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Bringing Bandwidth To Iraq 230

Posted by kdawson
from the blood-bombs-and-bullets dept.
jemevans sends us a link to his nonfiction tale of two California cypherpunks who went to Baghdad to seek their fortune and bring the Internet to Iraq. A much abridged version ran in Wired a while back. From the original: "Ryan Lackey wears body armor to business meetings. He flies armed helicopters to client sites. He has a cash flow problem: he is paid in hundred-dollar bills, sometimes shrink-wrapped bricks of them, and flowing this money into a bank is difficult. He even calls some of his company's transactions 'drug deals' — but what Lackey sells is Internet access. From his trailer on Logistics Staging Area Anaconda, a colossal US Army base fifty miles north of Baghdad, Lackey runs Blue Iraq, surely the most surreal ISP on the planet. He is 26 years old."
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Bringing Bandwidth To Iraq

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  • by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Monday April 23, 2007 @07:21PM (#18847301)
    So do they need a bunch of big trucks so they can start laying down the tubes?
  • Need employees (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phorm (591458) on Monday April 23, 2007 @07:25PM (#18847329) Journal
    One of my questions would be. Who out there is still hiring, what are the wages like, and who here on slashdot would be willing to sign up?

    We take a lot of our technology for-granted. Bringing modern technology to a war-torn, outdated country could be both a dream and a nightmare.
    • by Tackhead (54550)
      > One of my questions would be. Who out there is still hiring, what are the wages like, and who here on slashdot would be willing to sign up?

      Is the abuse department hiring? And when we find spammers... how much do we get to abuse them?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Chris Pimlott (16212)
      Except that you wouldn't so much be bringing Internet to the Iraqis as are would be bringing Internet to the American troops, Haliburton contractors and Blackwater mercenaries. While this will eventually (years later) trickle down to average Iraqis, make no mistake; right now it's by westerners for westerners.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tinkertim (918832) *

        While this will eventually (years later) trickle down to average Iraqis, make no mistake; right now it's by westerners for westerners.

        I think it will trickle sooner than you think. Developing countries and developing markets are targets for (and need) infrastructure that competes. Wireless carriers are going to need to be rebuilt, internet, cable, voip, phone, everything. This is a pie with a few million slices the westerners can carve up any way they wish, but the Iraquis need to hurry up and eat it. I thi

    • by Lord_Slepnir (585350) on Monday April 23, 2007 @07:59PM (#18847677) Journal
      I signed up to serve as a Networking Troubleshooter, but when they handed me an M-16, I realized that they had a different definition of "Troubleshooter" than I was used to.
    • by arcite (661011) on Monday April 23, 2007 @08:00PM (#18847689)
      The wages are high. You can get up to or beyond USD$1000/day.

      Of course, you need the skills, and the connections.

      You also need balls, since Iraq IS a war-zone you are essentially risking your life every minute you are there.

      I know of one contractor who was kidnapped in Iraq and subsequently released once his company payed an undisclosed 'ransom', although that was more than a year ago. Lets just say after than incident they beefed up their security just a tad. Kidnapping is a big money maker in Iraq/Afghanistan. Of course, that entails you surviving an attack long enough to be kidnapped in the first place! Most likely death would be as quick as hitting an IED and its GAME OVER.

      Then there are others who are smart. They go over there and stay in their armored compounds (as opposed to foolishy driving around in the open) and are protected by security. They do their assignments, stay for a few months, and make a nice chunk of change at the end.

      Truthfully, many contractors are getting rich there but the majority of them are not accomplishing much of substance. All of it is dictated by the whims of the Americans. The Iraqis have little real input. Most of it is completely unsustainable. As the linked article states, even these Internet gurus are under no illusion that what the US is doing is only aggravating the civil war.

      So essentially it's all blood money. Frankly, if there is a choice between making the 'easy' money or keeping your integrity intact by not 'selling your soul' to the man for a quick buck, I would say it's not worth it in the long run. I mean, you still have to live with yourself years from now. Right?

