Obama in Malaysia: A Strategic Partnership?

by Joshua Kurlantzick via Council on Foreign Relations
April 8, 2014

During his upcoming late April trip to Asia, President Obama will visit two nations in Southeast Asia, Malaysia and the Philippines, in addition to stops in Northeast Asia. The White House already has been briefing reporters on the overall messaging of the trip, and the specific themes the president plans to hit in Malaysia and the Philippines. In Malaysia, it appears from several news reports and from speaking with several administration officials, President Obama will add to the Malaysian government’s self-promotion that Kuala Lumpur is a successful and democratic nation, an example of other Muslim-majority countries, and a force for moderation in the world. The president apparently plans to hit these themes despite the regional anger at Malaysia’s handling of the Malaysia Airlines vanished plane, which exposed to the world many of the problems with Malaysia’s governance.

No matter, say some Southeast Asia experts. Some of Obama’s advisors, and many Southeast Asia experts, are urging the president to use the trip to cement a strategic partnership with Malaysia and establishing a roadmap for the kind of higher-level strategic cooperation that the United States already enjoys with Singapore and Thailand, among other countries in the region.

This approach to the Malaysia visit would mean downplaying – or simply not even discussing – serious regression in Malaysia’s domestic politics, including the recent sentencing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years in jail for sodomy, the highly flawed 2013 national elections that barely kept Prime Minister Najib tun Razak in office, and the increasingly shrill, anti-Chinese and anti-Indian rhetoric and legislation of the Najib government, hardly the kind of sentiments a supposed leader of political moderation should be espousing. According to this logic, if President Obama were to bring up such unpleasant issues as the Malaysian government’s crackdown on opponents over the past year or its unwillingness to reform pro-Malay policies that have entrenched a culture of graft and self-dealing at many Malaysian companies, that would sink the visit.

Under Najib, Malaysia and the United States have, on a strategic level, moved beyond some of the acrimony of the Mahathir and Abdullah years, and have made progress on a wide range of military-military and diplomatic cooperation. Najib definitely deserves some credit for this rapprochement, though growing Malaysian fear about China’s South China Sea policies are probably the main driver behind closer strategic ties with Washington.

But simply ignoring the disastrous Najib policies on human rights, political freedoms, and economic liberalization would not be a wise move by Obama. For one, it would play into the narrative that Obama cares little about rights and democracy promotion, a narrative that has gained significant force not only in Washington but also among many Southeast Asian activists and young people in general. And ignoring Malaysia’s opposition politicians, who won the popular vote in the 2013 national elections and enjoy their strongest support among young Malaysians, would be alienating the biggest growing pool of Malaysian voters. As in other countries in the region, like Cambodia and Indonesia, these young voters are increasingly favoring opposition parties or new figures like Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, breaking from long-ruling, autocratic parties. The United States should be cultivating these young voters who will prove critical to the region’s democratization. This new generation will eventually power the Malaysian opposition, in some form, to the prime minister’s office. It would be a shame if the United States president had ignored them, and their party leaders, before then.

Tracking network interference around political content in Malaysia

May 4, 2013

Tracking Network Interference around political content in Malaysia

In the last week in April, users on select ISPs found they could not access certain websites critical of the ruling government. These ISPs include (but are not limited to) Unifi, TM, Celcom, Digi, and Maxis; however services offered by Time and YTL did not appear to be affected.

At the time, staff at one of the country’s most popular independent news sites, Malaysiakini, complained to the country’s media regulatory body, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), and interference ceased. But days later, users were experiencing new difficulties accessing select content, again on the same five ISPs: Unifi, TM, Celcom, Digi, and Maxis.

Unlike before, the second time around, filtering was far more specific. Initially entire domains (and therefore whole websites) were being blocked. This time around, the filtering seemed to target specific content, such as YouTube videos with political content that could be deemed embarrassing to the ruling government.

And instead of blocking content outright, the block was implemented in the traffic stream coming back from the content provider, such as YouTube. Users were able to open a connection to YouTube, but were not receiving any data back. Their connection would ‘hang,’ or fail to complete bidirectionally, in a manner that resembled a problem on the sending server side (YouTube), rather than outright blocking.

