Tag Archives: Nonviolence

FSI09: Backfire, Legitimacy & Dividing Loyalties in Civil Resistance

The eight presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the issue of security forces. One of the guiding questions for this presentation was: In what circumstances can nonviolent movements reduce the legitimacy of security forces in the eyes of the population?

Giving water and food to security forces is a tactic that often works to at least lower tensions and aggression. But one must be very careful about the assumptions made with regards to how security forces might react to various tactics.

Getting repeatedly arrested may provide some advantages, as was noted by colleagues in the Otpor movement. They would start getting know the police officers and wardens, and the building this interpersonal relationships that proved important as the resistance scaled up.

Backfire occurs when an attack creates more support for or attention to what/who is attacked. Any injustice or norm violation can backfire on the perpetrator. This concept relates to Gene Sharp‘s “political jiu-jitsu“:

Political jiu-jitsu is one of the special processes by which nonviolent action deals with violent repression. By combining nonviolent discipline with solidarity and persistence in struggle, the nonviolent actionists cause the violence of the opponent’s repression to be exposed in the worst possible light. This, in turn, may lead to shifts in opinion and then to shifts in power relationships favorable to the nonviolent group. These shifts result from withdrawal of support for the opponent and the grant of support to the nonviolent actionists.

What are the real preferences of the security forces? These will never be monolithic and fully in line with the regime, i.e., preferences will be differential.  What are the risks in expressing those preferences if you’re part of the security? Security forces don’t always obey:

  • Philippines, 1986
  • Serbia, 2000
  • Ukraine, 2004

When and how do security forces choose to disobey? Developing relationships (usually covert) with leadership and officers was a tactic used in Serbia. In Egypt, activists told police they understood that they had orders to follow and simply asked that they simply not hit them as hard. Developing relationships with ordinary soldiers/police during action is an area that requires further exploration.

Dividing the oppressor is another tactic. So is campaigning for the end of conscription. In apartheid South Africa, the South Africa Defense Force (SADF) was the last line in the defense of apartheid and the 1983 End the Conscription Campaign (ECC) struck at the heart of this powerful force.

“Conscripts were not our enemy… we should serve their interests, ‘pull’ them away from the SADF rather than antagonize or ‘push’ them.”

The ECC also used branding, logos, posters, T-shirts, music concerts, kite flying, etc. But was the ECC successful? There were no high-level defections and the campaign was banned in 1988. However, it continued in different form and the number of conscripts who refused to serve. They were being flown to fight in Angola and were increasingly resistant to do so.

One participant noted that the gulf between members of a nonviolent movement and security officers are often culture, linguistic, etc. The case of Tibet is an example. When there are similarities, emphasizing those is an appropriate tactic. But when there are only differences, can accentuating those differences help the nonviolent movement?

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Economic Context of Nonviolent Resistance

The seventh presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the economic vulnerabilities of different authoritarian states.

There are different types of repressive states:

  • Development state
    • Developmental ideology
    • Mixed economy with interventionist state
    • Constrained but partially autonomous civil society
  • Totalitarian state
    • Development ideology
    • State ownership of means of production
    • Mobilized but non-autonomous civil society
  • Rentier state
    • Lack of development ideology
    • State as arena for private gain
    • Disorganized civil society

The pillars of regime survival include legitimacy, political support and coercion. Each of these exist at different levels in the three types of state described above. For example, in rentier states have low legitimacy, narrow political support and high coercion.

How do states generate economic revenues?

  • Direct sources
    • Taxes
    • State ownership of production
    • Rents (natural resources, foreign aid, corruption, etc)
  • Indirect sources
    • Domestic and/or foreign private investment
    • Migrant remittances

One participant noted the important role of organized crime, which is missing from the framework presented. I completely agree with this comment. We’ve seen the rise in organized crime in Mexico, Colombia, Guinea Bissau and Liberia, among other countries.

What are the implications for the social contract? What sources of income require broad, narrow and little/no domestic collaboration?

  • Broad domestic collaboration
    • Taxes
    • Competitive private investment
  • Narrow domestic collaboration
    • Political corruption
    • State owned enterprises
    • Monopolistic private investment
  • No domestic collaboration
    • Natural resource rents
    • Foreign aid
    • Migrant remittances

States rely on these types of revenues to various degrees. For example, development states are highly dependent on private investment; totalitarian states rely most heavily on state ownership; and rentier states have relatively high dependence on rents. States use these revenues to create legitimacy, build political coalitions and bolster the military, for example.

Economic factors can affect thresholds at which citizens join democratic opposition. To be sure, minor changes in individual thresholds can unleash explosive growth in public opposition. I was surprised that the notion of “information cascades” was not included in the presentation. Nor was the idea of the “dictator’s dilemma,” which I addressed in this previous post.

In any case, here’s an excerpt from a paper by Professor Dan Drezner that explains information cascades:

“An informational cascade takes place when individuals acting in conditions of uncertainty strongly condition their choices on what others have done previously.  More formally, an information cascade is a situation in which every actor, based on the observations of others, makes the same choice independent of his/her private information signal.

