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<nettime> Barry Newman: Today's news from the world's papers, brought to
Patrice Riemens on Sat, 5 Mar 2011 11:01:03 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Barry Newman: Today's news from the world's papers, brought to you by your pals at the CIA (WSJ)

Who needs Wikileaks indeed, if you can pay for this alternative news
service. Now just demand that the Open Sorce Center becomes really .. Open


original to:

Today's News, Brought to You by Your Friends at the CIA
Spy Service Translates World's Papers at Secret Cost; Mr. Hounsell Has Few

ALEXANDRIA, Va.?Now that the revolution is over, Egypt's newly free press
will make a fascinating read?if you happen to know Arabic. How the Libyan
crisis plays in the newspapers of oil-rich Azerbaijan might be intriguing,
too?if your Azeri is up to snuff.

If it isn't?and if your Urdu is as rusty as your Mandarin?you might check
out the biggest news service in the U.S. that almost nobody has ever heard
of. It's called World News Connection.

WNC delivers the news online from 1,750 newspapers, broadcasts and blogs
in 130 countries. It employs a host of translators?human beings, not
machines?who turn foreign arcana into fluent English every day. The
production cost is surely huge?but it's a secret. That's because WNC's
staff is paid from the classified budget of the CIA.

This tweet, translated from Farsi, ran on WNC last year: "Iran says that
CIA agents have been arrested ahead of the 11 February rallies."

Who needs secret cables when the Central Intelligence Agency tosses out
nuggets like that?plus tons of ore for data miners? Gary Price of the
database guides INFOdocket.com and FullTextReports.com, calls WNC "just
incredibly cool. It has stuff nobody can get any other way."

Yet WNC is "one of the least known" of the many databases Mr. Price
tracks?a fact painfully well known to John Hounsell. His job is retailing
WNC to the public.

Mr. Hounsell, 61 years old, works in a Commerce Department outpost here in
Virginia?a branch that pays for itself by selling government-generated
information. The Commerce Department repackages the CIA's content and
sells it as WNC.

His desk radio played quietly one day as Mr. Hounsell opened WNC's search
page. A late news flash came up?Bedouins shooting at Egyptians?newly
translated from Ma'an, a Palestinian website. "We get an hourly feed," he
said, "whatever's not classified."

Mr. Hounsell's promotions tout WNC as "compiled by intelligence experts"
and "not filtered by Western biases." The Commerce Department gets its CIA
feed for nothing (and the CIA gets nothing back), but sales are dismal:
$500,000 a year on a pitiful 2.5 million hits. "We're stagnant." Mr.
Hounsell said.

He has one hope: ProQuest, a database supermarket, soon will load World
News Connection onto a "Google-like" site with plans to vault its
distribution from about 300 college libraries to thousands of libraries
and businesses around the world. (Individuals can buy it now for $300 a
year, plus $4 a hit.) "We want to surface WNC, get it out there," says
ProQuest's head marketer, Libby Trudell.

WNC does have an image problem, the same one borne by CIA grunts who watch
Bosnian TV via satellite in Virginia instead of going on spy missions.
Dull as it may seem, though, following the news from Uruguay or Togo has
often proved informative over the years.

The first ever analysis by U.S. monitors reported: "Japanese radio
intensifies still further its defiant, hostile tone.?" It was dated Dec.
6, 1941.

On Oct. 28, 1962, Radio Moscow broadcast this message from Nikita
Khrushchev to President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis: "?we have
ordered our officers to stop building bases, to dismantle the equipment,
and send it back home." On April 28, 1986, item 21 on Moscow Television
began: "An accident has occurred at Chernobyl nuclear power station.?"

When the Cold War ended, it became less urgent for monitors to stockpile
tea leaves for Kremlinologists to read. In 1993, Congress gutted the CIA's
monitoring service. It reversed itself after the spying lapses of 9/11 and
Iraq. In 2005, the service reopened as the Open Source Center, and was
housed in the CIA. Any aggregator would envy OSC's website, but unlike
WNC, it's classified.

In his office, Mr. Hounsell allowed a peek: The home page had lots of
pictures, a headline scroll, a most-popular list. Foreign TV news?with
English subtitles?was streaming away. Passwords go to government workers
and contractors on national-security duty. To everybody else, the Open
Source Center is closed.

World News Connection is a way in. The CIA, according to one of its press
officers, sends WNC 40,000 unclassified items a month. What it doesn't
send isn't so clear. WNC gets nothing by jihadists, for example, yet it
does get summaries of OSC's pointed in-house analyses.

What the CIA keeps to itself interests some WNC junkies less than
intelligence that hides in plain sight. Gary Sick studies Iran at Columbia
University, a WNC subscriber, where he devours speeches by autocratic
leaders. "They say what they think," he says. What Prof. Sick can't
decipher is why WNC isn't free: "They give it to everybody in the
government. Why not give it to us taxpayers?"

Mr. Hounsell's answer: copyright. The CIA circulates Vladimir Putin's
speeches inside the government, but WCN needs permission to sell them?and
it has to pay royalties to agencies that publish them. Mr. Hounsell spends
his days mailing letters (in English) to faraway newspapers or radio
stations, pleading for clearance. If they don't agree, WNC erases their

"Right now, I'm contacting new sources," Mr. Hounsell said, opening a
spreadsheet on his screen. It listed 757 letters that have so far gone
unanswered. No reply from Essirage, in Nouakchott; from Komentari, in
Kiev; from Dinamina, in Colombo. "A guy in Baluchistan got back," Mr.
Hounsell recalled. "He wrote, 'Can you protect us?'"

When Mr. Hounsell covets a source, he'll pick up the phone and call. He
can say, "Does anybody there speak English?" in multiple languages. Those
who sign get 25% of the income per hit. Krungthep Thurakit, in Bangkok,
got more than 4,000 hits last quarter?and received a check for $323.

The copyright rule has an exception: a handful of "rogue states." "We
don't pay them," said Mr. Hounsell. "But if that's brought to anybody's
attention, we'd have to pull their stuff." To keep axis-of-evil raw
material online at World News Connection, (including the latest speeches
by a certain North African colonel), Mr. Hounsell has asked that their
names remain an open secret.

Write to Barry Newman at barry.newman {AT} wsj.com

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