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Ed Webb

IRGC warns Saudi Arabia it must 'control' media 'provoking our youth' | Amwaj.media - 0 views

  • The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has warned the Saudi royal family that it will “pay the price” unless it reins in the media outlets it allegedly funds. The warning comes as Tehran accuses foreign-based Persian-language networks—and especially the TV channel Iran International—of spreading fake news and inciting unrest.
  • the IRGC-linked Tasnim News Agency reported hours after his speech that the main target was Iran International. Tasnim maintained that there is "no doubt" that London-based Iran International "is linked to the crown prince," referring to Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (MbS). Tasnim also named Dubai-based Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath as other news networks funded by the Kingdom and targeted by Salami in his speech.
  • MP Mohammad Ali Naqdali—the secretary of the parliament’s legal and judicial commission—urged Iranian authorities on Oct. 8 to file a complaint against Iran International with the UK media regulator, Ofcom. The lawmaker called on the foreign ministry and judiciary to complain about Iran International over its alleged role in "encouraging further protests” in Iran. Naqdali also criticized other Persian-language outlets based in the UK, describing them as "lie-producing factories."
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  • Tehran has previously lodged a complaint against Iran International over its programming, but Ofcom ruled that the London-based television network had not broken any rules.
  • British newspaper The Guardian reported in Oct. 2018 that Iran International had financial ties to MbS. The Guardian charged that the TV network was "being funded through a secretive offshore entity and a company whose director is a Saudi Arabian businessman with close links to the Saudi crown prince." A month later, Iran International issued a statement denying any links to any governments, including Saudi Arabia, and insisted that it "does not advocate any movement or party or government." Some of Iran International's high-profile staff have stirred controversy for often expressing opinions on social media that may be in contravention of the outlet's editorial guidelines.
  • Iranian authorities have long taken issued with foreign-based Persian-language news networks, accusing them of being tasked with attacking the Islamic Republic. Salami's warning to the Saudi royal family comes as Tehran and Riyadh are working toward mending relations and re-establishing diplomatic ties. The IRGC commander's apparent criticism of Saudi media indicates that it will be brought up in the anticipated next round of talks between the two sides in Iraq.
Ed Webb

In Libya, traditional and social media are used to fuel war | Arab Tyrant Manual - 0 views

  • Every Libyan news outlet has obvious and sometimes unabashed biases – Libya24 for example, has given itself a reputation for taking a pro-Gaddafi stance, while others such as al-Nabaa are seen as overly sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. The extent to which they allow debate and independent comment varies. As dozens of civilians have been killed since the start of Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli last week, a staunchly pro-Haftar news outlet, Libya Alhadath, broadcasts a steady stream of songs glorifying Haftar and his offensive, in a way reminiscent of Libya’s solitary state TV channel for most of the Gaddafi era.
  • most Libyan news outlets and TV channels have dramatically changed their stances over the past number of years as alliances have changed and new actors have emerged in the country
  • Libyans don’t trust local media.
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  • foreign media has been equally tarnished, through the partisanship of Arab outlets which are predominantly Gulf-based, such as Aljazeera, Alarabiya and Sky News Arabia
  • the lack of professionalism and dishonesty of TV channels has driven many to social media for news updates.
  • Well-intentioned citizen journalists enthusiastically spread rumours and misreported or exaggerated clashes, quickly creating a reputation for dishonesty that stuck to the sector as a whole.
  • Systematic posting of false information on social media accounts also became a favoured tactic of militias on all sides of the conflicts has become a trademark tactic
  • People living in the same area are often exposed to completely different realities depending on the media they consume.
  • A phenomenon new to Libya in this round of conflict is the large-scale attempts by gulf monarchies to fill social media with blatant propaganda in favour of their chosen sides
  • Haftar has long been backed by Saudi and the UAE, with the latter repeatedly breaching a United Nations arms embargo to provide his forces with attack aircrafts, armoured vehicles, helicopters and other ammunition
  • Khadeja Ramali, a Libyan data scientist, who has examined and mapped tweets mentioning Haftar since the offensive was launched. Her research has clearly shown a huge pro-Haftar push from accounts based in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE.
  • Qatar also joined with the Libya propaganda campaign, a few days late, to broadcast the UAE’s complicity in Haftar’s crimes
Ed Webb

US media talks a lot about Palestinians - just without Palestinians - +972 Magazine - 0 views

  • many Americans’ memories of Rabin have long been colored by a relentless media narrative that deprived them of critical perspectives on his life and legacy. In fact, looking back at the Oslo years, the voices of Palestinians — the victims of Rabin’s decades-long career — rarely made it into the pages of influential U.S. publications. Had they been featured, many Americans may have had a more informed opinion about why Palestinians would oppose honoring Rabin.
  • I focused on opinion pieces for two reasons. First, scholarly analysis of major U.S. outlets has already demonstrated that their news coverage is heavily shaped by pro-Israel biases. Second, opinion pieces are playing a stronger role than ever in shaping our understanding of the news. As one newspaper editor explained, “In a 24/7 news environment, many readers already know what happened; opinion pieces help them decide how to think about it.”
  • I had expected to find relatively few opinion pieces by Palestinians, and I was correct. But what surprised me was how much Palestinians have been talked about in major U.S. media outlets over the decades. Editorial boards and columnists seem to have been quite consumed with talking about the Palestinians, often in condescending and even racist ways — yet they somehow did not feel the need to hear much from Palestinians themselves.
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  • In the New York Times, less than 2 percent of the nearly 2,500 opinion pieces that discussed Palestinians since 1970 were actually written by Palestinians. In the Washington Post, the average was just 1 percent.
  • While three of Said’s op-eds discussing Palestinians ran in the New York Times in the 1980s, from the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords until his death in 2003, the newspaper ran only a single letter to the editor authored by him in January 1997, in which Said criticized the Oslo framework. During that time, Said’s opinion pieces explaining Oslo’s fatal flaws appeared in The Guardian, al-Ahram Weekly, and even the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Yet readers of America’s “newspaper of record” were not able to hear from one of the country’s most eloquent and prescient Palestinian critics of the “peace process” narrative.
  • During the 1990s, Thomas Friedman wrote 33 columns discussing Palestinians; William Safire wrote 24, Anthony Lewis wrote 39, and A.M. Rosenthal penned 56. While they differed on various aspects of Oslo, none of them questioned the framing that “peace” was the ultimate goal, that Rabin was “a man of peace,” and that Palestinians who opposed Oslo were in fact opponents of peace.
  • It is unsurprising, then, that most readers of the mainstream U.S. press would not understand that Rabin only recognized the PLO as “the representative of the Palestinian people,” but did not recognize Palestinians’ right to establish a state along the 1967 lines. They would not know that illegal Israeli settlements continued to expand under Rabin’s watch.
  • a month before his assassination, Rabin reassured fellow Knesset members that the state Palestinians desired would be “an entity which is less than a state.” And they would not know that, in those same remarks, Rabin made clear that Israel’s borders would be “beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War,” along with a “united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev [West Bank settlements], as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty.” This is the Rabin that Palestinians know all too well.
  • in 1999, Said wrote that the Oslo process “required us to forget and renounce our history of loss, dispossessed by the very people who taught everyone the importance of not forgetting the past.”
  • In 2020 so far, the New York Times has run 39 opinion pieces in its print and online platforms that discuss Palestinians; only three were actually penned by Palestinians
  • It is not just Palestinians: Black, Indigenous, Latin American, Asian American, and other people of color face ongoing racism in the newsroom, making it more difficult for alternative perspectives to make their way into these influential pages
  • Alternative news outlets (including +972 Magazine), along with many Palestinians on Twitter and other social media sites, are providing fresh perspectives that we can follow, engage with, and share. The avalanche of tweets and comments highlighting Rabin’s violent legacy is just one example of this. And as more Americans receive their news from social media (including politicians), those wanting Palestinian perspectives now have a much easier time getting them.
Ed Webb