In repressive societies, information cascades often lead citizens to acquiesce to government coercion, even if a broad swath of the public would prefer coordinated action.  Citizen coordination and mobilization  is highly unlikely among risk-averse actors unless there is some assurance that others will behave similarly.  At the same time, however, an exogenous shock that triggers spontaneous acts of protest can also trigger a reverse in the cascade.  This explains why repressive societies often appear stable and yet without warning can face a massive scaling up of protests and civic action.

A little bit of public information can reverse a long-standing informational cascade that contributed to citizen quiescence.  Even if people may have previously chosen one action, seemingly little information can induce the same people to choose the exact opposite action in response to a slight increase in information. The spread information technology increases the fragility of information cascades that sustain the appearance of authoritarian control.”

In terms of strategies for activists:

  • Identify the regime’s points of economic vulnerability on the revenue and expenditure side;
  • Seek to lower individual thresholds by raising the costs of coercion for the regime while de-legitimizing the regime;
  • Construct appropriate strategic alliances.

How does one engage in nonviolent conflict in rentier states? How does expand the nonviolent battlefield? There are two levels of analysis here: local/national and international. However, the international component is not a replacement for activities going on at the grassroots level.

In the case of Timor-Leste‘s nonviolent action, international actors were able to help support the cause. But if the political transition turned violent, then the international community would not be able to publicly support their cause.

Another strategy is to go after multinational companies operating in repressive regimes. Exposing the complicity of their business in these countries, which regimes depend on, is one way exploit some of their existing vulnerabilities.

An interesting example, along these lines, is the Genocide Intervention Network ‘s (GIN) ranking system DarfurScores.org that grades Members of Congress on how well they’ve been addressing the genocide via legislation. This was presented last month by the head of GIN. Many congress persons got in touch with GIN to ask how they could increase their Darfur scores.

Another interesting example is Karma Bank.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Building a Movement for Civil Resistance

The sixth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the organizational side of civil resistance by drawing on the United Democratic Front’s (UDF) experience in apartheid South Africa.

UDF

What is needed for a successful movement?

  • A vision
  • A trigger
  • Leadership
  • An organizational base
  • A strategy
  • Broad unity with a range of allies

I found the trigger factor quite interesting. In the case of the ANC, the positive trigger was the end of the Cold War. Triggers provide windows of opportunity for action. Another example is Milosevic’s decision to call for early elections, which presented Otpor with a window of opportunity. So triggers can be both external and internal.

Elements of the South Africa movement:

  • Multi-level and decentralized organizational structure
  • Leadership was replaceable
  • ‘Branding’ and public presence (e.g., posters)
  • Mobilization and spreading of tactics
  • Local flexibility and creativity
  • National strategy and direction

Organizing outside existing structures is a key feature of the resistance movements that took place in South Africa and Serbia.

One participant noted the parallels often referred to between South Africa and Israel/Palestine. Earlier in the day one presenter argued that if one million unarmed Palestinians got together to march towards Jerusalem, it would be impossible to stop them. Another participant countered and noted the 600+ check-points in the West Bank.

The “final word” by someone else in the room: “You obviously have not seen the power of one million people marching.”

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Lessons from Serbia’s Civil Resistance

The fifth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict addressed the lessons learned by the Otpor student movement in Serbia. This presentation addressed the strategies and tactics that can lead to successful civil resistance.

otpor

Unity, Planning and Nonviolent Discipline are three main principles key to nonviolent struggle. These principles have obvious parallels with military principles. Nonviolent discipline is especially critical.

You can have 100,000 people demonstrating nonviolently in the streets but as soon as one person picks up a stone and throws it at the police, this is what the media will focus on and gives the regime the “excuse” to crack down. One participant noted that in their country, the regime sends criminals to pick fights and turn nonviolent protests violent. In this case, one tactic that could help mitigate this issue is to have women be on the front lines because police is less likely to use force against them.

Here are the 10 lessons learned from Otpor’s resistance in Serbia:

  1. Taking an offensive approach. The moment you start responding to what the regime does, you are losing your momentum. Keep moving, always, just like sharks.
  2. Understanding the concept “power in numbers”. Draw on the multi-level marketing model: “Act, Recruit and Train.”
  3. Developing an Effective Communication Strategy. There are typically 4 crucial target audiences: Members and supporters; Wider audience; Potential allies within oppositional parties and NGOs; and International community.
  4. Creating a Perception of  a Successful Movement. Pick the battles you can win; know when and where to declare victories.
  5. Investing in Skills and Knowledge of Activists. This is always appreciated by your members and helps foster group cohesion.
  6. Cultivating External Support. Solicit external support early but be deliberate as to whether you make that support public or not.
  7. Inducing Security Force Defections. Security forces are a key pillar of support to the regime. Most are not interested in acting with violence; they have families they need to feed. Those who take pleasure in torture have wives or girlfriends, find out where the latter shop, put pictures of their husbands with the question: “Why is X torturing our sons?” If you have the person’s phone number, add that to the poster and add “To find out, call X at #”.
  8. Resisting Oppression. Decentralize leadership and engage in extensive training to prepare activists to avoid surprises and overcome effects of fear. Share motivating messages (e.g., to the police).
  9. Using Elections as a Trigger. These create an atmosphere of “social referendum” while creating a wide coalition among political parties and broader consensus with civil society.
  10. Enabling Peaceful Transition of Power. Key state stakeholders need to be rapidly restored after “nonviolent revolution” to demonstrate democratic dividends right away.

