It’s been a few months since mainstream media has presented its audience with a State Department super hero acting as a “humanitarian” in Syria. But, never to disappoint, Andrew Gold of Wired as well as a host of other writers (at the same time) have been extolling the virtues of three new tech heroes who have designed an app to allegedly protect Syrian civilians from becoming victims of airstrikes.
In the Wired article, “Saving Lives With Tech Amid Syria’s Endless Civil War,” Gold first narrates the story of Abu al-Nour, an alleged Syrian civilian who lives in Idlib province, the last major stronghold of America’s “moderate cannibals.” Gold does not tell us of any crimes by the “rebels” nor does he suggest al-Nour has any reason to fear them. Instead, the sole evil in the article is Assad and Putin and the airstrikes against terrorists represented by Gold as airstrikes on civilians.
The story takes us through an airstrike that al-Nour narrowly survives but only as a result of a new technology designed and created to help protect innocent people from becoming victims of Russian and Syrian (but not American or Israeli) airstrikes.
To be clear, regardless of which side you stand with, one can scarcely argue with helping innocent people escape being caught in the crossfire between the terrorists and the government. However, one need only read a little further to see the real purpose behind the new tech, a portion of which is illuminated by the individuals who created it. Indeed, there are scarcely any lines to read between in order to see that this new tech is devised not to help civilians but terrorists evade Russian and Syrian airstrikes. If it saves a civilian life in the process, that’s just good press. Ultimately, however, the Sentry system is nothing but another tool to assist intelligence assets and terrorists on the ground in Idlib.
The warning that came over al-Nour’s phone was created by three men—two Americans, one a hacker turned government technologist, the other an entrepreneur, and a Syrian coder. The three knew they couldn’t stop the bombings. But they felt sure they could use technology to give people like al-Nour a better chance of survival. They’re now building what you might call a Shazam for air strikes, using sound to predict when and where the bombs will rain down next. And thus opening a crucial window of time between life and death.
Gold takes us through the brief background of John Jaeger, one of the creators of the technology, which could only be described as forgettable. Gold writes,
As a kid in rural McHenry County, Illinois, John Jaeger didn’t have much to do until his stepdad built him a homebrew 486 computer. It was the late ’80s—still the early days of PCs—and he mostly played videogames. Eventually he found his way onto a BBS with connections to the demoscene, an early underground subculture obsessed with electronic music and computer graphics. By the time he was 15, Jaeger was in deep with hackers, software crackers, and phone phreakers.
“We would exploit weaknesses in computer networks in order to gain administrative privileges and learn how the networks worked,” Jaeger says. He messed around but adds that he didn’t do anything more “destructive” than hack into Harvard’s system to give himself a Harvard.edu email address.
Jaeger took a job at modem manufacturer US Robotics right out of high school, followed by a gig at General Electric Medical Systems. The promise of “good drugs and startup parties” lured him to Silicon Valley in the late ’90s. The adventure, he says, was “forgettable.” He took computer security and network management jobs before working his way up to IT director. “I basically made all the wrong decisions,” he says. “Instead of becoming a multibillionaire, I went and worked for three companies that don’t exist anymore.”
Jaeger moved to Chicago and got a job in the financial industry. He designed and developed a trading platform and did risk management analysis. He was enjoying the work, but then the financial crisis hit. “I saw 20- and 30-year veterans of Wall Street soiling their trousers, genuinely scared,” he says. “It was really humbling.” That experience, he says, turned him off finance. But it was another three years before he finally left the industry.
This background is, indeed, a forgettable one. That is, until we reach the point at which Jaeger begins working for the US State Department and a cog in the wheel of the Middle East-wide color revolution initiated by that department known as the Arab Spring. Gold continues,
Through a friend who had worked on President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, he got an introduction to someone in the State Department. It was 2012, a year after the start of the Arab Spring, and the US government was recruiting people who could bring corporate experience and technical expertise to Syria. Jaeger wasn’t exactly familiar with the civil war that was building. “I had no idea what was going on,” he says. But he wanted to go overseas, so he relocated to Istanbul and basically became a consultant for the people trying to achieve a semblance of normalcy in areas of Syria that weren’t under Assad’s control.
