The Obama administration is actively engaged in the process of creating “shadow” internet and cellphone connections in autocratic countries so that dissidents can communicate outside state-controlled networks, The New York Times reported.
The effort was boosted after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak shut down the country’s internet in an attempt to disorganize protesters in the last days of his rule, the newspaper reported. Syrian authorities recently followed Mubarak’s example, temporarily cutting off much of the country’s web connection.
According to The New York Times, the US-sponsored projects include the creation of secretive cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as an “internet in a suitcase” program that will allow users to connect to independent wireless networks.
The initiatives are generously supported by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“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,” the paper quotes her as saying. “So we are focused on helping them do that, on helping them talk to each other, to their communities, to their governments and to the world.”
Some of the projects in question involve US technologies, while others utilize tools created by hackers from the so-called liberation technology movement, The New York Times reported.
In one of the most ambitious developments, the State Department and Pentagon spent at least $50 million on the creation of an alternative cellphone network in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from shutting down mobile connections in the country.
To accomplish this, cellphone towers have reportedly been installed at protected military bases across the country.
The independent network allows cellphone users to communicate when local Afghani networks are shut by the Taliban. The disruptions typically occur between 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., so that the Taliban can conduct their operations unreported to security forces.
The “internet in a suitcase” project, meanwhile, which is reportedly being developed in a secretive building on Washington’s L Street, will help create undetected wireless hotspots hidden in plain-looking suitcases. The program has been allocated a budget of about $2 million and is run by a funky-looking group of hackers and programmers, the newspaper reported.
The hardware-packed suitcase can be secreted across a border and will be able to transmit wireless signal to a large area, giving local access to the global internet.
According to the New York Times, the US State Department is currently financing the setting up of stealth wireless networks in countries like Iran, Syria and Libya. The new networks are expected to allow members of the opposition to communicate outside of government control.
Washington has also been actively involved with a number of other programs and initiatives aimed at easing dissident communication in countries considered undemocratic by the US.
In a recent development, Washington sponsored the development of special software that protects the anonymity of internet users in countries like China.
According to The New York Times, by the end of 2011, the State Department will spend an estimated $70 million on circumvention efforts and related technology.