How a diplomatic crisis among Gulf nations led to fake news campaign in the United States - 0 views

  • it’s not just Kremlin-produced disinformation that Americans may have stumbled upon recently. Browsing Facebook and Twitter — and even just perusing the magazine rack at their local Walmart — they may have also been exposed to propaganda supporting the ambitious goals of two oil-rich Arab Gulf countries
  • when Saudi Arabia and the UAE launched a boycott and blockade of the tiny peninsula state of Qatar last year, organizations with ties to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi tried something new: They worked to sway American public opinion through online and social media campaigns, bringing a complicated, distant conflict among three Washington allies to US shores
  • As they took steps against Doha, Saudi Arabia and the UAE also initiated propaganda efforts in the US aimed at weakening Washington’s alliance with Qatar — which hosts the largest American military base in the Middle East — while also enhancing their own images.
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  • The Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), a pro-Saudi lobby group not officially tied to the Saudi government, paid $2.6 million last year to the now-defunct, Washington-based lobbying firm the Podesta Group for public affairs services that included running the anti-Qatar website and its associated social media properties
  • Along with painting Qatar as a terror-friendly nation, The Qatar Insider encouraged the US to remove its Al Udeid Air Base, which is home to the forward headquarters of the US Central Command, from Qatar and lobbied against Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup.
  • Last fall, a film billed as an “educational documentary” called “Qatar: A Dangerous Alliance” appeared online and was distributed to guests at an event hosted by the conservative Hudson Institute that featured Steve Bannon, a former senior adviser to President Donald Trump and the ex-chairman of Breitbart News
  • when Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, visited the US in March, a magazine bearing his face and celebrating his reign appeared at 200,000 outlets across the country. The Saudi Embassy denied knowledge of the magazine, and the company that published it, National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., denied receiving guidance from the Saudis. Citing employees of American Media Inc, The New York Times later reported that the magazine was an attempt by the publisher’s CEO to win business in Saudi Arabia. Still, there was evidence that the Saudi Embassy and advisers to the Saudi royal family had received advanced copies of the publication, hinting that they were involved in its creation and fawning tone
  • Seeing Trump’s hostility toward Iran mirroring their own, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were eager to strengthen their relationship with the former reality TV host when he took office, despite his harsh campaign-trail criticisms of Islam and Saudis (who, he once said, “want women as slaves and to kill gays”). In May, The New York Times reported that an emissary of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, held a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. ahead of the 2016 elections offering their support to Trump as well as social media help in winning the election.
  • “If you asked the average American about the Gulf and they see these commercials, they will not be able to tell the difference,” he said. “And for those who do know the difference, they will remember that Saudi Arabia, not Qatar, had its citizens participating in the 9/11 attacks.”
  • Qatar — or, at best, its friends — has been involved in the hacking and leaking of emails designed to embarrass the UAE and reveal its role in trying to influence the Trump campaign. Qatar has increased its spending on lobbyists while also trying to soften its image by wooing American Jewish groups, including the Zionist Organization of America, which previously called for Qatar to be listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. And in May, Qatar flexed its soft power muscles when it offered to pay to keep the Washington, DC, metro open after a Capitals playoff game.
  • “Instead of saying one country is better than the other, everyone looks really, really horrible,” he said. “It really raises questions about what kind of partners these countries are for the United States.”
Ed Webb

The ISIS Beat - The Drift - 1 views

  • even as the new Biden Administration announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, to “end” the twenty-year war, it will continue airstrikes and raids to tackle the ever-looming threat of terrorism.
  • As the persistence of far-right nationalism suggests, ideologies cannot so easily be destroyed — even those we thought we had bombed out of existence seventy years ago. Yet, the world refracted through this war (the “only one” of the 21st century, Bush hoped) has left us not just morally inept, but also woefully misguided about what is to come next
  • The S.D.F. offers a remarkable vision to counter ISIS’s draconian rule — local councils, farmers’ cooperatives, and committees that promote the rights of oppressed minority groups. In the village of Jinwar, a female-controlled town, the S.D.F. has built a commune for women and their children, both Kurdish and Arab, seeking to escape oppressive families and realize a community without patriarchy. According to the constitution of the so-called Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the S.D.F.-linked ruling authority in the region, a post-ISIS Syria will be “a society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs.” In order to realize this vision, part of the S.D.F.’s mandate is not just to govern, but also to annihilate ISIS. Several soldiers and S.D.F. spokesmen told me that the war against ISIS isn’t over — its aim now, with the support of the U.S., is to destroy sleeper cells and root out the ideology.
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  • ISIS has taken control over parts of regime territory in the deserts of central Syria, and slices of S.D.F.-controlled Deir ez-Zor province are witnessing a full-blown ISIS insurgency, underscoring just how central the question of governance is to the group’s appeal. But the U.S. and its allies’ focus on ideology risks ignoring why ISIS gained support in the first place. Raids and detentions, torture and execution, and governance that politically marginalizes certain groups and offers few options for justice or accountability will only build anger. It is these layers of political and social contexts that are lost in most coverage, even if they will shape Iraq and Syria for a long time to come. 
  • a core argument for the war depended on the idea that terrorism was, in essence, a form of religious violence
  • If our enemy is everywhere, we will seek allies in even the most oppressive of regimes (like Egypt and Saudi Arabia) to hunt down “terrorists,” no matter if they are gun-wielding militants or political dissidents who believe that the current state of affairs does not serve them.
  • If a war is a “good war,” or merely conceived of as a necessary one, it matters little why a terrorist group gained support, or how we may be inadvertently contributing to the group’s appeal. Yet, while the current approach to terrorism has been wildly successful in building a cottage industry of extremism and deradicalization experts, it has failed to rid the world of terrorists.
  • Massacres of Iraqi civilians, deaths of Afghan civilians by airstrikes, and indiscriminate detention and torture and rape have all happened at the hands of state security forces, including those allied with the U.S.
  • The Manichean framework helps absolve the West of its role and its responsibility in ending an endless conflict. “Terrorism” has become so synonymous with horrific violence that most Americans are likely unaware that the vast majority of civilian deaths in global conflicts today are caused by states, not non-state actors.
  • As with other battles against evil, the “killers and fanatics” necessitated the dropping of bombs, an operation that Obama’s successor continued.
  • If we portray certain enemies solely as existential threats, we sweep over the political conflicts unfolding in places like Iraq and Syria, and the political violence wrought upon these communities, even by those who claim to be fighting a just war.
  • What the Bush administration argued, and what the media accepted, was that terrorism is not a mere tactic, but a full-blown ideology — what Bush called “the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century,” including “fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism.” In practice, this means non-state armed groups not allied with the U.S. should be understood as terrorist organizations — no matter if, like the Taliban, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and Hamas, they have little else in common
  • By and large, the media accepted the Bush administration’s framing. By 2006, public criticism of the handling of the Iraq War was mounting, but even then, few questioned the legitimacy of the war itself. In a 2009 study of media coverage after 9/11, two scholars from the University of Texas found that journalists “helped brand the policy, [then] labeled the frame as public opinion,” ultimately contributing to the acceptance of that frame as a “fact of life,” and a “larger narrative of struggle and heroism.” Journalists did not treat the War on Terror as a policy decision made by the Bush administration, but as the natural and inevitable order of things. 
  • mainstream media coverage of ISIS receives almost no scrutiny. But many other publications and reporters have operated on the same flawed assumptions and premises as Caliphate, ones that animated the West’s understanding of the Middle East long before ISIS gained its first foothold
  • decades of imperialism, like the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and Russia and Iran’s interventions, have irrevocably transformed communities in the Middle East. Similarly, though ISIS opposes the Saudi government, the Salafi-Jihadi underpinnings of the group could not have gained traction without the Kingdom’s years of effort of exporting and standardizing a particular form of Islam across the Middle East. 
  • the issue here isn’t just the violence — after all, Assad has also relished the torture, starvation, and murder of his citizens. Since 2011, his regime has used chemical weapons repeatedly, more than three hundred times according to one study. The critical difference is that while Assad depends on the international system for legitimacy (Russia and Iran are key supporters, and Syria remains part of the global financial system), ISIS rejects it. While Assad would prefer that the world looks away, ISIS practically begs us to stare. It aims to demoralize Western audiences, while projecting to potential recruits its vision of a new world order
  • In parts of the Caliphate, ISIS did promise a different model, at least nominally. In one piece of propaganda, the group declared, “The people are as equal as the teeth of a comb. There is no difference between the rich and the poor and the strong and the weak. The holder of a right has redress, and the grievance of an injured party will be answered.” In appealing to residents and new recruits, ISIS touched upon something familiar: the desire for justice, equality, and law and order in a world that has manifestly failed to deliver any. Women, too, found opportunities under ISIS. In Fallujah, they used the regime’s justice system to secure divorces, which had been more difficult under the Iraqi government.
  • civilians were likely to stay in ISIS-controlled territory because, among various reasons, the “quality of governance,” including “availability of electricity, cleanliness of streets, and crime rates,” was better compared to services provided by the Iraqi government
  • “All the locals here wonder why the U.S. coalition never came to rescue them from Assad’s machine guns, but run to fight ISIS when it took a few pieces of land,” one rebel told the Guardian. 
  • the current global order has left many people behind
  • The political scientist Austin Doctor recently conducted a study of sexual assault by 143 rebel groups around the world, from 1989 to 2011, and separately applied the results of his analysis to ISIS.  He found a correlation between the presence of foreign fighters and increased incidence of sexual violence, which suggests that the Islamic State functioned much like other rebel groups — that ISIS is not so singular as it may seem.
  • devoid of any political context, terms like “radicalization” and “ideology” lose meaning
  • how ISIS appeared in the public imagination: as a movement beyond human understanding. The only sensible answer to so inscrutable and atavistic an adversary was total war.
  • This frenzied interest in the U.S.’s darkly powerful new enemy lured some journalists and analysts to focus on the group full-time. It emerged as a distinct topic from the Syrian civil war, whose crowded theater was becoming difficult to explain, or the Iraq War, now a nearly-adolescent 11 years old. Soon, writers covering ISIS, what Wired called “the world’s most important beat,” developed a signature flourish, describing it not just as a terrorist organization, but as an almost supernatural threat. “It is not clear,” argued a New York Review of Books piece in 2015, “whether our culture can ever develop sufficient knowledge, rigor, imagination, and humility to grasp the phenomenon of ISIS. But for now, we should admit that we are not only horrified but baffled.”
  • Stories of the group’s atrocities emerged in quick succession, echoing the parade of violence ISIS was proudly broadcasting on its own channels: public executions, conscription of child soldiers, disappearances and murders of thousands, Yazidi girls sold into slavery.
  • by narrowly focusing on the savagery of ISIS fighters, we miss the deeper and more important story of how ISIS grew into a political force, and of how it moved not just the hearts and minds, but the physical bodies, of tens of thousands
  • the core issue with Caliphate isn’t just that a lying source may have misled overeager journalists. Rather, the controversy, and indeed even the proposition that a “terrorism editor” would have resolved the problem, points to a deeper flaw in the way media has long covered extremism: divorced from the local and historical contexts that have fueled its rise
  • After a decade of the War on Terror and chaos in the Middle East, ISIS seemed to be the ultimate testament to an enduring clash of civilizations. It is not that surprising that ISIS itself encouraged this fantastical narrative — but it is striking that our media took their word for it.
Ed Webb

