Web of Deceit: Cafe Pyala's Expose of Internet Propaganda

Nov 29th, 2010 | By | Category: Blogs, Conspiracy Theories

The blog Cafe Pyala recently published an incredible expose of the tangled web of deceit an Internet propaganda ring being run by a group of supposed journalists (original in full below the jump). Far from the conspiracy theories that are relentlessly promoted on several of the blogs that have been exposed, the work of the bloggers at Cafe Pyala shows what investigative journalism is all about – looking at the facts and connecting the dots. It also serves as an important reminder that readers must always consider the source of news, and whether the journalists or publication are reporting facts or simply political talking points.

According to the independent research of the bloggers at Cafe Pyala and their readers, there is a long list of blogs and Internet news sites that appear to have been set up by at least two individuals – Moin Ansari and Ahmed Quraishi – under false addresses and company names for the purpose of spreading a particular political message and attacking those with whom they disagree. Many of these websites appear to have been taken down following their exposure, more evidence that Cafe Pyala’s findings were correct. The list includes:

Ahmed Quraishi is relatively well known to Pakistan Media Watch readers, as he has been exposed several times by this blog for his pseudo-journalistic work as a political consultant – a fact that Quraishi himself does not dispute. And while some of the other pseudo-journalists exposed by Cafe Pyala like Moin Ansari are less well-known outside of conspiracy blog circles, the practice of using journalism as a cover for political operations extends well beyond these exposed websites. Connections with intelligence agencies run deep in parts of the media, and it is often difficult to decipher what is true and what is merely propaganda.

The lesson here is one that applies not only to Internet journalism, but to all forms of media. As readers of Pakistan Media Watch have commented previously, there are times when sources should be anonymous or can justifiably use a pseudonym to protect their security – especially when criticising authority. This works because the facts should be able to speak for themselves. Individuals are entitled to their own opinions, but no one is invited to his own facts.

Connecting the Dots

So, after quite a while, I was once again checking out the website of The Dawn because somebody asked me about it. And no, I don’t mean Dawn as in the newspaper; in fact, I think the Dawn Media Group once even threatened, or at least contemplated threatening, them with legal action (I have no idea what became of it). And suddenly, something caught my eye that made bells go off in my mind. It was quite a Eureka! moment.

"The prophetic Sunrise in the East"?

But before I tell you what my Eureka! moment was, let’s all just take a moment to understand what The Dawn really is.

Its flowery tagline proclaims it as a “News digest of the prophetic Sunrise in the East.” If that’s not enough to impress you, in its ‘Why The Dawn News?’ section, it clearly implies that the Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was somehow involved in its founding (even though it exists only as a web-paper and the web didn’t actually come into being until about 46 years after the founder of Pakistan passed away). It talks about Jinnah founding Dawn and The Pakistan Times prior to Partition before cleverly (and grammatically incorrectly) sidestepping the issue and adding “This Newspaper is inspired the founding father of Pakistan [sic] and revelation of the Shair e Mashriq Alama Iqbal.” It even uses the following famous photograph of Jinnah to bolster its credentials:

Jinnah reading some other paper with a "similar sounding name"

It then goes on a tangential rant about the warped world view of communists, socialists and secularists before concluding, right at the end, with:

“This site has nothing to do dawn.com”

Prepositions, it seems, are not its strong point. But you may already have surmised that this is not the most widely circulated English paper in Pakistan from the vitriol it spews against alleged “5th columnists” (many of whom write for Dawn) such as Asma Jahangir, Ayaz Amir, Irfan Husain, Ayesha Siddiqa, Imtiaz Alam, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Hasan Nisar, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Najam Sethi, Dr. A.H. Nayyar, Nadeem Farooq Paracha and Huma Yusuf (see Wall of Shame on right of the site’s page). Far more hilariously, however, it adds the following disclaimer in its ‘About Dawn News‘ section:

“The Dawn News makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness [sic], suitability [sic], or validity of any information on this site & [sic] will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.All information is provided on an as-is basis. The Dawn News does not accept any responsibility for sites with similar sounding names.”

