The paper of rumour

Hossein Derakhshan - Hoder - the Blogfather

Standards are soaring at the New York Times. For the self proclaimed  ‘newspaper of record rumour’, it seems that news is now “defined as anything juicy that catches our eye on Twitter”.

Hossein Derakhshan – or Hoder as he is often known – has been dubbed the Iranian blogfather. Back in 2001, his efforts to tailor Blogger for a Persian character set were a catalyst for Iran’s ealy uptake of blogging, which outstripped that of any country in the region.

When I helped run a blog at the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003, we were besieged by Iranian bloggers, with Hoder at the forefront. Here’s Aaron Scullion’s account of our confrontation with Ahmad Motamedi, then Iran’s minister for Information and Communication Technology. We repeatedly pressed the Minister on Internet censorship and arrests of bloggers in Iran – all based on Hoder’s work and encouragement.

Hoder visited Israel in 2006 and wrote widely about it, including for the BBC:

For me, an Iranian raised in post-revolutionary Iran, Israel has always had three great qualities: unknown, forbidden and therefore extremely intriguing. That’s why I finally decided to visit Israel.

But unlike all Iranians who have visited Israel, I decided to publicise my visit to the 20,000 daily readers of my blog – even though I knew I would not be able to go back to Iran again.

I had a mission, though, which would make the risk worthwhile. I wanted to break the stereotypical images both governments use to advance their radical policies.

He then made the extraordinary decision to go back to the Iran, appearing to have had some kind of rapprochement with the Iranian regime. In November 2008, however, he was arrested, and has not been heard of since. There’s been no charge and, as far as I know, no news.

Time then, for the NYT to charge into the fray with a claim that Hoder is – and may always have been – a spy for the Iranian secret services:

Suspicion that Iran’s blogging community has been infiltrated by double agents has sown fears and doubt online. For instance, a few days ago Omid Habibinia, an Iranian now blogging from Switzerland, wrote on Twitter about a rumor that a significant figure in Iran’s blogging community is a double agent: “some bloggers [are] saying Hossein Derakhshan (missing since 8 month ago) is working with intelligence agents.”

They have good reasons to make this appalling accusation, you’d think. Er no.

While there is no evidence to support the rumor that Mr. Derakhshan is cooperating with the authorities in their battle against Iran’s opposition bloggers, the Revolutionary Guard does seem to have established what it calls a “cyber army.” Last month a series of updates were posted on Twitter by a blogger who identified himself as a member of the Revolutionary Guard who seemed to be dedicated to finding and helping to arrest opposition protesters and bloggers. Even if Mr. Derakhshan has not defected to the side of Iran’s security forces, it is clear that some Internet-savvy people have taken the fight to suppress the opposition’s protests online.

Now it’s possible that Hoder has agreed to cooperate – perhaps under torture. Maybe, he even did a deal before he went home. Perhaps, too, the Times’ editor, Bill Keller, is still shagging his reporters. Point is we don’t know whether any of these assertions are true.

You have to hand it to the cowardly shits at the Times, though. If you’re going to libel someone, it makes sense to do it when your target is locked away in a jail cell. Then you can publish whatever the hell you like.

Anglo-Iranian relations face new low: AKA spooks on a plane

In the light of ongoing events in Iran (which sadly seem to be in danger of being utterly overshadowed by the other thing), various commentators have been focusing on why exactly it is that the regime reserves its greatest hatred for Britain? Surely America is the ‘great satan’? Why are we taking the flak all of a sudden? Of course, it’s historical. You can look at pretty much any world trouble spot, rogue state or basket case, and find the legacy of the British Empire behind it somehow. Continue reading

On Iran, Washington keeps its priorities straight

In Washington, Iran isn’t about Mousavi, Khamenei or Neda, it’s about Obama. It’s a pincer movement. The establishment media behaves as if there’s some Geneva Convention stating that all international crises must have the American president in the starring role.

The right, meanwhile, see a golden opportunity to prove that a cuckoo has inveigled its way into the White House – and a Muslim-loving cuckoo at that. Take Andy McCarthy, a commentator at the National Review, who believes that as “a man of the hard Left, Obama is more comfortable with a totalitarian Islamic regime than he would be with a free Iranian society.”

It would have been political suicide to issue a statement supportive of the mullahs, so Obama’s instinct was to do the next best thing: to say nothing supportive of the freedom fighters. As this position became increasingly untenable politically, and as Democrats became nervous that his silence would become a winning political round for Republicans, he was moved grudgingly to burble a mild censure of the mullah’s “unjust” repression – on the order of describing a maiming as a regrettable “assault,” though enough for the Obamedia to give him cover.