      PS. There are good jobs in Afghanistan and its not nearly as dangerous as Iraq...though that is now changing. A few years ago suicide bombings in Kabul were a rare occurrence, but things seem to be hotting up there more every day - unfortunately.

      God bless the American tax payer.

      • by Cederic (9623)

        Thing is, market rate for my skillset is $1200-$1500/day contract in the middle of London right now.

        You don't be going to Iraq for the money.

      • I wouldn't say it's designed to be sustainable. It's just a money-driven feeding-frenzy. Contractors are making millions because millions are being handed out with very little accountability, not because they have a sound business model that will help the Iraqis in the long-term. It's like the dot.com bubble, but rather than gullible investment bankers it's being financed by "visionary" politicians (who think of themselves as statesmen) who think they can reshape the middle east on the taxpayer dime. W
    • by daigu (111684)

      We take a lot of our technology for-granted. Bringing modern technology to a war-torn, outdated country could be both a dream and a nightmare.

      Mostly a nightmare...and the universe of people that would be willing to sign-up for the headache is miniscule. When they get done they can move on to Afghanistan, Sudan, East Timor and all the other places where human life is cheaper than any randomly selected piece of "modern technology" - and "human life" includes the lives of the people that work on "modern tech

    • Re:Need employees (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Cervantes (612861) on Monday April 23, 2007 @08:50PM (#18848183) Journal
      One of my questions would be. Who out there is still hiring, what are the wages like, and who here on slashdot would be willing to sign up?

      I would. I'm socially liberal, Canadian, a Buddhist, and I try to live as a pacifist... so I might not fit in with the gun-nut rednecks, but despite the danger and the possibility I might have to defend my own life, I'd love to go over and do something constructive, something REAL, not just the 9-5, where's-my-stapler bullshit that we have over here. The money doesn't hurt, but mostly it's the chance to be involved in something that could change millions of peoples lives for the better.

      Of course, the high wages help too... it's just a question of finding someone who'll hire our particular skillset.
    • by StandardDeviant (122674) on Monday April 23, 2007 @09:02PM (#18848317) Homepage Journal
      A company that shall remain nameless once pinged me about a role providing linux cluster admin and field engineer/developer support for a visualization project designed for military use. I would have been stationed in central Baghdad and paid on the order of two hundred and fifty thousand base pay plus hazard pay, full relocation, etc. etc. etc. amounting to probably on the order of four hundred thousand to half a million a year after all the calculations were done.

      I turned them down.

      Yes, it sounded like a technically sweet gig. Yes, the pay and benefits were very, very solid. Could I handle a morning and evening commute that includes pitched gun fights and car bombs? Would the security where I sleep be as good as where I would work? Would I adapt well to wearing body armor and carrying at least one if not several weapons to do something as simple as buying toilet paper? Would I want to get beheaded for my troubles? Would I want my next of kin to profit from blood money should I bite it; would I feel comfortable accepting money for supporting something I found morally abhorrent? Would I have gone through those paranoid years of deployment without becoming irrevocably changed in ways that would make it difficult to reintegrate to mainstream society (PTSD is No Fucking Joke)? I asked myself questions like that and got too many negative answers to feel comfortable taking them up on their offer. Maybe other people would have a different situational calculus, I don't look down on them for asking themselves questions and coming up with different answers.

      It was a near thing for me. I almost said yes. That money could have put my SO through grad school without loans. It could have bought my ailing mother a house. It could have done a lot of things. I still sometimes wonder if I made the right choice.
      • by lawpoop (604919) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @12:12AM (#18849973) Homepage Journal
        PTSD is the main concern here ( I noticed you put it in parenthesis). Sure, all those things you could have done with the money would have helped you materially, but imagine going through the rest of your life, unable to get a good night's sleep, haunted by nightmares. Or a car back-firing triggering your nervous system to high-alert. Looking at Arab men on the street, wondering if they have an IED under their shirt. Could you get through grad school like that? You might never be able to rebuild your psyche after that. It would probably permanently change the course of your life.

