Cablegate: Microsoft Attacks Free/Libre Software in Tunisia With a Ben Ali Deal, Conspiring to Also Spy on the Population

Posted in Africa, Free/Libre Software, Microsoft at 6:33 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz


Summary: Gory details (given the revolution that came later) leak out through Wikileaks, which helps show how Microsoft does politics to impose user-hostile software on entire nations, defying their policies in the process

Found via the post “Microsoft et Ben Ali : Wikileaks confirme les soupçons d’une aide pour la surveillance des citoyens Tunisiens” was this very interesting diplomatic cable which sheds light on collaboration between two thugs, Steve Ballmer and Ben Ali. It not only shows Microsoft driving over Free software policies but it also shows Microsoft assisting the government’s attack on the population, which later overthrew Ben Ali. Those who insist that software is not political can bury their heads in the sand or alternatively read the following Cablegate cable. We emphasise some bits of interest in it:

DE RUEHTU #2424/01 2651044
P 221044Z SEP 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TUNIS 002424 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/22/2016 
¶1. (SBU) Summary: During the Microsoft Government Leaders 
Forum in South Africa July 11-12, the GOT and the Microsoft 
Corporation signed a partnership agreement that provides for 
Microsoft investment in training, research, and development, 
but also commits the GOT to using licensed Microsoft 
software.  According to Microsoft Tunisia Director General 
Salwa Smaoui, the agreement is a win-win for both Microsoft 
and the GOT.  The negotiation process and the brokered deal 
itself are illustrative of GOT priorities and the cost of 
doing business in Tunisia.  End Summary. 
¶2. (SBU) The agreement between Microsoft and the GOT was 
signed in July during the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum 
in South Africa.  Although signed in July, information about 
the agreement has not been forthcoming from either the GOT or 
Microsoft and, despite repeated requests, Microsoft has yet 
to provide post with a copy of the final agreement.  In a 
September meeting with EconOffs, Microsoft Tunisia Director 
General Salwa Smaoui provided an overview of the main points. 
 The final agreement outlines cooperation on GOT 
e-governance, cyber security, intellectual property rights, 
and capacity development for Tunisian information technology 
programs.  Microsoft will establish a Microsoft Innovation 
Center in Tunisia for developing local software production 
capacity by providing training and consulting services to 
software developers.  Expanding the Tunisian IT sector has 
become a priority for the GOT as a way to absorb the growing 
number of unemployed university graduates.  According to 
Smaoui, the GOT invests approximately one percent of GDP in 
research and development in the IT sector.  Microsoft has 
also agreed to provide training to handicapped Tunisians to 
enable them to seek employment in the IT sector by 
telecommuting. (Note: President Ben Ali's wife Leila Ben Ali 
runs a charity for handicapped Tunisians.  End Note.) 
¶3. (U) As part of the agreement, Microsoft will help the GOT 
to upgrade and modernize its computers and networking 
capabilities.  In turn, the GOT agreed to purchase twelve 
thousand licenses to update government computers with 
official Microsoft software, rather than the pirated versions 
that have been commonly used, according to one Microsoft 
employee.  Since 2001, the GOT adopted an open software 
policy, using only free software programs.  Additionally, 
future GOT tenders for IT equipment will specify that the 
equipment must be Microsoft compatible, which is currently 
prohibited by the Tunisian open software policy. 
¶4. (SBU) The agreement also touches on internet security. 
Through a program on cyber criminality, Microsoft will train 
government officials in the Ministries of Justice and 
Interior on how to use computers and the internet to fight 
crime.  As part of this program, Microsoft will provide the 
GOT with original source codes for its programs.  When asked 
by EconOff whether Microsoft had any concerns about releasing 
its source codes, Smaoui replied that the source codes would 
only be available to a small number of officials. 
Nevertheless, the agreement contains language stating the 
Microsoft and the GOT will work jointly on intellectual 
property rights.  This agreement also provides for a separate 
agreement to be signed creating a security cooperation 
program that will provide more general internet security 
training to the public. 
¶5. (C) According to Smaoui, the agreement is the culmination 
of a five-year negotiation process.  Smaoui was named 
Microsoft's Director General for Tunisia about one year ago 
and, although currently hesitant to fully disclose the final 
details, provided frequent updates to Post on the progress of 
the negotiations.  She reported that at times the GOT's 
suspicion of Microsoft because of its "American-ness" seemed 
to outweigh its technical evaluation of the proposal.  She 
said that she had been asked several times by GOT ministers 
why, as a Tunisian, she was "working for the Americans," and 
often felt suspicion bordering on hostility during the 
negotiations.  Smaoui also noted that the GOT wanted a 
TUNIS 00002424  002 OF 002 
"tailor-made" agreement, rather than a prepackaged program 
that would be "imposed" on Tunisia.  This attitude towards 
the negotiation process required Microsoft to focus just as 
carefully on the presentation as the substance. 
¶6. (C) In a call on DCM a few days before the South Africa 
Forum, Smaoui worried that she was going to the Forum without 
a signed agreement in hand and could not confirm that the 
GOT's representative would even show up.  She fretted that 
she might have to confess to Bill Gates that she had no 
reason to be at the Forum.  In the event, Khedija Ghariani, 
Secretary of State for Computers, Internet, and Free 
Software, attended and signed the agreement on behalf of the 
GOT.  Despite the drawn-out negotiations, Smaoui stated that 
reaching an agreement was "vital" for Microsoft.  The fact 
that the government relied on open source software 
drastically limited business in Tunisia and prevented 
Microsoft from participating in GOT tenders.  Additionally, 
the agreement reinforces an objective both Microsoft and the 
GOT share -- establishing a knowledge society.  Smaoui stated 
that even though Microsoft will be investing in Tunisia, the 
sum of investment will be lower than the cost of GOT 
¶7. (C) Comment: Although the agreement has been hailed as a 
triumph for intellectual property rights, the negotiations 
and the brokered deal itself reveal a more complicated 
reality.  Microsoft was able to broker the final agreement by 
appealing to GOT unemployment sensitivities as well as by 
adapting to the realities of doing business in Tunisia.  Even 
as the goal of expanding employment opportunities for 
handicapped Tunisians is worthy, the program's affiliation 
with Leila Ben Ali's charity is indicative of the backroom 
maneuvering sometimes required to finalize a deal. 
Microsoft's reticence to fully disclose the details of the 
agreement further highlights the GOT emphasis on secrecy over 
transparency.  In theory, increasing GOT law enforcement 
capability through IT training is positive, but given 
heavy-handed GOT interference in the internet, Post questions 
whether this will expand GOT capacity to monitor its own 
citizens.  Ultimately, for Microsoft the benefits outweigh 
the costs.  End Comment. 

Citizens of Tunisia ought to sue Microsoft, which has “blood in its hands”. Watch how they keep this secret from the public which pays for it. When they say fight “crime” they may actually mean fight dissent, too (which from the government’s perspective is often a crime). Tunisia overthrew Ali. Now it needs to overthrow his ally, Microsoft.

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  1. Needs Sunlight said,

    September 5, 2011 at 3:06 am


    Why does the date appear to be listed as 2016?

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    It says “06″.

    Jose_X Reply:

    There is a SEP 06 at the top and 09/22/2016 further down. The second may refer to a future date (rather than be a typo).

  2. Needs Sunlight said,

    September 8, 2011 at 9:30 am


    “WikiLeaks: US diplomats were critical of partnership between Microsoft and Tunisia”

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