I’ve found the past two days of conversations at FSI 2009 thought-provoking. There are many parallels between civil resistance tactics/strategies and the study of complexity science and complex systems.

One of the key challenges of nonviolent action is to scale the number of participants in the movement. Numbers matter. So how does one influence micro-motives so that they lead to macro-behavior—or emergent behavior. One way to influence micro-level motives in complex social systems is to create incentive mechanisms.

How does one communicate and synchronize these incentives? Enter the importance of communication technology.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Lessons from Serbia’s Civil Resistance

The fifth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict addressed the lessons learned by the Otpor student movement in Serbia. This presentation addressed the strategies and tactics that can lead to successful civil resistance.

otpor

Unity, Planning and Nonviolent Discipline are three main principles key to nonviolent struggle. These principles have obvious parallels with military principles. Nonviolent discipline is especially critical.

You can have 100,000 people demonstrating nonviolently in the streets but as soon as one person picks up a stone and throws it at the police, this is what the media will focus on and gives the regime the “excuse” to crack down. One participant noted that in their country, the regime sends criminals to pick fights and turn nonviolent protests violent. In this case, one tactic that could help mitigate this issue is to have women be on the front lines because police is less likely to use force against them.

Here are the 10 lessons learned from Otpor’s resistance in Serbia:

  1. Taking an offensive approach. The moment you start responding to what the regime does, you are losing your momentum. Keep moving, always, just like sharks.
  2. Understanding the concept “power in numbers”. Draw on the multi-level marketing model: “Act, Recruit and Train.”
  3. Developing an Effective Communication Strategy. There are typically 4 crucial target audiences: Members and supporters; Wider audience; Potential allies within oppositional parties and NGOs; and International community.
  4. Creating a Perception of  a Successful Movement. Pick the battles you can win; know when and where to declare victories.
  5. Investing in Skills and Knowledge of Activists. This is always appreciated by your members and helps foster group cohesion.
  6. Cultivating External Support. Solicit external support early but be deliberate as to whether you make that support public or not.
  7. Inducing Security Force Defections. Security forces are a key pillar of support to the regime. Most are not interested in acting with violence; they have families they need to feed. Those who take pleasure in torture have wives or girlfriends, find out where the latter shop, put pictures of their husbands with the question: “Why is X torturing our sons?” If you have the person’s phone number, add that to the poster and add “To find out, call X at #”.
  8. Resisting Oppression. Decentralize leadership and engage in extensive training to prepare activists to avoid surprises and overcome effects of fear. Share motivating messages (e.g., to the police).
  9. Using Elections as a Trigger. These create an atmosphere of “social referendum” while creating a wide coalition among political parties and broader consensus with civil society.
  10. Enabling Peaceful Transition of Power. Key state stakeholders need to be rapidly restored after “nonviolent revolution” to demonstrate democratic dividends right away.

I’ve found the past two days of conversations at FSI 2009 thought-provoking. There are many parallels between civil resistance tactics/strategies and the study of complexity science and complex systems.

One of the key challenges of nonviolent action is to scale the number of participants in the movement. Numbers matter. So how does one influence micro-motives so that they lead to macro-behavior—or emergent behavior. One way to influence micro-level motives in complex social systems is to create incentive mechanisms.

How does one communicate and synchronize these incentives? Enter the importance of communication technology.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Failed States and Civil Resistance

My former Professor Richard Shultz gave the fourth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict 2009.

Shultz placed his presentation into context by noting that he has radically changed his syllabi and created new courses in order reflect the changing global security. While security traditionally focused on armed groups, we are now focusing increasingly on non-state armed groups and more recently on non-state non-armed groups. Furthermore, violence is a subset of force. In other words, nonviolence is another force that needs to be studied within the context of failed states and civil resistance.

Authority, according to Professor Shultz is based on two characteristics: legitimacy and coercion. He addressed these within the context of strong states and weak states on the one hand and strong societies and weak societies on the other.

There are two types of strong states: those based on strong institutions of coercion not restricted by law; versus those in which the population grants or agrees that the government needs strong institutions of coercion and extraordinary powers. Whether a society is strong or weak depends on how legitimate they view the state. This produces a framework with 4 quadrants or cells (e.g., strong state, strong society).

Not surprisingly, the framework prompted discussions on whether the notions of legitimacy, consent, coercion, etc., were really so clear cut. One participant noted that whether or not a state’s institutions of coercion or strong or weak depends on what period of history we’re interest in. Also, if coercive institutions are “weak”, that may actually be due to the fact that society was able to foster political transition. Finally, states are not monolithic, the strength of states and societies will vary substantially within a country’s territorial borders.

