SOCIAL MEDIA “TACTICAL INTELLIGENCE COLLECTION”: Spying and Propaganda using Facebook, Twitter…

Posted on February 20, 2012 by rockingjude

FriendFeed ServicesBy Julie Lévesque

Global Research, February 15, 2012

new study by the Mediterranean Council for Intelligence Studies’ (MCIS) 2012 Intelligence Studies Yearbook points to the use of social media as “the new cutting edge in open-source tactical intelligence collection”. IntelNews.org’s Joseph Fitsanakis, who co-authored the study, reports:

We explain that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a host of other social networking platforms are increasingly viewed by intelligence agencies as invaluable channels of information acquisition. We base our findings on three recent case studies, which we believe highlight the intelligence function of social networking. (Joseph Fitsanakis, Research: Spies increasingly using Facebook, Twitter to gather data, intelNews.org, February 13, 2012)[below is article]

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
During the past four years, this blog has reported several incidents pointing to the increasing frequency with which spy agencies of various countries are utilizing social networking media as sources of tactical intelligence. But are we at a point where we can speak of a trend? In other words, is the rapid rise of social networking creating the conditions for the emergence of a new domain in tactical intelligence collection?

This past week saw the publication of a new research paper(.pdf), which I co-authored with Micah-Sage Bolden, entitled “Social Networking as a Paradigm Shift in Tactical Intelligence Collection”. In it, we argue that recent case studies point to social networking as the new cutting edge in open-source tactical intelligence collection. We explain that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a host of other social networking platforms are increasingly viewed by intelligence agencies as invaluable channels of information acquisition. We base our findings on three recent case studies, which we believe highlight the intelligence function of social networking.

The first case study comes out of the Arab Spring, which, according to one report, “prompted the US government to begin developing guidelines for culling intelligence from social media networks”. We also examine NATO’s operations during the 2011 Libyan civil war (Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR), when Western military forces systematically resorted to social networking media to gather actionable intelligence, by utilizing open sources like Twitter to pinpoint targets for attack.

Finally, we examine the sabotage by Israeli security services of the 2011 “Welcome to Palestine Air Flotilla” initiative, a campaign organized by several European groups aiming to draw worldwide attention to the travel restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities on the Occupied Territories. Israeli authorities were able to disrupt the “air flotilla” by systematically monitoring the participants’ online activities on social networks. In conclusion, we argue that, examined collectively, these case studies underscore the ability of social networking to do three things: (a) reflect opinion trends and channel mass political action; (b) provide actionable tactical intelligence; and (c) enable highly effective —and highly controversial— security operations against targeted groups. The paper, which is published in the 2012 Intelligence Studies Yearbook (pages 28-40), is available in .pdf format here.

What the study fails to mention, however, is the use of social media by intelligence agencies for other purposes. The study leads us to believe that social media is solely an intelligence gathering tool, when in fact, a number of reports have shown that it is used for propaganda including the creation of fake identities in support of covert operations. Those practices are discussed in Army of Fake Social Media Friends to Promote PropagandaSocial Media: Air Force ordered software to manage army of Fake Virtual People and Pentagon Seeks to Manipulate Social Media for Propaganda Purposes, published on Global Research in 2011.[BOTH LINKED ARTICLES BELOW]

These days, with Facebook and Twitter and social media galore, it can be increasingly hard to tell who your “friends” are.

But after this, Internet users would be well advised to ask another question entirely: Are my “friends” even real people?

In the continuing saga of data security firm HBGary, a new caveat has come to light: not only did they plot to help destroy secrets outlet WikiLeaks and discredit progressive bloggers, they also crafted detailed proposals for software that manages online “personas,” allowing a single human to assume the identities of as many fake people as they’d like.

The revelation was among those contained in the company’s emails, which were dumped onto bittorrent networks after hackers with cyber protest group “Anonymous” broke into their systems.

