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Uncertain Knowledge

The establishment media frequently attack the Internet as spreading inaccurate, unchecked rumors as news. While that is certainly true, the Internet is also demonstrating that the establishment media is no better.

In the past weeks we have been told that the Stuxnet virus was written by US and Israeli intelligence. The evidence? Some un-named Israeli intelligence officers grinned broadly at reporters when the subject was mentioned. Is that what it has come to?

Of course there are factions in Israel and the US who would very much like to claim responsibility for the attack. The same people who lobbied to start a second war in the Middle East before the war in Afghanistan was finished have been lobbying to start a third war for a very long time. Given the ignominious role that the New York Times played in relaying official disinformation used to justify the war in Iraq, we might perhaps hope that they would be more skeptical of the Iran war caucus.

And now we have all sorts of reports coming out of Egypt telling us how the Internet was taken down. And of course anyone wanting to speculate can get themselves into print. But nobody observing from outside Egypt has had any contact with the people involved as the Internet is down. So far I have heard four different claims ‘explaining’ how the Internet was turned off. Two are clearly nonsense and the other two are plausible but suggest that the Egyptian government was improvising and relied on the ISPs accepting the government demand rather than executing a longstanding emergency plan and employing a ‘kill switch’ that had been embedded in the underlying teleco network for that very purpose.

None of this would matter if not for the fact that people want to make decisions based on this type of speculation. Yesterday I was told that we must ‘immediately’ ‘fix’ the Internet PKI in response to alleged events in Egypt. Oh and we don’t have time to find out what might have happened.

As a tactical matter, I thought the Egyptian Internet shutdown to be a blunder on the part of the authorities. Facebook and Twitter can help form a movement, but once a movement bursts onto the street it is almost certainly self-sustaining. The Internet is the match, not the fire. All that the authorities have achieved by shutting the Internet down is to force people to go out onto the street to find out what is happening.

By Phillip Hallam-Baker, Consultant, Author, Speaker

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