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A Newspaper Article from Desert Shield, Just Before Desert Storm

Computer E-mail bypasses censors

Date: Thu, 24 Jan 91 19:25:10 PST
Subject: You're in the news: "Computer E-mail bypasses censors"


Here's an article just published in my local newspaper -- left column front page, no less. I was glad to be one of those who received the letters.

Enjoy, Larry Seiler

"Computer E-mail bypasses censors" from the Worcester MA Telegram & Gazette, January 24th pm, by Gerald S. Cohen, Telegram & Gazette Washington Bureau

Washington -- When bombs began dropping last week in Israel, Digital Equipment Corp. employee Don Feinberg sat down at his computer and sent an instant message to friends back home about the mood of the country.

Ed Barnard of Minneapolis-based Cray Research Inc. did the same thing from Saudi Arabia, one day before the United States launched its air assault on Iraq, informing colleagues stateside about the rumors of destruction buzzing around Dhahran.

Ringside seat

Through electronic mail, or E-mail, Barnard and Feinberg are giving their colleagues a ringside seat to the Gulf war. Like the unprecedented live TV feeds saturating the airwaves, E-mail is another example of how the computer age is making this war different from any other.

For those on the mailing list, E-mail helps counter the tight lid the Pentagon has slapped on war coverage. As news organizations grouse about news censorship, E-mail allows people trapped in a war zone an opportunity to deliver firsthand, uncensored impressions of the exploding world around them.

In Barnard and Feinberg's case, their messages appeared on EasyNet, Digital's in-house electronic mail system for its employees. With its 100,000 readers, EasyNet is the largest non-military computer network of its kind in the world.

50,000 copies

Feinberg initially sent his thoughts to 18 friends. Within 36 hours, 50,000 copies of his essays had been circulated throughout the network. Nikki Richardson, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts based computer manufacturer, said Barnard's message probably was picked off some public electronic mail system by a Digital employee, for whom it was intended, and then circulated throughout EasyNet.

While the network technically is supposed to be used for instant communication on corporate matters, Richardson said Digital has no problem with Feinberg's use of the system.

Extraordinary times

"These, of course, are extraordinary times," she said. "We saw this happen during the San Francisco earthquake as well, where people used it to say `We're doing ok'.

"We've been able to learn about the welfare of our employees around the world on these occasions."

Debra Young, spokeswoman for CompuServe Inc., the world's largest on-line computer service, said all of its members have international E-mail access.

While most of the E-mail correspondence is sent person-to-person, some users are posting messages on public electronic bulletin boards accessible to all the users. Young said two users in Israel, for example, have posted messages offering to contact people in their country for anxious relatives or loved ones abroad.

Tiananmen Square

During Tiananmen Square massacre, students studying in the United States made extensive use of public E-mail networks such as CompuServe to smuggle out information about the riot and its aftermath.

Feinberg's accounts to his colleagues are especially gripping, while Barnard's communications give interesting observations about the wartime vulnerabilities of Aramco, the giant oil company for which he is doing on-site work.

On Jan. 15, Barnard described locals' fear of the conflagration that would result if Aramco's very large liquified-natural-gas facility at Ras Tanura came under enemy missile fire.

`Bit Concerned'

"People are a bit concerned that if Ras Tanura is hit, we might damage buildings here in Dhahran, 60 or 100 mile away."

According to Barnard, the tanks were supposed to have been drained in August to guard against such danger. Attributing the information to "those who should know," he said the tanks were never drained, and "it is not something to talk about. This area is rife with conflicting reports on just about everything."

Barnard said the Saudi manager of Aramco's plant strongly urged his workers not to leave the area because he thought it would cause panic.

Out of Range

"He, we hear, is in Jedda, which is out of missile range, but nobody seems to believe he is even that close."

Feinberg recalled that on Jan. 18, the day Iraq lobbed its first SCUD missile into Israel, he was on guard duty in his small settlement of 50 villagers. At 2:05am Israeli time, a siren scream was broadcast over the radio, a pre-arranged signal that the country was under attack.

"I ran home to wake my wife and children," he wrote. "On the way -- all of about 300 meters -- I saw an enormous flash, which lit up the sky to the south of us and I heard a sound like a 16-inch naval gun at a distance of kilometers.

"I guess this was one of the missiles that missed and hit the ground doing no damage."

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