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Back with a vengeance... Morocco's own Ed Snowden Open in fullscreen

George Joffe

Back with a vengeance... Morocco's own Ed Snowden

The hacker appears to support the independence of the Western Sahara [AFP]

Date of publication: 10 April, 2015

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Comment: The hacker "Chris Coleman" has resumed leaking embarrassing government information - but his work suggests an amateur with a grudge rather than a foreign spy, says George Joffe.
At the end of last year, Morocco's social media was abuzz with speculation about who Morocco's own Edward Snowden really was.

He emerged last October, leaking documents from Morocco's foreign ministry on the internet and hinting at ministerial malfeasance.

His real target, it seemed, was Morocco's determination to hold on to Western Sahara and the effort it was willing to expend, particularly in the US, to that end.

The hacker used the pseudonym "Chris Coleman", also the name of the manager of the Welsh national football team. His aim was, he told a French journalist, to "destabilise Morocco".

The hacker uses the pseudonym "Chris Coleman", the name of the manager of the Welsh national football team.
The minister of foreign affairs, Salaheddine Mezouar, claimed the leaks were the work of Algeria's security services, as a novel way of undermining Morocco's position over the Western Sahara.

A group of Moroccan hackers soon claimed to have unmasked "Chris Coleman". He was, they said, an Algerian intelligence agent in Europe, operating under the cover of Algeria's official press agency, Algerie Presse Service.

All seemed explained; the leaks of information were merely another step in the 40-year struggle between Morocco and Algeria about the issue of Western Sahara and hegemony in North Africa.

And, with that, at the end of January this year, the leaks ceased!

That was then...

Then, suddenly, on March 24, "Chris Coleman" resurfaced. He reactivated his Twitter account and soon new revelations began, with a mixture of private emails, contact details and internal ministerial documents – all from the Moroccan foreign ministry.

Moroccan media commentators agreed that many of the leaks were genuine and could be damaging to security.

The hacker published three on March 30 that described in detail the communications system used by the foreign ministry.

Leaks on the same subject in November forced the ministry to propose a redesign of the system to make it more secure. That has now become a matter of real urgency.

Another document, published at the start of April, revealed Morocco's dependence on foreign aid. It showed Morocco had received about $5.22bn a year in recent years, just about the same amount as it pays out in subsidies to ensure social peace.

Its major donors have been the Gulf states and the EU but not, strangely enough, Saudi Arabia, although the Gulf states have, overall, provided 86 per cent of all the aid Morocco has received since the 1960s.

Other revelations have leaked the telephone numbers and confidential email addresses of ministry officials and even that of the prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane.

The hacker has also included passwords, allowing others to hack into their email accounts. The password show that even those in power usually fail to alter their defaults, despite the well-known dangers of not doing so.

Some of the information is out of date, since it goes back to 2010, but some of it is recent enough to reveal details of a private network that links into the biometric passports held by ministry officials to their personal data.

... this is now

The initial certainty the hacker was part of the Algerian security services seems to have disappeared.
"Chris Coleman" makes no secret that his aim is to embarrass Morocco and that his sympathies lie with the Western Saharans Morocco claims are really its citizens.

He accuses Morocco of befriending Israel and says Algeria is the one true friend of the Palestinians.

It cannot be an accident of timing that the UN Security Council is just about to reconsider renewing the six-month mandate for its surveillance force in Western Sahara.

Morocco continues to refuse to honour the council's calls for a referendum for self-determination in the territory, first articulated in 1975 after the Spanish withdrew.

The problem is that the initial certainty the hacker was part of the Algerian security services seems to have disappeared.

It is clear much of the information he has published has been obtained by hacking into the foreign ministry's internet server, rather than from secret intelligence sources.

The reality that much of the material made public is either trivial or false suggests that "Chris Coleman" is an amateur, as does his declared motive of aiming to undermine Moroccan diplomacy.

After all, were it a foreign security organisation, the information revealed would be far more damaging and the story it would tell would be much more sophisticated.

Nonetheless, the Moroccan government will hardly tolerate such damaging leaks for much longer, and there are increasing fears that, alongside the technical fixes that it will introduce, it may take more muscular measures too.

It has been clear for some time that it is sensitive to adverse press comment and the interior ministry has begun to rein in Morocco's human rights organisations, with the result that Reporters sans Frontieres now lists Morocco as 130th in its 2014 list of 180 countries for press freedom.

Moroccan journalists now fear that the country's ranking may slip even further as part of its efforts to curb the activities of "Chris Coleman"

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