In another document unearthed by “Anonymous,” one of HBGary’s employees also mentioned gaming geolocation services to make it appear as though selected fake persons were at actual events.

“There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas,” it said.

Government involvement

Eerie as that may be, more perplexing, however, is a federal contract (PDF) from the 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, located south of Tampa, Florida, that solicits providers of “persona management software.”

Update: The contract has since been taken off FBO.gov. The link above has been updated.

While there are certainly legitimate applications for such software, such as managing multiple “official” social media accounts from a single input, the more nefarious potential is clear.

Unfortunately, the Air Force’s contract description doesn’t help dispel suspicions. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be “replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent.”

It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator’s Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it’s a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.

The contract also sought methods to anonymously establish virtual private servers with private hosting firms in specific geographic locations. This would allow that server’s “geosite” to be integrated with their social media profiles, effectively gaming geolocation services.

The Air Force added that the “place of performance” for the contract would be at MacDill Air Force Base, along with Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad. The contract was offered on June 22, 2010.

It was not clear exactly what the Air Force was doing with this software, or even if it had been procured.

Manufacturing consent

Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. “Persona management software” can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual “people” could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.

You could call it a virtual flash mob, or a digital “Brooks Brothers Riot,” so to speak: compelling, but not nearly as spontaneous as it appears.

That’s precisely what got DailyKos blogger Happy Rockefeller in a snit: the potential for military-run armies of fake people manipulating and, in some cases, even manufacturing the appearance of public opinion.

“I don’t know about you, but it matters to me what fellow progressives think,” the blogger wrote. “I consider all views. And if there appears to be a consensus that some reporter isn’t credible, for example, or some candidate for congress in another state can’t be trusted, I won’t base my entire judgment on it, but it carries some weight.

“That’s me. I believe there are many people though who will base their judgment on rumors and mob attacks. And for those people, a fake mob can be really effective.”

It was Rockefeller who was first to highlight the Air Force’s “persona” contract, which was available on a public website.

A call to MacDill Air Force Base, requesting an explanation of the contract and what this software might be used for, was answered by a public affairs officer who promised a call-back. No reply was received at time of this story’s publication.

Other e-mails circulated by HBGary’s CEO illuminate highly personal data about critics of the US Chamber of Commerce, including detailed information about their spouses and children, as well as their locations and professional links. The firm, it was revealed, was just one part of a group called “Team Themis,” tasked by the Chamber to come up with strategies for responding to progressive bloggers and others.

“Team Themis” also included a proposal to use malware hacks against progressive organizations, and the submission of fake documents in an effort to discredit established groups.

HB Gary was also behind a plot by Bank of America to destroy WikiLeaks’ technology platform, other emails revealed. The company was humiliated by members of “Anonymous” after CEO Aaron Barr bragged that he’d “infiltrated” the group.

A request for comment emailed to HBGary did not receive a reply.

Update: HBGary Federal among bidders

A list of interested vendors responding to the Air Force contract for “persona management software” included HBGary subsideary HBGary Federal, further analysis of a government website has revealed.

Other companies that offered their services included Global Business Solutions and Associates LLC, Uk Plus Logistics, Ltd., NevinTelecom, Bunker Communications and Planmatrix LLC.

Pentagon Seeks to Manipulate Social Media for Propaganda Purposes

Wired Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program. It’s an attempt to get better at both detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns on social media. SMISC has two goals. First, the program needs to help the military better understand what’s going on in social media in real time — particularly in areas where troops are deployed. Second, Darpa wants SMISC to help the military play the social media propaganda game itself.

This is more than just checking the trending topics on Twitter. The Defense Department wants to deeply grok social media dynamics. So SMISC algorithms will be aimed at discovering and tracking the “formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes)” on social media, according to Darpa’s announcement.