I had hoped that the presentation would be more linked to the topic of civil resistance. For example, how do civil resistance strategies and tactics need to change depending on which cell a state falls in? Moreover, I had hoped that the presentation would address how one might engage in civil resistance in failed states, such as Somalia.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Strategic Planning & Tactical Choices in Civil Resistance

This was my favorite presentation yet at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict 2009. However, WordPress totally wiped my post half-way through the talk when I tried to save the draft. Grrr. Lesson learned, draft blog posts in a text editor first.

Hardy Merriman‘s excellent presentation drew from Gene Sharp‘s 198 nonviolent tactics, which he classified into three categories: Protest and Persuasion (shift perception); Noncooperation (shift behavior, particularly effective when scaled); and Nonviolent intervention (shift status quo). Tactics can be classified in other ways as well. For example, they can be categorized into intended outcomes; or into concentration and dispersion tactics.

Planning and strategizing is imperative. Many movements fail because they were poorly planned and/or sequenced. In addition, brave actions that get media attention but result in the activist’s arrest are not advised. Tactical innovation is critical such as alternative leadership. This means adapting and keeping the asymmetric advantage.

An interesting conversation ensued regarding the process of defining strategy, operations and tactics in a nonviolent movement.  Unlike the hierarchical, top-down process in the military, resistance movements need to front load the conversation on strategy, to set up a planning committee and de-federalize the decision-making process vis-a-vis operations and tactics. Indeed, these decisions need to be made locally to tap into local knowledge and know-how.

How does one evaluate civil resistance movements? Assess whether tactics advance operational goals and whether the latter converge towards the established strategy. The best case scenario is to devise a series of tactics that don’t appear to be coherent by the adversary but ultimately come together to accomplish the movement’s operational goals and strategy.

The use of technology was also addressed. How does new technology help a civil resistance movement? Does it make tactical decisions easier or more difficult? One participant noted that sometimes one cannot not use these technologies, particularly in countries where physical assembly is illegal.

Another participant cautioned that tactical autonomy is potentially restricted with instant communication between activists engaged in street action and those coordinating the action. He noted a case he was involved in several years ago when he and colleagues took over a police station and secured the police radio equipment. Police officers in the streets who tried to radio for instructions were unable to and were not sure what to do.

One participant also mentioned that activists can use government surveillance to their advantage by spreading misinformation.

The topic of young people came up as well in the context of technology. Young people are often more tech savvy than adults and also early adapters of technology. One participant thus opined that the side with the young people is likely to win over the side without young people.

Another participant referred to the popular book “The Starfish and the Spider” to contrast the organizational structure of repressive regimes versus resistance movements. I’ve got some good notes on this book, so do email me if you’d like a copy of my notes. I’m glad that this book came up as it delves into one of my other passions, the study of complexity science and complex systems.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Geopolitical Constraints vs Opportunities in Civil Resistance

This is the second presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict 2009. The presentation focuses on “The Geopolitical Constraints and Opportunities for Civil Resistance.” Note that you can also follow #FSI09 on Twitter.

The thesis of this talk is that changes in geopolitical forces accelerate the frequency of nonviolent conflict. (My question is whether this claim is even falsifiable?).

The use of nonviolent strategies is ascendant and nonviolent movements are influenced by geopolitical forces. Geopolitics describes international politics in geographic terms, i.e., “the term has applied primarily to the impact of geography on politics.”

The weakened role of the state in international politics may in part explain the rise of civil resistance. (Note that I disagree with the argument that states are less significant actors). Fundamental trends in communication technologies and the global media may also explain this rise. In addition, the notion of “soft power” is in line with the strategies and tactics employed in resistance movements.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for me vis-a-vis the rise of nonviolent resistance is the promotion of democracy via global institutions and norms; the focus on democratic peace theory and civil society networks. That said, I’m still not sure how drawing on geopolitics as a framework to situate and explain civil resistance adds to our understanding of nonviolent conflict.

Moreover, as one participant noted, shouldn’t we frame the question as follows: how do social movements influence geopolitics, rather than vice versa?

In any case, I’m glad to note that much of the conversation generated by the presentation focused on the impact of communication technology on geopolitics while keeping a healthy dose of skepticism. One participant made a comment that I make all the time; namely that networks of activists are more likely to learn and adapt to changes in technology than centralized, hierarchical regimes are.

Somewhat surprisingly, the concept of the dictator’s dilemma was overlooked.

The dictator’s dilemma suggests that globalization has produced a lucrative global information economy that repressive regimes are interested in exploiting. However, as they gear the domestic economy to take advantage of the information economy, they give up some control on how technology is used within their borders.

One final note, I think there is an evolutionary dynamic at play, just like there is with warfare. We describe Al Qaeda’s approach as fourth generation warfare, i.e., decentralized tactics, since this give the group an asymmetric advantage over a more centrlaized military power such as the US.

In other words, Al Qaeda’s approach make logical sense. In this same way, perhaps more movements recognize that nonviolent civil resistance is indeed a Force More Powerful.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FIS09: Introduction to Civil Resistance

My notes on the opening presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict 2009. You can also follow #FSI09 on Twitter.

