourne are overwhelmingly positive.
The U.S. embassy in Beijing has an air-quality monitoring station that tracks the level of certain pollutants in China's notoriously smoggy capital -- and then broadcasts results via Twitter. Most tweets from the sober-minded scientists behind @BeijingAir look like this:
11-17-2010; 10:00; PM2.5; 154.0; 204; Very Unhealthy // Ozone; 0.2; 0
But yesterday a new reading was pronounced, one not listed on the US EPA's usual air-quality index:
11-19-2010; 02:00; PM2.5; 562.0; 500; Crazy Bad
A "Crazy bad" day, apparently, is one in which the pollution reading -- a score typically from 1 to 500 reflecting measurements of ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide in the air -- is literally off the charts. That is, it exceeds the EPA's maximum score of 500, the upper bound for a "hazardous" day. The definition of a "hazardous" day is pretty ominous: "Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected." But what's beyond hazardous?
The new category of "crazy bad" will not be formally incorporated into the EPA's index, but will first be renamed, as the embassy later told the Associated Press. Just another record broken in China for which we have yet no name.
Hat tip: @gadyepstein
"Hello beautiful world. I would like to thank all my followers, We've passed the million mark! Woo-hoo!."
For comparison, U.S. President Barack Obama has almost 6,000,000 followers, though his account has been open for a much longer period of time. (Note: The White House has 1,800,000 followers -- the above figure is Obama's Organizing for America account, which was previously his campaign Twitter profile.) Dmitry Medvedev's official English Kremlin account, however, has a mere 50,000 followers. (And the Russian version has only 111,000 followers.)
If you're on Twitter, it'd behoove you to follow Foreign Policy's page, where you can stay up to date on the latest articles and news from FP. (At the moment, we've got 73,500 followers.) Furthermore, you can follow the personal accounts of FP's editors, handily compiled in the FP_Tweeps list.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Authoritarian regimes seem to have a love-hate relationship with the internet. Vietnam is leaning toward love. State-owned Vietnam Multimedia Report recently launched a trial version of go.vn, an answer to Facebook -- which is banned in Vietnam -- that lets users build profiles, post photos, send messages, share music, add friends, and catch the news. The full version should launch later this year.
One user you can't defriend? The government. According to the Wall Street Journal:
The catch is that users have to submit their full names and government-issued identity numbers before they can access the site. Security services monitor websites in Vietnam, whose authoritarian, one-party dictatorship treats dissidents ruthlessly.
The site marks a shift in tactics for Hanoi's Politburo members, who have more typically shut dissident bloggers and tried blocking Facebook Inc.'s flagship site to stop subversive thoughts from spreading online.
Think Facebook has privacy issues?
According to the Journal, Vietnam's Minister for Information and Communications, Le Doan Hop, believes the site is both a "trustworthy" alternative to foreign sites and one ripe with "culture, values, and benefits" for Vietnam's teenagers. When early articles about Ho Chi Minh didn't go viral, Vietnam Multimedia's online unit added English tests and state-approved videogames, including, according to the Journal, "a violent multiplayer contest featuring a band of militants bent on stopping the spread of global capitalism." Hop predicts about half of the Vietnamese population will sign up over the next five years.
Apparently, the Vietnamese aren't impressed:
Some Vietnamese have figured out how to skirt the Facebook ban by using proxy servers or tinkering with their computer settings. Others have launched online campaigns to boycott local Web sites such as go.vn despite its ongoing makeover. "Make 'go' go away," one person wrote in an online message.
Many Vietnamese shrug when queried about go.vn. "I didn't even know it existed," says Pham Thanh Cong, a fourth-year physics student at Hanoi Polytechnic as he waits his turn to play an online shoot-'em-up game at a street-side Internet café.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
In a new video blog entry, an unusually stern Dmitry Medvedev takes aim at Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko for using "hysterical" anti-Russian rhetoric on the campaign trail, which according to the Russian President, "goes far beyond not only diplomatic protocol but also basic human decency." He also gets in a dig at the autocratic ruler's human rights practices saying that Lukashnko should "should concern himself with his country's internal problems, including, finally the investigation of numerous cases of disappearances."
Medvedev is responding to Lukashenko's recent accusations that Russia is meddling in the country's election. Relations between Russia and its onetime closest ally have soured in recent years, and in the last few weeks, state-controlled Russian TV stations have been pumping out anti-Lukashenko documentaries.
A similar barrage of criticism in the state-controlled press hit Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov before his firing last week and Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev before he was overthrown in April. Lukashenko is probably right to be worried.
The last leader to receive a similar Medvedev vlog-attack was Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko, who is, of course, no longer the Ukrainian president.
In a speech in Hong Kong arguing that cybercrime may be "one of the most dangerous criminal threats ever," and detailing his organization's efforst to counter it, Interpol Chief Ronald K. Noble told this harrowing tale of his own brush with online identity theft:
[E]ven with the best standards in place, security incidents can always happen.
Just recently INTERPOL’s Information Security Incident Response Team discovered two Facebook profiles attempting to assume my identity as INTERPOL’s Secretary General.
One of the impersonators was using this profile to try to obtain information on fugitives
targeted during our recent Operation Infra Red. This Operation was bringing investigators from 29 member countries at the INTERPOL General Secretariat to exchange information on international fugitives and lead to more than 130 arrests in 32 countries.
