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<nettime> How Rebels Hijacked Gadhafi's Phone Network (WSJ)
Patrice Riemens on Fri, 15 Apr 2011 11:20:20 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> How Rebels Hijacked Gadhafi's Phone Network (WSJ)


Googling for this to retrieve the original article, it was remarkable to
see how all the first links were to tech-pages, and not the WSJ itself (I
got the Url from one of those rather than browsing on...) Of course
tecchie _love_ such hacks. It's the stuff net-legends are made of. Also
check out that none of the official/corporate actors involved wanted to
comment about their role in this tech-adventure.

Cheers, p+3D!

Original at:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703841904576256512991215284.html#printMode
(with pics)


Rebels Hijack Gadhafi's Phone Network

A Group of Expatriate Executives and Engineers Furtively Restore
Telecommunications for the Libyan Opposition

By MARGARET COKER in Abu Dhabi and CHARLES LEVINSON in Benghazi, Libya

WSJ's Margaret Coker reports on efforts by telecommunications executives
to restore cell phone service to rebels in eastern Libya, allowing them to
communicate without interference from government personnel loyal to Col.
Moammar Gadhafi.

A team led by a Libyan-American telecom executive has helped rebels hijack
Col. Moammar Gadhafi's cellphone network and re-establish their own
communications.

The new network, first plotted on an airplane napkin and assembled with
the help of oil-rich Arab nations, is giving more than two million Libyans
their first connections to each other and the outside world after Col.
Gadhafi cut off their telephone and Internet service about a month ago.

That March cutoff had rebels waving flags to communicate on the
battlefield. The new cellphone network, opened on April 2, has become the
opposition's main tool for communicating from the front lines in the east
and up the chain of command to rebel brass hundreds of miles away.

While cellphones haven't given rebel fighters the military strength to
decisively drive Col. Gadhafi from power, the network has enabled rebel
leaders to more easily make the calls needed to rally international
backing, source weapons and strategize with their envoys abroad.

To make that possible, engineeers hived off part of the Libyana cellphone
network?owned and operated by the Tripoli-based Libyan General
Telecommunications Authority, which is run by Col. Gadhafi's eldest
son?and rewired it to run independently of the regime's control.
Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, asked about the rebel cellphone
network, said he hadn't heard of it.

Ousama Abushagur, a 31-year-old Libyan telecom executive raised in
Huntsville, Ala., masterminded the operation from his home in Abu Dhabi.
Mr. Abushagur and two childhood friends working as corporate managers in
Dubai and Doha started fund-raising on Feb. 17 to support the political
protests that were emerging in Libya. By Feb. 23, when fighting had
erupted, his team delivered the first of multiple humanitarian aid convoys
to eastern Libya.

But while in Libya, they found their cellphones and Thuraya satellite
phones jammed or out of commission, making planning and logistics
challenging.

Security was also an issue. Col. Gadhafi had built his telecommunications
infrastructure to fan out from Tripoli?routing all calls through the
capital and giving him and his intelligence agents full control over
phones and Internet.

On March 6, during a flight back to the United Arab Emirates after
organizing a naval convoy to the embattled city of Misrata, Mr. Abushagur
says he drew up a diagram on the back of a napkin for a plan to infiltrate
Libyana, pirate the signal and carve out a network free of Tripoli's
control.

What followed was a race against time to solve the technical, engineering
and legal challenges before the nascent rebel-led governing authority was
crushed under the weight of Col. Gadhafi's better-equipped forces. After a
week of victories in which the rebels swept westward from Benghazi toward
Col. Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, the rebel advance stalled and reversed
on March 17, when the United Nations approved a no-fly zone and government
forces kicked off a fierce counterattack.

In a sign of deepening ties between Arab governments and the
Benghazi-based administration, the U.A.E. and Qatar provided diplomatic
support and helped buy the several million dollars of telecommunications
equipment needed in Benghazi, according to members of the Libyan
transitional authority and people familiar with the situation.

Meanwhile, rebel military commanders were using flags to signal with their
troops, a throw-back that proved disastrous to their attempts at holding
their front lines.

"We went to fight with flags: Yellow meant retreat, green meant advance,"
said Gen. Ahmed al-Ghatrani, a rebel commander in Benghazi. "Gadhafi
forced us back to the stone age."
On Edge in Libya

Renewed signal jamming also meant that rebel leaders and residents in
Benghazi had little warning of the government forces' offensive across
east Libya and the March 19 attempted invasion of Benghazi, which sparked
panicked civilian evacuations of the city.

Mr. Abushagur watched the government advances with alarm. His secret
cellphone operation had also run into steep problems.

The Chinese company Huawei Technologies Ltd., one of the original
contractors for Libyana's cellular network backbone, refused to sell
equipment for the rebel project, causing Mr. Abushagur and his engineer
buddies to scramble to find a hybrid technical solution to match other
companies' hardware with the existing Libyan network. Huawei declined to
comment on its customers or work in Libya. The Libyan expats in the
project asked that their corporate affiliations be kept confidential so
that their political activities don't interfere with their work
responsibilities.

Without Huawei, the backing from the Persian Gulf nations became
essential?otherwise it is unlikely that international telecom vendors
would have sold the sophisticated machinery to an unrecognized rebel
government or individual businessmen, according to people familiar with
the situation.

"The Emirates government and [its telecommunications company] Etisalat
helped us by providing the equipment we needed to operate Libyana at full
capacity," said Faisal al-Safi, a Benghazi official who oversees
transportation and communications issues.

U.A.E. and Qatari officials didn't respond to requests for comment.
Emirates Telecommunications Corp., known as Etisalat, declined to comment.

After 42 years under Moammar Gadhafi's rule, it's hard to imagine what
Libya could look like without the dictator in power. WSJ's Neil Hickey
reports from Washington on the cloudy outlook for the north African
nation.

By March 21, most of the main pieces of equipment had arrived in the
U.A.E. and Mr. Abushagur was ready to ship them to Benghazi with three
Libyan telecom engineers, four Western engineers and a team of bodyguards.

But Col. Gadhafi's forces were still threatening to overrun the rebel
capital and trying to bomb its airport. Mr. Abushagur diverted the team
and their equipment to an Egyptian air base on the Libyan border. Customs
bureaucracy cost them a week, though Egypt's eventual approval was another
show of Arab support for rebels. Egypt's governing military council
couldn't be reached for comment.

Once in Libya, the team paired with Libyana engineers and executives based
in Benghazi. Together, they fused the new equipment into the existing
cellphone network, creating an independent data and routing system free
from Tripoli's command.

The team also captured the Tripoli-based database of phone numbers, giving
them information necessary to patch existing Libyana customers and phone
numbers into their new system?which they dubbed "Free Libyana." The last
piece of the puzzle was securing a satellite feed through which the Free
Libyana calls could be routed?a solution provided by Etisalat, according
to Benghazi officials.

On April 2, Mr. Abushagur placed a test call on the system to his wife
back in Abu Dhabi. "She's the one who told me to go for it in the first
place," he said.

International calling from Libya is still limited to the few individuals
and officials in eastern Libya who most need it. Incoming calls have to be
paid for by prepaid calling cards, except for Jordan, Egypt and Qatar.

Domestic calling works throughout eastern Libya up until the Ajdabiya, the
last rebel-held town in the east. An added bonus of the new network: It is
free for domestic calls, at least until Free Libyana gets a billing system
up and running.

?Loretta Chao, Shireen El-Gazzar and Sam Dagher contributed to this article.




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