Using the term “nonviolence” is often unhelpful and counterproductive. The term denotes an ethical stance that opens up all kinds of philosophical debates. Instead of using this adjective, we should use the verb “civil resistance” which denotes the use of highly disruptive actions by the many against the few.

Some quotes

“Power concedes nothing and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them,  and these will continue until they are resisted.” – Frederick Douglass

“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having hte power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better.” – Abrahm Lincon

Leo Tolstoy predicted that “public opinion” would change the “whole structure of life” making violence “superfluous”.

“England can hold India only by consent. We can’t rule it by the sword.” – Sir Charles Innes

“The sudden dramatic breakdown of power that ushers in  revolutions reveals in a flash how civil obedience-to laws, to rulers, to institutions – is but the outward manifestation of support and consent.” – Hannah Arendt

Gandhi was not shy about using direct analogies to violent conflict, he referred to “nonviolent weapons” such as active interference, protests and resignations. Gene Sharp added the following categories: Protest/Persuasion; Noncooperation; Intervention.

Depriving the oppressor of consent reduces his legitimacy. The refusal to cooperate increases the costs of holding control. The legitimacy of the system drops while costs of maintaining the status quo increases, which prompts enforcers of the system to doubt its endurance (and possibly switch sides).

Nonviolent force was a key factor in 50 of the 67 political transitions between 1970-2005. However, there have been failures in nonviolent action, the most spectacular of which was Tienanmen. Nonviolent action often fails when it has not been planned.

Emergent properties of civil resistance

The following are key emergent properties that each activist should understand and practice.

  • Consent
    • Confers legitimacy
    • Recasts the idea of power
    • Creates space to resist.
  • Reason
    • Respect the citizen’s mind
    • Stimulates creative thinking
    • Persuasion, not coercion
    • Signals honestly, credibility
    • Instills “reason to believe”.
  • Self-Rule
    • Swaraj (ruling yourself)
    • “Constructive work”
    • Self-organization
    • Planning
    • Nonviolent discipline.
  • Representation
    • Acertaining and presenting people’s grievances
    • Listening, delegating and inviting participation
    • Humility, not hierarchy
    • Solidarity of all, not heroism of the few.
  • Resilience
    • Tactical mobilization, strategic sustainability
    • Momentum-driving action
    • Existential stakes: identifying with the cause
    • Certitude of faith in eventual success.
  • Force
    • Strategic/tactical skills
    • Target foe’s capacities
    • Disperse initiative
    • Divide loyalty structure
  • Transformation
    • No monolithic enemies
    • From destruction to debate
    • Justice only by rule of law
    • Everyone as stakeholder
    • Ends reflected in means

There are still those who argue for political violence. These arguments boil down to two points:

  • Necessary as a means to an end. “Oppression cannot be demolished except in a hail of bullets.” Bin Laden
  • Virtuous, as redemption or apotheosis. “Death is truth.” Bin Laden

Proponents of violence always have to find ways to justify death. But death is simply not popular. Nevertheless, there is a market for terror. However, a new study of 323 violent and nonviolent campaigns, 1900 to 2006: violence campaigns succeeded in 26% of cases; Nonviolent campaigns succeeded in 53% of cases.

Questions & Answers

One participant from a repressive country emphasized how important it is to make friends with the security forces, they are not the real enemy, they are simply following orders. If you prevent them from following orders, they get into trouble. So let them know you understand that and simply ask that they do not hit, push, beat as hard as they can. On the contrary, ask them to beat lightly and even pretend.

Nonviolent tactics are also being adopted by groups that do not seek to advance democratic principles and human rights. Does this pose a problem for the future of nonviolent action if repressive regimes begin using nonviolent tactics to repress? Not necessarily since a  repressive regime would not be able to scale these tactics. For these tactics to have impact, they must be viewed by the majority as legitimate and necessary.

In a case like Gaza, how does one increase the appeal of nonviolent action when everyone is armed? The mainstream media and citizen journalists can change the frame of the “logic” of violence. In my opinion, we need more gendered analysis of armed violence. Clearly, the concepts of masculinity and violence are closely tied. Perhaps nonviolence is perceived as more feminine? How do we change this?

A participant emphasized the need to equate civil resistance as guerrilla warfare without the violence. In other words, military discipline is integral to the success of nonviolent action.

One participant countered the argument that violence is attractive. People often turn to violence because they’ve witnessed violence, because they are driven by vengeance. However, fear also drives fear and paralysis. I would add a cost-benefit angle to this. Some groups in the Sudan have turned to organized violence because their options vis-a-vis other livelihoods have virtually vanished, in part because of the ecological crisis.

Patrick Philippe Meier

How To Communicate Securely in Repressive Environments

Update: The information below is now out of date, please do not blindly rely on the strategies and technologies listed!

Important: Please check the excellent comments provided by iRevolution readers below for additional tactics/technologies and corrections. The purpose of this blog post was to inform and elicit feedback so thank you very much for improving on what I’ve written!

FYI – I tried keep an up-to-date guide based on the comments below but was too busy to continue. Please see this link (Doc).

