As has been widely reported, a Reuters blog was hacked yesterday and bogus articles were posted claiming that rebel forces had withdrawn from Aleppo.
What observations can we make about the hacking?
Firstly, the hackers have no sympathies with the Free Syrian Army since the reporting clearly had the potential (even if not the actual effect) of sowing confusion among the scattered units of fighters operating inside Aleppo who might have heard rumors that a withdrawal was underway.
Secondly, even if an isolated report which conflicted with most of the other coverage would have been received with due skepticism by most observers, a few suckers would be quick to swallow the bait. Enter, Moon of Alabama.
After reading that rebel forces “have fallen” in key districts of Aleppo, Bernhard at MoA said with apparent satisfaction, “This is very much what I had expected.”
If the hacking incident is instructive in revealing security weaknesses in the Reuters site, it also says a lot about the media illiteracy of both the hackers and those who got duped.
Bernhard noted the name of the Reuters reporter — Jeffrey Goldfarb — and said that some of Goldfarb’s post “is really explosive.” What Bernhard appears to have failed to do was to glance to the right side of the page and read Goldfarb’s bio which begins: “Jeffrey Goldfarb writes about investment banking and the financial sector.”
So, the source of this explosive stuff is a financial reporter who covers revolutions in the Middle East during his lunch breaks? No, not surprisingly, Goldfarb’s real blog posts focus exclusively on business issue.
Bernhard’s explanation about how he got duped was that in being directed to the story he was relying on tweeters whose accounts he has been following for several weeks.
Sorry, but, I trusted those tweets, is a bit of a lame excuse.
That said, none of us is invulnerable to getting caught by false leads. Recently, I posted a report from the Times of Israel that falsely claimed that Iran’s president had made a speech in which he gloated over the recent coach bombing killing Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. However, the fact that I got duped had nothing to do with wishful thinking on my part. I was relieved that Nima Shirazi was quick to expose the lies in the original report.
To get a sense of how deep a hole Bernhard jumped into eagerly, here’s a snippet:
Reuters' Jeffrey Goldfarb has more and some of it is really explosive:
The chief leader of Syrian Free Army (FSA) has stated on Friday that the Syrian Free Army has tactically withdrawn from Aleppo province after severe clashes took place yesterday between the regular army and FSA.
[Riad] Al-Asaad confirmed on a phone call to Reuters that the regular army killed 1000 soldiers of Free Syrian Army and arrest around 1500.
That is quite a huge loss of the insurgencies personal.
He added that Syrian regular army carried out several airdrops on Friday early morning.
Those airdrops, probably parachuters by helicopter, will not have been in the city. I guess they have been between Aleppo and the Turkish border 30 miles north to cut of the supply and retreat route for the fighters in Aleppo.
Riad Al-Asaad said that the Syrian Free Army will withdraw from all Syrian cities due to the huge losses caused upon the soldiers, as well, the betrayals made by rebels, due to in-fighting amongst them, for money and positions. They are expected to re-coordinate in Turkish territory where they have set up secret bases under the close supervision with the Turkish government and the Israeli intelligence service.
One wonders how Turkey will now handle these insurgents. Will it try to build them up for another attack or will it finally stop supporting them? And to admit that Israeli(!) intelligence plays a key role here, some David Ignatius of the Washington Post had mentioned earlier, is quite a blow for the insurgents and their supporters moral.
To their credit, many of Moon of Alabama‘s commenters were quick to suspect that Reuters had been hacked, but even once this had been established, Bernhard seemed to think there might be some truth embedded in the hoax:
What did the hackers achieve?
The most interesting is the Scenario they put up. Not so much the insurgents loosing but the negotiations between Syrian, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It smells like there is a whiff of truth in that.
And then one “Walter Wit Man” presents himself as either the most resolute conspiracy theorist or does a good job of posing as one:
It smells like a fake hack to me. b asked what it achieved.
Here’s what the fake hack achieved for the U.S./NATO/Israel:
1. Make the “regime” look bad for hacking the news. This adds to the other recent allegation of Syrian media fakery where the BBC and the Guardian had the story of the Syrian defector/former employee who is now a whistle blower. According to a RT story, the ‘whistle blower’ never actually worked there and only applied for a job 1 1/2 years ago and was turned down.
2. Mix up some true facts with the disinformation to confuse. Like the negotiations b hints at being true.
More than anything, what the Reuters hacking reveals is a ravenous appetite among those who reject the “mainstream media narrative” (neo-imperial, neo-liberal agenda, or whatever you want to call it) and will gobble up any piece of information, however far-fetched, if it appears to “expose” Western lies. It is a form of skepticism and gullibility whose two sides perfectly interlock.
Reuters happens to be the homepage on my desktop. Last night there was a lead photo of two very young Syrian boys, one holding an automatic rifle in his arms, and the caption read: “Free Syrian Army fighters take a break during clashes with Syrian Army soldiers in the Salah al-Din neighbourhood in central Alleppo.” Seriously. My first thought was, This was hacked.