Evidence of Network Interference

Working with local partners, Access was able to determine that unencrypted communications seeking political content on those five ISPs, whether directly with YouTube, or via proxies to YouTube experienced this failure in the return data stream, including when a proxy was configured to use non-standard transmission ports, indicating that the interference was being triggered via either deep packet inspection (DPI) or on the HTTP path in the request to the server, rather than more ‘standard’ IP address and port blocking.

When Access’s partners attempted to use an encrypted tunnel out of Malaysia, YouTube returned data downstream per usual, further indicating the use of either DPI or HTTP path based interference, as neither the HTTP path nor packet content is available to the ISP when users transmit requests via an SSH encrypted tunnel.

Packet capture testing demonstrated that requests using proxies always dropped return packets between the proxy server and the end user, indicating that the interference was happening in the ‘near’ network, i.e., their local ISP, rather than in the ‘far’ network, near the YouTube server request.

Further experiments that appended some junk bytes to the URL path of a YouTube request resulted in the video being available via normal downstream provision, suggesting a transparent proxy or DPI device at the ISP level dropping return packets directed to the user, based on the trigger mechanism of HTTP Path.

Further testing also indicated that when the HTTP request was sent fragmented from the user, it defeated the interference mechanism, and the YouTube video was again streamed back as per normal to the user. This behavior points to the likely use of DPI or proxy devices at the ISP level, with custom (if poorly) written rules to first trigger off the HTTP path portion of the URL, and subsequently drop packets on the server to user return path.

There is evidence of content at both YouTube (e.g. hHTz22bTBRw and uVWxB4AWOxc) and specific pages on Facebook (e.g. /DAPMalaysia) being affected. Facebook content is available to users using encrypted channels, but unavailable using plaintext HTTP–which is consistent with other evidence of interference.

It is worth noting that as of yesterday, May 1st, the CitizenLab at University of Toronto’s Munk School released its latest report, For Their Eyes Only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying, which identified the presence of a sample of FinSpy, the surveillance software manufactured by UK-based Gamma Group, that “appears to be specifically targeting Malay language speakers, masquerading as a document discussing Malaysia’s upcoming 2013 General Elections.” This Malay-language sample presents “as Mozilla Firefox in both file properties and in manifest;” Mozilla, long an advocate for user rights, this week announced its intention to sue Gamma for “offensive” trademark violation.

This is not the only form of ‘network interference’ occurring in Malaysia in the lead-up to the elections this weekend. There is evidence of jamming of radio stations critical of the government, as well as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and hacking attempts against independent media, blogs, and opposition party websites, and efforts to compromise social media accounts publishing content favorable to the political opposition.

Malaysia’s legally mandated Open Internet

Despite the interference currently in evidence on Malaysia’s networks, the country has a legal mandate to defend a free and open internet, as per the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Act of 1998. This mandate is overseen by the MCMC, an independent regulator tasked with oversight of mobile and internet providers.

Malaysiakini, the independent news site, filed another request with the MCMC, asking the agency to station it’s people at local ISPs to ensure uninterrupted access on Sunday’s polling day. The publication’s CEO and co-founder, Pramesh Chandran, emphasized the need for free and unfettered communications as a fundamental need in democratic practice, and expressed concern that if networks were to be restricted, the inability for citizens to access information about the electoral outcomes could be dangerously destabilizing.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has issued a statement condemning pre-election violence, as well as the online attacks. Access will continue to run network analysis and report on the data over the coming days.

To help keep the internet open in Malaysia, click here.

Aasil AhmadDisclosure: Access Fellow Aasil Ahmed (left) has worked on Human Rights and Democracy programs in Malaysia, including with Opposition candidate Anwar Ibrahim.

Georgetown University graduate Aasil was also the young man who got me started on blogging in 2007 when we both were part of the team in Anwar Ibrahim’s Office. He showed me how I could be an effective human rights, justice and democracy advocate via my own blog. He now resides in Washington DC.  I hope I have done justice to him and others around the world who are passionate about, and are putting their careers and lives on the line for, these great causes by having my own blog http://www.dinmerican.wordpress.com 

NPC Newsmaker Program: Turning Point in Malaysia: Will the Ruling Coalition Finally Lose Power?

