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June 21, 2009

Twitter, Nokia Siemens, and the Iran Mullahs

The last week has been reported as a "Twitter Revolution" in Iran. Partisans who do not believe the reported election results are protesting in the streets. There are videos of crowds facing police.

Sometimes revolutions hinge on a new technology, embraced by the challenger and under-appreciated by the incumbents. For instance, people believe that the printing press led to the Protestant Reformation. Others look at the anonymous and widespread communication afforded by the Web and wonder if the Internet, in a similar way, leads to the Islamic Reformation.

The Revolution will be Tweeted

This protest's new reported gadget is Twitter, with people posting 140-character text messages that answer the question, "What are you doing now?" Fox News reports, Iranian Protesters Cling to Twitter as Key Lifeline Amid Crackdown.

So there are Tweets reporting events. Let's parse that, and I'd like to sidetrack into a personal story.
Once upon a time, on a winter night, I wanted to teach my son a lesson about critical thinking. He sat with me while I spoofed his school's email server and sent out a note appearing to come from the principal, appearing to go to all the parents, but actually only going to my wife's email.

We sat together, watching my Wife surf the web, and in a few minutes we heard the "you've got mail" chime. She read the email - which said, the boiler's exploded, no school tomorrow, please don't call the school we're trying to keep the line open, we don't have all the email addresses so please call your friends and spread the word". As we watched, my Wife said, hey good news, and reached for the phone to call her buddy Carmella.

We interrupted her and explained that it was just a demonstration. What I wanted to show my son was that you can't believe something just because it's on a screen. Unfortunately, the lesson he took away was how cool it is to spoof an email server. Sigh.
So there are Tweets reporting events. Actually, there are text messages introduced into a network purporting to tell a story. There are multiple groups with a variety of stories they'd like to put in front of the American public. The Twitter network is easily entered, and there's no verification of who's who.

Some Westerners have tried to support the "tweeters" by hosting a Tor proxy server on their own computers that would disguise an Iranian's IP address. Of course, this also allowed any miscreant who wanted to pose as an Iranian tweeter to boldly proclaim their false message. Other westerners have set their own computer and phone settings to the Tehran time-zone, hoping to produce a flood of Tehran-timed tweets to make the genuine article untrackable. They also have the unintended effect of rendering phony tweets indistinguishable from the real ones.

Some people believe that the so-called Twitter Revolution is a domestic US event, being fed by inaccurate tweets sponsored by a third government. What third government has a motivation for making Americans and the American media space believe that the Iranian people are tired of the regime? Some say Israel has motive, method, and opportunity. This sort of manuever is well within the normal range of False Flag operations. In a way, it's sort of an anti-FUD campaign, hoping to instill confidence and certainty that the Iranian population desires to be freed of the reigning Mullahs.

Others contend that the tendency to re-tweet interesting messages results in a inordinately high noise-to-signal ratio; there may only be 45 Iranians twittering, with a thousand Americans retweeting. Check out this Cyberwar Guide for Iranian Elections written for domestic US consumption.

All you know when you see an electronic message, is that somebody (motivated by self-interest) wants you to accept it and act on it. We really don't know what the twitter message traffic is, other than great advertising for Twitter - which, by the way, is not a profitable business.


Technology is never ethical; it can cut both ways. When the timeframe of innovation was long, a technology advantage might be a sustaining advantage - think of archers against horsemen, or armor against infantry. When the timeframe of innovation is short, as it is today, the advantage is fleeting and may be quickly reversed by the side with more infrastructure and resources.

Nokia Siemens Networks and the Mullahs

There are reports that the Mullahs have an impressive array of technology to track tweets within their borders, and are simply allowing the logging programs enough time record the IP addresses of dissidents. The IP addresses can be matched to email header info, and message content can be identified using deep packet inspection. They may be giving the opposition time to hang themselves. There may be knocks on doors in the near future.

When question about the capabilities that Nokia-Siemens-Networks has delivered to the Iranian regime, their spokesman said that the company “does have a choice about whether to do business in any country” but said, “We believe providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate is preferable to leaving them without the choice to be heard.” Ahh, George Orwell's Newspeak still lives.

Very Little New Under The Sun (VLNUS)

Current tech news reports that Nokia-Siemens has provided Iran with the technology to track protesters. We should not be shocked; the military-industrial complex is not known for an ideology other than profits. In the run-up to World War II, IBM provided the Nazis with technology to track Jews, and also sold the Nazis systems to keep the trains to the death camps running efficiently.

Nazi Hollerith punch card

Tom Watson's IBM and the Nazis

CNET writes, Edwin Black's book "IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation" argues that information technology--in the form of IBM's Hollerith punch-card machines--provided the Nazis with a unique and critical tool in their task of cataloguing and dispatching their millions of victims.

Black attempts to establish that IBM didn't merely vend its products to Hitler--as did many American companies--but maintained a strategic alliance with the Third Reich in which it licensed, maintained and custom-designed its products for use in the machinery of the Holocaust.

IBM has responded to questions about its relationship with the Nazis largely by characterizing the information as old news. "The fact that Hollerith equipment manufactured by (IBM's German unit) Dehomag was used by the Nazi administration has long been known and is not new information," IBM representative Carol Makovich wrote in an e-mail interview. "This information was published in 1997 in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing and in 1998 in Washington Jewish Week."

In a CBS report, IBM spokeswoman Carol Malkovich said, "We are a technology company, we are not historians". That line is breathtaking in its chutzpah, and it could be used by arrogant blackguards everywhere. "I am a (activist, leader, visionary); we are not historians" -- this might be said by Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, etc.

Nazi Hollerith posterFrom the Village Voice: Custom-designed, IBM-produced punch cards, sorted by IBM machines leased to the Nazis, helped organize and manage the initial identification and social expulsion of Jews and others, the confiscation of their property, their ghettoization, their deportation, and, ultimately, even their extermination.

Recently discovered Nazi documents and Polish eyewitness testimony make clear that IBM's alliance with the Third Reich went far beyond its German subsidiary. A key factor in the Holocaust in Poland was IBM technology provided directly through a special wartime Polish subsidiary reporting to IBM New York, mainly to its headquarters at 590 Madison Avenue. And that's how the trains to Auschwitz ran on time.

My point is not that Nokia-Siemens are feckless, mercenary, and amoral businesses, trading with America's enemies. My point is that the entire information-industrial complex is feckless, mercenary, and amoral. Probably the main reason it's not a US firm that sold the technology to the Mullahs is that American companies supplied the previous strongman, Shah Pahlavi, and the locals haven't quite gotten over that yet.


Lady Elaine said...

Fucked up post as usual! I love it.

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