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<nettime> USIA Sets Its Sites on Yugoslavia

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USIA Sets Its Sites on Yugoslavia
Web Used to Counter State-Run Media
By Thomas W. Lippman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 17, 1999; Page A15 

If the editors of a clandestine newspaper in Yugoslavia want those NATO aerial
photographs of suspected mass graves in Kosovo or the pictures of refugees
trapped in a valley under fire from Yugoslav security forces, they can get them
with a keystroke.

If an underground radio station wants to evade censorship rules imposed by the
leader of the Serb-run Yugoslav government, President Slobodan Milosevic, it
can have instant access to the voices of Secretary of State Madeleine K.
Albright, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and other western officials
explaining NATO's air campaign.

And if those refugees huddled in camps in Macedonia and Albania want to use
e-mail to communicate with their families or search for missing relatives, they
soon will be able to do that.

This is the war in cyberspace.

The United States Information Agency is dispatching texts in Albanian and
Serbian, sound bites, photographs and links to the western media on the

The USIA material is a major part of the U.S. government's contribution to war
by Internet. The agency has assembled a Kosovo information site that provides
graphics, sound, maps, photos, archival material and texts -- in many
languages, including Russian, Albanian and Serbo-Croatian -- in an effort to
break through Milosevic's control of the news media in Yugoslavia.

"We can provide an antidote to the information desert that exists in Serbia,"
said Jonathan Spalter, USIA associate director. "The Internet is a sharp new
tool in the diplomatic arsenal."

The onset of the air campaign in effect has recreated the role that USIA was established to play during the Cold War: trying to disseminate information to people with no access to independent media, and trying to counter misleading information disseminated by the other side.

Senior U.S. officials said USIA, the Defense Department, the State Department
and the CIA are all engaged in a campaign to get information into Yugoslavia
through whatever channels are available, including such familiar conduits as
the Voice of America and such recent tools as direct broadcasts that can be
received by Yugoslavs with satellite dishes.

It is not clear how many people in Yugoslavia have access to the Internet,
although many are known to have subscribed when opposition media such as the
B92 radio station began using it to transmit. Spalter and other U.S. officials
said they think even limited distribution has a multiplier effect as documents
are reproduced and downloaded and sound bites are broadcast.

Skeptics about the information war, such as analyst William Arkin, said that
such enthusiasm is misplaced because there is no serious underground or
opposition press in Yugoslavia, partly because Milosevic has cracked down and
partly because the Serb people -- angry at the NATO bombing -- have rallied
around their leadership.

Furthermore, the most popular source of information is state television, which
has remained on the air because NATO decided not to destroy its transmitters.
The government TV network has broken some of the most dramatic stories of the
air war, including the downing of a U.S. F-117 "stealth" fighter jet, the
capture of three U.S. soldiers in a border skirmish and NATO's bombing of a
passenger train.

But U.S. and British officials said they are convinced that the Internet is a
lever on Yugoslav public opinion. They said that Milosevic, who controls the
only four Internet access providers in Yugoslavia, has refrained from closing
them because his government is using the Internet for disinformation and

USIA is hardly the only area of cyberactivity in the war. Individuals and
groups across Yugoslavia have unleashed a torrent of e-mail about the bombing
campaign, and hackers from Belgrade attacked NATO's Web site. Supporters of
B92, which Milosevic shut in early April, have set up a Web site based in

None of the freelancers, however, can match USIA's resources in technology and
personnel. The agency has assigned six people, for example, to monitor online
discussions about the war and make information available to participants on the
spot. And this week Spalter negotiated establishing Internet and e-mail access
sites in refugee camps. 

 Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

contact information:
(315) 471-7790 voice mail
Syracuse, NY 13210


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