President's eldest son, Mahmoud al-Sisi, sidelined from powerful intelligence position ... - 0 views

  • Mahmoud al-Sisi, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s son and a senior official in the powerful General Intelligence Service (GIS), is being reassigned to a long-term position at Egypt’s diplomatic delegation in Moscow
  • perception within the president’s inner circle that Mahmoud al-Sisi has failed to properly handle a number of his responsibilities and that his increasingly visible influence in the upper decision-making levels of government is having a negative impact on his father’s image
  • suggestion that the president’s son be sidelined also came from senior government figures in the United Arab Emirates, a close and influential ally of Egypt, who view Mahmoud al-Sisi’s role as having become damaging to the president
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  • Russia seemed like an appropriate choice due to its close relations with Egypt, as well as the longstanding admiration among many senior Egyptian officials for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s style of governance
  • Among the primary reasons for sending Mahmoud al-Sisi to Moscow was his failure to properly handle most of the responsibilities assigned to him, according to the GIS sources. Chief among them was the media, over which he has exercised direct control for more than a year. In 2017, the GIS began to exert direct control over the media through acquisition, purchasing a controlling stake in the Egyptian Media Group, the biggest media conglomerate in Egypt. The corporation has several influential newspapers and television outlets under its control, including ONtv and the Youm7 newspaper. GIS also owns the DMC television network. Yet during Mahmoud al-Sisi’s tenure, the president has been unsatisfied with the media’s performance to the extent that he publicly criticized local media coverage on several occasions, one GIS official said.
  • A number of informed sources told Mada Masr at the time that, on the president’s orders, Mahmoud al-Sisi oversaw the fierce crackdown that followed the protests, with over 4,000 people arrested, including prominent activists, lawyers, university professors, and political opposition figures. At the time, the president was in New York to take part in the UN General Assembly on the advice of his closest aides, particularly Abbas, a longtime confidant of the president and current head of GIS.
  • Sending Mahmoud al-Sisi to Moscow will also help alleviate growing tensions within GIS about the role of the president’s son in the removal of senior officials from their posts in the intelligence apparatus since the president formally came to power in 2014
  • The process of removing senior members of the GIS came under the pretext that they were “Omar Suleiman’s men” (the late intelligence chief under Mubarak) who had no loyalty to the “new state.”
  • “I think that President Sisi knows very well that there is a general state of dissatisfaction within governmental institutions. There are considerable worries inside the state apparatus that cannot be underestimated,” the source close to Abu Dhabi’s decision-making circles said. “I think he understands that his popularity on the streets has declined for various reasons, some of which are economic, while others are rooted in social and political grievances. Besides, the wound inflicted by his handover of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia three years ago has not healed. Sisi will certainly not ignore the growing signs of anger altogether.”
  • The new Russia post may instead be an attempt to hone his skills by becoming a military envoy in a country of great strategic importance to Egypt, including in its role in constructing a nuclear power plant in Dabaa.
  • His two siblings include Mustafa, who works in the Administrative Control Authority, and Hassan, who moved from the oil sector to a GIS position nearly three years ago.
  • “The advice was that the son should not cast a shadow over the president’s position, so that the situation of Hosni and Gamal Mubarak is not repeated.”
Ed Webb

Censure for reporter over Gaza tweet sparks BBC rethink over social media - TV & Radio ... - 0 views

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    If you report on Israel/Palestine and are not getting attacked by people on both "sides," you are almost certainly not doing your job as a journalist.
Ed Webb

How social media users are helping NATO fight Gadhafi in Libya « Shabab Libya - 0 views

  • a committed cadre of social media users who have become, in effect, volunteer intelligence analysts. On Twitter, Facebook and other services, they discuss satellite images, vessel tracking data and the latest gossip from their sources inside the country. In the past few days, NATO officials have acknowledged that social media reports contribute to their targeting process
  • In a press briefing on June 10, Wing Commander Mike Bracken, a NATO spokesman, described the so-called “fusion centre” that pulls together intelligence. “We get information from open sources on the Internet; we get Twitter,” Wing Commander Bracken said. “You name any source of media and our fusion centre will deliver all of that into usable intelligence.” Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, the Canadian who commands the operation, ultimately decides whether to trust what he’s hearing. “He will decide, ‘That is good information and I can act on it,’ ” the spokesman said. “Where it comes from, it’s not relevant to the commander.”
Ed Webb

bellingcat - Lord Of The Flies: An Open-Source Investigation Into Saud Al-Qahtani - bel... - 0 views