SMISC needs to be able to seek out “persuasion campaign structures and influence operations” developing across the social sphere. SMISC is supposed to quickly flag rumors and emerging themes on social media, figure out who’s behind it and what. Moreover, Darpa wants SMISC to be able to actually figure out whether this is a random product of the hivemind or a propaganda operation by an adversary nation or group.

Of course, SMISC won’t be content to just to hang back and monitor social media trends in strategic locations. It’s about building a better spin machine for Uncle Sam, too. Once SMISC’s latches on to an influence operation being launched, it’s supposed to help out in “countermessaging.”

SMISC is yet another example of how the military is becoming very interested in what’s going on in the social media sphere.

Indeed, as I noted in 2009, in an article entitled “Does The Government Manipulate Social Media?”:

The U.S. government long ago announced its intention to announced years ago that it was considering using “black propaganda” – in other words, knowing lies.

CENTCOM announced in 2008 that a team of employees would be Air Force is now also engaging bloggers. Indeed, an Air Force spokesman said:

“We obviously have many more concerns regarding cyberspace than a typical Social Media user,” Capt. Faggard says. “I am concerned with how insurgents or potential enemies can use Social Media to their advantage. It’s our role to provide a clear and accurate, completely truthful and transparent picture for any audience.”

In other words, the government is targeting “social media”, including popular user-ranked news sites.

In addition, when you look at what the Israeli lobby has done with Megaphone software to automatically vote stories questioning Israel down and to send pro-Israel letters to politicians and media (see this), you can start to see how the U.S. military – an even larger and better-funded organization – could substantially influence voting on social news sites with very little effort.

I pointed out the same month:

Government propagandists, their hired private contractors and useful idiots are creating “downvote bots” or scripts to bury stories which question the government.

One free, simple scripting program to create automatic downvotes of certain topics or news posters is called “Greasemonkey”, which is commonly used on large social news sites such as Reddit.

For example, there are some 2,480 hits [now past 9,000] for the google search this

Propaganda agents obviously aren’t going to publicly brag about what they are doing, and you can bet that their use of downvote bots is much greater. Moreover, they probably have more sophisticated software than Greasemonkey. Today, Raw Story a federal contract from the 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, located south of Tampa, Florida, that solicits providers of “persona management software.”

While there are certainly legitimate applications for such software, such as managing multiple “official” social media accounts from a single input, the more nefarious potential is clear.

Unfortunately, the Air Force’s contract description doesn’t help dispel their suspicions either. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be “replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent.”

It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator’s Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it’s a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.

The contract also sought methods to anonymously establish virtual private servers with private hosting firms in specific geographic locations. This would allow that server’s “geosite” to be integrated with their social media profiles, effectively gaming geolocation services.

The Air Force added that the “place of performance” for the contract would be at MacDill Air Force Base, along with Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad. The contract was offered on June 22, 2010.

It was not clear exactly what the Air Force was doing with this software, or even if it had been procured.

Manufacturing consent

Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. “Persona management software” can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual “people” could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.

That’s precisely

“That’s me. I believe there are many people though who will base their judgment on rumors and mob attacks. And for those people, a fake mob can be really effective.”

“Team Themis” [a proposal ] to use malware hacks against progressive organizations, and the submission of fake documents in an effort to discredit established groups.

HBGary was also behind a plot by Bank of America to destroy WikiLeaks’ technology platform, other emails revealed. The company was thisthisnoted new article by investigative reporter Christopher Ketcham reveals, a governmental unit operating in secret and with no oversight whatsoever is gathering massive amounts of data on every American and running artificial intelligence software to predict each American’s behavior, including “what the target will do, where the target will go, who it will turn to for help”.

The same governmental unit is responsible for (this is formally known as implementing “Continuity of Government” plans).

Bear in mind that the Pentagon is also running an AI program to see how people will react to propaganda and to government-inflicted terror. The program is called “U.S defense, intel and homeland security officials are constructing a parallel world, on a computer, which the agencies will use to test propaganda messages and military strategies.

