Woodward strikes again

How does he do it? According to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, Fox chairman Roger Ailes tried to get David Petraeus to run for president, via an intermediary. And somebody recorded it:

[I]n spring 2011, Ailes asked a Fox News analyst headed to Afghanistan to pass on his thoughts to Petraeus, who was then the commander of U.S. and coalition forces there. Petraeus, Ailes advised, should turn down an expected offer from President Obama to become CIA director and accept nothing less than the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military post. If Obama did not offer the Joint Chiefs post, Petraeus should resign from the military and run for president, Ailes suggested.

The Fox News chairman’s message was delivered to Petraeus by Kathleen T. McFarland, a Fox News national security analyst and former national security and Pentagon aide in three Republican administrations. She did so at the end of a 90-minute, unfiltered conversation with Petraeus that touched on the general’s future, his relationship with the media and his political aspirations — or lack thereof. The Washington Post has obtained a digital recording from the meeting, which took place in Petraeus’s office in Kabul.

For some reason, this bombshell story ran in the Style section. Why? More importantly, who leaked this story to Woodward? McFarland, after telling Petraeus, "I’m only reporting this back to Roger. And that’s our deal"? Someone looking to discredit Ailes? Petraeus, trying to make clear once and for all that he had no political aspirations? Somebody else who was in the room? Or did Woodward get wind of the outlines of the encounter, present it to Petraeus, and then encourage the former CIA director to set the record straight? Whatever the case, one thing is clear: Woodward has done it again.


Should you wear your Guy Fawkes mask in Dubai this week?

Not unless you want to attract some attention from the fuzz. Dubai authorities warned last month that anyone seen wearing a V For Vendetta mask "risks police questioning". The admonition was mainly directed at anyone who might be planning protests for the UAE's National Day -- which was yesterday -- but one wonders if they might also have been thinking about this week's World Conference on International Telecommunications

It's not just mask-wearing Anons who have expressed concern about the 193-country conference being organized in Dubai this week by the International Telecommunication Union -- a U.N. agency-- which is intended to update the 1988 International Telecommunication Regulations for the Internet era.

Participants including the European Union and the United States are opposed to proposals by some countries -- notably Russia -- that countries should have power to manage their own Internet domain names, as well as any move to give the ITU greater regulatory power over the Internet. Companies like Google argue that the ITU -- an organization founded in 1865 to manage telegraph communications -- shouldn't have jurisdiction over the Internet at all and that decisions regarding Internet architecture should not be made by government regulators.

There are also widespread concerns among internet content producers like Google and Facebook over a proposal by a coalition of European telecom network operators as well as some developing country governments that would require web companies to pay a fee to access local telecoms networks. And pretty much everyone is upset about the lack of transparency in the run-up to the conference.

Meanwhile, ITU secretary general Dr Hamadoun Touré, from Mali, has admonished wealthy governments and Internet content giants to remember that "when you talk of internet freedom, most people in the world cannot even access the internet. The internet is the rich world's privilege and ITU wants to change that."

There's also a separate debate over how much any of this will matter. The opinions range from Internet pioneer Vint Cerf argues that the decisions made in Dubai this week have "the potential to put government handcuffs on the Net". (He has also referred to government regulators as a "breed of dinosaurs, with their pea-sized brains".)

On the other hand, as several blogs have pointed out, the most radical proposals -- such as Russia's -- are unlikely to be adopted, whatever treaty does come out of the meeting will have essentially no enforcement power, and it's not as if authoritarian governments aren't doing a perfectly good job censoring web content already. 

It certainly seems ill-advised to give more Internet regulatory power to national governments or to a U.N. agency, though I can also understand how odd it must look to users in other countries that much of the net's administration is in the hands of U.S.-based entities like Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which -- though now independent -- have their origins in U.S. Defense Department projects.

Bringing together web companies, NGOs, and governments to discuss the future of the internet's administration certainly seems like a worthwile project. But given the atmosphere of mutual suspicion in which this conference is taking place, I'm not too optimistic about a productive outcome.  

TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)