“You had a whole lot of chiropractors and dentists suddenly respond to the needs of their local communities in a way they had never anticipated,” Jaeger says. “These guys need clean water. These guys need power. These folks need medicine.” Jaeger’s job was to help them figure out how to provide services and maintain some stable governance.
In October 2012, he started working with journalists and developing a program to support Syrian independent media. But two years in, the conflict started wearing on him. Jaeger had grown attached to many of his Syrian contacts and mourned when they were killed. Everyone he knew had lost family. It became clear that the biggest problem he could address was the bombing of civilians.
Options for mitigating the damage from air strikes, Jaeger knew, were few. And most were out of his reach. You could stop them. But even the international community had failed to do that. You could treat people after the air strikes hit. Various groups, like Syria Civil Defense, were doing that work. Or you could warn people ahead of time.
That last option seemed within his technical expertise. So he approached the State Department. But when he couldn’t rally any interest in the idea of an early-warning alert system, he left the agency in May 2015. He was convinced he was onto something. But he needed help.
Jaeger was a rather important cog in the color revolution wheel. As one can easily see, he not only worked for the US State Department in jihadist-cultivating Turkey, he rather obviously used his “corporate and technology” skills to help organize the terrorist army that was being funneled into Syria via Turkey. Only a year after the West’s genocide began, he was working to push propaganda against the Syrian government and promoting the terrorists he helped organize. Jaeger allegedly left the State Department in 2015 but, as one can see from the context of his current work, that story is highly questionable.
Another creator, David Levin, was also no stranger to the world of terrorism and terrorists having been in close contact with a “Syrian activist” (i.e. terrorist) himself. It was this “activist” who allegedly connected him to Jaeger. Levin’s own non-profit organization “Refugee Open Ware,” based in Jordan, immediately began working with Jaeger and is now pushing the tech to Idlib.
The two men were then connected to Murad, an allegedly anti-government Syrian coder who was active in teaching terrorists how to avoid having their digital communications intercepted. He also began working closely with the White Helmets which Gold spuriously refers to as “Syria Civil Defense,” an organization that has existed in Syria since the 1960s. Nevertheless, the connection to White Helmets alone is one major indication that Murad is not just some Syrian techie but an intelligence asset/terrorist/terrorist supporter. Some would even call in to question the manner in which the three individuals were connected with one another, suspecting the meeting story is nothing more than a fictional account written by intelligence agencies to be used for the purpose of publicizing and disseminating the story as more Western “humanitarian” efforts.
Nevertheless, after an “angel investor” appeared to save the day, Levin, Murad, and Jaeger created Hala Systems in order to push the warning system technology to the right anti-government hands.
Gold describes how the program developed and how it works. During the course of the description, pay careful attention to the role Nusra’s propaganda arm, the White Helmets, play. Gold writes,
People who lived near military bases kept watch; when they saw a warplane take off, they used walkie-talkies to notify other people, who would contact others, spreading the word up the chain. Many of the participants were members of Syria Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, who also served as rescue workers. But the process was spotty, unreliable. There was no systematic way for observations to come in and warnings to go out.
Jaeger thought that with the right technology it should be possible to design a better system. People were already watching for planes. If Hala could capture that information and connect it with reports of where those planes dropped their bombs, it would have the foundation of a prediction system. That data could be plugged into a formula that could calculate where the warplanes were most likely headed, taking into account the type of plane, trajectory, previous flight patterns, and other factors.
