Shadow Internet command center revealed (Photo)

This Sunday's New York Times contained an interesting item on U.S. State Department-funded efforts to circumvent Internet censorship abroad. Particularly noteworthy was the description of a brave band of cyberpunk revolutionaries waging a battle for Internet freedom from Farragut North:

The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy “shadow” Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.

The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L Street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet in a suitcase.”

Financed with a $2 million State Department grant, the suitcase could be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet.

Fifth floor on L St? But that's where we are! The shadow internet is being developed by people who share a kitchen with us? Now we know how those Pakistani military units in Abottabad felt. So who are these shadowy figures:

In an anonymous office building on L Street in Washington, four unlikely State Department contractors sat around a table. Josh King, sporting multiple ear piercings and a studded leather wristband, taught himself programming while working as a barista. Thomas Gideon was an accomplished hacker. Dan Meredith, a bicycle polo enthusiast, helped companies protect their digital secrets.

Then there was Mr. Meinrath, wearing a tie as the dean of the group at age 37. He has a master’s degree in psychology and helped set up wireless networks in underserved communities in Detroit and Philadelphia.

The group’s suitcase project will rely on a version of “mesh network” technology, which can transform devices like cellphones or personal computers to create an invisible wireless web without a centralized hub. In other words, a voice, picture or e-mail message could hop directly between the modified wireless devices — each one acting as a mini cell “tower” and phone — and bypass the official network.

After some stealthy reconaissance work (on my way to the coffee machine) I snapped this photo of the group's compound:

All kidding aside, the whole piece is definitely worth a read. And the folks at the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative are doing really interesting and valuable work. We'll now be keeping a much closer eye on the cubicles across the hall.


Qaddafi meets with Chess king

Between dodging NATO airstrikes and international opprobrium, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi is having a hard time getting people to meet with him today. But he did have time to sneak in a game of chess with the visiting Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, head of the World Chess Federation, former autocratic ruler of the Russian republic of Kalmykia, and extraterrestrial encounterer:

The men met for about two hours, playing chess on a board crafted by artisans in Kalmykia, the small, Buddhist constituent republic in Russia that Ilyumzhinov governed from 1993 to 2010. On Sunday night Libyan state television broadcast a clip of the match, with Gaddafi, who was wearing his trademark sunglasses, appearing relaxed despite his predicament.

Gaddafi has been in hiding with his family for many weeks, fearful of being hit by one of NATO's bombs. But Ilyumzhinov told the Russian Interfax news agency that their meeting "was not held in some kind of bunker", but rather an administrative building in Tripoli.

Ilyumzhinov, a chess fanatic who has been president of Fide since 1995 -- with some controversy -- later met Gaddafi's eldest son, Muhammad, who heads Libya's Olympic committee.

"We also played chess, using Sicilian defence," Ilyumzhinov said.

The Sicilian is known as a particularly combative defense. Sounds appropriate.