I’m preparing to give a presentation at The Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict (FSI 2009). The focus of my presentation will be on digital security, i.e., how to communicate safely and securely in repressive, non-permissive environments. I’d be very grateful for feedback on the information below.

Introduction

Core to effective strategic nonviolent action is the need to remain proactive and on the offensive; the rationale being that both the resistance movement and repressive regime have an equal amount of time allocated when the show-down begins. If the movement becomes idle at any point, this may give the regime the opportunity to regain the upper hand, or vice versa. The same principle is found in Clausewitz’s writings on war.

Nonviolent resistance movements are typically driven by students, i.e., young people, who are increasingly born digital natives. With expanding access to mobile phones, social networking software and online platforms for user-generated content such as blogs, the immediate financial cost of speaking out against repressive regimes is virtually nil. So resistance movements are likely to make even more use of new communication technology and digital media in the future. In fact, they already are.

At the same time, however, the likelihood and consequences of getting caught are high, especially for those political activists without any background or training in digital security. Indeed, recent research by Digital Democracy research suggests that organizational hierarchies are being broken down as youth adopt new technologies. While this empowers them they are also put at risk since they don’t tend to be as consequence-conscious as their adult counterparts.

Empire Strikes Back

It is no myth that repressive regimes are becoming increasingly more savvy in their ability to effectively employ sophisticated filtering, censoring, monitoring technologies (often courtesy of American companies like Cisco) to crack down on resistance movements. In other words, political activists need to realize that their regimes are becoming smarter and more effective, not dumber and hardly clueless.

That said, there are notable—at times surprising—loopholes. During the recent election violence in Iran, for example, facebook.com was blocked but not facebook.com/home.php. In any case, repressive regimes will continue to block more sites impose information blockades because they tend to view new media and digital technologies as a threat.

Perhaps technologies of liberation are a force more powerful?

In order to remain on the offensive against repressive regimes, nonviolent civil resistance movements need to ensure they are up to speed on digital security, if only for defense purposes. Indeed, I am particularly struck by the number of political activists in repressive regimes who aren’t aware of the serious risks they take when they use their mobile phones or the Internet to communicate with other activists.

Adaptive Learning

One way to stay ahead is to make the learning curve less steep for political activists and to continually update them with the latest tested tactics and technologies. To be sure, one way to keep the upper hand in this cyber game of cat-and-mouse is to continue adapting and learning as quickly as possible. We need to ensure that feedback mechanisms are in place.

There are clearly trade-offs between security and convenience or usability, particularly in the context of technologies. As DigiActive notes in the graphic below, the most secure tactics and technologies may not be the most convenient or easy to deploy. Most political activists are not tech-savvy.

This means that digital activists need to design tactics and technologies that are easy to learn and deploy.

The tactics and technologies listed in the next sections fall into all four different quadrants to one extent or another. It is important that political activists at minimum master the easy and convenient digital security tactics and technologies identified in this blog post.

ACmatrix

Recall that both sides are allocated an equal amount of time to plan and execute their operations. Accelerating the learning process is one way for activist networks to remain pro-active and stay ahead of the curve. This is in part is the role that DigiActive seeks to play. Unlike the hierarchical, centralized structures of repressive regimes, networks have more flexibility and feedback loops, which make them more adaptable.

The normative motivation behind my research on digital resistance is based on the recognition by “many scholars and practitioners […] that the techniques associated with strategic nonviolent social movements are greatly enhanced by access to modern information communication technologies, such as mobile telephony, short message service (SMS), email and the World Wide Web, among others” (Walker 2007).

The potential to leverage those techniques is what makes Digital Security so important to integrate in the strategic and tactical repertoire of civil resistance movements.

Digital Security

I define digital security (DS) in the context of digital resistance as the art and science of staying safe when communicating in non-permissive environments. The reason I call it both an art and a science is to emphasize that both tactics and technology play an important role in staying safe when facing repression.

So the DS framework I want to propose is two-pronged: tactics vs. technology, and safety vs. security. I call it the 4-square approach for obvious reasons:

4square

  • DS tactics: these can be “technology free” tactics as well as tactics that apply communication technology.
  • DS technologies: these include both high-tech and low-tech technologies that are designed to improve safe and secure communication in repressive environments.
  • Personal safety: in this context refers to physical, personal safety when communicating in non-permissive environments.
  • Data Security: refers to the security of the data when communicated from one devise to another.

As the graphic above suggests, personal safety and data security are a function of both tactics and technologies. For example, data security is best ensured when combining tactics and technologies.

What follows is a list of tactics and technologies for communicating safely and securely in repressive environments. The list is divided into technology categories and the bullet points are listed in order of relative convenience and easy to more complicated but more secure.

Note that the information below is in no way meant to be exhaustive, so pleasedo send suggestions! (See also the conclusion for a list of reference and suggestions on further reading).

Digital Security Tactics

As mentioned above, DS tactics come as both technology-free tactics and tactics that relate to communication technology. For example, making sure to pay for a sim card in cash and out of sight of security cameras is a technology-free tactic  that increases the chances of staying safe. Removing the batteries from your mobile phone to prevent it from being geo-located is a tactic that relates to the technology and also increases your safety.

