Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Iranian Regime Blinks, Frees French Accused

The Iranian government has capitulated in the face of intense diplomatic activity and released one of two high-profile French defendants on trial in Tehran for spying.

Nazak Afshar, a member of the French embassy staff in Iran was released from jail by Iranian authorities late Tuesday, following diplomatic efforts and pressure by the EU and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Afshar spoke by phone with the French President and with family members immediately on her release.

She is among scores imprisoned and accused in what has been widely dubbed a mass show trial. Her prosecution is set to continue despite the release. Another defendant, French teaching assistant Clotilde Reiss is still in custody.

The two women are charged with espionage and conspiracy in a Western plot to overthrow the government. France has dismissed the charges as baseless and a statement from Sarkozy's office called for all charges against both to be dropped and for Reiss also to be freed and returned to France.

Sarkozy thanked France's EU partners, and other countries, specifically Syria, as among those who provided support "in this first phase." The use of the term "first phase" indicates that French and EU authorities intend to maintain the pressure on Iran to drop all charges. The bullish tone is likely an indication that the international community feels it is likely to succeed.

In retrospect the scale of the mass trial and the decision to charge numbers of foreign or dual-citizenship defendants now looks like a serious miscalculation by the Iranian regime.

This concession to the French is a signal development showing the regime is being forced to backpedal to avoid further political fallout from the decision to mount the ambitious show trial of 110 defendants.

Sweden summoned the Iranian ambassador to advise that the European Union was prepared to take unspecified 'further steps' to secure the release of French and British nationals on trial. The Swedes, who currently hold the rotating Presidency of the EU said they considered the detentions were a move against the entire 27-member bloc.

“We called in the Iranian ambassador to the foreign ministry to reiterate and reinforce this message and tell him what kind of measures we expect from Iran. On this and other issues," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in an interview Tuesday with Swedish Radio. "I think Iran is aware that we are prepared to take steps beyond what we have already done."

From the Iranian government perspective the show trial had seemed to offer it advantages in a battle for legitimacy against political opponents.

It reinforced a propaganda line aimed at loyalists: that Western states, Britain in particular, played a key role in protests aiming for a "soft overthrow" of the Islamic regime. The hapless foreign embassy staff were incidental pawns in this narrative.

Including prominent Iranian politicians among the defendants and staging concurrent threats to prosecute leading opposition politicians was intended to intimidate an emerging coalition of political foes.

But the strategy was flawed by virtue of an excess of zeal.

Domestically the sight of a gaunt and disheveled former Vice President Mohammad Abtahi, confessing in a televised broadcast, jarred with broad swathes of Iranian political opinion. Any intimidatory effect was outweighed by the trial's appearance of being a Stalinist-era farce with unintended echoes of the regime of the deposed Shah.

A measure of the image problem is that even the State-run, PressTV website yesterday placed the word 'confessed' in italics when describing the released French woman's testimony.

But the international effects of the trial have proved to be its Achilles heel. The foreign nationals in the trial may indeed have been pawns in the eyes of the Iranian regime, but the EU could and has promoted them into a checkmate move. The inclusion of foreign embassy staff and nationals had crossed key diplomatic protocols in an indefensible manner. The EU has leveraged against that error and can compound it into damaging international isolation of the regime. Thus the backpedaling.

Repression of the type which the Iranian regime is attempting requires both brute force and political nous or savvy. The brutality has been on vivid display, but the savvy tellingly absent.

The regime continues to implement tactics which are short-term positive and long-term deeply damaging. The first example of such an error was the overarching scale of the killing and detention of peaceful protesters. A more tempered crackdown could have achieved the goal the regime sought. The second example is the scale of the now discredited trial.

These two key errors betray either incompetence, nervousness or both. They hint at a fundamentally shallow base of core regime support. Political errors like this cost support and embolden opponents. The mistakes compound the flight of capital. Money is mostly apolitical and calculatedly amoral. It will remain in a country which is a crude dictatorship, but will tend to flee a regime which can't manage the business of repression.

Despite it's street-thuggery resources and grip on the levers of law and administration, the shaky Iranian regime has two key strikes against it and seems to be floundering.

Three strikes you're out.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Spammers Dog Iran Twitter Activists - Again

A mass spam campaign is again flooding the #iranelection topic on Twitter. The last major spam campaign was pushing a scam called "Turbo Cash Generator", this time well organised spammers are promoting a dubious offer of a $1,000 Visa gift card at a website called

The e-researchcenter site identifies itself as a Top Notch Media, Inc. website. Top Notch Media is a ValueClick company. ValueClick is a publicly traded, international internet marketing and advertising firm, founded in 1988 and based in Westlake Village, California. Besides the e-researchcenter its subsidiary operations include Commission Junction and The company is reported to have 2008 sales of $628 million.

That level of presumed reputable corporate operations does not sit well with Top Notch Media -whose online reputation, frankly, stinks. has this warning:
These are complete crooks.... Don't fall for this scam. I did. They take your money and run... Run, run as fast and far away from this site as you can. Liars, scumbags, scam artists, crooks... I lost hundreds of dollars trusting them. carries this warning about another Top Notch Media operation:
"This company clearly has no credibility and cheats consumers out of money they are due."
But perhaps any assumption of corporate responsibility is misplaced. In March of 2008 ValueClick offered to pay $2,9 million to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that ValueClick subsidiary Hi-Speed Media used deceptive emails, banner ads and pop-ups to drive consumers to its websites. The company's campaign offered gifts, such as laptops and iPods.

But the FTC said consumers had to navigate “a maze of expensive and burdensome third-party offers which they were required to ‘participate in' at their own expense in order to receive the promised ‘free' merchandise”.

Given the reasons for ValueClick's prior penalization, the FTC might well be interested in the current Twitter spam campaign directing consumers to its subsidiary.

After all, the new offer to consumers visiting that website seems identical in form to the offers which cost the corporation a close to $3 million penalty last year.

To benefit from the $1,000 Visa gift card, consumers lured via Twitter to must purchase 2 Silver offers, 2 Gold offers, and 8 Platinum offers from a range of products including online credit reports, teeth whitening products and Botox.

They must also recruit two others to do the same. Tellingly, the terms and conditions note that the credit card offer may require consumers to activate the card by transferring a balance or taking a cash advance.

It all looks like what the FTC described in its prior charges against ValueClick as: "a maze of expensive and burdensome third-party offers which they were required to ‘participate in' at their own expense in order to receive the promised ‘free' merchandise”. Our archive of the e-researchcenter visa gift offer page is here.

It would be unfortunate for ValueClick if the corporation were to suffer another multi-million dollar FTC sanction. The FTC's consumer complaints form is here. Feel free to refer to this article. Feel free to post this article to the net or to popular Twitter topics.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Green Blood: Iran's True Toll of Martyrs

The official number of protesters killed to date in the Iranian uprising is widely viewed with extreme skepticism. But a firm contradictory count of the death toll has been slow to emerge.

Any failure to hold Iranian authorities to account has one key consequence: it extends to repressive forces in Iran a licence to continue to kill without fear that the full scale of these murders will be exposed. Thus placing peaceful protesters at considerable ongoing risk.

Accordingly, Sea Of Green Radio presents the first in a series of investigative reports aimed at placing the true fatality count firmly in the public domain.

Listen here mp3 audio

We interview the author of the 'Iran Revolution' weblog, which is building a careful fatality count on a case-by-case basis. We also present both an overview of the evidence to date, and a preliminary estimate of the likely final death toll.

Referenced in this Audio: