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Cablegate: Yemen's Leading Independent News Site Hacked;

VZCZCXYZ0003
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHYN #2171 3410850
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 070850Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 3330

UNCLAS SANAA 002171

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

FOR NEA/PPD, NEA/ARP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KPAO YM
SUBJECT: YEMEN'S LEADING INDEPENDENT NEWS SITE HACKED;
EVIDENCE POINTS TO ROYG

REF: SANAA 1835

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. On November 28, hackers attacked Yemen's
leading independent news website NewsYemen, crashing the site
and erasing its five-year news archive. Website editor Nabil
al-Soufi blamed the Ministry of Telecommunications, citing
evidence that the virus which destroyed the website
originated in a Ministry office. NewsYemen remained offline
until December 5, and its staff estimate that it will take
months to fully reconstruct the website. If verified, the
claims of ROYG involvement in the hacking suggest a dramatic
escalation on the digital front of the ROYG's crackdown on
independent media. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) On November 28, a computer virus struck Yemeni news
website NewsYemen, crashing the site and erasing its
five-year archive of news stories. (Comment: As Yemen's
premier independent online news source, the NewsYemen website
had been a critical resource for activists, scholars, and
foreign missions in understanding events in Yemen, and has
received roughly 40 million visits in the past five years.
End Comment.) NewsYemen editor Nabil al-Soufi issued a
public statement on December 4 accusing the Ministry of
Telecommunications of orchestrating the attack. Citing
evidence from NewsYemen's U.S.-based web hosting company
Brinkster, the statement alleged that a user named Yaser
al-Amad from within the Telecommunications Ministry's
Internet Administration office sent the virus. "As if this
disaster were not bad enough, it was made much worse when we
learned that what happened was an exercise of the powers
granted to the Ministry of Telecommunications," the statement
read. A November 28 cyber-attack which crashed state-owned
internet service provider YemenNet, for which no one has
claimed responsibility, was rumored to be an act of
retaliation by supporters of NewsYemen.

YEARS OF WORK, GONE IN MINUTES

3. (SBU) Soufi told PolOff on December 3, "I have lost five
years of my life's work. I feel like I have been robbed ...
I was deceived into thinking there was press freedom in
Yemen." Soufi estimated the material loss from the attack at
$200,000 and feared that if he could not recover the lost
data quickly, he might have to fire his eight staff members.
On December 5, the website came back online with a skeletal
homepage featuring stories about the hacking. The lead story
explained that NewsYemen's technical team would undertake
three initiatives: "first, restoring the homepage to allow
the publication of new stories; second, working with
technical support in the U.S. and the Ministry of
Telecommunications to identify the culprit and restore the
archives; and third, redesigning the website to make it more
secure."

ROYG DENIES INVOLVEMENT

4. (SBU) On December 5, Soufi met with Telecommunications
Minister Kamal Hussein al-Jabri. Jabri denied any
involvement by the Ministry in the incident and assured Soufi
that those responsible would be prosecuted. Soufi told
EmbOff he was not convinced and still believed that the ROYG
was responsible for the attack. He intends to present the
evidence implicating the Ministry of Telecommunications
before a court of law.

AN EASY TARGET

5. (SBU) Soufi cited several reasons why he suspected the
ROYG would target NewsYemen. Soufi told PolOff on December 3
that he had twice traveled to Sa'ada governorate to report on
the ongoing Houthi conflict. He had already published one
story and was preparing to publish another when the hacking
occurred. The ROYG has bristled at independent reporting on
the Sa'ada conflict (reftel). Soufi also said he had been
targeted because, unlike other journalists, he does not have
connections with powerful tribal leaders or government
figures.

COMMENT

6. (SBU) In a media landscape where most outlets are
controlled either by the ROYG or by opposition parties,
NewsYemen was a rare beacon of responsible, independent
journalism. The attack on NewsYemen provides a dismal
bookend for a year of unprecedented assaults on press freedom
in Yemen, including legal prosecution and extralegal
abduction of responsible journalists, censoring articles,
blocking websites, and shuttering independent newspapers. END
COMMENT.
BRYAN

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