  • Before tuning in via Skype to oversee the murder and dismemberment of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saud al-Qahtani, a high-level adviser to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was best known for running social media operations for the royal court and serving as MBS’s chief propagandist and enforcer. His portfolio also included hacking and monitoring critics of the Kingdom and MBS.
  • Al-Qahtani registered at least 22 domains since 2009, some of which have been used as command and control servers for malware
  • al-Qahtani’s posts on Hack Forums detail the hacking tools and services he purchased and used and the social media platforms and mobile apps he targeted. By June 2011, less than two years after joining the forum, he estimated that he had 90% of paid and free RATs on the market. Al-Qahtani also paid Hack Forum members to have social media accounts deleted and sought to manufacture engagement activity on major social media platforms, including YouTube and Facebook.
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  • He also posted at least three times while drunk, by his own admission, and opined on topics unrelated to hacking such as the role of religion in politics and policy toward Iran.
  • MBS’s repression machine is alive and well thanks in no small part to the Trump administration’s refusal to hold the Saudi strongman and his regime to account. 
  • Since Khashoggi was murdered last October, the CIA has observed its “duty to warn” on three separate occasions, sharing intelligence to alert dissidents based in the U.S., Canada and Norway to threats originating from Saudi Arabia. 
  • multiple media outlets have cited sources saying that he is still in MBS’s good graces and continuing to work in a similar capacity as before he was officially ousted from the royal court.
  • The best open-source indication to date that al-Qahtani is continuing his hacking work comes from the Guardian, which reported in June 2019, that it was targeted by a Saudi hacking team at the order of al-Qahtani. The newspaper was initially warned of the order by a source in Riyadh earlier this year, and the threat was subsequently corroborated by a confidential internal order signed by al-Qahtani, which the Guardian reviewed. The document, dated March 7, 2019, was written in Arabic and instructed “heads of technological and technical departments” run from the cybersecurity directorate within the private office of the MBS to “carry out the penetration of the servers of the Guardian newspaper and those who worked on the report that was published, and deal with the issue with complete secrecy, then send us all the data as soon as possible.”
  • On June 19, 2019, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings, published a report on Khashoggi’s death, calling it a “premeditated extrajudicial execution” at the hands of the Saudi state. “His killing was the result of elaborate planning involving extensive coordination and significant human and financial resources. It was overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level officials. It was premeditated.”
  • The report specifically names al-Qahtani and MBS as two high-level officials who have not been criminally charged but for whom there is “credible evidence meriting further investigation.” 
  • In addition to the 22 domains analyzed above, this investigation identified several other domains that are likely linked to al-Qahtani but require further research and analysis
Ed Webb

Nabi Saleh is where I lost my Zionism | +972 Magazine - 0 views

  • the Achilles heel of the Israeli media — i.e., its willingness to report communiqués issued by the army as straight news, without any fact checking. Even though the Israeli security establishment has been caught lying on countless occasions, journalists who report for mainstream media outlets continue to accept without question the information they are given about events they neither witnessed nor verified independently
  • I’ve seen soldiers grab crying children and shoving them into military vehicles, pushing aside their screaming mothers. I’ve seen soldiers grab a young woman by her arms and drag her like a sack of potatoes for several meters along an asphalt road so hot that it melted the rubber soles of my running shoes, before tossing her into a military vehicle and driving away. I’ve had my ankles singed black when a security officer looked me straight in the eyes and threw a stun grenade at my legs. Israeli army sharp-shooters regularly shoot unarmed demonstrators in Nabi Saleh with both rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition. They break into houses and drag people out, arresting them on the claim that they allowed demonstrators to hide in their garden. And then I would go back to Tel Aviv and be told by my friends that I could not have seen what I saw, because “our soldiers” do not behave that way. Soon, I had to distance myself from those friends in order to keep my own emotions in check.
  • By the time I began going to Nabi Saleh, I had spent about four years reporting on what I saw in Gaza and the West Bank, and watching detachedly as my politics moved ever leftward from the liberal place in which they started, as a consequence of what I saw on the ground. But it was in Nabi Saleh that I lost the last remnants of what I would call — for lack of a word to describe my nostalgia for the idea of a state for the Jews — my Zionism. My radicalization was not only a consequence of witnessing brutal violence perpetrated right in front of my eyes, by soldiers of the army that was supposed to protect me. It was also a result of my seeing the Tamimi family endure that violence week after week, seeing their relatives injured, arrested and killed, and still not coming to the conclusion that the price of resistance is too high. They simply refuse to submit.
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  • The Tamimis clearly understand the power of social media. But they don’t manufacture those confrontations. In fact, I have never seen a video that comes remotely close to conveying the true brutality I saw in Nabi Saleh. Maybe you need to smell the tear gas and feel the smallness of the place to see how outrageous it is for soldiers to act as they do there: to, with a sense of entitlement, enter a village and break up a gathering of unarmed demonstrators; to kick open the doors of homes and drag off to jail unarmed people who pose no threat; to break into a house at 4 a.m., to roust a teenage girl from her bed and drag her off to jail, denying her even the right to be accompanied by a guardian.
  • Is Israel, with all the money and manpower it pours into sophisticated advocacy campaigns via social media, really in a position to criticize the Tamimis for understanding how to publicize their own cause? As Jonathan Pollak says to Yaron London, the reason those Nabi Saleh videos make Israel look bad is because Israel is doing bad things.
Ed Webb

Right-Wing Media Outlets Duped by a Middle East Propaganda Campaign - 0 views

  • Badani is part of a network of at least 19 fake personas that has spent the past year placing more than 90 opinion pieces in 46 different publications. The articles heaped praise on the United Arab Emirates and advocated for a tougher approach to Qatar, Turkey, Iran and its proxy groups in Iraq and Lebanon. 
  • “This vast influence operation highlights the ease with which malicious actors can exploit the identity of real people, dupe international news outlets, and have propaganda of unknown provenance legitimized through reputable media,” Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar who first noticed suspicious posts by members of the network, told The Daily Beast. “It’s not just fake news we need to be wary of, but fake journalists.”
  • They’re critical of Qatar and, in particular, its state-funded news outlet Al Jazeera. They’re no big fans of Turkey’s role backing one of the factions in Libya’s civil war
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  • a series of shared behavioral patterns. The personas identified by The Daily Beast were generally contributors to two linked sites, The Arab Eye and Persia Now; had Twitter accounts created in March or April 2020; presented themselves as political consultants and freelance journalists mostly based in European capitals; lied about their academic or professional credentials in phony LinkedIn accounts; used fake or stolen avatars manipulated to defeat reverse image searches; and linked to or amplified each others’ work. 
  • In February, two websites, The Arab Eye and Persia Now, were registered on the same day and began to acquire a host of contributors. 
  • both sites share the same Google Analytics account, are hosted at the same IP address, and are linked through a series of shared encryption certificates
  • Persia Now lists a non-existent London mailing address and an unanswered phone number on its contact form. The apparent editors of the outlets, Sharif O'Neill and Taimur Hall, have virtually no online footprints or records in journalism.
  • placed articles critical of Qatar and supportive of tougher sanctions on Iran in conservative North American outlets like Human Events and conservative writer Andy Ngo’s The Post Millennial, as well as Israeli and Middle Eastern newspapers like The Jerusalem Post and Al Arabiya, and Asian newspapers like the South China Morning Post.
  • constant editorial lines like arguing for more sanctions on Iran or using international leverage to weaken Iran’s proxy groups in Lebanon and Iraq. The personas are also big fans of the United Arab Emirates and have heaped praise on the Gulf nation for its “exemplary resilience” to the COVID-19 pandemic, its “strong diplomatic ties” to the European Union, and supposedly supporting gender equality through the Expo 2020 in Dubai.
  • criticizing Facebook for its decision to appoint Tawakkol Karman, a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, to its oversight board. Media outlets in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates have criicized the appointment of Karman, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Islah Party in Yemen, for her association with the group.
  • None of the Twitter accounts associated with the network ever passed more than a few dozen followers, but a few still managed to garner high profile endorsements for their work. An article by “Joyce Toledano” in Human Events about how Qatar is “destabilizing the Middle East” got a shout-out from Students for Trump co-founder Ryan Fournier’s nearly million-follower Twitter account and French senator Nathalie Goulet high-fived Lin Nguyen’s broadside about Facebook and Tawakkol Karman.
  • All of the stolen avatars were mirror image reversed and cropped from their originals, making them difficult to find through common Google reverse image searches
  • On her LinkedIn page, “Salma Mohamed” claimed to be a former reporter for the AP based in London, though no public record of an AP journalist matching Salma Mohamed’s description is available.
  • Another persona, Amani Shahan, described herself in bios for Global Villages and Persia Now as being a contributor to and “ghostwriting articles” for The Daily Beast. No one by that name has ever written for The Daily Beast and The Daily Beast does not employ ghostwriters. (Shahan also referred to herself with both male and female pronouns in different author bios.) 
Ed Webb

