From Wired: Cointelpro-type disruption against anti-zionist prof and others

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Fri Aug 23 10:09:01 MDT 2002

[What's been done --sending out fake emails to create tension and mistrust
and disputes -- bears all the earmarks of a classic police provocation. The
only novelty is the medium --email-- and, frankly, seeing as how commercial
spammers habe been doing this sort of thing almost since the beginning of
spam in the mid-90's, the only real question is what took the FBI so long.

[We probably need to keep our eye on Cointelpro-type police
provocation/disruption operations. The latest Militant has an article on a
police-style break-in at the SWP's DC offices. I suspect a LOT more of this
is going on than we are finding about. --José]

*  *  *

Return to Sender -- 55,000 Times
By Noah Shachtman

2:00 a.m. Aug. 23, 2002 PDT

Law professor and pro-Palestinian agitator Francis Boyle expected to have a
lot of e-mail waiting for him after his
two-and-a-half-week vacation. But he never imagined that there would be
55,000 messages packing his inbox -- many of them hurt, even belligerent,
notes from friends and fellow activists.

Why, they wondered, had Boyle -- who appeared on national television last
Sept. 13 to campaign against U.S. involvement in Afghanistan -- written
"when I see in the newspapers that civilians in Afghanistan or the West Bank
were killed by American or Israeli troops, I don't really care"?

The answer was simple. The message that supposedly came from Boyle was a
forgery -- one of thousands sent out in the names and from e-mail addresses
of prominent advocates for the Palestinians -- designed to sow dissension,
create confusion and waste time in the activist community.

"Primarily, it's been a frustrating nuisance. But there have been a lot of
angry misunderstandings, creating a lot of distraction," said Nigel Parry,
co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website. "Some people are closing
accounts, others are getting off (activist e-mail) lists entirely."

Palestinian and Israeli hackers have been going after each other since the
latest round of Middle East violence erupted in September 2000. But this
tactic, e-mail identify theft -- known as a "Joe job" by spam experts -- is
a new one, possibly the most disruptive yet.

Boyle, a professor of international law at the University of Illinois, spent
nearly four days sifting through the messages, writing personal apologies to
the offended and manually deleting thousands of bounce-backs.

Monica Tarazi, New York director of the Anti-Arab Discrimination League,
recently had her personal Yahoo e-mail account shut down for one day for
spamming after a message bearing her name was sent to more than 80 Yahoo

Yale medical school professor Mazin Qumsiyeh received dozens of e-mails from
irate colleagues after messages he had written to a private list of
activists were forwarded to more than 1,500 people in the Yale community
without his knowledge.

The content of the impersonated e-mails has varied widely: news accounts of
terrorist attacks; historical looks at the relationship between the United
States and Jewish people; anti-Semitic rants; pro-Israel analysis. There
have even been forged warnings that "the e-mails of the members of this
group are hacked by pro-Israeli people."

Earlier this month, Tarazi and Parry discussed the problem with agents from
the FBI's computer crimes and civil rights divisions in a half-hour
conference call. But the FBI said there was little they could do to stop the
e-mail impersonations from continuing.

"While these e-mails are a nuisance, offensive and intimidating, the FBI
didn't find anything illegal: There haven't been threats that rise to the
level of a hate crime, no money has been stolen, public safety has not been
endangered and, as far as we can tell, our computers have not been hacked or
'technically intruded into' as one agent put it," Tarazi said in an e-mail.
"The offensive messages are all protected by the First Amendment."

Qumsiyeh was quick to blame "these Zionists" for the mimicry, saying in an
e-mail that the FBI would have taken the case "seriously of course if the
shoe was on the other foot, if you know what I mean."

The Palestinian movement is legendarily polarized. For example, in 1993
Boyle -- then the Palestinian delegation's legal adviser at the Middle East
peace negotiations -- refused to attend the signing of the Oslo peace
agreement on the White House lawn in part because he thought Arafat had
caved in to the Israelis and Americans.

So it's not out of the question that this operation could be carried out by
people within the pro-Palestinian community.

Jewish leaders like Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation
League, said that the e-mail impersonations of Qumsiyeh, Boyle and others
were "absolutely improper" and that the events show "the Internet's dark
underside [as] a vehicle for creating mischief and abuse."

These comments come despite the fact that Boyle has refused to condemn the
killing of Israeli civilians by suicide bombers and once labeled Foxman's
group a "dirty tricks organization for Israel."

"The Palestinian people are defending themselves and their land and their
homes against Israeli war crimes and Israeli war criminals, both military
and civilian," Boyle wrote in a recent issue of The Link, a pro-Arab

According to Laura Atkins, president of the anti-spam group Spamcon
Foundation, several of the missives forged in Boyle's name were sent from a
Kinko's in the St. Louis area. These were then routed through an e-mail
server connected with, a Middle Eastern news and culture
website based in Dubai.

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