Right then. Aren’t you glad you have that sorted out?

Anyway, now that you all understand what I am talking about and I have (hopefully) set up the context, here’s what provoked my Eureka! moment. The website says this about itself:

“The Dawn News is owned and operated by Sapartese Management. There are several editors, Moin Ansari, Amardeep Singh, and Lisa Bernstein.”

Now why did this catch my eye and set off chimes in my head? Well, mainly because the juxtaposition of these important sounding but unknown names seemed vaguely familiar. The combination of one alleged gora/ gori, one alleged Indian and one alleged Pakistani name reminded me of something I once read.

Remember this post about a (well-funded) rag called The Daily Mail? Remember what I had written about the story featured in that post, authored allegedly by “Cherry Ferguson in London, Kapil Verma in Mumbai and Ambreen Nadeem Janjua in Islamabad”?:

“One word to the wise: don’t believe any of the bylines. I doubt any of these people actually exist.”

Incidentally, our persistent friend Marvi Sirmed had actually called up the Mumbai Press Club after that post, only to discover that no journalist by the name of Kapil Verma is known to anyone there. Big surprise. Not. Another of The Daily Mail‘s regular ace reporters named Christina Palmer, a foreigner based ostensibly in Delhi, apparently does not exist either according to the Indian government (which did try looking for her). The Daily Mail‘s editor Makhdoom Babar even admitted as much, claiming it was a pseudonym “to protect her identity.” (Since she stopped writing soon after the Indians arrested one of their Islamabad-based diplomats, Madhuri Gupta, for spying, there was even speculation that Ms Palmer was actually Ms Gupta… which, if true – Babar denies of course – might give you a little more insight into The Daily Mail.)

In any case, I was intrigued enough by the names to Google them. And guess what I discovered? These are some busy journalists! The exact same combination of names (with some minor additions here and there) appears on at least six other separate sites as editors.

Here’s something called Daily Mail Post:

Here’s the Pakistan Ledger:

Here’s Rupee News:

Here’s Pakistan Patriot:

Here’s Today’s Views:

And here’s Pakistan Independent, which actually ends up getting confused (can you blame them?) and talking about Rupee News in it’s own ‘About’ section:

In addition, I found another 4 sites where at least one of the above illustrious personalities were listed as editors. These included The Pakistan Times (or New Pakistan Times), the Khalistan Times, the Times of Kabul and the Hindustan Globe. All these sites have the exact same description about their ‘team’ of contributing authors which always includes the following list in exactly the same order, typos and all:

“Moin Ansari is a 50-something US-raised Pakistani American living somewhere in the US. His political background is well to the left of centre,  and is very interested in investigative history, international relations, immigration, cultural integration and language policy issues. He is presently working on a long term doctorate in history

Jason Miller is a tenacious anti-capitalist and vegan animal liberationist. He is also the founder and editor of Thomas Paine’s Corner, associate editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online, blog director for The Transformative Studies Institute and associate editor for the Journal for Critical Animal Studies.

Isha Khan: A Bangladeshi activits who regualrly posts on Rupee News

Dr. Fawzia Khan: A professor based in New Jersey who writes for various magazines including Counterpunch.

Dr. Abdul Ruff: Prolific writer from Delhi who regularly contributes to Rupee News

Dr. Koncha: A Dalit activits from Hydrabad India who highlights Dalit issues in Dalit Freedom Network

Jim Mondavi: 27 year old  economist and journalist, center-left.

Riaz Khan: An American freelance journalist who lives in the US

Munir Khan: An Indian activist who writes on politics

Ahmed Quraishi: A Pakistani nationalist who has his own site www.ahmadquraishi.com
Andaleeb etc. etc.”