From National Press Club

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — On May 5, Malaysians will vote in their 13(th) general election since gaining independence in 1957 — and for the first time, the outcome of the election is in doubt. Disenchantment with the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, the growing influence of online media and an explosion in the number of young voters (20 percent of the electorate is under 30 and eligible to vote for the first time) could propel the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition to victory.

At a National Press Club Newsmaker news conference on Wednesday, April 24, John Mallott, the former U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia and one of the foremost experts on Malaysian politics, will analyze the forces at play that could make this election an historic turning point for a significant U.S. trading partner and military ally.

While the opposition currently enjoys a slight lead in national polls and a dominant position in online media, the ruling coalition controls the mainstream media and has prevailed in all 12 previous elections. Concerns about electoral fraud are high — international observer delegations have routinely criticized Malaysia’s Election Commission for its handling of previous elections.

The ruling coalition has been plagued by a series of high-profile corruption cases and widespread criticism for poor handling of race relations, including requiring non-Muslims to abide by strict statutes of Muslim law. The opposition coalition controls five of Malaysia’s 14 states and territories and has established a record of building surplus budgets, attracting foreign investment, improving social services and promoting equal citizenship rights for all ethnic groups. But it has also been hampered by internal conflicts over application of Islamic law.

Some observers maintain that a change in government would be destabilizing for Malaysia, while others contend it’s crucial for bringing about the reforms necessary for Malaysia to function effectively as a pluralistic society in a globalized world.

This National Press Club Newsmaker news conference will take place on Wednesday, April 24 at 2 p.m. in the club’s Zenger Room on the 13(th) Floor of the National Press Building, 529 14(th) St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20045.

SOURCE National Press Club

Malaysian Government Critic Faces DDoS Attack

April 12, 2013

Malaysian Government Critic Faces DDoS Attack

Sarawak Report exposed an international propaganda campaign. The attack comes a few weeks before the election, from Buzzfeed

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak. Image by Bazuki Muhammad / Reuters

WASHINGTON — A website critical of the Malaysian government is down on Thursday in what its owner says is a denial-of-service attack.

Sarawak Report, run by British investigative journalist and Clare Rewcastle Brown, has been taken offline. So has Radio Free Sarawak, an AM radio program Brown founded.

Brown, whose brother-in-law is former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, wrote on Sarawak Report’s Twitter and Facebook that her sites had been the victims of a denial-of-service attack. She didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sarawak Report broke the story in 2011 of a London-based public relations and television production firm, FBC Media, being paid to produce propaganda for the Malaysian government, which was aired as editorial content on the BBC and other major international television networks. That effort was part of a covert propaganda campaign that also made its way into the onto American online outlets.

It’s unclear who carried out the attack, though the incident is taking place in a moment of heated political rhetoric: the Malaysian general elections are set to take place on May 5. The governing party led by current Prime Minister Najib Razak has been in power for 56 years, but faces a stiffer challenge this time around from the Opposition, led by Anwar Ibrahim — a main target of the propaganda campaign.

Najib Razak at London Indig02

May 10, 2012

Najib Razak at London Indig02

by  Guest writer

Sarawak Report broke this story a few days ago with their usual timeliness and excellent research.

Prime Minister Najib Razak is going to be in London this week where among other things he plans to host a “Evening with the Prime Minister” at the semi-luxurious 02 Dome. The 02Dome is a famous venue that frequently hosts events with music icons, entertainers, and now Prime Ministers of Asian countries seeking reelection.

Najib Razak at London Indig02

Some of the ironies here are that the Government of Malaysia is spending a lot of money to host the event, provide free food and entertainment, and also, according to Sarawak Report, arrange for free transportation to bus Malaysians into London from all over the UK including as far as Edinburgh in Scotland.

“The Coordinator for the entire event is the Malaysian High Commission in London. They are targeting 1000 Malaysians to join in the gathering.

