Tag Archives: iran

When good companies go bad – How Nokia Siemens helped Iran monitor its citizens

Last week my friend Diederik wrote a blog titled “Twittering to End Dictatorship: Ensuring the Future of Web-based Social Movements” in which he expressed his concern that (Western) corporations might facilitate oppressive regimes in wiretapping and spying on their citizens.

Now it appears that his concerns have turned out to be true. As he points on more recently on his blog:

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that Nokia and Siemens have supplied Iran with deep-inspection technologies to develop “one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale”. The  Washington Post also reported this.
  • Siemens has not just sold the “Intelligence Platform” to Iran, but to a total of 60 countries. Siemens calls it “lawful interception”, but in countries with oppressive regimes everything that the government does is lawful.
  • The New York Times reports that China is requiring Internet censor software to be installed on all computers starting from July 1st.

Of course, being Nordic, the Nokia Siemens joint venture which developed and sold the monitoring centre to Iran has a strict code of ethics on their website that addresses issues of human rights, censorship and torture. In theory this should have guided their choice of selling equipment to Iran – obviously it has not.

So Diederik and his friends have started a petition to enable people voice their concern over the failure of Nokia Seimens to adhere to their own code of conduct by selling advanced technology to help the government of Iran to control its citizens. I hope it takes off…

Firefox 3 pledge map vs. the Pentagon’s new map

What are the geopolitics of open source? To find out I thought it would be interested to see how Thomas Barnett’s map meshed with the Spread Mozilla Firefox 3 download pledge map.

Some brief background for those not familiar with “The Pentagon’s New Map.” It is a map that sits at the heart of a book of the same title written a few years ago by Barnett. It is a compelling take on what America’s grand strategy should be for the 21st century and how it is, and more importantly isn’t, ready to execute on it. Better yet, it is engaging, thought provoking, interesting, and written so anyone can read and understand it.

The core of the book’s thesis (remixed from Wikipedia and very high level) is as follows:

  1. International systems of rules reduce the likelihood of violent conflict (e.g., the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding)
  2. The world is divided between the Functioning Core and the Non-Integrated Gap.
    Function Core = economic interdependence, incented to abide by rules
    Non-Integrated Gap = unstable leadership and absence of international trade, weaker incentives
  3. Integration of the Gap into the global economy provides opportunities for individuals to improve their lives, presenting a desirable alternative to violence and terrorism
  4. US grand strategy for the 21st century… help countries migrate from the Non-Integrated Gap into the Functioning Core

According to Barnett’s thesis, countries in the Non-integrated Gap, because they are less connected, should probably have fewer computer users, fewer people downloading software and fewer people participating in Open-Source projects. Mashing up his map with the Firefox pledge map might give us some a clue to how well open-source conforms to his thesis.

(Note, I’ve remixed Barnett’s map to make it is easier to read on a computer with the Function Core countries in green and the Non-Integrated Gap countries in red . You can find the original map here.

PNM remixed

Below is the spread Firefox pledge map, which tracks how many people around the world have pledged to download Firefox on its release day (June 17th). I’ve overlaid the Non-Integrated Gap/Function Core border over it.

firefox PNM mash up

Some comments/thoughts:

  • Interesting correlation between low pledge totals and Non-Integrated Gap countries
  • All but two Non-Integrated Gap countries (Colombia & Turkey) have 10,000 download pledges or fewer. (I also think it is interesting that Barnett doesn’t include Turkey in the Functioning Core…)
  • Most countries within the Functioning Core have 10,000 pledges or greater (South Africa, Nordic Countries and the Baltic States are notable exceptions)
  • Non-Integrated Gap countries with the most pledges are Iran, Turkey, Venezuela, Peru, and Indonesia – interesting list. Seems to suggest that many of the countries the US tries to isolate are actually the most connected.
  • According to my Mozilla friends Poland (yes, Poland) was the first to hit the 100K pledge mark. Many new Core countries are adopting Open Source en mass to avoid paying for expensive Microsoft software. Open source may be offering them a cheap way to increase connectivity and integrate with the core faster, and on their terms. Fantastic outcome.
  • This map DOES NOT account for population variation – would be fascinating to see a map based on per capita pledges (I’ve contacted my friends at Mozilla and they’ve passed the raw data along to me so I will follow up with that analysis ASAP)
  • I will try to update the map with the final data on download day (June 17th) when all the pledges have been tallied
  • Note: Firefox pledge map copied on June 15th, 2008, 8:30 pm PST

Lots more thoughts and analysis to be done on this. I hope to blog more on this shortly. If Barnett responds in any way I promise to update – would love to hear his thoughts/reflections on this.