Do note the second last name and the “etc. etc.” at the end (that’s how it reads on all the sites). Actually finding Ahmed Quraishi listed on ALL these sites probably was not altogether unpredictable since even The Dawn, in its description about itself, throws in a reference to the infamous obsession of his mentor Zaid Hamid, i.e. Ghazwa-e-Hind.

I also noticed that all these sites were “owned” by the company called Sapartese Management (sometimes misspelled as Sapertese). Digging further, I discovered at least another 8 sites / papers that were owned by this little-known-but-apparently-massive player in the media market (Rupert Murdoch, watch out!). The ‘editorial boards’ (always multiple editors) were slightly different than the ones in the first 11, but all still counted the same writers as their contributing authors. Their names? Times of Bombay, The Delhi Times, Dacca Times, The Daily Mail Times, Bharat Globe, Pakistan Akhbar, Musalman Times and Views Times. Interesting collection, isn’t it? And I’m not even listing a number of other blogs also managed by the same company. Unsurprisingly, all sites seem to have the exact same political world view, i.e. hawkishly pro-Pakistan, virulently anti-India and suitably ambivalent about the Afghan Taliban.

Have a look at what all these different sites – which, incidentally cross-reference and promote each other constantly – look like:

Notice anything?

But perhaps you’re saying, so what? All this proves is that the same bunch of high-energy people are very enthusiastic about writing for different blogs and papers. And that the company that runs all these sites, even if it’s going over the top with so many titles, is well within its rights to standardize the look of its various publications.

Well, then let’s take a look at the ‘company’ that allegedly owns all these sites: Sapartese Management. There’s one thing quite curious about it. The only place it seems to exist is on these websites; Google it: there is no separate website with any listed office. For a company running at least 19 ‘prestigious’ publications all over the globe, wouldn’t you think it would have a bustling office somewhere?

So I began to pay attention to the contact details for these various publications and the addresses listed for them as well as for, sometimes, Sapartese Management. It proved remarkably difficult to pin down where the company’s offices actually were, mainly because they seemed to be moving around quite a bit. For example, according to The Dawn, Sapartese was located at “1013 Gates Court, Morris Plains, NJ 07950” but according to Pakistan Ledger its parent company was located at “3333 5th Avenue, New York, NY.” Other publications listed a number of other addresses, often also in New York.
But there was something funny about these addresses too, as some might have already gathered. As anyone who has walked around or looked for directions in New York can tell you, there’s critical information such as ZIP codes and Suite numbers missing. In fact, there is no building number 3333 on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, the boulevard numbers actually end in the mid-2000s. Look it up on Google maps, I am not kidding. There is another 5th Avenue in Queens but the houses there are numbered in the single digits. Neither is there, it seems, a 1013 Gates Court in Morris Plains, NJ.

The far end of 5th Avenue: not that difficult to see where it ends, is it? (Source: Google Maps)

Some of the other office addresses are equally absurdly manufactured. For example, the offices of the Times of Bombay are listed as “76543 34th Street, New York, NY” and The Delhi Times as “5555, 15th Street, New York, NY.” Neither exist. If you actually Google these addresses (obviously someone forgot about the extensive mapping of addresses in the US), some land you up in parking lots, others in the middle of the highway. Even the address Mr. ‘Moin Ansari’ – who owns at least 21 domain names – provides while registering domain names is seemingly fictitious.

Incidentally, who really is this mysterious Moin Ansari who lives “somewhere in the US”? I have no idea if he is either this man or this man or someone entirely different altogether. It must be said, however, that the interview in the second link refers to him as “an executive in the Information Technology industry” and the person under whose name Rupee News is registered also lists a company by the name of Crestech in his registration details. A software company owned by the Crescent Group is also called Crestech but I have no idea if it’s the same one being used here. Perhaps I’ll leave that for another time or for others to probe.

Do I really need to spell out who I think has the resources and the motivation to spin this elaborate web of fake publications and yet be so incompetent about it? And what does that tell you about Ahmed Quraishi and the people associated with papers like The Daily Mail?

Eureka?

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