Called the Sentient World Simulation, the program uses AI routines based upon the psychological theories of Marty Seligman, among others. (Seligman introduced the theory of ‘learned helplessness’ in the 1960s, after shocking beagles until they cowered, urinating, on the bottom of their cages.)

Yank a country’s water supply. Stage a military coup. SWS will tell you what happens next.

The sim will feature an AR avatar for each person in the real world, based upon data collected about us from government records and the internet.”

Images: From Tunis and Tahrir Square to the Oval Office shaking hands with the US President and receiving the NED 2011 “Democracy Award,” the forces behind the “Arab Spring” not only weren’t spontaneous nor indigenous, but they most certainly were orchestrated, funded, directed, and finally celebrated and well-rewarded by the US State Department through their National Endowment for Democracy. Egypt’s crackdown on these disingenuous NGOs is long overdue and an example for all nations to follow. 

AP goes on to explain the plight of the International Republican Institute (IRI) Egypt office-head, Sam LaHood, son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who is now on trail amongst 16 American “civil society employees.” They are charged with using US State Department funds to fuel unrest throughout Egypt.

Despite the feigned skepticism of AP, there is conclusive evidence that from 2008, the US State Department had begun a concerted effort to recruit, train, equip, fund, and in some cases arm, dissidents not only from Egypt, but from Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Iran, Russia, Belarus, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, and even North Korea. This was accomplished not only through the US State Department, but through a myriad of subsidiaries starting with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and including LaHood’s IRI.

Far from Egyptian Paranoia – Documented US Meddling in Egypt 

In January of 2011, we were told that “spontaneous,” “indigenous” uprising had begun sweeping North Africa and the Middle East, including Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, in what was hailed as the “Arab Spring.” It would be almost four months before the corporate-media would admit that the US had been behind the uprisings and that they were anything but “spontaneous,” or “indigenous.” In an April 2011 article published by the New York Times titled, “U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings,” it was stated (emphasis added):

“A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington.”

The article would also add, regarding the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED):

“The Republican and Democratic institutes are loosely affiliated with the Republican and Democratic Parties. They were created by Congress and are financed through the National Endowment for Democracy, which was set up in 1983 to channel grants for promoting democracy in developing nations. The National Endowment receives about $100 million annually from Congress. Freedom House also gets the bulk of its money from the American government, mainly from the State Department. “ 

It is hardly a speculative theory then, that the uprisings were part of an immense geopolitical campaign conceived in the West and carried out through its proxies with the assistance of disingenuous organizations including NED, NDI, LaHood’s IRI, and Freedom House and the stable of NGOs they maintain throughout the world. Preparations for the “Arab Spring” began not as unrest had already begun, but years before the first “fist” was raised, and within seminar rooms in D.C. and New York, US-funded training facilities in Serbia, and camps held in neighboring countries, not within the Arab World itself.

In 2008, Egyptian activists from the now infamous April 6 movement were in New York City for the inaugural Alliance of Youth Movements (AYM) summit, also known as Movements.org. There, they received training, networking opportunities, and support from AYM’s various corporate and US governmental sponsors, including the US State Department itself. The AYM 2008 summit report (page 3 of .pdf) states that the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, James Glassman attended, as did Jared C0hen who sits on the policy planning staff of the Office of the Secretary of State. Six other State Department staff members and advisers would also attend the summit along with an immense list of corporate, media, and institutional representatives.

Shortly afterward, April 6 would travel to Serbia to train under US-funded CANVAS, formally the US-funded NGO “Otpor” who helped overthrow the government of Serbia in 2000. Otpor, the New York Times would report, was a “well-oiled movement backed by several million dollars from the United States.” After its success it would change its name to CANVAS and begin training activists to be used in other US-backed regime change operations.