Travel by Coach to London will be provided. Refreshments and a Dinner pack will be served on the Coach. All branches are asked to confirm attendee numbers so that we will know whether to book one of two Coaches. Please pass this message to your local groups(?) and other Malaysians. Get back to me with the total number.

Ideally, let me know by Tuesday 8th May so that i can submit the Budget and total number of attendees to the High Commission.

This is not a formal gathering – the PM will just say a few words and will then mingle with the crowd throughout the evening.

If anyone is interested , please pass me your name, phone number and University. Thanks [email to student organisers]

So all this money is being spent, presumably, to win support of overseas Malaysians in advance of the 13th General Election. However, the reality is most of these Malaysians won’t be able to vote anyways because the government or the Election Commission is unlikely to implement any sort of process for allowing overseas Malaysians to vote short of returning to Malaysia on election day…which is itself a small feat because of the shortness of the campaign period. Everyone knows that buying airline tickets at the last-minute can be a costly endeavor.

One student in the UK commented:

“Why is Najib spending this sort of money on a foreign PR event”? asked one bemused London student.  ”Does he think it plays back home, because hardly any Malaysians living in London are allowed to vote?  The only people who can vote are government workers and they are forced to vote BN anyway!

Furthermore, it’s a bit offensive, in my mind, to go courting students just two weeks after Malaysian embassies around the world issued a blatant threat cautioning students against attending the global BERSIH protests.

The email says “Please think and use your wisdom carefully before making any rash action that could adversely affect your own self, sponsoring department and nation in general.” Basically the Embassy is telling students to demonstrate at your own risk.  In countries premised on the notion of free speech, freedom of expression, the Malaysian government believes it is appropriate to extend the tentacles of its fascist policies across oceans. Yet, when the Prime Minister goes fishing for votes among overseas students everything is supposed to be OK. The message this sends is awful and my guess is it backfires.

So now the question is will people actually go to the event and will there be a protest organized by Malaysians outside the event…and how much coverage will any of this get in the media.  Another person that Sarawak Reports interviewed said:

“This is a party political electioneering event that will have cost millions to stage. It is not correct to spend public money on this sort of PR event and I don’t think people will be impressed that it is being held in Britain either.  Perhaps he just does not dare hold a rally in KL anymore after the turn out for BERSIH 3.0!”

Bersih– Art Harun’s Final Thoughts

July 14, 2011

Bersih – My Final Thoughts

Wise men profits more from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise men shun the mistakes of fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise.” – Cato the Elder (234 BC – 149 BC) from Plutarch, Lives.

In my opinion, the biggest mistake that the government had made in the Bersih issue was to isolate a large section of society from itself, anger them and convert them into  Bersih sympathisers and/or supporters.

At some point of time before the Bersih rally – in my opinion it was about the time Pak Samad Said was hauled to the Police station – the Bersih movement had transcended its electoral reform objective into a full scale platform for the people to vent their frustrations, disappointments, angst and anger to the government.

Sasterawan Negara, Dato A. Samad Said

 To put it crassly, from that point of time, Bersih became a platform for many people to show their middle finger to the government, for whatever personal reason(s) they may have.

All the government had to do in the early days of Bersih 2.0 was to deal with Bersih and its demands. The demands were not about the escalating inflation and price of household items; not about Teoh Beng Hock or Sarbani; not about corruption; not about electricity rate hike; not about Astro price hike; not about the police, MACC or whichever agency.

The demands were just about a fair and just election or what was perceived by Bersih as such. That was it. It was politically related but not politically motivated. (For the uninitiated, there is a difference between the two). The fact that some opposition political parties were in solidarity with Bersih did not demote Bersih into a political party with the inevitable and attendant political baggage. 

The premise of Bersih was an idea, a thought. The idea was our election process is not fair. The resulting conclusion from that idea was that our electoral process needs reform or at least a change. That was all.

Being an idea, or a thought, Bersih operates and infects the masses insidiously. It is in their head that the idea is planted. It is not in their behaviour. A Bersih sympathiser or supporter, with the said planted idea, would not act in a way an Al-Qaeda member would. He or she was not going to strap C4 around his or her body, go to the mall on a Sunday, and buy the proverbial ticket to heaven by blowing himself or herself up.