Ethiopia and Egypt Are Already at War Over the Nile Dam. It's Just Happening in Cybersp... - 0 views

  • the group calling themselves the Cyber_Horus Group in late June hacked more than a dozen Ethiopian government sites, replacing each page with their own creation: an image of a skeleton pharaoh, clutching a scythe in one hand and a scimitar in the other. “If the river’s level drops, let all the Pharaoh’s soldiers hurry,” warned a message underneath. “Prepare the Ethiopian people for the wrath of the Pharaohs.”
  • Rarely have young people been so passionate about an infrastructure project. But the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which will be Africa’s largest, is more than just a piece of infrastructure. It has become a nationalistic rallying cry for both Ethiopia and Egypt—two countries scrambling to define their nationhood after years of domestic upheaval. Many Ethiopians and Egyptians are getting involved in the only way they can—online—and fomenting the first African cyberconflict of its kind, one with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.
  • Today, there are several entries for the GERD on Google Maps, most earning middling 3 to 4 stars ratings, buoyed by five-star ratings with feedback such as, “One of the great architectural dam in the World!” but weighed down by one-star complaints including, “You’re gonna make us die from thirst.”
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  • Tensions escalated this year, as the U.S.-brokered negotiations between Ethiopia and Egypt unraveled and new talks mediated by the African Union began
  • The Ethiopian government does broadly engage in “computational propaganda,” according to a 2019 report from the Oxford Internet Institute. Agencies there use human-run social media accounts to spread pro-government propaganda, attack the opposition, and troll users. The same goes for the Egyptian government.
  • Social media users from the two countries frequently collide on the Internet, but seem to do so most often on Adel el-Adawy’s Twitter page: As a member of a prominent Egyptian political dynasty, a professor at the American University in Cairo, and the most visible disseminator of the Egyptian perspective on the dam in English, he has amassed a significant following. Adawy, whose pinned tweet is a picture of himself shaking hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, posts frequently about the Nile and Ethiopian affairs, especially when things get sticky.
  • It’s possible that the engagement is coming from concerned Ethiopians at home and abroad, at the encouragement but not the behest of Ethiopian officials. “I have friends who joined Twitter just for the sake of this. It’s highly emotional and nationalistic,” said Endalkachew Chala, an Ethiopian communications professor at Hamline University in Minnesota.
  • Construction of the dam was completed in July, and the filling of its reservoir started soon after amid heavy rains but before an agreement between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan was signed. The U.S. government, a top source of aid for both Ethiopia and Egypt, said in August that it would halt some aid to Ethiopia over what it saw as a unilateral move to progress with the dam.
  • For both countries—Egypt since the 2011 fall of Mubarak and Ethiopia since the 2012 death of strongman Prime Minister Meles Zenawi—national identity has been in flux
  • the first known time these kinds of digital tools have been used by people from one African country against people from another, said Gilbert Nyandeje, founder and CEO of the Africa Cyber Defense Forum. “It only means one thing. It means we should expect this more and more.”
  • at the core of Egyptian identity is the Nile, so bolstering nationalism means defending the Nile, too. And officials have encouraged this outlook: One sleekly produced video shared on Facebook by the Ministry of Immigration and Egyptian Expatriates Affairs warned, “More than 40 million Egyptians are facing the threat of drought and thirst.… The cause of water shortage is Ethiopia building a dam five times bigger than its needs.”
  • a show of vulnerability rare in Arab power politics. But the strategy has helped garner global sympathy for Egypt, even as its Nile claims are framed by Ethiopia as the result of unjust colonial-era agreements in which Egypt’s interests were represented by British colonizers.
  • the dam provided a unifying issue around which Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds could rally. “We do have a lot of divisions—ideological, ethnic, tribal, religious,” said Chala, the Ethiopian professor. “But even though we have these bitter divisions, Ethiopians have overwhelmingly supported this Nile dam especially on social media.”
  • Ethiopian officials, meanwhile, continue to encourage Ethiopians to post about the dam online and often use the #ItsMyDam hashtag in their own social media posts. This use of social media to rally around the dam has also meant that Ethiopia’s massive global diaspora can get involved, without having to worry about frequent in-country Internet shutdowns that otherwise curtail online movements there.
  • The thousands of Ethiopian refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants living in Egypt are now facing greater pressure and harassment from Egyptian citizens and authorities since the dam tensions started to heat up
  • in Ethiopia, it has meant that any domestic criticism of the dam from an environmentalist point of view—namely, that it could disrupt ecosystems and biodiversity, even within Ethiopia—is met with derision
  • for both countries, surging nationalist sentiment means that it’s harder for officials to agree to, and for the public to accept, compromise
  • the main sticking points now are related to dispute resolution, drought contingency plans, and future upstream projects. And yet, much of the online rhetoric remains maximalist, even rejecting items that have already been unanimously decided—such as the existence of an Ethiopian Nile dam in any form—raising the possibility that the online tensions and attacks may not subside anytime soon
Ed Webb

U.S. Needs to Look Beyond Russia for Disinformation Culprits | Time - 0 views

  • Russian disinformation may come first to mind for interfering in U.S. politics, but some of the most damning evidence of efforts to influence the American public leads to Washington’s allies in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are at the forefront of undermining democratic deliberation–from manipulating the impact of Donald Trump’s tweets, to tricking editors across the world into publishing propaganda.
  • The FBI in 2019 found evidence that employees at Twitter’s San Fransciso headquarters, groomed with bribes such as luxury watches, were co-ordinating with members of the Saudi royal family to obtain private information from Twitter users. In August 2022, a jury found one of these men guilty. Two others couldn’t be tried because they were in Saudi Arabia.
  • One of the most audacious deception operations appeared to be connected to the UAE. Between 2019 and 2021, op-eds that supported the foreign policy position of the UAE, Saudi, and the U.S. administration under Trump began appearing in numerous well-known U.S. outlets, such as Newsmax, The National Interest, The Post Millennial and the Washington Examiner. The catch: The journalists writing them did not actually exist.
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  • Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Social Limited, worked with the UAE to create a social media advertising campaign attacking Qatar, a Gulf rival that’s home of the largest U.S. military base in the region. Though better known its use of “soft power” through projects like Al Jazeera, Qatar has also been reported to use disinformation, as well as allegedly hacking the email of the Emirates’ powerful ambassador to Washington.
  • the Emiratis worked with ex-NSA spies to hack the devices of U.S. citizens. And both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among the biggest customers of NSO, the Israeli firm that sells the spyware Pegasus, which they have used to target dozens of activists, journalists and academics
  • In 2011, during the heady days of the Arab Spring, social media and digital technology was touted as the force that would help liberate the region from authoritarian rule and bring democracy. Now, authoritarian regimes in the Gulf, along with Western companies and expertise, are using digital technology and social media to try and hack democracy wherever they find it, including in the U.S. The effect is clearest, however, in the Middle East. With critics silenced through incarceration, surveillance, torture, or death, opposition voices are increasingly fearful of self-expression, meaning that the digital public sphere is simply a space to praise the regime or engage in banal platitudes.
Ed Webb

