US-funded Open Technology Initiative takes to Occupy

The New America Foundation's Open Network Technology Initiative, a US State Department-funded project to build an "Internet in a suitcase" that can be dropped into repressive zones where protesters need network access and the state is trying to take it away. The project -- a very complex piece of technology -- has gotten to the point where it needs a live test, and lucky for the Open Technology engineers, Occupy DC is just down the street, and that's a great testbed.

The idea is that the system will automatically set itself up. Drop a unit near another unit and they’ll start talking to one another and trading data. Add another and all three will talk to one another. Add a thousand and you can cover a whole city. Then if one of those routers is hooked up to an internet connection, everyone on the network can connect. If that connection disappears, users can still try to update an application like Twitter or send e-mail to the larger internet and the outgoing notes will go into a holding pattern until the mesh network finds another connection to the greater net.

That’s harder to pull off in practice, even under ideal conditions — as anyone who’s tried to link even two Wi-Fi access points in their own home could attest. Now throw in the variables that the access points should work in urban and exposed environments, as well as protest zones like Tahir Square. You’ll want to protect dissidents with encryption and deniability. And you don’t want your beta-testers to be arrested or even killed because of a software bug. All together it’s the kind of challenge engineers like to call “non-trivial”.

“Finding a place to use the system is difficult,” Meinrath said. “Thank God for the Occupy movement.”

U.S.-Funded Internet Liberation Project Finds Perfect Test Site: Occupy D.C.

(Image: Brendan Hoffman/


  1. Thanks for posting this, but it is the Open Technology Initiative. (The Open Network Initiative is a project from Citizen Lab, the Berkman Center, and SecDev  and great work on tracking how different countries censor the Internet: )

  2. Sooo the US government is both censoring the web and deploying methods of getting around censorship?

    I take it if successful the plans will be put out into the open for local creation with whatever’s avalible?

    1. “Sooo the US government is both censoring the web and deploying methods of getting around censorship?”

      When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.  

    2. America is the testbed of liberty. Also, the military-industrial complex traditionally arms whoever the fuck they can with whatever they can get away with selling. Someday the greedy assholes will sell rope to their hangman.

      1. The classical example being Maxim selling machineguns to all sides of WW1. Or more precisely, collected licensing fees on national factories producing them for their various armies.

      2. Looks like it’s becoming a testbed for both liberty and oppression at the same time. See how those two interact with each other and if anything blows up.

    3. Sooo the US government is both censoring the web and deploying methods of getting around censorship?

      Reality is wacky.  Many in the CIA despised Bush and Cheney.  The CIA was the source for some important leaks about secret prisons, etc.

      The government isn’t some giant, monolithic entity.  There’s plenty of dissent deep within the beast who are some of the only barriers between the megalomaniacs in power and an outright dictatorship.

      If there had been the right orders, there’s plenty in the CIA who…

      █████ ████ █████████ █████ out ████.

  3. We’re all for testing it so we can use it to bring democracy (and jobs for kids) to other countries; but when it’s being used here, I’m sure the government will nip that shit in the bud.

      1. And protecting other corporate interests. In San Francisco some years back there was a proposal to extend free city-wide WiFi. This was a pretty viable way for the city to guarantee internet access to all. It was killed very quickly by the Telcos and corporate defenders claiming that it limited their ability to profit.

  4. This points out the fundamental schizophrenia of the US military and the 1% establishment structure.

    While the 1%ers are trying to crackdown on protest by the 99%ers (we won’t even mention the 12,400 billionaires who own everything,) the military is actively working to undermine them.

    Why? Because its good experience…

    The US military is directly responsible for the internet, and indirectly responsible for all of the economic disruption that has occurred as a result of the application of the internet effect to the economy (did your job even exist ten years ago?,) and they are also propelling us towards biofuels and other sustainable options.

    The US military is working hard to its own ends and they really don’t give a crap about what the 1%ers want. (They aren’t part of the 1%ers and they recruit from the 99%ers because the 1%ers give themselves deferments, national guard options and other cushy no-show cheats.)

    The soit-disant elite, the 1%ers, are idiots who are trying to enrich themselves and have absolutely no long term vision.

    The US military have been working towards the same goal since Eisenhower warned us 99%ers about the military-industrial (and the education-governmental) complex.

    I for one support the military.

    1. This is an interesting idea. I don’t know about the leadership types in DC, but I imagine there are many honorable men in the military with long-term plans for a better nation. I know I’ve met some awesome ex-military guys, and I have friends who have done awesome things with military support. It’s too bad about that whole killing people thing, ‘eh?

      1. That killing people thing is why they developed the taser, tear-gas, pepper spray and the rest of the non-lethal arsenal.

        Remember Kent state? It happened because the National Guard was full of poorly trained civilians who were still wet behind the ears.

        The US military is unhappy whenever anybody gets killed as a result of one of their actions and they make you fill out enough paperwork about that to let you know.

        The 1%er political overlords would just say that you were standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. (I wonder what they’re going to say when the military comes for them. [That the real reason why I’d be worried if they ever militarise the ‘States.])