        I've spent some time overseas. While that's nowhere near a war experience, but it was intense enough that it made me an outsider amongst my friends. Their world was so small. I had to find a new contingent of friends who had broader backgrounds. Fortunately some of my other friends have since traveled; now we can relate better. There's a reason vets hang out at the VFW. It's to be with the other guys who have lived through that experience. You would become a totally different person and you would have a new community. I'm not saying that's bad; I'm just saying that all the benefits you would imagine having as a result of becoming a contractor might have to be completely re-evaluated in light of your new path. Hopefully with your practice you would be able to find healing and mental health for yourself and other vets if/when you came back.

        My grandpa was in the invasion of Normandy. He never talked about it. A decade after his death, I heard this story: He was trapped behind enemy lines. There was a guard that he had to get past to get back to the allied front. For hours, he bid his time. Finally, the guard relaxed, and sat down to read. My grandfather snuck up and strangled him with a piece of barbed wire. He look at what the guard had been reading -- a handwritten letter and a picture of a young woman. He was so distraught by the time he got back to the front, he couldn't speak. The allies were about to kill him on the spot, because they thought he was a German spy, dressed up in an American uniform as a cover.

        I don't know to what extent this story is dramatized. The biggest problem is that he never talked to *anyone*, *ever* about the war. I don't know in what circumstances he told this story. My Uncle told my mom after my grandfather had died, years after, but he doesn't remember where or when he heard it. It was sort of common knowledge among the men in my family.

        My mom's family would go out to picnics, and my grandfather would sometimes disappear for hours. My male relatives were hunters; even they couldn't find him. When he came back, he would have no recollection of having disappeared. Everything was normal to him, nothing odd had happened. In my dark times, I imagine him trapped behind enemy Axis lines in some Ohio field, hiding, biding his time a few yards away from a ghostly guard.

        I don't think you made the wrong decision at all.
      • I'd have taken that in a heartbeat. Life is too easy here. I probably have the skills for it too.
    • If you have any type of military background on your resume mixed with IT, you'll get email all the time about positions downrange.

      In the last 2 weeks, I've been offered several positions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Dubai. Some of the recruiters even attempt to brag about how "This position is in the protected Green Zone" - HA! That was for a SharePoint admin position.
    • by simong (32944)
      Not in Iraq, but on a US military base. Last year I got pinged for a Solaris sysadmin job on Diego Garcia [wikipedia.org] in the Indian Ocean. I quite liked the idea as I thought I might be closer to my girlfriend in Taiwan. Then I read up about the place... ten hours flight to Singapore, a depopulated British dependency, apparently nothing to do but drink and sleep around, alleged extraordinary rendition facility... hmm, perhaps not. Still, the interview would have been interesting.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by strikethree (811449)
      One of my questions would be. Who out there is still hiring, what are the wages like, and who here on slashdot would be willing to sign up?

      I am already out here in Iraq. There are many companies out here looking for skilled professionals who can get and maintain a security clearance. Raytheon, ITT, and General Dynamics are some of the bigger ones although there are numerous other companies, Anteon, INX, etc still hiring. Gone are the days of $300k+ year contracts, but pay is still significantly higher than
      • by El Torico (732160) *
        I would like to contact you. I was a Lead Data Networks Engineer at the TCCCFWD in Bahrain for one year. I know that Bahrain is not at all like Iraq; the worst thing I saw was a sheesha coal heater explode.
        • Hm, how can we contact without exchanging email addresses on this forum? You could PRIVMSG your email address to megaton (that is me) in #c or #code-poets on EFNET irc. Include your current username in the message so that I can find your message efficiently. I am going to eat soon so I will likely not respond for a couple of hours. If you have a different preferred method for communication, let me know.

          strike
      • Are you at Victory North or South? Any need for DB guys? (Oracle/SQL Server & C#?) I'm at South, not far from Dodge City & the little PX.
  • So these are the guys who should be credited for downloaded photos of Prince Harry from the internet [nzherald.co.nz]

    "We have printed out many photographs of him from the internet and given them to all other groups. They know the Prince is their main objective and I have every confidence he will be targeted and attacked."
  • But the Internet, as a series of tubes used to sell wood, was designed to withstand a nuclear holocaust, and last time I checked the main problems that Iraq has in terms of the internet is not the actual wiring per se, but a distinct lack of power plants and continual power sources.