This Intifada Will Be Digital - The Black Iris - 3 views

  • In these 15 years, we went from an era where mainstream media dominated the narrative, to an era where social media dominates it. This isn’t a time when the mainstream sees the online as a playful mechanism of democratized media (or an opportunity to present their brands as participatory), but a time when the mainstream is chasing down leads from what circulates online. And the region’s people now have the power to shape the narrative (whether we’ve fully realized it or not).
  • Internet user growth in the region has gone up by 6,091.9% between 2000 and 2015
  • Arabic is now the fourth biggest language on the Web after English, Chinese and Spanish
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  • as a Jordanian, I was part of what I personally believe to be the final generation that actually gave a damn what the government did or did not do. Our relationship with the state was like our relationship with a television – a one-way communication channel, where we are on the receiving end no matter how much we yell at the screen. And that was that
  • Like everyone else, I have no idea how this conflict will end. But I know that the Web will undeniably play a leading role – and that’s not something anyone could’ve imagined back in 1948. As yet another cycle of violence is upon us, that role is worth studying, and it’s that role that I find myself paying attention to the most.
Ed Webb

Qatar Crisis: A Cautionary Tale - 0 views

  • As ties with the Obama White House deteriorated, ruling circles in Gulf capitals became increasingly muscular in pursuing their own regional interests. This was, in part, a reaction by Saudi and Emirati officials to Qatar’s assertive approach to the uprisings in North Africa and Syria between 2011 and 2013
  • The second phase of the Gulf states’ regional assertiveness (after Qatar’s activist approach in 2011 and 2012) played out in Libya, Yemen, the Gulf and Egypt. Saudi Arabia and the UAE funneled tens of billions of dollars in financial aid and investment in infrastructure designed to kickstart the ailing Egyptian economy. The UAE coordinated closely with Egypt and Russia to triangulate support for the Libyan strongman, Khalifa Haftar, as he battled Islamist militias in eastern Libya, carving out a largely autonomous sphere of influence separate from the internationally backed political process in Tripoli. The Saudis and Emiratis, together with the Bahrainis, withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March 2014 and accused Doha of interfering in the domestic affairs of its regional neighbors.
  • On the international stage, King Salman of Saudi Arabia made clear his displeasure with the Obama administration by canceling his planned attendance of the US-GCC summit at Camp David in May 2015. Six weeks earlier, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had launched Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. The Yemen war was designed to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi, ousted in 2014 by the tactical alliance of Iran-allied Houthi rebels and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s armed loyalists. Launched just five days before the initial deadline (later extended to July 2015) in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the decision to take military action to counter and roll back perceived Iranian influence in Yemen represented a Saudi-led rebuke to the Obama administration’s belief that it was possible to separate the nuclear issue from Iran’s meddling in regional affairs.
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  • Another UAE-based visitor during the transition was Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos (President-elect Trump’s nominee as secretary of education). Prince had been hired by Abu Dhabi to develop a private security force after the demise of Blackwater in 2009. He “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis” and met with a Russian official in a UAE-brokered meeting in the Seychelles shortly before the inauguration, reportedly as part of an effort to establish a backchannel of communication over Syria and Iran.
  • In the early weeks of the administration, Kushner also reached out to Saudi policymakers, including Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud — like Kushner an ambitious millennial who had entered policymaking from a business background. They shared uncannily similar nicknames: “Mr. Everything” (MBS) and the “Secretary of Everything” (Kushner). The two men grew close and reportedly stayed up until nearly 4am “swapping stories and planning strategy” during an unannounced visit Kushner made to Saudi Arabia in October 2017.
  • A president and his senior staff determined to do things their way and bypass the traditional playbook of US foreign policy and international diplomacy offered a potentially rich opening for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as did the political inexperience of many of the new appointees in the White House
  • The expectation in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that the Trump presidency would adopt hawkish positions on regional issues such as Iran and Islamism that aligned closely with their own was reaffirmed by the appointments of James Mattis as secretary of defense and Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA
  • President Trump discussed Qatar’s “purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States. And for us that means jobs, and it also means frankly great security back here, which we want.” The president’s comments made his subsequent swing against Qatar, after the Saudi and Emirati-led diplomatic and economic blockade began on June 5, 2017, even more surprising to observers of the presidency’s transactional approach to diplomacy.
  • the McClatchy news agency reported that SCL Social Limited, a part of the same SCL Group as Cambridge Analytica (the data mining firm where Bannon served as vice president before joining the White House) had disclosed a $330,000 contract with the UAE National Media Council. The contract included “a wide range of services specific to a global media campaign,” including $75,000 for a social media campaign targeting Qatar during the UN General Assembly. McClatchy observed, too, that Bannon had visited Abu Dhabi to meet with MBZ in September 2017, and that Breitbart (the media platform associated with Bannon both before and after his brief White House stint) had published more than 80 mostly negative stories about Qatar since the GCC crisis erupted
  • a striking element about the Saudi-Emirati outreach is the limited success it achieved. Officials may have seized the opportunity to shape the administration’s thinking and succeeded temporarily, in June 2017, in getting the president to support the initial action against Qatar, but that proved a high watermark in cooperation that did not lead to any substantive follow-through
  • The transactional approach to policymaking taken by the Trump presidency is not necessarily underpinned by any deeper or underlying commitment to a relationship of values or even interests. An example of this came in July 2017 when President Trump told Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network that he had made his presence at the Riyadh summit conditional on $110 billion in arms sales and other agreements signed with Saudi Arabia. “I said, you have to do that, otherwise I’m not going,” bragged the president.
  • Although the crisis in the Gulf may have passed its most dangerous moment — when for a few days in June 2017 the possibility of Saudi and Emirati military action against Qatar was deemed so serious by US officials that Secretary of State Tillerson reportedly had to warn MBS and MBZ against any precipitous action — it has had significant negative consequences for both the region and Washington. In the Gulf, four decades of diplomatic and technocratic cooperation among the six GCC states has been put at risk, threatening the survival of one of the hitherto most durable regional organizations in the Arab world.
  • It is hard to see how the GCC can recover after the sub-regional institution has failed to prevent three of its members from turning on a fourth twice in three years, and when it has been absent at every stage of the crisis, from the initial list of grievances to the subsequent attempts at mediation.
  • Washington’s policy approaches toward Qatar appear now to have settled on the view that the standoff is detrimental to American strategic interests both in the Gulf and across the broader Middle East and should be resolved by Kuwaiti-led mediation. However, the confused signals that came out of the Trump administration during its first six months in office do constitute a cautionary tale. They illustrate the vulnerability of a new and inexperienced political class to influence, which came close to jeopardizing a key US partnership in the Middle East. Unlike, say, the US and Iran, there are no clearly defined good and bad sides the US should support or oppose in its dealings with the GCC members, all of whom have been pivotal, in different ways, to the projection of US power and influence in the region.
Ed Webb

How Two Persian Gulf Nations Turned The US Media Into Their Battleground - 0 views