The April 6 Movement, after training with CANVAS, would return to Egypt in 2010, a full year before the “Arab Spring,” along with UN IAEA Chief Mohammed ElBaradei. April 6 members would even be arrested while waiting for ElBaradei’s arrival at Cairo’s airport in mid-February. Already, ElBaradei, as early as 2010, announced his intentions of running for president in the 2011 elections. Together with April 6, Wael Ghonim of Google, and a coalition of other opposition parties, ElBaradei assembled his “National Front for Change” and began preparing for the coming “Arab Spring.”

Quite clearly, it is not a “line” that the Egyptian government is “pushing” in regards to so-called “civil society employees,” rather it is a verified, documented fact that these “employees” are conducting espionage and political destabilization under the increasingly tenuous guise of “democracy promotion.”

An April 2011 AFP report would confirm that the US government had trained armies of “activists” to return to their respective countries and enact political “change,” when US State Department’s Michael Posner stated that the “US government has budgeted $50 million in the last two years to develop new technologies to help activists protect themselves from arrest and prosecution by authoritarian governments.” The report went on to explain that the US “organized training sessions for 5,000 activists in different parts of the world. A session held in the Middle East about six weeks ago gathered activists from Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon who returned to their countries with the aim of training their colleagues there.” Posner would add, “They went back and there’s a ripple effect.”

That ripple effect of course, was the “Arab Spring” and the subsequent destabilization, violence, and even US armed and backed warfare that followed. While nations like Libya and Tunisia are now run by a BP, Shell, and Total-funded Petroleum Institute chairman and a US NED-funded “activist” respectively, Egypt has managed to ward off and expose the US proxy of choice, Mohammed ElBaradei, who’s own movement was forced to denounce him as a Western agent.

By striking at the meddling, seditious NGOs, Egypt seeks to undermine the source of destabilization, the conduit through which US money and support is funneled through to “activists,” and expose the true foreign-funded nature of the political division that has gripped the nation for now over a year.

The AP article reports that Egypt’s generals have stated, “we face conspiracies hatched against the homeland, whose goal is to undermine the institutions of the Egyptian state and whose aim is to topple the state itself so that chaos reigns and destruction spreads.” Clearly, this an accurate observation, not a political ploy, with similar US-hatched conspiracies documented and exposed from Tunisia all the way to Thailand.

Stepping Back from the Brink 

Egyptians must step back and examine the obvious fraud behind their “Arab Spring” revolution, as well as ensure that this nationalist streak by the Egyptian military is genuine. All sides presuming ownership over Egypt’s destiny must exhibit through policy, programs, and action that they will be serving the Egyptian people, not opening doors to US free trade, bending to the will of Wall Street and London’s military ambitions throughout the region, or lending credibility to the West’s contrived international institutions.

Egypt’s military has made a promising first step by exposing and prosecuting foreign-funded sedition in their country, helping strip the deceitful veneer off of Western NGOs that have long operated with impunity under the cloak of humanitarian concern. Another step could be by showing support for Syria’s besieged government, facing similar foreign-funded destabilization and now foreign-funded terrorists vying to overthrow yet another Arab nation and installing a Western proxy regime.

For those in the streets of Egypt who genuinely seek better lives, they would be best served by exposing the foreign-funded frauds amongst them seeking to exploit the well-intentioned, and then developing a program of pragmatism rather than one of politics. Those merely calling for first Mubarak, and now the military to step down and make way for clearly US-backed proxies like ElBaradei and the MI6-creation, the Muslim Brotherhood, are only paving the way for another oppressive regime to lord over them well into the foreseeable future. However, unlike with Mubarak, there will be no foreign aid flowing in to overthrow this new foreign-funded proxy regime, only aid to ensure its endless perpetuation.

Tony Cartalucci is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

“Cyber dissidence” is sponsored among others by CIA-linked Freedom House. The First of The Bush Institute’s Human Freedom Events, Co-Sponsored by Freedom House was titled “The Conference on Cyber Dissidents: Global Successes and Challenges”.