    If we had just shipped Aramco-backed (aka Saudis, the people paying for Americans to be shot) solar cells and UPS systems to Iraq, we would have created more Net usage than with this approach.

    Sometimes low tech is the way to go.

    M
  • Not the only one (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kizzle (555439) on Monday April 23, 2007 @07:41PM (#18847501)
    This guy did an excellent presentation at Notacon [notacon.org] about running a non profit isp in iraq. Available in mp3 or video format.

    mp3 [slashdot.org] avi [slashdot.org]David Coughanour - HajjiNets: Running an ISP in a War Zone
  • Random Thoughts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tidewaterblues (784797) on Monday April 23, 2007 @07:55PM (#18847629) Homepage
    This is really a rather moving article, in the sense that it makes me wonder what I have doing with my life and the things that I am being complacent about. It also makes me wonder how robust--in the macro-evolutionary sense--that our technological projects and infrastructures really are. The power and communications networks have always struck me very fragile and resistant to both change and attack (you would think that we would have learned from WWII Europe). Communications networks we can probably shore up by moving into stronger forms of wireless communication, although this opens the question of wide-spread jamming. However robust power networks present no obviously good solution until localized power (such as solar and wind) becomes cost competitive with centralized power.
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      I think power storage is an interesting technology. We're so used to the power grid being always on, but that kind of reliability comes at a cost. If we all had large flywheels in our basement or water gravity towers, we could store energy to cover the temporary glitches in the grid. I heard about something the other week that I'd never really thought about before, apparently some hybrid vehicles can be used to power your home during an outage.

      In regards to communications, if you drive around your neighb
      • by MoxFulder (159829)

        ... apparently some hybrid vehicles can be used to power your home during an outage.

        Actually, ordinary car batteries can work fine for this task. My grandpa lives on a farm and has a stack of 5 car batteries wired up to an inverter to power the pump for the well water, in case of an outage.

        I guess with a hybrid car you could use it as a generator as well... converting gas into electricity. But of course you can do that with any old car, just grab 12V from the battery and hook up your inverter to get AC.

  • My best friend was a cybercafe manager at LSA Anaconda during his stay. Way I hear it, they could use the pipe. The nickname his associates had for the drop they had to their quarters was "Ghetto Telecom"... the photos of how they got stuff rigged are hilarious from an IT perspective.

    Winning hearts and minds of the Iraqi people through the universal medium, Asian porn.
  • This might be a naive question, but how do all these problems and reports that the "insurgents" rely on cellular networks and the internet to coordinate their attacks go together? If some terrorist's Nokia works in Baghdad, why wouldn't a contractor's?
    There are obvious differences between military and civilian applications, for example, you don't want your coms go down when you hit an ambush, but Iraq seems to have some semblance of a basically/occasionally working cell phone system.
  • I'm all for entepreneuership and making a buck, but there are a couple things that bother me about this. First the likely clients will be the ones who were wealthy before Sadam was ousted, so more than often than not they will be supporting the same ones who helped keep down the people we are supposed to be trying to help. Second, on the likely chance that one of them is taken hostage or killed you can bet the news will be splattered with sob stories about them as if they were heroes helping the common man while dozens of real heroes die with no mention beyond a tally of bodies. There should be a list that separates the civilian humanitarians from the opportunists just so the media will know which ones to ignore.
  • Would this mean "blue" as in "blue" Texas or Oklahoma? We do know that only certified Republican rightwingers were allowed to do business in Iraq (oh, go Google it yourselves), usually recruited from Young Republicans in campaigns, so is the name a kissy-kiss for Bush's people?
    • by Catbeller (118204)
      All right, wasted sarcasm, I'm not firing on all cylinders. Still can't believe that the Bushies somehow got labeled the Reds. My brain can't parse the label. Reagan would have had a stroke if you had called the Republicans Reds.

