Edmonton Sun March 18, 2003
They're all connected to high-tech war
By Doug Beazley
It may not be CNN central, but Acco Kurd's got a war room of his own that would make Wolf Blitzer sit up and blink.
The wide-screen TV in his Edmonton living room is constantly tuned to one of two Kurdish stations via satellite, running hours of war tape out of Baghdad (between the inevitable music videos).
Phone service in northern Iraq is marginally more reliable than in the capital, so he gets the odd voice report from friends and family back home.
And then there's the Internet, which has turned in recent weeks into a whitewater torrent of rumour and fact. Acco, a local Kurdish activist, spends his waking life in chatrooms these days.
"We are getting news every second," he said, his voice betraying a heady excitement. The war he hopes will lead to national liberation for Kurdistan may be going forward without his help, but the miraculous technology of the information age is giving him a God's-eye view of the battlefield.
"I am in a chatroom with someone who has a contact in the Iraqi army, who says they will all surrender when the Kurds and Americans come to take Khanaqin (a town in northern Iraq). Kirkuk will be next."
Welcome to the 21st-century homefront - even cable news networks are too slow to suit the hardcore news junkie. The 1991 Gulf War was the making of CNN and its on-line counterparts: the combination of on-the-ground coverage and minute-by-minute updates changed the way the world watches war forever.
This time, the field is a lot more crowded. There's Al-Jazeera, the Arabic cable news network, providing a counterpoint to the American war spin. Internet sites devoted to private sector intelligence analysis sprouted like toadstools after Sept. 11. Websites like globalsecurity.org post satellite photos of sensitive strategic sites that would have been classified state documents just a few years ago.
What hasn't changed is the BS factor. The last Gulf War saw a lot of rumours kited about American war aims and Iraqi atrocities which later turned out to be false. (Remember those 300 Kuwaiti incubator babies that were supposed to have been killed by marauding Iraqi soldiers? Never happened).
The rumour going around in the early hours of this war was that Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, had defected. That lasted exactly as long as it took Aziz to call an impromptu press conference.
"The smart thing to do is to consult as many news sources as possible," said Lasha Tchantouridze, a professor at the University of Manitoba's Centre for Defence and Security Studies.
"Most of the Iraqi sources have been shut down by the CIA, so I'm getting a lot of information from Internet sites out of Russia, Central Asia and western Europe. There's going to be some propaganda on the U.S. media services, so you have to compare with other countries for discrepancies."
Tchantouridze's got an edge there - he reads about a dozen languages, and in '91 he was a Red Army conscript in Central Asia. Much of what the West believes it knows about Saddam Hussein and his inner circle comes from corrupted sources, he said - defectors or prisoners.
"It's an age-old practice in the Middle East to tell your new masters what they want to hear," he said. "Some stories of Hussein's atrocities are well-documented, and some are not."
The Net's got its papers-of-record and its scandal-sheets, just like the old-media world. Intelligence agents have been known to don aliases in chatrooms, like pedophiles, in order to sow disinformation.
"I'd stay away from the chatrooms for news," said Tchantouridze. "How do you know you're not trading notes with an Iraqi officer?"
The better on-line intelligence sites stick to what's known as open-source information - reports that can be traced publicly to a source. Such reports are less likely to be the result of some deliberate propaganda campaign.
"There's a lot of noise out there, especially with a war going on," said John Boatman, chief content officer for the Jane's Information Group websites.
"The big difference between now and '91 is that back then, getting constant updates from the battlefield was a novelty. Now, people expect it, and they're much better-informed than they were 12 years ago."
Copyright © 2003, CANOE, a division of Netgraphe Inc.