The Hala team started reaching out to the people who were monitoring the planes, including the White Helmets. At the same time, the team hacked together the first iteration of a system that would analyze data from the aircraft monitors, predict where the planes were headed, and broadcast alerts to people under threat of attack. Jaeger and Murad sketched it out, eventually filling up a notebook and using napkins to get the rest down. Jaeger says at first the system was just a bunch of if/then statements, a logic tree, and an Android app.
Basically, if someone saw, for example, a Russian-built MIG-23 Syrian warplane take off from Hama air base, then entered that information into the system—now called Sentry—it would issue a warning via social media with predictions about when an attack could be expected to hit a targeted area. It might estimate that the jet could be headed for the town of, say, Darkush with an ETA of 14 minutes, or Jisr al-Shughur in 13. When more people reported a specific plane as it flew over different locations, Sentry could then send more specific and accurate warnings directly to people in threatened areas.
HOW THE SENTRY SYSTEM WORKS
Hala’s warning system relies on both human observers and remote sensors to collect data on potential air strikes. The startup is working toward making its network more autonomous, the better to save lives. — Andrea Powell
1. When observers near government air bases spot warplanes taking off, they enter the type of aircraft, heading, and coordinates into an Android app, which sends the info to Hala’s servers.
2. Sensor modules placed in trees or atop buildings collect acoustic data, which helps Sentry confirm the type of plane, its location, and flight path.
3. Software crunches all the data and compares it to past attacks, predicting the likelihood of an air raid, as well as when and where it might occur.
4. If the potential for an air strike is high enough, the system generates an alert that’s broadcast via social media. Hala has also set up air raid sirens that Sentry can activate remotely. The warning system now gives people an average of eight minutes to seek shelter.
5. Using a neural network, an automated system continuously scans Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram for posts that might indicate air strikes.
As the team gathered data, they constantly tweaked the formula. Everything was trial and error. “One of the things we learned early on was that our model for predicting arrival times was super aggressive,” Jaeger says of Sentry before it was released to the public. “It had planes arriving much faster than they actually did.” They couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Then they talked to a pilot who had defected from the Syrian air force. “Oh, that’s not how we fly that plane,” the pilot told Jaeger when the team showed him the system. The program assumed jets would always fly at maximum cruising speed, but the actual speeds were much lower, most likely to conserve fuel. “When we fly that plane, we fly it at exactly these altitudes and speeds at these intervals, using these waypoints,” the pilot said. With that information, the Hala team was able to fine-tune Sentry’s predictions to be accurate to within 30 seconds of the warplane’s arrival.
Precision was essential, Murad says. If Sentry went live too early and was inaccurate, civilians wouldn’t trust it, and it would fail to catch on. But Murad was eager to get it out there. Every day it was in development was another day people could be dying. At this point, part of his job was to watch videos of air strikes and look for eyewitness accounts on social media and in news reports to verify the information they received from people on the ground. Day after day, from Hala’s office, he monitored the aftermath of the strikes—the dead, the wounded and the dying, the bodies, the blood, and the maimed limbs. “You cannot stop crying, you can’t stop yourself,” he says, “and you can’t get used to it.”
Even though the Hala team was still getting by on scant funding, they managed to hire three more Syrians to help Murad look at the video and social media evidence and match it against Sentry’s predictions. But it took hours to verify the trajectory of a specific plane from air base to bombing site. And some days there were dozens of strikes. The new staffers couldn’t keep up. So the team figured they needed to automate the process. Jaeger hired engineers and researchers to develop software that, with the help of a neural network, could search Arabic language media for keywords that would help confirm the location and timing of an air strike. More data on more air strikes meant better information and better predictions.
As they were working to get accurate data, they also needed a way to get the warnings out to civilians. Murad wrote scripts for Telegram, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as the walkie-talkie app Zello.
Day after day, from Hala’s office, Murad monitored the aftermath of the air strikes—the dead, the wounded and the dying, the bodies, the blood, and the maimed limbs. “You cannot stop crying. And you can’t get used to it.”
