The operator of the LTTE’s computer and database revealed

Cray XMT - The LTTE's computer and database server?

Palitha Kohona, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka had this to say in a recent interview about the LTTE’s ICT infrastructure published in Himal,

Himal: If there were entire villages that had nothing to do with LTTE, they can just be let go. But for the others, it’s a massive job of identification that you would have to do.

Yes, we are likely to make mistakes. There was a senior person, 74 years of age, who was released because of his age. And then he promptly went abroad to Singapore. And he was the one who controlled the LTTE computer, the database. So we missed out on this fellow.

Emphasis mine. So gramps controlled THE computer and THE database of the LTTE, wherever and whatever they were. Lucky bugger. Surely, he must have played around with the Cray XMT? Seriously, what other computer could be THE one used by the LTTE’s for its database?

Here’s a novel idea for ICTA – urgently provide, nay force basic IT literacy education for these chowderheads in government. This alone would justify the Year of IT.

LTTE launches new Department of International Relations site, kills its Peace Secretariat site

Old wine in new bottles or a genuine shift in thinking?

I encountered the LTTE’s new Department of International Relations website today, containing S. Pathmanathan’s blog and other really fun stuff. The site is registered through in Arizona, whereas the erstwhile LTTE Peace Secretariat site’s domain was registered to an individual based in Killinochchi, Sri Lanka who is quite possibly dead now or sans a few limbs, is in no condition to update the site.

Pathmanathan’s reasons for entering the world of blogging are revealing,

I also realised the importance of sharing of opinions with many who were not in a position to share opinions with me through direct means. How do I achieve this? In this advanced cyber era I soon realised that it was possible through a blog posting. This is why have I chosen to out to you using this method. The dimension of expressing opinions through political statements is very different to the dimension of distributing opinions through the web. It is not appropriate to release all opinions as political statements and notices. The internet gives me an opportunity to be close to the people and exchange views. I was attracted to this form of communication because of the ability to be able to reach many quickly.

Unsurprisingly, the LTTE Peace Secretariat site doesn’t load anymore even though the domain is still registered. All is not lost however, since two complete site archives I created in April 2008 and again in February 2009 are available here. These archives, invaluable for a researcher or historian, contain inter alia:

Prabhakaran’s Heroes Day speeches from 1992
All the news archives, press releases from 2003 including attached PDFs, photos and videos
The statements issued by the Royal Norwegian Government at the end of the 6 rounds of peace talks between the Government and the LTTE
Proposals put forward by the LTTE for an Interim Self Governing Authority
Historical documents such as the Thimpu Declaration
Photos from 2002 on events that took place during the CFA
  • Prabhakaran’s Heroes Day speeches from 1992
  • All the news archives, press releases from 2003 including attached PDFs, photos and videos
  • The official statements issued by the Royal Norwegian Government at the end of the 6 rounds of peace talks between the Government and the LTTE
  • Proposals put forward by the LTTE for an Interim Self Governing Authority
  • Historical documents such as the Thimpu Declaration
  • Photos from 2002 on events that took place during the CFA

In looking at his past with the terrorist group, journalist DBS Jeyaraj notes that Pathmanathan, alias KP, is a formidable voice in the LTTE’s scattered remnants globally, though he also points to bitter power struggles that may undermine his new position. It’s clear that the new Dept. of International Relations is part of KP’s efforts to reach out and consolidate his position of authority and leadership.

Whether competing initiatives linked to other contenders appear on the web or not, its clear that the web and internet will play a predominant role in attempts to secure support and legitimacy for the movement and key individuals keen to appear as its new leaders.

Given the new site’s foundation as a blog (which the earlier Peace Secretariat site wasn’t) and given KP’s intention above, it may be that LTTE is now open to genuine dialog beyond its usual constituency in the diaspora and locally. How will this dialog be mediated and by whom?

The opinions page of the new website, at the time of writing, only notes, Opinions yet to receive… (sic) One hopes these opinions are progressive and civil. Nurturing, supporting and maintain such dialogue isn’t, and I say this from experience, an easy task, particularly when dealing with an entity as divisive as the LTTE, leave aside internal post-Prabhakaran power struggles that may seek to undermine and delegitimise this new site, its content and associated personnel.

Precisely because the future of LTTE’s new Dept. of International Relations is suspect, I’ve archived the complete site here and will continue to periodically update it.

Understanding terrorism better through technology?

