The Wall Street Journal today brings us an amazing story of a few smart engineers, a couple of big-money backers, and one enormous hardware hack. But today’s tale of Libyan rebels and a few international telecom experts hijacking the Libyana cellphone service from strongman Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s government isn’t just another chapter in an ongoing story. It’s poignant--perhaps even prescient--reminder of the way 21st century technology is reshaping the geopolitical landscape.
Since Iran’s “Twitter Revolution” and Egypt’s successful ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak (largely organized via social networking tools), plenty has been written about the role of social media in political revolution and freedom on the whole. But social media relies on the Web, and in cases of revolution dictatorial regimes often do what they do best: they pull the levers of power, in this case the lever that shuts down the Web.But Libya’s story isn’t one of Internet or social media revolution--in Libya’s case, a team of hackers hijacked the actual communications infrastructure that Ghadafi’s government had shut down, establishing their own network in its place.
Back when Libya’s rebellion was just getting underway, Ghadafi cut the cord on communications. All telecom infrastructure in the country had been built to hub in Tripoli so his government could both control and monitor Internet and phone data. Rebel strongholds in the east and west were then left with no signal. Rebel fighters on the front lines were reduced to using a system of flags to signal troop movements. Coupled with signal jamming being carried out by Gadhafi’s forces, the rebels we fighting a 21st-century battle with tactics reminiscent of the high Middle Ages.