      Go in peace, young businessman in armor. Run like hell, you fool.
    • by imemyself (757318)
      Actually, Texas and Oklahoma would be red states, not blue. Blue state would be something like California or New York, where people predominately vote Democrat.
  • by miller60 (554835) on Monday April 23, 2007 @08:57PM (#18848269) Homepage
    It isn't mentioned until well down in the article, but many Slashdot readers may remember Ryan Lackey as part of the team that founded Sealand/HavenCo, the offshore data haven that was featured on the cover of Wired [wired.com] in 2000. Sealand's launch [slashdot.org] and struggles [slashdot.org] were discussed here on /. The guy clearly has an appetite for adventure.
  • by KiWiKiD (859892) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @12:43AM (#18850273) Journal
    Ryan may have been 26, but I did that when I was 24 working as a contractor for CSC. Anyone in the military uses the term drug deals to describe the shake of the hand barter system that gets you going day to day. Back in 2003, I traveled around to military installation setting up VSAT sat dishes to just to provide Internet Cafe's and VOIP access to the troops. Although this wasn't my actual job, I provided my expertise on a "free basis" to aid our troops. General Conway at the time deemed it enough of a priority to at least throw some money at it to get more sites up and running.

    In the end, I didn't live in a tent. I was in an actual buidling complete with amenities most would envy in Iraq. Between all of my contacts, I was rocking it with a TV, DVD Player, Sat Cable and Internet, Refrigerator/freezer, microwave, xbox and ps2 at the time, and above all else AC. The hardest part was getting the transformers but much like everyone else the engineers scratched my back as well for what services I rendered in off time.

    Traveling between bases, I flew. Forget doing a convoy where it takes you 14 hours to drive 30 miles. Helo rides were what it was all about, and I spent many nights either sweating my @$$ off or freezing to death just waiting for them to touch down to grab me.

    Again, like others had said it's sensational journalism. What he did isn't all that impressive and some of the security procedures handled by SSI are negligent at best. I also have a problem trumping up his bad@$$ card for being logistically irresponsible.
  • Exposing myself (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tolaris (31078) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @02:17AM (#18850949) Homepage
    I am the Tyler Wagner from the article. At the risk of exposing myself (further) to the flames of Slashdot, I'd be happy to answer questions.

    Pictures:
    http://www.tolaris.com/gallery/Iraq [tolaris.com]

    The Mohammed story:
    http://giantlaser.livejournal.com/56797.html [livejournal.com]
    http://giantlaser.livejournal.com/56863.html [livejournal.com]
    • if any parent has ever deserved modding up, it's this one.
    • by yppiz (574466) *
      Mod parent up.
    • by amerinese (685318)
      The article mentioned large corporations as being part of the problem in Iraq. Any specific suggestions on how the situation can be made better? Make a prediction--are we going to win? Will pulling out help?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Tolaris (31078)
        Large corporations alone are not a problem; it's the way they are doing business that is. Most American companies hired Americans to come work, even manual jobs like driving trucks. The simplest rule of managing insurgency is this: a man that holds a shovel cannot hold a rifle. They are spending far more money now on defense than they would have spent hiring men to dig ditches and other men to fill the same ditches in.

        Had that kind of mentality set in at the start - encourage local businesses, keep peopl
  • Unless he lied about his age when he wrote this [google.com].
  • We have Lackey's side of the story and the plan that someone wanted to set up a pirate internet radio station there last year but now the fort is apparently for sale and Sealand is proposing a 'change of custodianship'. Does HavenCo have any customers?
  • Wow! they are progressing so fast even their names are changing in the blink of a click. It's a nice idea, and a good way to allow people to educate themselves. I'd warn subscribers of the liberalism and content that is available though. That first goatse pic is going to be enough for them to blow up the noc.

I use technology in order to hate it more properly. -- Nam June Paik

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