Google planned to help Syria rebels to bring down Assad regime, leaked Hillary Clinton emails claim

Google planned to help Syria rebels to bring down Assad regime, leaked Hillary Clinton emails claim


One of Google’s interactive tools was reportedly meant to encourage defections from the Assad government, emails leaked by WikiLeaks have alleged






An interactive tool created by Google was designed to encourage Syrian rebels and help bring down the Assad regime, Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails have reportedly revealed.


By tracking and mapping defections within the Syrian leadership, it was reportedly designed to encourage more people to defect and ‘give confidence’ to the rebel opposition.


It was allegedly described as a “pretty cool idea” by senior Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan, and Google said it had enlisted the help of Al Jazeera to broadcast the tool in Syria.


“We believe this can have an important impact.”

Google executive Jared Cohen on the defection-tracking tool


Thousands of Clinton’s personal emails have been published and indexed by WikiLeaks, and some reveal interesting details about the relationship between the State Department and major corporations.


The email detailing Google’s defection tracker purportedly came from Jared Cohen, a Clinton advisor until 2010 and now-President of Jigsaw, formerly known as Google Ideas, the company’s New York-based policy think tank.


In a July 2012 email to members of Clinton’s team, which the WikiLeaks release alleges was later forwarded to the Secretary of State herself, Cohen reportedly said: “My team is planning to launch a tool on Sunday that will publicly track and map the defections in Syria and which parts of the government they are coming from.”



“Our logic behind this is that while many people are tracking the atrocities, nobody is visually representing and mapping the defections, which we believe are important in encouraging more to defect and giving confidence to the opposition.”


The email said Google would be “partnering with Al Jazeera” who would take “primary ownership” of the tool, maintaining it and publicising it in Syria.


Cohen asked the Clinton team to tell him if there was anything the company needed to think about before launching the tool, before adding: “We believe this can have an important impact.”


The visualisation was eventually published by Al Jazeera in English and Arabic, and Jigsaw’s website claims it became one of the site’s most-viewed visualisations. 


A post about the tool on the site claims it successfully showed “patterns and trends” in support for the regime, but makes no mention of encouraging defectors or helping the opposition.



WikiLeaks has previously been responsible for publicising links between Google and high-ranking State Department officials, and founder Julian Assange’s 2014 book When Google Met WikiLeaks accused the company of helping to further the US government’s foreign policy agenda.


As the Daily Mail points out, the news comes as Google reveals its plans to expand internet access in Cuba, in an announcement timed to coincide with Barack Obama’s historic visit to the island.


Clinton’s thoughts on Google’s plan were not revealed in the WikiLeaks release, but she reportedly instructed an aide to print out Cohen’s email for later reference.


Google did not provide a comment.



Google’s Eric Schmidt and New America Foundation/IN-Q-Tel provide tricks for Middle Easterners

U.S. Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors, The New York Times




By JAMES GLANZ  and JOHN MARKOFF, The New York Times, June 12, 2011


The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy “shadow” Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can  use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring  or shutting down telecommunications networks.  


The effort includes secretive projects to create  independent cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as one operation  out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L Street in Washington, where a  group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are  fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet in a  suitcase.”  


Financed with a $2 million State Department  grant, the suitcase could be secreted across a border and quickly set up to  allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global  


The American effort, revealed in dozens of  interviews, planning documents and classified diplomatic cables obtained by The  New York Times, ranges in scale, cost and sophistication.  


Some projects involve technology that the United  States is developing; others pull together tools that have already been created  by hackers in a so-called liberation-technology movement sweeping the globe.  


The State Department, for example, is financing  the creation of stealth back-door’d wireless networks that would enable activists to  communicate outside the reach of governments in countries like Iran, Syria and Libya, according to participants in the projects.  


In one of the most ambitious efforts, United  States officials say, the State Department and Pentagon have spent at least $50  million to create an independent cellphone network in Afghanistan using towers  on protected military bases inside the country. It is intended to offset the  Taliban’s ability to shut down the official Afghan services, seemingly at will.


The effort has picked up momentum since the  government of President Hosni Mubarak shut down the Egyptian Internet in the  last days of his rule. In recent days, the Syrian government also temporarily  disabled much of that country’s Internet, which had helped protesters mobilize.  


The Obama administration’s initiative is in one  sense a new front in a longstanding diplomatic push to defend free speech and  nurture democracy. For decades, the United States has sent radio broadcasts  into autocratic countries through Voice of America and other means. More  recently, Washington has supported the development of software that preserves  the anonymity of users in places like China, and training for citizens who want  to pass information along the government-owned Internet without getting caught.  But the latest initiative depends on creating  entirely separate pathways for communication. It has brought together an  improbable alliance of diplomats and military engineers, young programmers and  dissidents from at least a dozen countries, many of whom variously describe the  new approach as more audacious and clever and, yes, cooler.  


