U.S. Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors

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

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 Internet.

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
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.”

New York Times



About Union of Oromo Students in Europe

The Union of Oromo Students in Europe, (UOSE) or Tokkummaa Barattoota Oromoo Awurooppaa (TBOA) is a student organization founded in 1974. UOSE played the biggest role with its brother organization UOSNA (Union of Oromo Students in North America) in nurturing the language and culture of the Oromo people, protesting against successive Ethiopian regimes, and coordinating the overall support to the OLF from the diaspora. UOSE celebrated its 10 anniversary in 1984. The unions held their 27th annual congress in July 2000, which was attended by delegates of the Union's branches in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The congress also received solidarity and mandating messages from branches of the Union in Greece and Norway.
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