Planted with that idea, a Bersih sympathiser or supporter would try to convince others that that idea was correct. That idea will infest and continue to infest.

The wearing of yellow t-shirts with the word Bersih was just a way or means employed by carrier of such idea to make known that he or she subscribed to that idea to the open world.

The yellow t-shirts were not even a manifestation of the idea which he or she carried.  With or without the yellow t-shirts, the idea still infests their mind. Similarly, the colour of the t-shirts, did not matter. It could have been pink for all they cared but the idea stayed the same. 

The idea, as I said earlier, was that the election process is not fair and it needs reform. And so, this was what, allegorically, the government was facing about a month before the rally. There were some yellow mosquitoes flying around in some wet markets; shopping malls; seminar rooms and o the streets. That was it. Nothing more.

It was like the proverbial bloody fly in the car cockpit. Irritating, yes. Annoying, yes. Threatening, absolutely not.

And how exactly did the government react to these handful yellow mosquitoes? Well, it took out some really large and heavy cannons and shot the mosquitoes!

The government firstly denied that our election process was not fair. That was okay. Because by doing that, the government was actually trying to supplant an opposing idea. But what it did later was beyond rationale. Any strategist, political or otherwise, worth his or her salt,  would cringe in disbelief.

It went out seizing the yellow t-shirts. People who wore the offending attire were arrested. How did arresting people wearing yellow and seizing the yellow item assist in erasing the idea which Bersih had planted? The idea was in the head. That idea did not reside in the yellow t-shirts.  That was  the government reacting according to the proverbial “marahkan nyamuk kelambu dibakar” (loosely translated, angry with the mosquitoes, burn the mosquito net) way.

First, the public reaction was one of disbelief. Soon it became a joke. The government, the police, the Home Minister and all else who were perceived to be the instigator to the act of banning the colour yellow became a big joke.

The joke then became even a bigger joke. That was when the government and its machinery, direct and indirect, embarked into phase two of their “war propaganda”.

I have stated in The Doctor is Not In that an oppressor would cling to every “fact”, even manufactured ones, to justify its oppression. I quoted Umberto Eco, in “Turning Back The Clock” who said:

“In general, in order to maintain popular support for their decisions, dictatorships point the finger at a country, group, race, or secret society that is plotting against the people under the dictator. All forms of populism, even contemporary ones, try to obtain consensus by talking of a threat from abroad, or from internal groups.” (emphasis is mine).

How true is that? Umberto Eco could have been talking about Malaysia actually. Did he have a digital crystal ball or what?

Barely recovering from shaking our collective head over the arrest of people wearing yellow, the government went into ape mode. Bersih was infiltrated by communists. It was also funded by Christian groups. Some Ministers and the Ploice then said there were evidence that Bersih had certain “foreign elements” bent on creating havoc and overthrowing the government.

All classic wartime propaganda. But really, who was at war? Nobody except for the government.

Sticking with the “war” theme, the government’s well known, but the most laughable and idiotic shit stirrer, Perkasa and its leader, Ibrahim Ali, launched a counter movement and called themselves Gerak Aman (Peace Movement, in English), with Ibrahim Ali as its “war general.”

So, we had a peace movement with a war general. And a war general without any war to go to. He then promptly issued a really peaceful statement, ie, the Chinese had better stocked up food and not come out to the street on July 9th.

This was followed by some silat organisation declaring that it will “wage war” against Bersih participants. The next day this organisation appointed itself as the “3rd line of defence” of Malaysia, an appointment which was duly accorded official approval by none other than the Prime  Minister himself later.

At this point in time, the government’s handling of the Bersih issue had moved from disbelief-dom, to jokes-ville and now to a surreal and burlesque town. The government had then managed to anger the Bersih sympathisers and supporters; isolated the Christians and Chinese; and turned itself into some kind of a mixture of Robin Williams and Russell Brand (no insult meant to Katy Perry, of course).

