Using new Internet tools to identify dissidents in Azerbaijan

By EDRi · March 23, 2011

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Aserbaidschan: Dissidenten mit neuen Internet-Tools ausgeforscht |]

As freedom activists have increased their activity on Facebook, the Azeri
government has also increased its attention and surveillance of social
networks. According to Azadliq newspaper, for instance, in June 2010,
pro-government youth were encouraged to join Facebook with the purpose to
expose those with online links to contacts in “enemy” nations.

According to the international hacking group Anonymous, Virginia-based
consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton is developing software that is used
against dissidents in several countries, including Azerbaijan. The group,
which claims it holds documents and e-mails to prove its allegations, states
the respective software, which has led to the arrest of pro-democracy
dissidents in Azerbaijan, creates “armies of fake people” through social
networks like Facebook, identifying dissidents with anonymous profiles.

“We know the U.S. Air Force and the Pentagon asked for it, we do know that
Booz Allen and Aaron Barr (of HBGary) bid for the contract, we’ve got
confirmation from Booz Allen themselves that the software exists” stated one
member of Anonymous.

The software has at its basis a proposal from the Office of Air Mobility
Command of the U.S. Air Force, asking for 50 user licenses for software that
would allow 10 personas per user. The US Central Command (Centcom),
which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, has
contracted such software. The contract stipulates that each fake online
persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details,
and that the 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false
identities from their workstations “without fear of being discovered by
sophisticated adversaries”.

“The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language
websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda
outside the US,” stated Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks who added
that the interventions would not be in English but in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu
and Pashto. Further, the project was not targeting any US-based web sites,
in English or any other language, and most specifically, was not targeting
Facebook or Twitter.

Whether Anonymous’ allegations related to software used to track down
dissidents in various countries is true or not, the fact that the US
military is developing false online personalities is extremely disturbing
and could create a dangerous precedent. Other governments, private companies
and non-government organisations might wish to do the same. And, while in
the US persona management is illegal, there are other countries where such
procedures might not be forbidden by the law.

Azerbaijan: Anonymous says Big Brother might be watching you (19.03.2011)

Anonymous To Release Documents Showing ‘Virtual Armies’ Used To Identify
Dissidents (16.03.2011)

Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media (17.03.2011)