DS tactics can also improve data security when communicating information. “Sneakernet” is a technology-free tactic to share information. The term is used to describe tactics whereby the transfer of electronic information such computer files is done by physically carryingremovable media such as hard drives and disk drives. In contrast, using encryption software for mobile phones is a tactic that uses technology. The communication may be intercepted by eavesdroppers but they may be unable to decipher the message itself.

These tactics are listed below along with a number of other important ones. Please keep in mind that tactics are case- and context-specific. They need to be adapted to the local situation.

  • Mobile Phones
    • Purchase your mobile phone far from where you live. Buy lower-end, simple phones that do not allow third-party applications to be installed. Higher-end ones with more functionalities carry more risk. Use cash to purchase your phone and SIM card. Avoid town centers and find small or second-hand shops as these are unlikely to have security cameras. Do not give your real details if asked; many shops do not ask for proof of ID.
    • Use multiple SIM cards and multiple phones and only use pay-as-you go options; they are more expensive but required for anonymity.
    • Remove the batteries from your phone if you do not want to be geo-located and keep the SIM card out of the phone when not in use and store in separate places.Use your phone while in a moving vehicle to reduces probability of geo-location.
    • Never say anything that may incriminate you in any way.
    • Use code.
    • Use Beeping instead of SMS whenever possible. Standard text messages are visible to the network operator, including location, phone and SIM card identifiers. According to this recent paper, the Chinese government has established 2,800 SMS surveillance centers around the country to monitor and censor text messages. The Chinese firm Venus Info Tech Ltd sells real-time content monitoring and filtering for SMS.
    • Use fake names for your address book and memorize the more important numbers. Frequently delete your text messages and call history and replace them with random text messages and calls. The data on your phone is only deleted if it is written over with new data. This means that deleted SMS and contact numbers can sometimes be retrieved (with a free tool like unDeleteSMS. Check your phone’s settings to see whether it can be set to not store sent texts messages and calls.
    • Eavesdropping in mobile phone conversations is technically complicated although entirely possible using commercially available technology. Do not take mobile phones with you to meetings as they can be turned into potential listening/tracking devices. Network operators can remotely activate a phone as a recording device regardless of whether someone is using the phone or whether the phen is even switched on. This functionality is available on US networks.
    • Network operators can also access messages or contact information stored on the SIM card. If surveillance takes place with the co-operation of the operator, little can be done to prevent the spying.
    • Mobile viruses tend to spread easily via Bluetooth so the latter should be turned off when not in use.
    • Using open Bluetooth on phones in group situations, e.g., to share pictures, etc., can be dangerous. At the same time, it is difficult to incriminate any one person and a good way to share information when the cell phone network and Internet are down.
    • Discard phones that have been tracked and burn them; it is not sufficient to simply destroy the SIM card and re-use the phone.
  • Digital Cameras
    • Keep the number of sensitive pictures on your camera to a minimum.
    • Add plenty of random non-threatening pictures (not of individuals) and have these safe pictures locked so when you do a “delete all” these pictures stay on the card.
    • Keep the battery out of the camera when not in use so it can’t be turned on by others.
    • Practice taking pictures without having to look at the view screen.
  • Computers/Laptops
    • Use passphrases for all your sensitive data.
    • Keep your most sensitive files on flash disks and find safe places to hide them.
    • Have a contingency plan to physically destroy or get rid of your computer at short notice.
  • Flash disks
    • Purchase flash disks that don’t look like flash disks.
    • Keep flash disks hidden.
  • Email communication
    • Use code.
    • Use passphrases instead of passwords and change them regularly. Use letters, numbers and other characters to make them “c0mpLeX!”. Do not use personal information and changer your passphrases each month. Do not use the same password for multiple sites.
    • Never use real names for email addresses and use multiple addresses.
    • Discard older email accounts on a regular basis and create new ones.
    • Know the security, safety and privacy policies of providers and monitor any chances (see terms of service tracker).
  • Browsers and websites
    • Turn off java and other potentially malicious add-ons.
    • Learn IP addresses of visited websites so that history shows only numbers and not names.
    • When browsing on a public computer, delete your private data (search history, passwords, etc.) before you leave.
    • When signing up for an account where you will be publishing sensitive media, do not use your personal email address and don’t give personal information.
    • Don’t download any software from pop-ups,  they may be malicious and attack your computer or record your actions online.
    • Do not be logged in to any sensitive site while having another site open.
  • VoIP
    • Just because your talking online doesn’t mean you are not under surveillance.
    • As with a cell or landline, use code do not give salient details about your activities, and do not make incriminating statements.
    • Remember that your online activities can be surveilled using offline techniques.  It doesn’t matter if you are using encrypted VOIP at a cyber cafe if the person next to you is an under-cover police officer.
    • When possible, do not make sensitive VOIP calls in a cyber cafe.  It is simply too easy for someone to overhear you. If you must, use code that doesn’t stand out.
  • Blogs and social networking sites
    • Know the laws in your country pertaining to liability, libel, etc.
    • When signing up for a blog account where you will be publishing sensitive content, do not use you personal email address or information.
    • In your blog posts and profile page, do not post pictures of yourself or your friends, do not use your real name, and do not give personal details that could help identify you (town, school, employer, etc.).
    • Blog platforms like wordpress allow uses to automatically publish a post on a designated date and time. Use this functionality to auto-publish on a different day when you are away from the computer.
    • On social networks, create one account for activism under a false but real-sounding name (so your account won’t be deleted) but don’t tell your friends about it.  The last thing you want is a friend writing on your wall or tagging you in a photo and giving away your identity.
    • Even if you delete your account on a social networking site, your data will remain, so be very careful about taking part in political actions (i.e., joining sensitive groups) online.
    • Never join a sensitive group with your real account.  Use your fake account to join activism groups. (The fake account should not be linked to your fake email).
    • Don’t use paid services.  Your credit card can be linked back to you.
  • File sharing
    • Use a shared Gmail account with a common passphrase and simply save emails instead of sending. Change passphrase monthly.
    • For sharing offline, do not label storage devices (CDs, flash drives) with the true content.  If you burn a CD with an illegal video or piece of software on it, write an album label on it.
    • Don’t leave storage devices in places where they would be easily found if your office or home were searched (i.e., on a table, in a desk drawer).
    • Keep copies of your data on two flash drives and keep them hidden in separate locations.
    • When thinking of safe locations, consider who else has access. Heavily-traveled locations are less safe.
    • Don’t travel with sensitive data on you unless absolutely necessary.  If you need to, make sure to hide it on your person or “camouflage” it (label a data CD as a pop music CD). See Sneakernet.
  • Internet Cafes
    • Assume you are being watched.
    • Assume computers at cyber cafes are tracking key strokes and capturing screenshots.
    • Avoid cyber cafes without an easy exit and have a contingency plan if you need to leave rapidly.