Noble didn't go into details about how much success the cyberfraudsters got with their ruse -- some of the press reports have been a tad misleading in this regard -- but frankly, if this is the level cybercriminals are operating on, I don't think we have much to worry about.
It's perfectly fine that Noble has an official Facebook profile, but I would certainly hope he's not using it to share and obtain information with other law enforcement officials. I'm trying to imagine how the fake Ronald Nobles would go about trying to deceive their marks: "Hey there, it's Ron from Interpol. Just postin' on ur wall to see how that big organized crime investigation is going. Please send me all the deets including names of suspects and plans for future operations! TTYL!!!"
If fake Facebook pages are really a threat to Interpol security, they probably have bigger things to worry about.
Countries as diverse as the United States and North Korea have all struggled at the nexus of statehood and social media. Until now, none have had to purchase the Twitter handle of their country's name from the owner of a porn site. That dubious honor goes to Israel, which recently purchased the user name @israel from Israel Meléndez, a Spanish man living in Miami, who registered the name back in 2007, early in the microblogging website's history.
According to the New York Times, Meléndez struggled with his account because every tweet posted provoked anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments. "My account was basically unused because I was getting dozens of replies every day from people who thought the account belonged to the state of Israel," Meléndez said.
The Spanish newspaper Público first reported on the transaction, noting that Twitter helped facilitate, even though the company has a policy against username squatting (although CNN did the same last year). Meléndez said that the payoff was a six-figure sum. Israel refuted that number. According to Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the sum was actually $3,000. "I won't go into the details of our negotiations but originally he asked for a five digit sum and all we paid him was $3,000, period," Palmor told The Jerusalem Post.
On August 31, the old official address of the Foreign Ministry (@israelMFA) broadcast the tweet: "The IsraelMFA twitter account name has been changed to @Israel. Look for us here: twitter.com/Israel."
Israel has been trying to increase its social media presence, with recently opened accounts on Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.
This appears to be more a case of mistaken identity and not internet-era extortion, such as the case of whitehouse.com. In 1997, that particular domain name was created as an adult and political entertainment site, whose existence sparked a letter of objection from the real White House.
A Japanese journalist held hostage in Afghanistan fooled his abductors with an unlikely source: Twitter.
Kosuke Tsuneoka's captors asked him last Friday to show them how to use their new Nokia mobile phones, and after activating the devices Tsuneoka demonstrated how to access the Internet. After showing them Al Jazeera's website, Tsuneoka made his move:
Then I told them there is a thing called 'Twitter'. They asked me to show them what it was, so I sent Twitter messages with the phone in front of them. Because nobody understood English, it was no problem.
Tsuneoka tweeted two messages: "i am still alive, but in jail." He then followed up with his location: "here is archi in kunduz. in the jail of commander lativ." He was released the following day, though he suspects it was as a result of his captors' failure to secure a ransom payment.
Tsuneoka further noted that he was well treated in captivity, even given three meals a day, but that his captors were "dreadfully uneducated" and "even their knowledge of Islamic teaching was very poor."
Tsuneoka claims he was held by fighters loyal to Hizb-i-Islami commander Guldbuddin Hekmatyar -- and not Taliban fighters, which the Afghan government and some media organizations reported.
Hekmatyar, a veteran mujahedeen commander, earned his name during the campaign against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Hizb-i-Islami is believed to be the second largest insurgent group in Afghanistan.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev may be on Twitter, but he was not amused when Kirov's regional governor Nikita Belykh decided to post his thoughts during yesterday's State Council session. (Many thanks to the Wall Street Journal for translating the highlights.)
The bizarre story, which really could have only happened in today's Russia, began when Dmitry Zelenin, governor of Russia's Tver region, noted "State Council. 1 Minute to session." But it was Belykh's furious pounding out 140-character messages that made things interesting. He first noted:
10-15 people at the State Council are sitting with iPads. They used to sit with laptops. Darned stenographers ;)
(He immediately followed his own tweet by asking if they were in fact "doing other things.")
As Medvedev spoke, Belykh posted the tweet that started the brouhaha:
I support your idea of presidential Lycees, Dmitry Anatolievich. Kress. Actually, that was my idea ;(
At this point, Belykh was publicly reprimanded by Medvedev, who had got wind of the governor's feelings: "Nikita Yurievich Belykh is posting something on his Twitter page right now, during the State Council session, as if he has nothing else to do." You'd imagine, at this point, that Belykh would stop Tweeting and pay sharp attention to the rest of the session. You'd also be wrong, as Belykh blamed Medvedev's adviser Arkady Dvorkovich for narking on him:
There you go ;(. Dvorkovich leaked my reports to the President. Such are the costs of the information society ;(
It's clear that Dvorkovich himself was paying more attention to his feed than his boss as he playfully chided Belykh:
At least the record was set straight :)
Other attendees got in on the act, claiming that Belykh's list of followers was destined to rise as a result of the exchange. After the meeting, Medvedev responded to Belykh on his own (Russian-language) feed:
Yes, those are the costs of the information society. The important thing is that they don't distract from work, right?
As a side note, Medvedev's English-language feed follows President Barack Obama, the White House, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the Kremlin's Russian feed, but only Obama and the White House have returned the favor.
DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
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