The Conference on Cyber Dissidents:Global Successes and Challenges

The First of The Bush Institute’s Human Freedom Events,Co-Sponsored by Freedom House

The Conference on Cyber Dissidents highlighted the work, methods, courage and achievements of its eight dissident guest speakers, from seven nations. Five of these nations are places where freedom has been extinguished (all rated “not free” by Freedom House): China, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Russia. Two others are places where freedom is in peril (both rated “partly free” by Freedom House) because of an authoritarian government accumulating more power, as in Venezuela, or because of the threat of internal terrorist groups, as in Colombia.

All of the dissidents who were able to join the Conference are key leaders; several must live in exile; two have served extensive time as political prisoners. And all of them have made use of new online, Internet and mobile technologies in their non-violent struggle against state oppression, lack of press freedom and official and unofficial terror and violence.

The Conference is the inaugural event of the The George W. Bush Institute’s Area of Focus on Human Freedom, and includes the Institute’s first two Visiting Fellows in Human Freedom: Oscar Morales, from Colombia, and Mohsen Sazegara, from Iran. The co-sponsor of the event was Freedom House, the non-partisan organization founded by Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie in 1941.

The Conference honored the work and the courage of the dissidents who spoke and the aspirations for freedom in each of their countries they represent. As James K. Glassman told the attendees, the Bush Institute and Freedom House hope their work “will become a beacon to others, who can be both inspired and educated. At few times in history, has work like theirs been more important.”

And when the “voices of freedom and tolerance face serious challenges,” as Laura W. Bush said, President Bush “and I believe it is vital that they know that the people of the United States stand behind them.” But the Institute’s mission is not merely to appreciate the great ideas and (in this case) the courage of people who stand up for them, but to take action that engages and enables these ideas to work in the practical world. Accordingly, the Conference’s work focused on two challenges:

  • How best to make use of the new tools that Internet and wireless technology have placed in the hands of contemporary dissidents and citizen freedom movements on four continents
  • How to overcome the use of the same tools in the hands of the enemies of freedom, in the specific countries where our speakers work and elsewhere.

Today’s dissidents have more ways than ever to exchange information, organize resistance, and share their message with the outside world. At the same time, the same advances in technology also enable repressive governments not only to meet these efforts, but themselves to become more efficient at censorship, identifying dissenters and quashing expressions of dissent in the press, on the Internet or in the streets. The Conference’s two goals were to bring dissidents together to share best practices and learn from one another, and to learn ourselves what we in America and other democracies can do to aid the work of dissidents – in particular, to help them protect and enhance their high-tech tools and counter the technological counter-assaults from government and terror groups. The fascinating practical discussions among the dissidents were framed by presentations from many U.S. experts which put their struggle in context, and reported on the use of cyber tools by repressive regimes.

Christopher Walker and Robert Guerra from Freedom House presented their new research, just released today, about how authoritarian governments such as those in China, Iran and Russia are pursuing media and information strategies that are increasingly sophisticated – and are in the habit of sharing their expertise with one another. China, for example, has been at the forefront of a growing trend toward “outsourcing” censorship and surveillance to private companies – ISPs, cybercafés, and mobile phone providers. These governments are at the forefront of a kind of globalization of authoritarianism. The Berkman Center’s Ethan Zuckerman and Hal Roberts discussed their work on how “circumvention technology” can work to evade online censorship. David Keyes, the director of the private organization CyberDissidents.org contributed his insights to the problem as well. Several speakers from past and present U.S. Administrations and from the U.S. State Department, all of whom had or still have direct responsibility for supporting democracy and good governance abroad.

The luncheon keynote was Dr. Jeffrey Gedmin, who is President and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. We also heard from Daniel Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Jennifer L. Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House, who worked at USAID as Director of the Center for Democracy and Governance during both Clinton Administrations; Steve Hadley, who served in the Administrations of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush (as National Security Advisor to the President); and three others who served in President Bush’s Administration: Goli Ameri, now a member of Freedom House’s board who was Assistant Secretary of State; Kristen Silverberg, who was U.S. Ambassador to the E.U., and of course Jim Glassman, who was Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy.

