Sunday the New York Times claimed that the Obama administration is leading a global effort to launch a "shadow" Internet and mobile phone service for helping rebels face against governments intent on censoring or shutting down communications to the outside world.
According to classified diplomatic cables, planning documents and dozens of interviews obtained by the New York Times, the Obama effort includes an "Internet in a suitcase" financed with a $2 million State Department grant. Essentially this suitcase can be secreted across the border, and contain all the necessary hardware and networking devices for establishing a large-scale, Internet-linked network rather quickly.
The suitcase project will reportedly rely on a version of "mesh network" technology which can transform devices like laptops and cellphones into makeshift servers, creating an invisible wireless web without the needs for a centralized hub. Project head "Mr. Meinrath" said that the suitcase could include small wireless antennas, a laptop to administer the shadow network, Ethernet cables, thumb drives and discs for distributing encryption and communication software.
In addition to the popup-network-in-a-suitcase, the United States is reportedly teaming up with hackers in a "so-called liberation-technology movement" sweeping the nation. "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," the paper reports.
Another project includes the State Department and the Pentagon who have spent at least $50 million to establish an independent cellphone network in Afghanistan using towers mounted on protected military bases located within the country. This secret network is intended to offset the Taliban's ability to disable the official Afghan services.
The paper also claims that the shadow Internet and mobile phone efforts were accelerated after President Hosni Mubarak shut down the Egyptian Internet in the last days of his rule, and when the Syrian government temporarily disabled much of its own Internet access.
"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," said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in an email response to the New York Times' findings. "There is a historic opportunity to effect positive change, change America supports. 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."
To read the full 4-page report, head here.