US working on 'secret internet' for dissidents abroad

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The US government is engaged in an effort to create a 'shadow internet', allowing dissidents in other countries to circumvent internet monitoring and outright bans.

The initiative involves a number of techniques.

According to cables and planning documents seen by the New York Times, it's working with the New America Foundation to develop a Wifi-based 'internet in a suitcase' - easy, hope its creators, to smuggle across a border.

This would be based on a mesh network that allows PC and cellphone users to communicate directly without needing to go through state-owned systems, and which could link to the global internet.

The biggest focus is apparently on Afghanistan, where the Taliban regularly shuts down official services when it feels like it. According to the cables, the State Department and Pentagon have given over $50 million to create an independent cellphone network, using towers on military bases inside the country.

The State Department is also reported to be backing the creation of stealth woreless networks in countries including Iran, Libya and Syria.

In total, says the Times, the State Department plans to spend as much as $70 million on the various projects by the end of this year.

Secretary of state Hillary Clinton confirmed the existence of the research to the paper, saying: "There is a historic opportunity to effect positive change, change America supports. So we’re focused on helping them do that, on helping them talk to each other, to their communities, to their governments and to the world."