  • Two rival Persian Gulf nations have for the past year been conducting a tit-for-tat battle of leaked emails in US news outlets that appears, at least in part, to have been an effort to influence Trump administration policy toward Iran.
  • On one side is the United Arab Emirates, a wealthy confederation of seven small states allied with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s bitter foe. On the other is Qatar, another oil-rich Arab monarchy, but one that maintains friendly relations with Iran, with which it shares a giant natural gas field.
  • unfolding battle alarms transparency advocates who fear it will usher in an era in which computer hacking and the dissemination of hacked emails will become the norm in international foreign policy disputes
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  • “You could spend years campaigning traditionally against someone or you could hack an email account and leak salacious details to the media. If you have no scruples, and access to hackers, the choice is obvious.”
  • This is the new warfare. This is something the governments use for commercial reasons, use for political reasons, and use to destroy their opponents
  • Tensions have been building for years between the UAE and Qatar. The two have feuded over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that many Persian Gulf monarchies see as a threat to their hereditary kingdoms. They’ve also been at odds over Qatar’s friendly relations with Iran and its backing of the Al Jazeera television channel, whose newscasts are often critical of Arab autocrats.The feud broke into the open on May 24 last year when someone hacked into the website and Twitter account of Qatar’s government news agency, QNA, and posted news stories and tweets that quoted the country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, making bizarrely pro-Iran statements.Qatar disavowed the remarks within an hour, and its foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, quickly texted the UAE’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, that the statements weren’t true. Qatar took its official news website down, and still hasn’t brought it back online.But the damage had been done
  • The UAE and Saudi Arabia, with the backing of the Trump administration, used the hacked news stories as a pretext for severing relations with Qatar, imposing a blockade, and making 13 demands, including that Qatar cut all ties with Iran and shut down Al Jazeera and all other state-funded news sites.
  • “They weaponized fake news to justify the illegal blockade of Qatar,” said Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s Washington-based media attaché. “In the year since then, we have seen their repeated use of cyberespionage, fake news, and propaganda to justify unlawful actions and obfuscate underhanded dealings.”
  • he FBI concluded that freelance Russian hackers had carried out the operation on the UAE’s behalf
  • In June of last year, someone began leaking the contents of a Hotmail account belonging to Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s flashy ambassador to the United States. The leaks were distributed to a group of online news sites, including the Huffington Post, the Intercept, and the Daily Beast.“The leakers claimed the documents had been provided to them by a paid whistleblower embedded in a Washington, DC, lobbyist group, though it’s clear from even a cursory examination that they were printed out from Al Otaiba’s Hotmail account,”
  • “It’s not clear whether Otaiba’s inbox was hacked or passed along by someone with access to the account,”
  • The most damaging email leaks came in March when someone went after Elliott Broidy, a 60-year-old American hired to lobby for the UAE, and whose company, Circinus, has received more than $200 billion in defense contracts from the country. In recent years, he’s been one of the loudest American voices against Qatar, employing tactics ranging from anti-Qatar op-eds to personally lobbying Donald Trump to support the blockade against it.Broidy was in a prime position to lobby the president. He was the Republican Party’s vice chair of fundraising until April 13, when he resigned after the Wall Street Journal revealed that he’d used Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pay a 34-year-old former Playboy model $1.6 million in hush money after he’d gotten her pregnant. The Journal said leaked emails played no role in that coverage.
  • “There was thought and calculation behind how this material was being distributed,” Wieder, who wrote about the emails in a follow-up story, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s not the old-school, WikiLeaks, ‘everything’s up on a site; make what you will of it.’”
Ed Webb

Pentagon Asks for More Cash to Cut Down Civilian Deaths - 0 views

  • Under fire from human rights groups, the Pentagon is asking lawmakers for funding to improve its ability to track civilian casualties in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups
  • It’s not immediately clear how much the new setup, which includes funds to set up a database that would allow members of the public to directly submit claims of U.S.-caused deaths, will ultimately cost. Those estimates are expected to come later as the Pentagon appears set to unveil a new policy to curb civilian casualties in combat later this year, first prompted by former Defense Secretary James Mattis and continuing under his successor, Mark Esper.  
  • The Pentagon has been under increased scrutiny to improve its civilian casualty reporting since the London-based Airwars outfit began reporting higher tallies of civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria
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  • At the end of last month, U.S. Africa Command announced it would begin issuing a new report revealing ongoing civilian casualty investigations, after Amnesty International said that retaliatory American strikes against the al Qaeda-linked Somalian group al-Shabab killed two civilians in February, contradicting U.S. findings
  • “Currently, information from the public is received in a variety of ways — such as through email, reports by impartial humanitarian organizations and civil society groups, media reports, and social-media,” a defense spokesperson told Foreign Policy. “We are looking at additional options for receiving information from the public, such as creating a webpage that identifies what types of information helps in conducting assessments and how to submit it.”
  • after a U.S.-led coalition drove the Islamic State out of the self-described caliphate’s twin capitals of Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, in 2017, spearheaded by foreign troops backed by American advisors and strikes, rights groups that accused the Pentagon of vastly undercounting the number of civilian dead are pushing the agency to fold in public assessments to get smarter about choosing its targets.
  • The Defense Department has also chafed at building a fund to pay back the families of innocent victims of U.S. strikes, allowing only $3 million to be authorized each year, despite a tabletop exercise meant to reconcile the differences between the agency and the NGO community
Ed Webb

Restart, a fringe Iranian dissident group linked to Qanon, shows how conspiracy spreads... - 0 views

  • Although QAnon’s raison d’être is largely rooted in domestic politics—and it has capitalized mainly on anxieties prevalent in U.S. society—the conspiracy theory has recently developed an unlikely group of adherents: an Iranian dissident group that calls itself Restart. Despite remaining a minor political force for now, Restart is a fascinating example of a broader trend: conspiracist thinking going global.
  • Iranian opposition factions have been able to increase their social-media reach and following since Trump took office—likely because of the perception that the Trump administration’s Iran policy favors them. At the same time, Tehran has also grown its online influence operations—with concerted efforts to launch disinformation campaigns against the United States.
  • They are all vying for influence not in their native Iran, but in the United States
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  • Restart exists in the Internet more than the real world. But unlike QAnon, which has more of a presence in mainstream U.S. politics (with some candidates for office even espousing their ideas), Restart remains small. Its leader has certainly encouraged violent dissent, but more than leading to an actual rise in protests, Restart’s activities illustrate how fringe movements and media outlets can push narratives and amplify messages that can come to dominate more mainstream political discussions in the United States and around the globe.
  • “Heshmat Alavi is a persona run by a team of people from the political wing of the MEK,” as an MEK defector told the Intercept in 2019. “This is not and has never been a real person.”
  • Even more so than the MeK, Restart’s reach within Iran is limited. But the movement has gained some traction in fringe media outlets in the United States promoted by the president of the United States.
  • For years, various Iranian groups have lobbied in Washington
  • Although they appeal to different groups in the United States, they all benefit from the country’s divisions, which they can manipulate to their advantage.
  • The Restarters take this idea to a new level. Accounts linked with the group have pushed for war with Iran and have proffered offers to fight alongside Americans should the United States decide to stage a military intervention to topple the Iranian regime. And to further appeal to the Trump administration, they have adopted the slogan #MIGA (for “Make Iran Great Again,” a play on Trump’s #MAGA, or “Make America Great Again”). Restart frequently replies to the president’s tweets with this hashtag.
  • Responding to reporters’ questions about U.S.-Iranian relations in June 2019, Trump noted, “Let’s make Iran great again. Does that make sense? Make Iran great again.” Even if this was a coincidence, it raised the group’s profile among some parts of the president’s base.
  • A fringe group such as this one would have been unlikely to gain any prominence in the absence of two factors: First, a U.S. political landscape characterized by deep partisanship and a distrust of traditional authorities; and second, the proliferation of social media platforms.
Ed Webb