Sometimes the State Department is simply taking  advantage of enterprising dissidents who have found ways to get around  government censorship. American diplomats are meeting with operatives who have  been burying Chinese cellphones in the hills near the border with North Korea,  where they can be dug up and used to make furtive calls, according to  interviews and the diplomatic cables.  


The new initiatives have found a champion in  Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose department is spearheading the  American effort. “We see more and more people around the globe using the  Internet, mobile phones and other technologies to make their voices heard as  they protest against injustice and seek to realize their aspirations,” Mrs. Clinton  said in an e-mail response to a query on the topic. “There is a historic  opportunity to effect positive change, change America supports,” she said. “So  we’re focused on helping them do that, on helping them talk to each other, to  
  their communities, to their governments and to the world.”


Developers caution that independent networks  come with downsides: repressive governments could use surveillance to pinpoint  and arrest activists who use the technology or simply catch them bringing  hardware across the border. But others believe that the risks are outweighed by  the potential impact. “We’re going to build a separate infrastructure where the  technology is nearly impossible to shut down, to control, to surveil,” said  Sascha Meinrath, who is leading the “Internet in a suitcase” project as  director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, a  nonpartisan research group.  


“The implication is that this disempowers  central authorities from infringing on people’s fundamental human right to communicate,”  Mr. Meinrath added.  


The Invisible Web


In an anonymous office building on L Street in  Washington, four unlikely State Department contractors sat around a table. Josh  King, sporting multiple ear piercings and a studded leather wristband, taught  himself programming while working as a barista. Thomas Gideon was an  accomplished hacker. Dan Meredith, a bicycle polo enthusiast, helped companies  protect their digital secrets.  


Then there was Mr. Meinrath, wearing a tie as  the dean of the group at age 37. He has a master’s degree in psychology and  helped set up wireless networks in underserved communities in Detroit and  Philadelphia.  


The group’s suitcase project will rely on a  version of “mesh network” technology, which can transform devices like cellphones  or personal computers to create an invisible wireless web without a centralized  hub. In other words, a voice, picture or e-mail message could hop directly  between the modified wireless devices — each one acting as a mini cell “tower”  and phone — and bypass the official network.  


Mr. Meinrath said that the suitcase would  include small wireless antennas, which could increase the area of coverage; a  laptop to administer the system; thumb drives and CDs to spread the software to  more devices and encrypt the communications; and other components like Ethernet  cables.  


The project will also rely on the innovations of  independent Internet and telecommunications developers.  


“The cool thing in this political context is  that you cannot easily control it,” said Aaron Kaplan, an Austrian  cybersecurity expert whose work will be used in the suitcase project. Mr.  Kaplan has set up a functioning mesh network in Vienna and says related systems  have operated in Venezuela, Indonesia and elsewhere.  


Mr. Meinrath said his team was focused on  fitting the system into the bland-looking suitcase and making it simple to  implement — by, say, using “pictograms” in the how-to manual.  


In addition to the Obama administration’s  initiatives, there are almost a dozen independent ventures that also aim to  make it possible for unskilled users to employ existing devices like laptops or  smartphones to build a wireless network. One mesh network was created around  Jalalabad, Afghanistan, as early as five years ago, using technology developed at  the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  


Creating simple lines of communication outside  official ones is crucial, said Collin Anderson, a 26-year-old  liberation-technology researcher from North Dakota who specializes in Iran,  where the government all but shut down the Internet during protests in 2009.  The slowdown made most “circumvention” technologies — the software legerdemain  that helps dissidents sneak data along the state-controlled networks — nearly  useless, he said.  


“No matter how much circumvention the protesters  use, if the government slows the network down to a crawl, you can’t upload  YouTube videos or Facebook postings,” Mr. Anderson said. “They need alternative  ways of sharing information or alternative ways of getting it out of the country.”     


That need is so urgent, citizens are finding  their own ways to set up rudimentary networks. Mehdi Yahyanejad, an Iranian  expatriate and technology developer who co-founded a popular Persian-language  Web site, estimates that nearly half the people who visit the site from inside  Iran share files using Bluetooth — which is best known in the West for running  wireless headsets and the like. In more closed societies, however, Bluetooth is  used to discreetly beam information — a video, an electronic business card —  directly from one cellphone to another.  


Mr. Yahyanejad said he and his research  colleagues were also slated to receive State Department financing for a project  that would modify Bluetooth so that a file containing, say, a video of a  protester being beaten, could automatically jump from phone to phone within a  “trusted network” of citizens. The system would be more limited than the  suitcase but would only require the software modification on ordinary phones.  


By the end of 2011, the State Department will  have spent some $70 million on circumvention efforts and related technologies,  according to department figures.  