As I wrote in a recent article:

“The central disconnect between conflict resolution theorists and the essential nature of terrorism lies here – we do not really know the logic that drives terrorism, a logic so alien to us that we cannot even imagine it. It is a logic that driven by a rationale and psychological imperatives that may make little sense to us…”

Juxtapose this with an article featured on the New York Times recently:

“When an Iraqi insurgent group releases a new videotape or claims responsibility for an attack, Western reporters in Baghdad rarely hear about it firsthand. Nor do they usually get the news from their in-house Iraqi translators.

Instead, a reporter often receives an e-mailed alert from a highly caffeinated terrorism monitor sitting at a computer screen somewhere on the East Coast. Within hours, a constellation of other Middle East analysts has sent out interpretations — some of them conflicting — and a wealth of contextual material.”

Reading the article further, it is evident that we are on the cusp of a revolution in journalism – where bloggers and websites shape to a great extent the analyses that frame a story or issue. This brings to sharp relief several questions:

Information is not knowledge
Journalists “embedded” in places like Iraq and Afghanistran aren’t necessarily good journalists. Pegged to the military and unable to travel outside of designated safe-zones, their viewpoints are circumscribed by the radius of a turret or the range of a sniper. Unable to analyse the context, caught up as they are in the rigours of vicarious daily combat, these new journalists rely, as teh NYT article points out, on a slew of websites that seek to disseminate information of various known terrorist groups who post messages and other on the web.

Information however, is not knowledge. Given the subjective interpretation of all content, it is small wonder that a statement from a single source may be interpreted in many ways by which ever person or organisation that chooses to flag its significance. Journalists on the ground are thus faced with a range analyses from which they have to choose from – a choice oftentimes made under the pressure of instant TV journalism and by definition, ill-informed.

Given that some journalists in regions of conflict don’t speak the local languages, interpreting what’s online to help contextualise events on the ground becomes an exercise of blind trust in the subjective opinion and language abilities of those who can and do post their interpretations of terrorist material online.

There is no real measure of the truth of a single interpretation until it is juxtaposed against several others, a task that very few in the field have the time to do on sustainable basis.

The end result is that the opinions of a few key influential organisations and individuals are given primacy over others who may have equally valid interpretations.

“On this front, Memri, the largest translation service, may have drawn the most criticism. It was founded in 1998 by Col. Yigal Carmon, who had spent more than 20 years in Israeli military intelligence and later advised two Israeli prime ministers. Its 60 staff members scan Arab and Muslim media and send translations by e-mail to 100,000 subscribers, including journalists and officials. Critics have long said it focuses on translating the most dangerous-sounding material.

“They say they highlight liberal voices along with the dangerous radicals, which is fine,” said Marc Lynch, a scholar of Arab politics at Williams College who has criticized Memri on his own blog, Abu Aardvark. “But what that conceals is the entire middle ground, where most of the political debate goes on in the Arab world.”

Implications for the framing of conflict
If we are to assume that journalism coming out from conflict zones is inextricably entwined with the opinions of those who interpret material deeply relevant to the socio-political dynamics of the region from afar and through content on the web, we must be mindful that what we may read, see and listen as investigative reporting may be, at worst, nothing more than real-life footage given to embellish the opinion of a partisan think-tank or biased individual somewhere else in the world.

There is no real solution to this dilemma. One way forward may be for the global news agencies and also for journalists in general to begin to list out their sources for background research, giving the reader and audience clarity on the construction of perspectives and the framing of the issues.

The other is also basic journalism – to not trust any one source and to fight the herd mentality of embedded journalism to ascertain perspectives of peace and conflict from communities living with and affected by conflict. Furthermore, radical terrorism on the web may be itself several shades more virulent than that which is practised on the ground by the same organisation (the web allows for thought and action not always possible on the ground). This must be kept in mind when weaving in the analyses and interpretations of material on the web to explain what’s occuring on the ground.

Let’s also not forget the importance of learning the language of conflict to inform the grammar of journalism. The language of conflict covers the vernacular of those embroiled in the conflict (to understand their hopes and aspiration, there one must speak their language) to the language, as it were, of the complex interplay of social, economic, political, religious, caste and other identity markers that fuel conflict and also hold in them the keys to conflict transformation.

In sum, maybe the web gives more access to analyses and information. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that journalism is better for it.

Also see my earlier posts on web translation and peacebuilding:
I don’t speak Tamil – Skype to the rescue?
هل تتكلم العربيه؟