This Is What It Was Like To Take Part In The Failed Turkish Coup, In The Words Of The Plotters ((Mis)Uses of Technology)
A year ago, we wrote about an interesting new organisation called Bellingcat. Although it's not clear what kind of project it should be called, it's easy to understand what it does: it takes publicly-available information from many sources, and tries to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of contemporary events. Its most recent analysis is an extremely topical piece of work:
A group of plotters of the failed Turkish coup attempt used a WhatsApp group to communicate with each other. Bellingcat has transcribed, translated, and analysed the conversation, thereby cross-referencing the messages with photos, videos, and news reports of the evening, night, and morning of July 15-16.
There are two sources for the WhatsApp conversation. One was widely circulated on Twitter soon after the coup, and consists of a video purporting to show messages on the phone of a plotter. The other source is a series of photos obtained by a journalist with Al Jazeera, although no further information on them is given. Naturally, claims that these are authentic need to be treated with caution, and this is where the Bellingcat method of drawing on diverse sources shows its strength. For example, a mention of the 66th Mechanised Infantry Brigade in the conversation is corroborated using other information from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as follows:
By cross-referencing registration plates, military vehicles of the 2nd Armoured Brigade and the 66th Mechanised Infantry Brigade can indeed be spotted on photographs taken during the coup attempt in Istanbul. Number plates from vehicles from the First Army all start with "1" followed by five other numbers, thus "1XX XXX". While some military vehicles had their number plates covered during the coup attempt, others had not and often showed registration plates starting with "117" and "196", as Twitter users @Ald_Aba and @AbraxasSpa noted.
The extensive Bellingcat post consists of the conversation, in the original and in translation, as well as commentary of the kind quoted above. It provides extraordinary insights into the mechanics of a coup in the digital age.
These numbers can be specifically attributed to the 2nd and 66th regiments, by looking at older photo and video material of both units, @Ald_Aba tweeted. As with regards to the numbers "196", photos uploaded to Facebook of the 2nd Armoured Brigade also show vehicles with the number "196". Similarly, the numbers "117" we also spotted on a vehicle of a YouTube video of the 66th Mechanised Infantry Brigade.
At first, everything seems to be going according to plan, as key Turkish infrastructure is seized, including the state broadcaster. At around about midnight local time, one of the plotters in the WhatsApp group warns: "Privately owned TV stations must be silenced." But shortly afterwards, Turkey's President Erdoğan made his by-now famous speech using FaceTime while mid-flight, broadcast by the privately-owned TV stations the plotters had failed to shut down. The Bellingcat post explains:
President Erdoğan's speech is not mentioned in the group conversation, but the direct results of that speech are clearly noticeable: most units are asking for support as they are being surrounded by large crowd of civilians.
As a result, the plotters give increasingly desperate orders to use lethal force on the growing crowds, but to no avail. The last part of the WhatsApp transcription records the guttering of the short-lived attempted coup:
"Has the operation been cancelled Murat", Major Aygar asks.
It's fortunate for us -- and for future academics who will pore over them -- that the messages were not completely deleted. They survive to provide us with a unique record of a coup as it happened, told in the words of those who tried and failed to seize a major nation. On their own, the short bursts of conversation would be interesting, but hard to parse. With Bellingcat's characteristic annotations and amplifications, they become a gripping spectacle of history as it was being made, just two weeks ago.
"Yes, commander", he replies.
Major Aygar: "We're quitting??"
Colonel Doğan: "Which operation, all of it?"
Major Çelebioğlu: "Yes quit, commander."
Colonel Doğan: "Meaning?"
Major Çelebioğlu: "Yes, commander, operation aborted."
Colonel Doğan: "Shall we escape?"
Major Çelebioğlu: "Stay alive, commander. The choice is yours. We have not decided yet. But we have left our position. I'm closing the group. Delete the messages if you want."
The new rules should also clearly allow users to use end-to-end encryption (without 'backdoors') to protect their electronic communications.To be clear, this actually seems like it may go too far. There are plenty of situations where it seems completely reasonable for law enforcement to use other means to figure out ways to decrypt encrypted communications. Arguing that it should be completely outlawed seems a bit extreme. But blocking backdoors does seem like a good idea. The report also says that the use of end-to-end encryption should be encouraged to the point of being mandated in some cases:
Decryption, reverse engineering or monitoring of communications protected by encryption should be prohibited.
In addition, the use of end-to-end encryption should also be encouraged and when necessary, mandated, in accordance with the principle of data protection by design.