Inside the Pro-Israel Information War - 0 views

  • a rare public glimpse of how Israel and its American allies harness Israel’s influential tech sector and tech diaspora to run cover for the Jewish state as it endures scrutiny over the humanitarian impact of its invasion of Gaza.
  • reveal the degree to which, in the tech-oriented hasbara world, the lines between government, the private sector, and the nonprofit world are blurry at best. And the tactics that these wealthy individuals, advocates, and groups use -- hounding Israel critics on social media; firing pro-Palestine employees and canceling speaking engagements; smearing Palestinian journalists; and attempting to ship military-grade equipment to the IDF -- are often heavy-handed and controversial.
  • The final group consists of those who are "reflexively pro-Israel, kind of ‘Israel, right or wrong.’" Members of this group "are not actually very knowledgeable," so they needed to be equipped with the right facts to make them "more effective in advocating for Israel,” Fisher said.
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  • Members of the hasbara-oriented tech world WhatsApp group have eagerly taken up the call to shape public opinion as part of a bid to win what’s been described as the “second battlefield” and “the information war.”
  • The group, which also includes individuals affiliated with the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has tirelessly worked to fire employees and punish activists for expressing pro-Palestinian views. It has also engaged in a successful push to cancel events held by prominent Palestinian voices, including an Arizona State University talk featuring Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who is the only Palestinian-American in Congress. The group has also circulated circulated a push poll suggesting Rep. Tlaib should resign from Congress and provided an automatic means of thanking Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., for voting for her censure.
  • J-Ventures has also veered into an unusual kind of philanthropy: shipments of military supplies. The group has attempted to provide tactical gear to Israel’s equivalent of the U.S. Navy SEALs, known as Shayetet-13, and donated to a foundation dedicated to supporting the IDF’s undercover “Duvdevan” unit, which is known for infiltrating Palestinian populations. Many of the shipments intended for the IDF were held up at U.S. airports over customs issues.
  • Israel would soon lose international support as its military response in Gaza kills more Palestinian civilians, noted Schwarzbad, who stressed the need to refocus attention on Israeli civilian deaths. “Try to use names and ages whenever you can,” she said. Don’t refer to statistics of the dead, use stories. “Say something like, 'Noah, age 26, was celebrating with her friends at a music festival on the holiest day of the week, Shabbat. Imagine if your daughter was at Coachella.’”
  • The Israel-based venture capitalist outlined three categories of people for whom outreach, rather than attacks, is the best strategy. The first group is what he dubbed “the impressionables,” who are "typically young people, they reflexively support the weak, oppose the oppressor," but "are not really knowledgeable." For this category of people, the goal is not to "convince them of anything," but to "show them that it's much more complicated than it seems." Seeding doubt, he said, would make certain audiences think twice before attending a protest. "So it's really about creating some kind of confusion,” Fisher continued, “but really, just to make it clear to them that it's really a lot more complicated."
  • Fisher repeatedly noted the need to offer accurate and nuanced information to rebut critics of Israel's actions. Yet at times, he offered his own misinformation, such as his claim that "anti-Israel" human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch "didn't condemn the October 7th massacre."
  • One participant even suggested that they appeal to the university’s “woke” aversion to exposing students to uncomfortable ideas.   The participant drafted a sample letter claiming that Tlaib’s appearance threatened ASU’s “commitment to a safe and inclusive environment.” The following day, ASU officially canceled the Tlaib event, citing “procedural issues.”
  • efforts to discredit HRW stem directly from its outspoken criticism of Israel’s record in the occupied territories and its military conduct. An HRW report released the same day as Fisher’s remarks cited the World Health Organization’s conclusion that the IDF had killed roughly one child in Gaza every 10 minutes since the outbreak of violence in October.
  • members of the J-Ventures group chat also internally circulated a petition for Netflix to remove the award-winning Jordanian film ‘Farha,’ claiming that its portrayal of the actions of IDF soldiers during the 1948 displacement of Palestinians constituted “blood libel,” while another said the film was based “antisemitism and lies.”
  • Last year, the Israeli government revoked funding for a theater in Jaffa for screening the film, while government figures called for other repercussions to Netflix for streaming it.
  • One member noted that despite the controversy over a scene in the film in which Israeli soldiers execute a Palestinian family, Israeli historians have documented that “such actions have indeed happened.” The critique was rejected by other members of the group, who said the film constituted “incitement” against Jews.
  • a variety of automated attempts to remove pro-Palestinian content on social media
  • Over the last two months, dozens of individuals have been fired for expressing opinions related to the war in Gaza and Israel. Most have been dismissed for expressing pro-Palestinian views, including a writer for PhillyVoice, the editor of ArtForum, an apprentice at German publishing giant Axel Springer, and Michael Eisen, the editor-in-chief of eLife, a prominent science journal. Eisen’s offense was a tweet sharing a satirical article from The Onion seen as sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians in Gaza.
  • The WhatsApp chats provide a rare look at the organizing efforts behind the broad push to fire critics of Israel and suppress public events featuring critics of the Israeli government. The scope is surprisingly broad, ranging from investigating the funding sources of student organizations such as Model Arab League, to monitoring an organizing toolkit of a Palestine Solidarity Working Group – “They are verrrry well organized”, one member exclaimed – to working directly with high-level tech executives to fire pro-Palestinian employees.
  • "President Biden seems incapable of using the one policy tool that may actually produce a change in Israel's actions that might limit civilian deaths, which would be to condition military aid that the United States provides to Israel,” Clifton added. He partially attributed the inability of the U.S. government to rein in Israel’s war actions to the “lobbying and advocacy efforts underway.”
  • Lior Netzer, a business consultant based in Massachusetts, and a member of the J-Ventures WhatsApp group, requested help pressuring the University of Vermont to cancel a lecture with Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian writer for The Nation magazine. Netzer shared a sample script that alleged that El-Kurd had engaged in anti-Semitic speech in the past.The effort also appeared to be successful. Shortly after the letter-writing campaign, UVM canceled the talk, citing safety concerns.
  • The WhatsApp group maintained a special focus on elite universities and white-collar professional positions. Group members not only circulated multiple petitions to fire professors and blacklist students from working at major law firms for allegedly engaging in extremist rhetoric, but a J-Ventures spreadsheet lists specific task force teams to "get professors removed who teach falcehoods [sic] to their students." The list includes academics at Cornell University, the University of California, Davis, and NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus, among others.
  • Many of the messages in the group focused on ways in which to shape student life at Stanford University, including support for pro-Israel activists. The attempted interventions into campus life at times hinged on the absurd. Shortly after comedian Amy Schumer posted a now-deleted satirical cartoon lampooning pro-Palestinian protesters as supporters of rape and beheadings, Epstein, the operating partner at Bessemer Ventures Partners and member of the J-Ventures WhatsApp group, asked, “How can we get this political cartoon published in the Stanford Daily?"
  • The influence extended beyond the business and tech world and into politics. The J-Ventures team includes advocates with the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC. Officials in the J-Ventures group include investor David Wagonfeld, whose biography states he is “leading AIPAC Silicon Valley;” Tartakovsky, listed as “AIPAC Political Chair;” Adam Milstein, a real estate executive and major AIPAC donor; and AIPAC-affiliated activists Drs. Kathy Fields and Garry Rayant. Kenneth Baer, a former White House advisor to President Barack Obama and communications counsel to the Anti-Defamation League, is also an active member of the group.
  • Other fundraising efforts from J-Ventures included an emergency fund to provide direct support for IDF units, including the naval commando unit Shayetet-13. The leaked planning document also uncovers attempts to supply the mostly female Caracal Battalion with grenade pouches and to donate M16 rifle scope mounts, “FN MAG” machine gun carrier vests, and drones to unnamed IDF units. According to the planning document, customs enforcement barriers have stranded many of the packages destined for the IDF in Montana and Colorado.
  • the morning after being reached for comment, Hermoni warned the WhatsApp group against cooperating with our inquiries. “Two journalists … are trying to have an anti semi[tic] portrait of our activity to support Israel and reaching out to members,” he wrote. “Please ignore them and do not cooperate.” he advised. Shortly thereafter, we were kicked out of the group
  • Victory on the “media battlefield,” Hoffman concluded, “eases pressure on IDF to go quicker, to wrap up” and “goes a long way to deciding how much time Israel has to complete an operation.”
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