The sword and shield of the state
International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt
August 12 2001
CAIRO: After the rebellion comes the reckoning. At its core, Egypt’s new society needs trust. Adversaries have to bury the hatchet and get on with one another. In practical terms that means respecting laws made to preserve democracy and appointing police that impartially maintain law and order.
Lawrence of Arabia helped hatch the plan to bring down the Ottoman Empire. Captain T.E. Lawrence concluded that two percent of activists can overcome 98 percent that are passively sympathetic.
The archaeologist turned soldier fought with Arab irregulars in guerrilla operations against the armed forces of the Ottoman Empire after being posted to the intelligence staff of the British General Officer Commanding the Middle East in Cairo.
Why look to the past when considering Egypt’s post revolutionary future?
Lt-Col Sir Julian Paget, an authority on counter insurgency argues: The actual insurgent element of the population is nearly always very small, less than 10 percent. But it succeeds in instilling such a fear into the majority of the people that the remaining 90 percent almost invariably side passively with the insurgent cause.
Egypt’s revolutionaries can defeat the Camel Charge and lose the war if they’re not prepared.
The counterinsurgents — holdovers from the Mubarak regime — are well prepared, given the mountain of information that has been uncovered in the sacking of the various police stations and intelligence operational centers.
It’s pretty clear they acquired sophisticated monitoring systems, such as malware and backdoors to infect computers to snoop on opponents.
The Washington Post reported activists uncovering a proposed contract from a British company amid the scattered papers and interrogation devices found during a raid on one police spy center.
Dr. Mustafa Hussein, a Cairo physician was among the activists who seized the documents, posted the proposal online. He said it is important evidence of the intent of the state security and investigation division not to respect privacy.
The proposal provided the interior ministry with software to access Gmail, Skype, Hotmail and Yahoo conversations and exchanges on computers.
According to The Guardian newspaper the proposal dated June 29, 2010 provided FinSpy software, hardware, installation and training to Egypt’s State Security Investigations service for 287,000 Euros.
Despite the paperwork discovered, both parties denied having anything to do with it.
One of the significant masterminds of global snooping in recent years is Dr. Kalev Sepp, Senior Lecturer in Defense Analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Previously he served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations Capabilities responsible for the United States Department of Defense global counterterrorism portfolio.
Sepp had responsibility for policy oversight of all special operations worldwide, and formulation of the Defense Department’s global counterterrorism strategy from July 2007.
Sepp says intelligence operations that help detect terrorist insurgents for arrest and prosecution are the single most important practice to protect a population from threats to its security.
He goes on: Honest, trained, robust police forces responsible for security can gather intelligence at the community level. The local knowledge that members of a police force possess can help them distinguish between innocents and insurgents.
Snooping on the Arab blogosphere was deemed appropriate by the US State Department five years ago. Their Middle East Partnership set aside $1.5 million dollars for a two-year project to examine how the Internet influences democratic norms and modes.
Harvard University’s Berkman Center, where these surveys are conducted, has geared up to discover the Internet’s impact in the Middle East on civil society, citizen media, government transparency, and the rule of law.
Two of the core research groups are alumni from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, a private school that offers classes in human rights and espionage. A third is the head of a company that boasts: We take you far beyond “hits” or “page views,” uncovering who is listening to whom, why they are interested, and how ideas move among and between different audiences.
The fourth is the author of a book that reports on a new generation of Internet controls that establish a new normative terrain in which surveillance and censorship are routine.
The result of a jointly funded project by the Americans and the British was published on Friday. Bloggers in the Middle East and North Africa, experienced a remarkably high incidence of security incidents related to their online activity over the past year — 30 percent feared arrest and detention, nine percent had been arrested or detained, 18 percent feared personal threats and 18 percent said their computers had been hacked.
After accessing tens of thousands of Internet messages between 2005 and 2007 the group reported in Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture, and Dissent that the Muslim Brotherhood is the biggest single political group sharing its information.
Like other Egyptian political bloggers, ‘Brother bloggers’ talk about human rights and defend those who have been arrested by the government. They are also engaged in public debate about the organization’s future and priorities.
What’s needed now is truth and transparency. If Egypt is to be policed by cyber-hackers and specialists in controlling computers, the nation is doomed to suspicion. The law needs amending. Civil judges should determine the right to access e-mail, text messages and phone conversations. They know the boundaries that are acceptable.
When the police suspect that a crime is being concocted, they should present their evidence to a judge in Camera and seek approval for covert activities. That’s the way to begin restoring confidence.
There’s another imperative: the retraining of police on the ground. The riot police outside the Mubarak trial demonstrated their inadequacy. As they seem to do whenever they’re in a tight spot they ended up bashing people over the head and throwing the rocks back.
Instead of allocating millions of dollars for eavesdropping, governments that wish to support Egypt’s democrats should turn their attention to helping the police to reform and in doing so to gain the trust the nation craves.
Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.