The message was clear – Americans and American Administrations from before the fall of the Berlin Wall to today have made a difference to those who are struggling for human freedom. This support must and will continue – but we need to be aware of changing circumstances. While the desire for human freedom in the face of oppression is an absolute, the means to achieve freedom and how those who desire it join hands with others is constantly changing and developing. The desire for freedom can be also described as an intellectual and political discipline, as Dr. Peter Ackerman spoke of it at the conference: a technique that can be learned, improved and perfected. But like any discipline that can be learned, its practitioners need to keep abreast of new developments and new tools that change the techniques and methods.

The Conference on Cyber Dissidents was a first step, an investigation, toward the ultimate goal of developing a plan of action that can be used by many – nonviolent dissidents themselves, of course, but also by those in our government, in non-profits, and even by such companies with technological prowess and a sense of human citizenship as Google and Facebook, to ensure that the cyber tools that empower freedom of expression and communication are kept free of interference from the enemies of freedom.

The Conference on Cyber Dissidents highlighted the work, methods, courage and achievements of its eight dissident guest speakers, from seven nations. Five of these nations are places where freedom has been extinguished (all rated “not free” by Freedom House): China, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Russia. Two others are places where freedom is in peril (both rated “partly free” by Freedom House) because of an authoritarian government accumulating more power, as in Venezuela, or because of the threat of internal terrorist groups, as in Colombia. (The Conference on Cyber Dissidents: Global Successes and Challenges, The George W. Bush Presidential Center [LINK ABOVE=SAME]

Countries where “freedom has been extinguished” and which are U.S. allies, such as Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, are not listed above. The only U.S. ally listed is Colombia and its freedom is said to be threatened by terrorist groups, rather than by its governement. It is worth noting that the Colombian government has been accused of spying on its journalists and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) says freedom of expression ‘barely exists’ in Colombia. 

Catalina Botero, the special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), said Friday that journalists in Colombia lack freedom of expression due to death threats and government spying.

In an interview with W Radio Botero argued that, “It is difficult to to say that there is freedom of expression in a country where the state intelligence agency has a few officials who systematically conduct espionage, stigmatization, and issue death threats against the people who are performing the heroic labor of informing the public what is going on in the country.”

The IACHR official’s comments refer to Colombian security agency DAS’s role in the illegal wiretappingof journalists, judges, human rights activists, and politicians in Colombia.

Botero considers that the country is at a “point of red-alert,”and is close to being added to the list of countries where “you can barely say that there is freedom of expression,” due to the level of threats faced by Colombian journalists,

Botero went on to explain that the IACHR has been in Colombia for the past few years and has “asked the [government] to stop stigmatizing journalists and human rights defenders.”

The spokesperson recalled an incident in which a journalist received a threat saying that they were going to slaughter her daughter, describing the situation as “chilling.”

Botero’s comments come following the publication of an IACHR report on Thursday which included Colombia in a list of countries that need to improve their protection of human rights.

Responding to complaints about the lack of freedom of expression in Colombia, Carlos Franco, director of the presidential Human Rights Program, told W Radio that IACHR reports present Colombia under a very narrow lens, and do not take into account improvements the country has made in recent years.

The Colombian ambassador to the Organization of American States also criticized the IACHR reports on Friday, claiming that Colombia has done a lot to promote press freedom in the country, saying that “the recovery of the monopoly of force by the state and the weakening of organized armed groups outside the law, has meant that journalists have a new environment that facilitates the free exercise of their profession and the expression of opinion.”

The goal of “activist training” by U.S. NGOs is to destabilize America’s political enemies in the name of freedom. “Cyber dissidence” is in turn used by intelligence agencies for covert operations.

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