Nokiana: the one about the CIA, Syria, and the N95

Matt Kane resurfaced on Bristol‘s underscore mailing list  with this intriguing snippet, after some travels around the middle-east: ” … discovered N95s (not mine) cannot be taken into Syria”.

I asked for the backstory, which goes like this:

Quite a palaver. Got the train from Istanbul to Syria (amazing trip!). At the border they didn’t search the bags of “westerners” but asked us all to show our phones and cameras. They glanced at them all quickly, checking the brand (“Nikon, ok. SonyEricsson, ok”). One guy had an N95 and they led him off the train. His sister informed us that they’d said it wasn’t allowed in Syria, and that if she knew her brother he’d not give it up without a fight. Despite being on contract, he argued with them for an hour and a half, even calling the embassies in Damascus and Ankara. In the end he gave it up, with a promise that they’d send it on to the airport from where he was leaving. A few days later we’re chatting with a barman and spot his phone – an N95, and yes, he got it in Syria! A few days after that we found out the full story from our hotel owner in Damascus. Apparently the CIA gave a load of bugged N95s to high-ranking Kurdish officials in Iraq, many of which were then smuggled into Syria and given as gifts to various shady characters. After the Hezbollah guy was assassinated in Damascus a few months ago, the Syrians set about trying to root out spies, which led to this ban on bringing N95s into the country. Apparently.

This is the first I’ve heard of it, but searching throws up a few references to rigged N95s as “spy phones”.

Somewhat-unrelated aside: I don’t believe the relevant functionality is exposed in the N95’s widget APIs yet. I had trouble making it vibrate, let alone self-destruct after this message. But at least widget/gadget/app security is getting some attention lately. It can’t be too long before “spy widgets” on your phone become a real concern, particularly since the exposure of phone APIs to 3rd party apps is such a creative combination. I should be clear that AFAIK, Nokia’s N95 widget platform is free of such vulnerabilities currently, and any “spy phone” mischief so far has been achieved through other kinds of interference. But it does make me glad to see a Widgets 1.0: Digital Signature spec moving along at W3C…

History time

From the O’Reilly Factor, Sept 12.

Ron Paul: … so I see the Iranians as acting logically and defensively. We’ve been fighting the Iranians since 1953. We overthrew their government through the CIA in 1953. We were allies with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and we encouraged him to invade Iran…

Bill O’Reilly: Allright, so I just want to get … we don’t need the history lesson … but I do want to get this on the record. I do understand the region … but we don’t have time to do the history lesson tonight. … You don’t fear Iran, even though Iran has demonstrated, it can start a war, which it did last summer with its Hezbollah surrogates and it stated, it stated, that it wants to do damage to Israel, to wipe it off the face of the earth. And is developing a nuclear weapon. And you don’t fear them? …

Conspiracy Theory?

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.

–Robert Benchley, Benchley’s Law of Distinction

From a recent Guardian article, “Police scrutinise extremist Islamist websites“:

Among the sites causing concern is Jihadunspun (JUS), a highly professional website which claims to present “a clear view of war on terror”. It has been widely criticised in the US by agencies including the state department.

Nearby in the Web, Google News carry the site, causing much grumbling amongst those who’ve noticed its iffy content.

Digging around a bit more unearthed a bit of controversy around the site, specifically, claims that it is a CIA front. For example, see commentary on the Wisdom Fund site, or Information Clearing House. Both of which draw attention to the Canadian hosting of the site, its use of PayPal to sell video content, etc.

Who to believe? :)

Rummaging on the JUS site itself, there’s a lengthy and peculiar story from its “owner and publisher”:

My name is Khadija Abdul Qahaar and I am the owner and publisher of Jihad Unspun. I am Muslim, who like many others, embraced Islam as the result of 911. Many of our viewers will know me as Bev Kennedy and Paul Morris-Read, the pen names I have used on this portal, a necessary precaution particularly in the early days of publishing this portal, due to the nature of our work. [...]

Most intriguingly…

For the curious, a copy of my CV is located here.

That article mentions “Bev’s” prior work in the Web industry, and her work for the “aerospace market”. The CV includes 1999-2003 as president/director/shareholder of DataCrafters Inc. Their website is now blank, but much of it is available through the Internet Archive. The Client Kudos section is interesting, as is the Before and after page, which features happy customer Royell Manufacturing, makers of aerospace parts. Back in the pre-9/11 copy of the site, the “spinbin” section had a press release announcing the release of the “eSYS Online Estimating System”, including a glowing quote from a Robin Crabb of Aeroalliance, (whose website is full of pictures of scary military jets):

“We are delighted that eSYS is now in beta testing. With feedback from high caliber Aeroalliance members like Royell, we are confident that we will have captured the ease of use and familiarity of process that aerospace manufacturers find appealing.”

The company seems to have had a lot of dealings with the military-tinged aerospace industry, before Bev switched to working on JUS. Bev’s autobiographical note on the JUS goes into some detail describing her change of heart, as – if you believe twf.org – does this lengthy letter, which also discusses the “CIA front” accusation. Whatever the truth, it’d make for a good movie.

I could go on, there’s plenty more out there on the site. It’s hard to know really what the Guardian guys should’ve done. Ten minutes of digging around the background to DataCrafters does suggest a remarkable change of heart, and one that’s not documented heavily on the JUS site.

Is the “this is a CIA front” accusation purely an exercise in tin-foil hattery? Who knows!

Another quote from the JUS site, puffing up the warmongering ‘clash of civilizations’ agenda…

I named the portal as a reference to Benjamin Barber’s best seller, Jihad vs. McWorld, an excellent work that explains the clash of two civilizations, but that entirely omits the reason why. The result was Jihad Unspun.

Update: there’s a huge and often silly, offensive etc thread on the libertyforum.org site. See also jihadunspun unhinged on the Internet Haganah site; they seems to take JUS seriously and quote from Bev’s JUS-hosted story:

Late in 2002, the Jewish vigilante groups struck with a vengeance. Through a stupid error on our part, we had a portfolio gallery showing off some of our client work on our web company’s website and after putting two and two together, they managed to access some of our client list. They of course went after the aerospace companies and I was forced to sell of my aerospace application at a significant loss and eventually I had shut down the company entirely in order to protect my clients.

I wonder what happens next…