Call To Arms For Cyber War, Trying To Poach Private Sector Recruits

Like military counterparts around the world, the German armed forces must urgently compete with the private sector to attract the Internet's best and brightest.

On the cyberwar path
On the cyberwar path
Christoph Hickmann

MUNICH â€" It's hard to ignore. About 18,000 billboards, along with advertisements on the Internet, in newspapers and magazines, are promoting "cyber" positions in Germany's Defense Ministry.

"Defend Germany's freedom in cyberspace," the campaign's slogan reads. "Do something that really matters." The message is accompanied by the army's logo and motto, "project digital forces."

The marketing campaign represents the German army's must public attempt to ready itself for one of the biggest security threats, both present and future. By its own account, military developers have eliminated about 7,200 kinds of malware over the past year and identified about 71 million "unauthorized and malicious access attempts" at central Internet exchange points. About 8.5 million of them have been qualified as "very dangerous." And the threats coming from cyber attacks could be directed at private or public infrastructure, hospitals and even energy supplies.

That's why Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen is creating a cyber team dedicated to preparing the army for a cyber war. The government wants to bundle all cyber expertise and build a separate military organization, similar to the standing army, air force or medical service. It comes as other countries, including the United States, are shifting resources to digital combat.

According to insiders, Germany's dedicated “cyber/IT department” will exist inside the Ministry of Defense. The ministry declined comment, saying that the planning process has not yet been finalized.

It's clear that the idea isn't to build an entirely new team from scratch but instead to centralize one dedicated team whose expertise right now are distributed across the military with some 21,000 IT positions. With its large-scale recruitment campaign, the ministry is looking for experts to fill 1,500 vacancies, among them 800 "IT soldiers" and some 700 military or civil positions as IT administrators. That puts the Defense Ministry in competition with the free market, where positions of this kind command very competitive salaries.

The ministry's recruitment campaign has been the target of criticism, as some wonder why the IT positions that already exist can't simply be left where they are within the military organizations. Critics say regrouping them simply allows von der Leyen to advertise towards the private sector. The ministry, on the other hand, argues that that expertise has been too fragmented, weakening its effectiveness and power.

"The army does have valuable competencies in IT technology, but they are scattered from an organizational point of view," she said last year, when the campaign began. "We need to bring them under one roof in order to reinforce them."

When it comes to cyber challenges, there are two particular concerns for the military. "First of all, cyber space has become a fixed component of conventional operations and therefore represents its own dimension â€" just like land, air, sea and space," the minister says. The team is becoming an "interconnected and increasingly digitized major organization" that has to protect itself.

For now, most of the talk about the new team revolves around defense and protection. What we don't know is whether, much more quietly, plans are underway to also use all the high-tech personnel to launch their own cyber attacks.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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