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  • CIO declares cyber-war
    Oscar Nkala, The Zimbabwean
    May 06, 2005

    JOHANNESBURG - In a desperate bid to control the flow of independent information in and out of the country, the increasingly paranoid government of Robert Mugabe, has acquired sophisticated phone tapping, radio jamming and internet monitoring equipment from China.

    The equipment has been handed over to its dreaded spy agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) in an effort to block the circulation of what it alleges is hostile propaganda from foreign based radio stations and cyber-space.

    The independent radio station based in the UK, SWRadio Africa, has been experiencing jamming problems from two transmitters near Gweru since before the elections.

    Sources inside the CIO told The Zimbabwean that the deal also involved the importation of upgraded Chinese copies of Soviet-era air-borne radar systems for the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) and a few ground-based radar stations.

    "More equipment is on the way, as government feels there is a need to counter hostile propaganda coming through cyberspace. I cannot tell you about the budget but it will cost trillions," said the source, who added that Chinese instructors and technicians had trained CIO agents in operating and maintaining the equipment.

    In China, the government of President Hu Jintao, a hard-line Communist keen to return the old order, has apparently intensified a crackdown on the use of mobile phones and the internet for the circulation of anti-Communist propaganda and the promotion of what it sees as Western-style freedom of the press and human rights issues.

    In a move that parallels Zimbabwe's programme of re-education in schools and youth camps, students in China were recently ordered to take more Communist Theory classes in line with what the regime calls "ideological education" according to the New York Times.

    Zimbabwe's latest acquisitions allegedly include smaller, less visible high-tech bugging equipment that is more difficult to detect. Minute omni-directional recorders with enhanced long ranges at ultra-high frequencies have also been ordered and can be useful for snooping on meeting sites from a safe distance.

    The source refused to explain how the new phone bugging equipment works but confirmed that it included updated versions of pirated, Israeli-made equipment sourced through Cuba.

    In Zimbabwe, the CIO intends to use most of the equipment to snoop on the internet, widen the taping of landlines and cell-phones of opposition figures, State and private media journalists suspected of working for foreign media, as well as opposition and public opinion leaders - regardless of whether they are pro or anti-government.

    "The purpose of widening the net is to sense new threats to the present order, as most of the known opposition, particularly the MDC and tribal-based hooligans like Paul Siwela have been neutralized.

    "We are now scanning the horizon for fresh signs of political opposition and other threats to national security. At the same, time we are countering and daily reducing the misleading effect of anti-Zimbabwe propaganda from radio stations and internet-based organizations outside the country. Government wants to win the cyber-war and the results have been pleasing so far," said the source.

    Part of the strategy in the cyber-space war was to use CIO "case officers" and Zanu (PF) activists disguised as students at universities all over the world. The source said one such case officer, who formerly operated from the Matabeleland South office of CIO, had been deployed to a university in southern Portugal in mid-2003 as part of efforts to re-orient world student opinion on the crisis in Zimbabwe.

    Efforts to contact State Security minister Didymus Mutasa for comment were fruitless. A secretary at his office said the minister was away and would not have the time to take the call even if he were there.

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