SOPA, China, and the World's Smallest Violin

To convince lawmakers to abandon the SOPA and PIPA, bills that threatened to put America "on a par with the most oppressive nations in the world" according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, many prominent websites took to the, um, cyberstreets today in protest. Wikipedia featured a shadowy W and the line "Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge," giving Americans a tiny taste of what Chinese face daily in their internet usage. News site Reddit went dark. Wired blacked out their headlines, protesting "legislation that threatens to usher in a chilling internet censorship regime here in the U.S. comparable in some ways to China's ‘Great Firewall.'"  Even Google hid its iconic name from shame at the thought that America could follow in Beijing's virtual footsteps.   

China blocks Facebook, Twitter, Falun Gong news sites, pro-Tibet sites, and pro-Chinese Democracy sites, among countless others. PIPA would "chill innovation in legitimate services that help people create, communicate, and make money online." China scrubs mentions of the June 4th massacre in Tiananmen Square. SOPA would have made it more difficult people to post videos on Youtube. China has blocked Youtube for years.

What makes the Great Firewall of China truly fearsome is not the inability to create or view content but the consequences of doing so. Today China's propaganda and information arm announced it would tighten registration requirements for China's microblog users, to rein in content unacceptable to the Communist Party. In November of 2010 a Chinese woman was sentenced to a year of reform through labor for retweeting a joke. In October of 2011 authorities detained a student for spreading a "rumor" online about the murder of eight village officials. The government employs thousands of people to scrub content from the web and to delete posts deemed too sensitive from microblogs. Some of the Chinese dissidents arrested and tortured in 2011 spoke of being interrogated about the contents of their blogs and twitter feeds. There are countless other examples of things that would never happen in the United States of America.

American websites have the right to protest and protect their content because they exist in a country that respect the rule of law. America couldn't create a "Great Firewall" comparable to China's, because it wouldn't be backed by a Chinese-style system where the Communist Party hovers above the law. Comparing the Chinese and American internet is akin to saying that a kitten that scratches furniture and a lion that eats people are both members of the cat family. True, yes, but it completely misses the point.  

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U.S. confirms that spy agencies worked with ex-warlord Charles Taylor [Updated]

Update: The Globe now says it 'overreached' on the story and the relationship between Taylor and U.S. intelligence was never confirmed. 

In response to a FOIA request from the Boston Globe, the U.S. government has confirmed that former Liberian President Charles Taylor, now on trial for war crimes at the Hague, received support from U.S. intelligence agencies during the 1980s:

After a quarter-century of silence, the US government has confirmed what has long been rumored: Taylor, who would become president of Liberia and the first African leader tried for war crimes, worked with US spy agencies during his rise as one of the world’s most notorious dictators.

The disclosure on the former president comes in response to a request filed by the Globe six years ago under the Freedom of Information Act. The Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s spy arm, confirmed its agents and CIA agents worked with Taylor beginning in the early 1980s.[...]

The Defense Intelligence Agency refused to reveal any details about the relationship, saying doing so would harm national security.

Taylor, 63, pleaded innocent in 2009 to multiple counts of murder, rape, attacking civilians, and deploying child soldiers during a civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone while he was president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003.


In 2009, Taylor testified at his trial that the CIA aided him in his famous 1985 escape-by-bedsheet from a jail in Plymouth, Mass., where he was being held on embezzlement charges, so that he could take part in a coup plot against then President Samuel Doe. At the time, a CIA spokesman described Taylor's account as "completely absurd."

It's possible Taylor may have aided the agency in gathering intelligence on Muammar al-Qaddafi: 

Former intelligence officials, who agreed to discuss the covert ties only on the condition of anonymity, and specialists including Farah believe Taylor probably was considered useful for gathering intelligence about the activities of Moammar Khadafy. During the 1980s, the ruler of Libya was blamed for sponsoring such terrorist acts as the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland and for fomenting guerrilla wars across Africa.

Taylor testified that after fleeing Boston he recruited 168 men and women for the National Patriotic Front for Liberia and trained them in Libya.

Over time, the former officials said, Taylor may have also been seen as a source for information on broader issues in Africa, from the illegal arms trade to the activities of the Soviet Union, which, like the United States, was seeking allies on the continent as part of the broader struggle of the Cold War.