Readers of this blog will know I am keenly interested in promoting shortwave radio as both an important information source and a means of defense against government-controlled media access. A recent report in the British publication The Telegraph revealed there have been several tests run by the Russian government to see if the Internet could be shut down should a political need arise. This should not really come as a surprise since China has done the same thing in the past, but it does point once again to the limits of any system dependent on wires.
I realize the majority of folks who might read this blog are already radio supporters, and likely aware of the importance of wireless communication–radio to radio through the ether, as we like to say. I am not sure as many people are aware of just how fragile services such as the Internet, cellular services, and local broadcast media outlets are around the world. Here in the States we assume all of these services will be available all the time, or at least free from government interference. I am not sure that is a wise position to hold even in this country, but historically around the world tight control over information access has been a primary means of controlling the population. How else do relatively small groups of people exert control over massive numbers of a country’s entire population? It might begin with war and military might, but control ultimately comes through programming the populace to believe they are powerless and that their leaders are benevolent dictators only interested in the welfare of the country.
Regarding the Russian test this spring Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia’s security services, said “This is actually just one of a series of such experiments, and it gives us a very good idea of what they have in mind. If you look at the doctrine of information security, it is all about the same thing: the fear of Western countries using the internet as an instrument of influence in Russia and so on.”
Russia, under the multitude of political positions held by Vladimir Putin over the years, has fallen back closer and closer to the Cold War days of strict regulations and totalitarian rule. In a time when democracies around the world have severely cut back or eliminated their shortwave radio broadcasts, the need for such transmissions grows more and more evident every day. While the full article may be found here, the main point is that Russia fears free access to information for its citizenry. Let’s face it–it is hard to call a massacre a parade when the rest of the world knows the truth.
Shortwave radio, now with the ability to include digital modes with images, can be a source of information and truth which has the potential to reach millions of people without intervention from an oppressive government. Thanks to the work of Kim Andrew Elliott and the VOA team who have been experimenting with digital delivery over shortwave, there is the potential for the VOA and others to fill a real information void in countries like Russia should the government be able to block Internet access.
Even recorded shortwave broadcasts off the air onto a phone or other recording device can be used to then link into a computer where software can decode the text and images, all without ever having to be connected to the Internet or an Intranet. I doubt even Russia or China could confiscate all sound cards in all computers! And for a country like Russia, shortwave radios still abound even if they are in dusty attics or damp cellars. They are not so far removed from past times that they have thrown out all of their radios!
While the experiments to shut down outside Internet access failed this spring and last year, this does not mean it will not be tried again and likely with more success. No doubt the government of Russia is learning more and more about how to do this more effectively, and likely the small data providers which could not be controlled by the government in the past will be eliminated in time, replaced by a comprehensive government-run system. Such a move cannot happen overnight, but it can certainly happen over time.
In the meantime, perhaps if enough situations arise where information is blocked again and again, countries like the U.S. and the U.K. and Canada, as well as others around the world will wake up and re-invest in their shortwave infrastructure. The world needs reliable sources of information in times of crisis and the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter are not real solutions when the Ethernet wires get cut.
As always, just one man’s opinion. 73, Robert