Mrs. Clinton has made Internet freedom into a  signature cause. But the State Department has carefully framed its support as  promoting free speech and human rights for their own sake, not as a policy  aimed at destabilizing autocratic governments.  


That distinction is difficult to maintain, said  Clay Shirky, an assistant professor at New York University who studies the  Internet and social media. “You can’t say, ‘All we want is for people to speak  their minds, not bring down autocratic regimes’ — they’re the same thing,” Mr.  Shirky said.  


He added that the United States could expose  itself to charges of hypocrisy if the State Department maintained its support,  tacit or otherwise, for autocratic governments running countries like Saudi Arabia or Bahrain while deploying technology that was likely to undermine them. 


Shadow Cellphone System


In February 2009, Richard C. Holbrooke and Lt.  Gen. John R. Allen were taking a helicopter tour over southern Afghanistan and  getting a panoramic view of the cellphone towers dotting the remote  countryside, according to two officials on the flight. By then, millions of  Afghans were using cellphones, compared with a few thousand after the 2001  invasion. Towers built by private companies had sprung up across the country.  The United States had promoted the network as a way to cultivate good will and  encourage local businesses in a country that in other ways looked as if it had  not changed much in centuries.  


There was just one problem, General Allen told  Mr. Holbrooke, who only weeks before had been appointed special envoy to the  region. With a combination of threats to phone company officials and attacks on  the towers, the Taliban was able to shut down the main network in the  countryside virtually at will. Local residents report that the networks are  often out from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m., presumably to enable the Taliban to carry  out operations without being reported to security forces.  


The Pentagon and State Department were soon  collaborating on the project to build a “shadow” cellphone system in a country  where repressive forces exert control over the official network.  Details of the network, which the military named  the Palisades project, are scarce, but current and former military and civilian  officials said it relied in part on cell towers placed on protected American  bases. A large tower on the Kandahar air base serves as a base station or data  collection point for the network, officials said.  


A senior United States official said the towers  were close to being up and running in the south and described the effort as a  kind of 911 system that would be available to anyone with a cellphone.    


By shutting down cellphone service, the Taliban  had found a potent strategic tool in its asymmetric battle with American and  Afghan security forces.  


The United States is widely understood to use  cellphone networks in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries for intelligence  gathering. And the ability to silence the network was also a powerful reminder  to the local populace that the Taliban retained control over some of the most  vital organs of the nation.  


When asked about the system, Lt. Col. John  Dorrian, a spokesman for the American-led International Security Assistance  Force, or ISAF, would only confirm the existence of a project to create what he  called an “expeditionary cellular communication service” in Afghanistan. He  said the project was being carried out in collaboration with the Afghan  government in order to “restore 24/7 cellular access.”  


“As of yet the program is not fully operational,  so it would be premature to go into details,” Colonel Dorrian said.  Colonel Dorrian declined to release cost  figures. Estimates by United States military and civilian officials ranged  widely, from $50 million to $250 million. A senior official said that Afghan  officials, who anticipate taking over American bases when troops pull out, have  insisted on an elaborate system. “The Afghans wanted the Cadillac plan, which  is pretty expensive,” the official said.  


Broad Subversive Effort


In May 2009, a North Korean defector named Kim  met with officials at the American Consulate in Shenyang, a Chinese city about  120 miles from North Korea, according to a diplomatic cable. Officials wanted  to know how Mr. Kim, who was active in smuggling others out of the country,  communicated across the border. “Kim would not go into much detail,” the cable  says, but did mention the burying of Chinese cellphones “on hillsides for  people to dig up at night.” Mr. Kim said Dandong, China, and the surrounding  Jilin Province “were natural gathering points for cross-border cellphone  communication and for meeting sources.” The cellphones are able to pick up  signals from towers in China, said Libby Liu, head of Radio Free Asia, the  United States-financed broadcaster, who confirmed their existence and said her  organization uses the calls to collect information for broadcasts as well.  


The effort, in what is perhaps the world’s most  closed nation, suggests just how many independent actors are involved in the  subversive efforts. From the activist geeks on L Street in Washington to the  military engineers in Afghanistan, the global appeal of the technology hints at  the craving for open communication.  


In a chat with a Times reporter via Facebook,  Malik Ibrahim Sahad, the son of Libyan dissidents who largely grew up in  suburban Virginia, said he was tapping into the Internet using a commercial  satellite connection in Benghazi. “Internet is in dire need here. The people  are cut off in that respect,” wrote Mr. Sahad, who had never been to Libya  before the uprising and is now working in support of rebel authorities. Even  so, he said, “I don’t think this revolution could have taken place without the  existence of the World Wide Web.”  


Reporting was contributed by Richard A. Oppel  
Jr. and Andrew W. Lehren from New York, and Alissa J. Rubin and Sangar Rahimi
from Kabul, Afghanistan.