Ambiga, the  Chairperson of Bersih was instantaneously declared as an enemy of Islam. Quite how Bersih’s electoral reform agenda became intertwined with race and faith is quite beyond many to conjure. But enemy of Islam she was. That managed to isolate the non-Muslims and even the  thinking Muslims form the government’s stance.

 So, after that, the pesky yellow mosquitoes problem had turned into a full scale stampede of biblical proportion, joined in by the elephants, lions, tigers, snakes and what have you. Congratulations.

The climax of all of these – the mother of all fcuk ups – to me, was the mounting of roadblocks during the morning peak hours from Wednesday the 6th of July onwards.

By this time, even the normal apathetic middle-class Malaysians who could not even be bothered to register themselves as voters became agitated and upset.

This apathetic middle-class are a very comfortable lot. They will not move their ass to do anything if that would mean bringing themselves out of their comfort zone. Finding the TV remote control is bringing themselves out of  their comfort zone, to these people. They will not be arsed to do anything until and unless they become uncomfortable.

And of course, being stuck in a traffic jam in their second-hand BMWs, Benz and whatever was uncomfortable to them. And they told themselves, enough with this crap. I am going to show my middle finger to the police!

By this time, almost the whole section of the urban society was isolated by the government. Even the civil servants who were late for work were thinking of joining the rally.

Speaking of the police, apart from being busy carrying guns and waving the traffic to pass by, they managed to find parangs and molotov cocktails at Sogo. There you  have it. Bersih was bent on creating havoc.

Why parangs? Why not guns and bombs? And to think about it, the molotov cocktails were made in plastic bottles. Who in their right mind would make molotov in plastic bottles, hullo? From which university did the guy graduate? Off campus? Online course?

Disbelief. Joke. Burlesque. Ridicule. Anger.

What a transformation. The easiest thing to do was to fight the idea that our election process needs reform. That was all that was needed. An idea is fought by firstly, showing that that idea is not quite correct. Or that it was not credible. Then neutralise that idea with a better and more acceptable idea.

An idea is not fought by arresting the people having that idea. Or by banning a colour depicting subscription to  that idea. Or by declaring the person heading the movement perpetuating that idea as anti-Islam. Or that it was Christian idea. Oh my God. Fail!

Now, let’s not talk about what happened during the rally. Suffice if I say that the people joining the rally were not the hooligans they were made out to be. We all could watch all the YouTube videos and decide for ourselves.

The thing which I want to comment about is this. If the government’s handling of Bersih before the rally was beyond belief in its irrationality and unreasonableness, its handling AFTER the rally is not any better, if not far worse.

The IGP became a laughing stock when he quickly announced that only 6000 people attended the rally. Then the Home Minister chipped in to say the police was fair and in fact very restrain in their approach on the 9th of July. The Prime Minister said the police were a picture of tranquillity and displayed a monk-like attitude towards the rally goers.

Ha ha and ha.

KL Police: No tear gas fired into the hospital !!

The Minister Liow denied teargas was fired into compound of Tung Shin. Chua Soi Lek, not be left out, chipped in to say the police had to teargas the hospital in order to protect the patients. And today, 11 doctors from that hospitals states their willingness to affirm affidavits under oath that the police did in fact shoot water and teargas into the compound of the hospital on July 9. They said the Police even entered into the buildings to search for rally goers. (the full report is here).

The Prime Minister had left for the UK. The mainstream media went ape-like in blaming Anwar and mocking his injury. This obsession with Anwar Ibrahim is actually quite irritating. let me tell you all something. Most rally goers did not give a hoot about Anwar that day. That day was not about Anwar. It was about their middle finger which they had wanted to point to some others.

The international press – which of course, in the government’s book, are always bias and out to pursue their secret agenda against our country – have not been kind to the government. Even the Jakarta Post editorial (Malaysia is rich but not free) was not flattering. Yesterday, Bloomberg’s William Pesek was scathing in his opinion. Pesek is an influential writer and Bloomberg is a reference  point for many foreign investors. (his article is here). So, what’s the plan here?

Someone died during the rally. Have we heard a word of sympathy or condolence from the government’s side? I have not. All we had was the usual defensive “don’t blame me” statements.

Are we human? Or have we stopped being human? Since when?