WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is leading a global effort to establish “shadow” Internet and cellphone systems to help dissidents undermine authoritarian governments, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
The effort has quickened since former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government shut down the country’s Internet in the last days of his rule, said the Times report, which cited planning documents, classified diplomatic cables and sources.
The Internet has been used in recent months by anti-government protesters in North Africa and the Middle East to help coordinate demonstrations. Some governments have responded by disabling Internet access.
In one project, the U.S. State Department and Pentagon have spent at least $50 million to create an independent cellphone network in Afghanistan using towers on military bases in the country, the Times said, citing unnamed U.S. officials.
The operation is aimed at counteracting the Taliban insurgency’s ability to shut down official Afghan services, the Times said.
The State Department is also financing creation of stealth wireless networks to enable activists to communicate beyond the reach of governments in countries like Iran, Syria and Libya, the Times said, citing participants in the projects.
Another project focuses on development of an “Internet in a suitcase” that could be smuggled across a border and deployed to allow wireless communication with a link to the global Internet, the Times reported.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is backing the U.S. effort, according to the report.
“We see more and more people around the globe using the Internet, mobile phones and other technologies to make their voices heard as they protest against injustice and seek to realize their aspirations,” the Times quoted Clinton as saying in an email response to a query on the subject.
U.S. diplomats also are meeting with operatives who have been burying Chinese cellphones near the border with North Korea, where they can be dug up and used to make furtive calls, the Times reported.
Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Eric Beech