Digital Security Technologies

When combine with the tactics described above, the following technologies can help you stay safe and keep your data relatively more secure.

  • Mobile phones
    • Use CryptoSMS, SMS 007 or Kryptext to text securely (this requires java-based phones).
    • Use Android Guardian as soon as it becomes available.
    • Access mobile versions of websites as they are usually not blocked. In addition, connecting to mobile websites provides for faster connections.
  • Digital cameras
    • Use scrubbing software such as: JPEG stripper to remove the metadata (Exif data) from your pictures before you upload/email.
    • Have a safe Secure Digital Card (SD) that you can swap in. Preferably, use a mini SD card with a mini SD-SD converter. Then place the mini SD into a compatible phone for safekeeping.
  • Computers/Laptops
    • Use a different file type to hide your sensitive files. For example, the .mov file extension will make a large file look like a movie.
    • Mac users can use Little Snitch to track all the data that goes into and out of your computer.
    • From a technical perspective, there’s no such thing as the delete function. Your deleted data is eventually written over with new data. There are two common ways to wipe sensitive data from your hard drive or storage device. You can wipe a single file or you can wipe all of the ‘unallocated’ space on the drive. Eraser is a free and open-source secure deletion tool that is extremely easy to use.
  • Email communication
    • Use https when using Gmail.
    • Use encrypted email platforms such as Hushmail and RiseUp.
  • Browsers and websites
    • Use Firefox and get certain plugins to follow website tracking such as ghostery and adblock, adart to remove ads/trackers.
    • User Tor software or Psiphon to browse privately and securely.
    • I shan’t list access points for secure browsers, Proxy servers and VPNs here. Please email me for a list.
    • Always use https in “Settings/General/Browser Connection.”
  • VoIP
    • Use Skype but not TOM Skype (Chinese version). Note that Skype is not necessarily 100% secure since no one has access to the source code to verify.
    • Off The Record (OTR) is a good encryption plugin. For example, use Pidgin with OTR (you need to add the plug-in yourself).
    • Gizmo offer encryption for voice conversations, and then only if you are calling another VoIP user, as opposed to a mobile or landline telephone. However, because neither application is open-source, independent experts have been unable to test them fully and ensure that they are secure.
    • Adium is a free IM application for Macs with built-in OTR encryption that integrates most other IM applications.
  • Blogs and social networking platforms
    • There are no safe social networks.  The best way to be safe on a social network is fake account and a proxy server.
    • The anonymous blogging platform Invisiblog no longer exists, so the best bet now is WordPress + Proxy (preferably Tor) + anonymity of content.
    • Log out of facebook.com when not using the site.
  • File sharing
    • Use Drop.io to create a private, secure media sharing site.
    • Use BasecampHQ with secure/SSL option to create more specific usernames and passwords for each user or remote site.
  • Internet Cafe
    • Tor can be installed on flash disk and used at Internet cafe and also used from LiveCDs if flash drives are not allowed.
  • Other potential tech

Conclusion

The above material was collected in part from these sources:

As mentioned above, please send suggestions and/or corrections as well as updates. And again, please do check the comments below. Thanks! Patrick Philippe Meier