In addition, the use of end-to-end encryption should also be encouraged and when necessary, mandated, in accordance with the principle of data protection by design. In this context the EDPS also recommends that the Commission consider measures to encourage development of technical standards on encryption, also in support of the revised security requirements in the GDPR.Conceptually, this sounds good, but the implementation matters. Mandating encryption seems to be going a bit far. While I tend to think it makes sense for much more widespread use of encryption, it's not clear why the government needs to get involved here at all. And that includes in the development of such standards. In fact, as we've seen in the past, when the government gets involved in creating encryption standards, that seems to be where the intelligence community can slip in their backdoors.
The EDPS further recommends that the new legal instrument for ePrivacy specifically prohibit encryption providers, communications service providers and all other organisations (at all levels of the supply chain) from allowing or facilitating 'back-doors'.
This prize is a one-time experiment that, if successful, we will consider repeating in the future. It will go to a person or group engaged in what we believe is excellent disobedience for the benefit of society. The disobedience that we would like to call out is the kind that seeks to change society in a positive way, and is consistent with a set of key principles. The principles include non-violence, creativity, courage, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. The disobedience can be in — but is not limited to — the fields of scientific research, civil rights, freedom of speech, human rights, and the freedom to innovate.That's a pretty cool idea for a prize. And I particularly like Michael Petricone's suggestion that the award should be named after Aaron Swartz, who of course was engaged in a great number of civil disobedience projects. And, unfortunately, one of them involved MIT turning on him, leading him to getting arrested and charged with a variety of ridiculous charges. Since then, there has been a struggle among many at MIT to figure out how that happened and what the university should do to prevent similar things in the future. Naming this kind of award after him would be a great start.
Any time we discuss the segment of our population that is still, despite all evidence to the contrary, pushing anti-vaccination conspiracy theories out into the ether, the comments section is inevitably invaded by these proponents. I know I can't stop it, so just go ahead and leave what I'm sure will be your well-reasoned, science-backed arguments as to why we shouldn't trust one of the most life-saving kinds of medicine ever invented.
That said, this is not a post about the plausibility that vaccinations are the reason for all the world's ills. It is instead a post about how the distributors of the upcoming sure-to-be smash hit film about the horror of vaccinations, creatively entitled Vaxxed, are also going around threatening people arguing against its message with defamation for pointing back at the filmmakers' own words.
Meet Fiona O'Leary of Ireland. Fiona is an advocate for autistic children, helping to run a group called ART (Autistic Rights Together) as well as a Tumblr page dedicated to dispelling the myths of autism and vaccines. On that Tumblr page and on social media, O'Leary has often set her sights on the makers and distributors of Vaxxed, including producers Polly Tommey and Del Bigtree. Included in her pushback, O'Leary points out some rather unfortunate comments both have made about autistic children, as well as interviews and videos in which Tommey in particular pushes religious faith to treat autism. Through it all are the calls for parents to not vaccinate their children.
The result of this work has been a letter sent threatening a defamation lawsuit.
Fiona O’Leary has posted the threats, from Cinema Libre Studio CEO Philippe Diaz, on her Facebook profile:
Wow you threaten to sue an Autistic Advocate and Mother to five children in West Cork! Why? Because I don’t want babies and children DYING from preventable diseases! Because I have had enough of your lies about Vaccines causing Autism! Because I am sick of how you exploit Autistic people! How dare you!
And the threat letter itself:
As always, a great rule of thumb applies here: if someone accuses another person of defamation without pointing out a single specific thing that is supposedly defamatory, it's a bullying attempt and should likely be ignored. This case appears to be no different. With all that O'Leary has said about the film and its producers, and with all that she's posted that includes responses to specific things Bigtree and Tommey have said and claimed, to fail to cite even one defamatory instance should tell you everything you need to know.
It seems that this video response in particular is what likely caused the threat to be sent. In it, O'Leary details how the two producers have compared autistic children to monkeys and dogs, threatened government officials, and even declared that firearms should be used to keep children from being vaccinated.
And now that the threat letter has been sent and then shared by O'Leary with her followers, and now that the press is picking it up, all of those comments are being shared even more widely than they would have been otherwise. It seems the Streisand Effect is taking the deplorable comments of these anti-vaxxers viral, because the universe does not lack a sense of irony.
Silicon Valley has produced lots of disruptive technologies — ways to solve problems by upending entrenched industries and, often enough, routing around protectionist regulations. But not all regulations are meaningless, not all industries are easy to disrupt, and sometimes "fake it until you make it" becomes plain old lying. This week, we discuss what happens when "disruption" goes wrong.