Hard News by Russell Brown

Bad Internet

Al-Jazeera is to move its web servers out of the US to a place - somewhere in Europe - where freedom of speech is held in higher regard.

The independent Arab channel's new English-language website has been hit by denial-of-service attacks ever since it launched on Monday. The attacks appear to have been directed both at the web servers and at the DNS servers at al-Jazeera's US hosting company, mynet.net.

The DNS attacks mean that the al-Jazeera site essentially disappears from the Internet. Attempts to access it draw a number of different error messages, including: Could not open the page “http://english.aljazeera.net/” because the server english.aljazeera.net could not be found. Al-Jazeera has now been told by its upstream provider in the US that its service will be terminated within days.

The Melbourne Age story suggests that some DNS records (including those for the Iraqi state ISP) may actually have been altered.

Vik Olliver, who has been exploring the problem with the New Zealand Linux Users Group, drew a similar conclusion after attempts to reach www.aljazeera.info late yesterday (it had been reachable up till about 4pm) returned the message: connection timed out; no servers could be reached.

"Note that a DDoS attack will not remove an entry from a DNS server," she says. "There is a different error if a domain server cannot be contacted at all. It looks like someone actually pulled the files from the DNS server - the error was returned by the server after all, so it could be reached - and that would involve a US domain server security breach of serious proportions. Unless it was deliberate.

"This seems to be the case in the US too, not just NZ, as I found out when attempting to use the http://crit.org proxy.

"Google is also refusing to display cached pages from Al Jazeera. I have asked colleagues in the New Zealand Linux User's Group to repeat this in New Zealand on different ISPs, and we all get the same problem."

If this is what it appears to be, it's awful. The Internet and its accompanying culture are the great American achievement of my lifetime. The attacks strike at its very ethos.

Meanwhile, Wellington-based Scoop has explained its decision to continue to publish grisly pictures from the war, including those from al-Jazeera. In a passionate editorial deputy editor Selwyn Manning says:

"To sanitise the reality of warfare is abhorrent to those serving the public interest. To censor images of capture, of death, as a consequence of war, is wrong. If Scoop were to do so, it would be subscribing to the glitzy rah rah top-gun Hollywood-façade-style of reportage that the mainstream United States based media has become obsessed with."

Scoop's average daily traffic has roughly doubled to around 50,000 visits a day since the war began, with much of the traffic coming from the US.

Meanwhile US Central Command appears to have had a great deal of trouble getting its story straight on the missile attack that killed 17 civilians in a Baghdad marketplace. After initially claiming that there had been no US missiles used in the area - and strongly implying that the Iraqi regime had, either accidentally or deliberately, killed its own civilians - spokesmen have now admitted that US warplanes had been targeting Iraqi missile sites near the market and had been responsible for the deaths.

The about-face may have been prompted by the publication of a series of news stories, such as this one and this one, which consistently quoted eyewitnesses as having seen a US fighter overhead (the Iraqis have no air power) and witnessed two explosions. The Sydney Morning Herald reporter was able to verify that he had heard the explosions himself.

Incredibly, CNN is still leading with a senior US officer's claim that "we may never know what happened …We think it's entirely possible that this may have been in fact an Iraqi missile that either went up and came down, or given the behaviors of the regime lately, it may have been a deliberate attack inside of town."

To be fair, CNN couldn't have found its own eyewitnesses - for the simple reason that its reporters have been turfed out of Baghdad by the Iraqi leadership. The truth is a victim of both sides in this war.

The SMH says the Pentagon has now adopted a policy of blaming all civilian casualties on Saddam Hussein.

It appears that both British and US prisoners of war have been executed by the Iraqi military. Perhaps this was always on the cards in a war against desperate men - who are themselves dying by the thousand - but it is still ghastly. It's hard not to feel that it will get worse.

Meanwhile, one of the Bush administration's other shameless assaults on the rules-based world - its illegal tariffs on foreign steel - has been knocked back by the WTO. The voodoo economics won't go away for a while yet, unfortunately - a likely appeal will see the tariffs stay for at least another six months.

Anyway, I want to end the week on a happier note. With some help from Robert Sinton, I found and deleted the corrupted file that was causing Microsoft Entourage to fail (it was none of the usual suspects) and my email is fixed. Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions, and no thanks whatsoever to the reader who advised me to buy a Windows PC. Uh, it was a Microsoft application that failed …

I've secured a highly desirable corporate blag for the Blues versus Brumbies game at Eden Park tonight - let's hope the recent trend of there being less rain than forecast holds - and I'm excited about that. (Extra bonus: we're currently downwind from Western Springs, where Bruce Springsteen is playing tonight, but I won't be at home to hear it.)

And, finally, some stuff I really like about America lately:

- The New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, Harper's and Vanity Fair, etc. The Americans make the best magazines, and they are still home to great writing (in the case of the Review, really great).

- The Onion. Bloody funny right now.

- Wired's 10th anniversary. No, the Conde Nast version of Wired isn't the wild, engaging, bright-eyed tribute to the future that Wired was in its early days, but it fills a hole that no one else does. Anyway, the old Wired - like many good indie media ventures - was a kind of conversation between an extended group of friends. That kind of thing can never last long.

- Angel. Witty, dry as a sandstorm and set in LA. Really good pop culture, and therefore consigned to TV4.

- The Donnas, Spend the Night: So down-to-a-tee that you feel there's faint chance that it might all have been created by a very clever advertising agency, but, dude, they pull it off. The Ramones meets The Breakfast Club.

- The Internet. Still.