        Why do you think that Obama’s pulling out the professionals out of Iraq and Afghanistan and leaving behind mercenaries like Xe (formerly Blackwater [changed because they were facing criminal charges?])

        These poorly trained mercenary imbeciles have no compunctions about killing anyone.

    2. Ike’s original draft more correctly named the military-industrial-congressional complex. Three guesses why he changed it.

    3. You could pretty much drop this argument into Rome, just before Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and most of the people would support you as they gladly handed over power to their best general and stopped giving a shit about following the rules of their republic. The only people who objected to this were the 1%ers because it was perfectly clear to them that their system of controlling everyone was about to be technologically superseded by another system that was *way more efficient at controlling everyone*. And thus, the aristocrats were about to be screwed standing up, along with everyone else in the world. That’s what it means to ‘support the military’ over elected representatives.

      In other words, fuck your army. Democracy sucks but you will pry it from my cold, dead hands. The military is about as trustworthy as a rapist in a toy shop. Sure — they probably aren’t going to steal the toys, but that isn’t the fucking point, is it?

      1. Democracy is a wonderful concept, in theory. (Its only been tried ONCE through out history. The result was the reign of terror during the French revolution.)

        The United States is a fascist republic/oligarchy, and there’s NOTHING WONG WITH THAT as long as its properly organized. 
        First we have to agree on some terminology:

        Lets examine the three systems of economic organization:

        • Free Enterprise, where capital goods are owned by private owners and controlled by private owners,
        • Fascism, where capital goods are owned by private owners and controlled by the state,
        • Socialism, where capital goods are owned by the state and controlled by the state.

        Clearly, the economy is set up for 12,400 billionaires who own almost everything. 

        We have an increasingly stratified society where the 1%ers make up a quasi-dynastic ruling class, where if your parents weren’t born right, you have a diminishing chance at breaking in on your own merits.

        The 99%ers who are becoming increasingly poor and hungry, literally. I have read statistics that 1 child out of 2 in America is going to bed hungry, though I don’t quite believe it myself. (Though the poorest Americans tend to be the less educated women who are denied access to birth control and they have many, many more children than do Muffy and Biff in some privileged white-bread and mayonaise suburb.)

        To put in terms you can understand at a glance:
        180,000,000 poor Americans own/control as much wealth as
        ……………400 rich Americans
        120,000,000 lower middle class Americans own/control as much wealth
        ……….12,000 upper middle class americans.
        ….3,000,000 middle class Americans own/control as much wealth as is left. They are the 1%. (Your bosses, your politicians, your overlords.)

        The three economic systems are separate constructs from the four forms of government:

        • Anarchy (rule by no one,)
        • Dictatorship or Monarchy (rule by one person,)
        • Oligarchy (rule by a few persons, like we currently have here,)
        • Democracy (rule by the majority, aka “tyranny of the masses”)

        None of these socio-economic systems are mutually exclusive in the larger context of a political systems.

        In fact, it is necessary to combine the three because there are features of each which complement and fill in the bid spots in each.

        A successful country is one where the systems are successfully blended.

        An unsuccessful country is one where there is an unnecessary bias towards one or another.

        For example, that is why we have a unified power grid but each utility/corporation cooperates in maintaining the unified power grid while trying to minimize the costs, possibly to maximize their profitability.

        This cooperative feature is arrived at regardless of the economic system or political system.

        Our economic problems arise from a misunderstanding of what a politicians jobs were by our oligarchies (the people some, not all but merely some of us, held our noses and elected.)


        The role of the military, as trustworthy as a rapist in a toy store is your expression, is basically to blow shit up and blow people away. 

        They are very, very, very good at it and getting better all the time.The reason for the ever-expanding budget while they are shrinking in actual head count is that they do R&D and all kinds of forward looking stuff. (If only they weren’t the only ones anymore.*)

        That is the reason why the military is expressly forbidden by the constitution from exercising its power on American soil, except by request for providing aid during crisis situations like natural disasters. (That is why there were no “boots on the ground” during hurricane Katrina. The Louisiana Governor didn’t know he had to ask through some very specific channels.)

        *) The following are or began as military projects:
        Weather and other surveillance satellites,
        the space program itself, to boost things to orbit,
        micro electronics (imagine building an iPod with tubes) radar, sonar, scuba diving gear,

        The last advance in American project management was the development of the CPM/PERT technique for the control of the Polaris missile project.

      2. There is something else about the military that I forgot to mention. 

        They have a love/hate relationship with individuality.

        While the military plan every endeavor for inevitable changeover of leadership*, like all good cathedral builders in 12th century Europe, they still will allow for exceptional leaders to rise to their own level of incompetence, whereupon they will be thanked for their service and retired to a position where they can’t do any more damage but only if they advance the overall cause of the military, which, of course, is the survival of the military.

        They aren’t interested in things for their own sake, they leave that to the squints and civilians, but they are supremely interested in their own survival as an intact force.

        The bright part of the founding of the United States is the separation of church and state followed by the separation of civil authority and military authority with the civil taking precedence in terms of strategy.

        While the operational and logistical details are best left to the military, the strategic details are best left to those who will have to pay for the breakage.

        As the middle class keeps getting eroded in numbers and in economic power while and as more wealth get shoved at the already rich, the situation will not be permitted to continue.

        I wonder at, for and about the safety of the 12,400 individuals should the military feel that their long term survival is being placed at risk from the continuing rape of the middle class and the degradation of the 99%ers. (12,400 people can be wiped out very, very easily. That would free up all that capital.)

        The 1%ers might find themselves in real trouble if there is a day when the military can’t meet its payroll because of their own screw-ups and perfidy.

        They would face someone far better armed, better trained and more motivated than the general populace (who at that point would be rallying behind them with pitchforks and holding burning torches to hang the political miscreants by their own intestines.)

        *) A tour of duty is usually 2 years, a campaign or a project implementation is usually far longer, therefore everything in the military is done with that in mind. A project will always be completed by completely different people than it was started with, just like building a catedral in gothic Europe.

      3. You could pretty much drop this argument into Rome, just before Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and most of the people would support you as they gladly handed over power to their best general and stopped giving a shit about following the rules of their republic.

        Roman democracy consisted of the wealthy and powerful having votes that counted more than those of the poor. Just because something is called a democracy doesn’t mean that it’s actually democratic. There are plenty of modern ‘democracies’ that haven’t had a change of government in decades. Let’s not become one of them.

  5. holy shit I didn’t know someone was finally building this! I’ve been dreaming of these things since the ’90s. Everyone always said the idea was insane, I guess we finally live in a sufficiently insane future…

    1. If this makes you happy , then you’re going to love this…

      The one thing in our favor is many of the top corporatists are inbred idiots.  Keep pushing our best and brightest and we’re going to make mesh Internet mainstream.

      Everyone will be encrypted whether it’s an email to one’s grandmother or a plot to hunt down and kill the ██████████ of the corporatists.


  6. I can’t find the BB  article, but It’s recent, about a camouflager free wifi hotspot that could be left on perhaps a cafe’s table or in a potted plant in a coffee house. Kind of the same thing. 

  7. Not to be a downer, but this reminds me (sadly) of this recent article:

    Why wouldn’t the feds be using this “service” to skim data from Occupy devices?

    As many know, the feds consistently assert that cell phones are not afforded constitutional rights to privacy, because it is somehow unreasonable to assume cell phone signals are secure in any way. Here’s a rare rebuttal (from Texas, of all places):

    1. Why wouldn’t the feds be using this “service” to skim data from Occupy devices?

      OWS is transparent.  The po-po just shows up to General Assemblies with video cameras or watches any of the scores of other videos made by the movement if they want to know what’s going on.

      Also, the mesh network is encrypted, anonymous (doesn’t associate IP addresses with users) and you can use Tor on top of that for several layers of encryption.  Impregnable?  Nothing is.  But it’s still far less susceptible to sniffing than at your average Starbucks by a long shot.

      I’d use it and that’s even while I’m planning on taking over the United States as we speak. ;D

    1. Anything electrical can work off of solar cells. The question is “Does it come with solar cells.”

  8. So State Department comes up with a system that uses android phones to create a network. And (many) android phones have CarrierIQ on them:

    And the FBI uses CarrierIQ for law enforcement:

    And State Department whizkid thinks it’s a good idea to test this at Occupy.

    I’m with Cowicide. There’s an aroma coming off this that reeks of subversion/suppression.

    1. I’m with you. While I believe they really want it to work as advertised in oppressed regimes and developing countries, I can’t imagine they they wouldn’t build a back door for themselves.

      1. So? They show that it’s possible. We show them it can be done better, and without the back door business.

  9. Seems like the PirateBox, a project by NYU professor David Darts, would be what free culture advocates like most of the readers of BoingBoing would be more interested in, something that would suit our needs better than a government sponsored project:  1. Because it is cheap. 2. Because you can make it yourself.  3. Because it is open source and you can mod it yourself too!    Licensed under the Free Art License (FAL 1.3). (Hey! How come I’ve never heard about the FAL on BoingBoing before btw?)


    Keep on sharing!

  10. Unfortunately for America, the one thing it has lost conclusively and irrevocably in the world is the ability to design technologies that others throughout the world will take up and use without paranoia and suspicion. The American government discarded this ability casually and ignorantly, as if it was worthless and didn’t exist. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, because that enormous power just evapourated the moment America started fucking with every lever they have available to mess with the internet — thus ensuring the entire world would wake from their techno-roll-in-the-hay with America with a huge hangover, regret, and feeling the need to take a shower. Now, this device is America calling the rest of the world up the next day and saying, ‘Hey. Wanna hang out again? I believe in freedom, and no means no, I swear. Last night was just… look, I swear it will be different this time.’

    So, what do you think is gonna happen? I can tell you what is *not* going to happen. America ain’t getting laid again.

Comments are closed.