Now, both sides have a smoking gun. Obama, the Washington Times tells us, has been writing love letters to the Supreme Leader himself, pleading for better relations, nuclear negotiations and an Iranian takeover of Kansas (I made the last bit up).

On Twitter, the paper’s national security reporter, Eli Lake, appears to have wet himself in excitement (as well as using the opportunity to suck up to his editor big time). She, Barbara Slavin, is putting “more Iran heat than Persian narcos” (eh?) with her bold exposé, he tweets.

Big news, eh? Except that we knew that a letter from Obama to Khamenei was being written in January. And that it was being sent in March. So why the surprise now? Because, whatever else is at stake, the most important thing we can do now is keep the spotlight on the demonstrators fuel another solipsistic partisan Washington squabble.

Update: Reagan managed this with more style, it must be said. His missive to the Iranians, at the outset of the Iran contra scandal, was a bible with a handwritten verse inside. Oliver North took a key shaped cake made by an Israeli baker.

Update the second: To be fair to Slavins, she has an email exchange with National Review’s K-Lo where she makes a great deal of sense.

Slavin: Apart from my paper, most journalists still write about Iran as though it is a theocracy. What we have been seeing is the raw exercise of force on the part of the government and people power in the streets. The clerics have had very little to do with it.

Lopez: What has been most surprising to you about the White House response to the election protests there?

Slavin: I haven’t been surprised by the White House response.

Lopez: Are there any lessons from history Obama ought to heed?

Slavin: I think Obama has learned from the mistakes of past U.S. administrations in dealing with Iran and has put the emphasis where it should be, on the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people. The U.S. has no embassy in Iran and few levers it can pull to impact events there. Aggressive action through the military or more sanctions will probably wind up helping the government, unfortunately.

Iran: looking ahead

In today’s NY Times, Roger Cohen observes that “Iran’s 1979 revolution took  full year to gestate”, and suggests that “the volatility ushered in by the June 12 ballot-box putsch of Iran’s New Right is certain to endure over the coming year”. He argues that the Islamic Republic has been weakened in five key ways as follows:

  1. The supreme leader’s post — the apex of the structure conceived by the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — has been undermined. The keystone of the arch is now loose. Khamenei, far from an arbiter with a Prophet-like authority, has looked more like a ruthless infighter. His word has been defied. At night, from rooftops, I’ve even heard people call for his death. The unthinkable has occurred.
  2. The hypocritical but effective contract that bound society has been broken. The regime never had active support from more than 20 percent of the population. But acquiescence was secured by using only highly targeted repression (leaving the majority free to go about its business), and by giving people a vote for the president every four years. That’s over. Repression will be broad and ferocious in the coming months. The acquiescent have already become the angry. You can’t turn Iran into Burma: The resistance of a society this varied and savvy will be fierce.
  3. A faction loyal to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, fiercely nationalistic and mystically religious, has made a power grab so bold that fissures in the establishment have become canyons. Members of this faction include Hassan Taeb, the leader of the Basiji militia; Saeed Jalili, the head of the National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator; and Mojtaba Khamenei, the reclusive but influential son of the supreme leader. They have their way for now, but the cost to Iran has been immense, and the rearguard action led by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a father of the revolution, and Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition leader, will be intense.
  4. Iran’s international rhetoric, effective in Ahmadinejad’s first term, will be far less so now. Every time he talks of justice and ethics, his two favorite words, video will roll of Neda Agha Soltan’s murder and the regime’s truncheon-wielding goons at work. The president may prove too much of a liability to preserve.
  5. At the very peak of its post-revolution population boom, the regime has lost a whole new generation — and particularly the women of that generation — by failing to adapt. Thirty years from the revolution, the core question of this election was: Must Iran stand apart from the forces of economic and political globalization in order to preserve its Islamic theocracy? Or is it confident enough of its Islamic identity, and its now firmly established independence from America, to trash the nest-of-spies vitriol and an ultimately self-defeating isolation? The answer has been devastating.

Nokia: connecting people

…with the basiji, it turns out:

Nokia Siemens Network has confirmed it supplied Iran with the technology needed to monitor, control, and read local telephone calls. It told the BBC that it sold a product called the Monitoring Centre to Iran Telecom in the second half of 2008.

Nokia Siemens, a joint venture between the Finnish and German companies, supplied the system to Iran through its Intelligent Solutions business, which was sold in March 2009 to Perusa Partners Fund 1LP, a German investment firm.  The product allows authorities to monitor any communications across a network, including voice calls, text messaging, instant messages, and web traffic.