(One final aside, if you get the chance to see Barnett present, do so. He’s up there with Lessig in his delivery. I remember seeing him at a conference. He went long by 10 minutes. The US ambassador to Canada was in the next room waiting to give the next presentation but if any of the organizers had tried to intervene and hurry Barnett up, they would have been lynched. FYI, You can see his TED talk here.)

Why the US isn't leaving Iraq – even under Hillary

Just read the three powerful paragraphs below off the recent Strafor report. Damning stuff. It suggests the prospect of the US concentrating forces in Afghanistan are slight as Iraq will continue to tie them down for the next several years. Moreover, if there was ever any doubt, it should now be erased: the Neo-cons have created a geopolitical disaster that makes Vietnam look minor. The US had few tangible interests in Vietnam – in Iraq it has to worry about the stability of global oil supply.

“After years of organizational chaos, the United States has simplified its plan for Iraq: Prevent Iran from becoming a regional hegemon. Once-lofty thoughts of forging a democracy in general or supporting a particular government were abandoned in Washington well before the congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus. Reconstruction is on the back burner and even oil is now an afterthought at best. The entirety of American policy has been stripped down to a single thought: Iran.

That thought is now broadly held throughout not only the Bush administration but also the American intelligence and defense communities. It is not an unreasonable position. An American exodus from Iraq would allow Iran to leverage its allies in Iraq’s Shiite South to eventually gain control of most of Iraq. Iran’s influence also extends to significant Shiite communities on the Persian Gulf’s western oil-rich shore. Without U.S. forces blocking the Iranians, the military incompetence of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar could be perceived by the Iranians as an invitation to conquer that shore. That would land roughly 20 million barrels per day of global oil output — about one-quarter of the global total — under Tehran’s control. Rhetoric aside, an outcome such as this would push any U.S. president into a broad regional war to prevent a hostile power from shutting off the global economic pulse.

So the United States, for better or worse, is in Iraq for the long haul. This requires some strategy for dealing with the other power with the most influence in the country, Iran. This, in turn, leaves the United States with two options: It can simply attempt to run Iraq as a protectorate forever, a singularly unappealing option, or it can attempt to strike a deal with Iran on the issue of Iraq — and find some way to share influence.”

Apparently there is something worse than a contained Saddam Hussain in Iraq. An uncontained Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran.

Negotiating with the Enemy: the case of Iran, Syria and the United States

After my friend Taylor published this post about the US-Syrian-Iranian negotiation he asked me how would I structure the talks and what would be the most significant obstacle.

Back in the 1970’s Roger Fisher used a method called the one-text that helped create the document that became the basis for the 1978 Sinai Agreement between Israel and Egypt. The one-text process is a variation of mediation that is simple, but powerful. Clinton also proposed using the process in 2000 with the Israeli’s and Palestinians.

The one-text process feels appropriate because it works best in multi-party negotiations where trust is low. Iranian-Syrian-American relations have deteriorated to such an extent that any conversation is unlikely to be open, honest, or even civil. In short, they are unlikely to be productive. The basis for an agreement, and even just communicating, will be hard to establish. Think that diplomacy is above that? Then why did Bush feel the need to confirm that if Condi ran into her Iranian counterpart, she would be civil?

Indeed, this is the main issue: can the parties trust each other? There are enormous opportunities for joint gain… but the domestic risks for each of the actors are also enormous. This is the tragedy of the situation. Each actor (Syria, Iran and the US) is now hostage to the negative perceptions their domestic populations have of one another, negative perceptions their respective elites helped create, foster and nurture. How can Iran, America or Syria cut a deal with a country that have for 20 years been labeled as a mortal enemy? This would be, at best, politically problematic in the US and potentially destabilizing for the Syrian and Iranian governments.

Consequently any functional solution cannot threaten (in the short and medium term) the legitimacy of any of the actors domestic standing. This probably means that any negotiated solution will have to be discrete. The parties may come to agreement, but they cannot be seen coming to an agreement.

A back channel one-text thus becomes the obvious choice. The starting point being that all the parties recognize the opportunity cooperating presents, but also recognizing they can’t be seen working together. Of course, the other challenge is that this means there are huge risks for cooperating, but the costs of defection (particularly if the interest calculus shifts) are low. The negotiators would have to find a way to make the costs of defection feel relatively high versus the costs of cooperation. A one-text process that explores their interests may reveal such an outcome, but if I had an answer to that quandary offhand I’d probably be in an air conditioned room in Turkey right now, working with State Department officials.

Ironically, the main obstacle to using the one-text process would likely be a reluctance on the part of the United States to submit itself to a mediated process.  I suspect that although the Americans feel it is a good enough process for everybody else, the world’s only superpower will never enter into mediation.