On August 1, 2016, Sentry was ready to go live. The team started small, launching it in part of Idlib Province, which was getting hit hard by air strikes. They reached out to Syrian contacts and shared the news on social media. Volunteers passed out flyers. “Within a day and a half,” Jaeger says, “we got a testimonial video from someone who said, ‘My family is alive because I logged in and I got this message and I moved from my house. The house got blown up, my neighbors got killed.’ ”
He showed me the video, sent to him by someone in Syria. In it, a young man, visibly shaken and standing near a pile of rubble, confirms what happened. When Jaeger first saw it, he cried. “It was the first time we actually realized what we had done,” he says. “One family being saved. It was all worth it.” After that, no one was going to take a break. Levin remembers putting in 90- and 100-hour workweeks. Murad once toiled for three days straight without sleep.
All those hours led to a number of important improvements. Take the warnings. They need to reach as many people as possible, even those without access to cell phones, computers, or radios. Some areas in Syria already had air raid sirens, but they had to be manually activated. That meant running across town. “You’re bleeding off minutes at that point,” Jaeger says. So Hala modified a siren by adding a component that would let Sentry activate it remotely. The team shipped prototypes, each about the size of a cigarette carton, to the White Helmets, who helped test the units by placing them in civil defense bases and hospitals. There are now as many as 150 of these sirens inside the country, and Hala is figuring out how to make them work even during power and internet outages.
The latest addition to Sentry is a sensor module that’s designed to distinguish between airplanes, and gauge speed and direction. Every sound has a unique signature, whether it’s a reggae song, a human voice, or the roar of a warplane. To capture the signatures they needed to train Sentry’s sensors, Jaeger’s team used open source data and field recordings of Syrian and Russian jets. According to Hala, at optimal range Sentry can now identify threatening aircraft about 95 percent of the time.
Jaeger is cagey about how many of Hala’s sensor modules are deployed in Syria, but he says they’ve been operational since March. People have placed the briefcase-sized units on rooftops in opposition-held areas, giving clear access to the sound signatures of government warplanes overhead. The modules are still in development but have been made entirely from cheap, off-the-shelf technology. “Ten years ago this was impossible,” Jaeger says, “especially at such a low cost.” What Hala has done, essentially, is give Syrian civilians a radar system—and a better chance of surviving against overwhelming and indiscriminate force.
Interestingly enough, during my travels through Syria and through my contacts there, I have never met nor have I spoken to a Syrian with the Sentry system. In fact, it appears no Syrian civilian actually has that system. Instead, it appears to be a military system set up to protect terrorist positions from sustaining too much damage to their positions when Russian and Syrian planes target them. This is mainly because Sentry only exists in Idlib. In other words, much like the White Helmets themselves, it is only deployed in terrorist-held territory. Indeed, the Sentry sirens are only placed in the dens of Nusra Front itself going by the name of the White Helmets as is evidenced by the Wired article.
But, despite the best efforts of the article to present Hala as being a small start-up doing its best to save civilians lives (a la the White Helmets), the truth is that the company survives off of the Western governments who fund it. Gold writes,
The company is currently surviving off the initial investment, grants and contributions from the UK, Denmark, Dutch, US, and Canadian governments, and a small round of funding from friends, family, and a couple of other investors.
The Sentry system and its creators are just one more piece of the propaganda puzzle, whose trail was blazed by the White Helmets terrorists and children shoved on to Western television screens and exploited to demonize the attempts of the Syrian government and the Syrian people to liberate their country from the Western-backed terrorists who have infested it for now seven years. But Sentry is more than just mere propaganda, it is a tool being provided to terrorists in order to help them evade the fate they sealed for themselves in 2011 when they began murdering, raping, and torturing the people of Syria. The West can invent as many apps and gadgets as it likes but, at least for now, it seems that the liberation of Idlib is an inevitability.
The Real Syria Civil Defense VS The White Helmets – Brandon Turbeville
White Helmets NGO: A “Rescue And Assist” Operation Under Guise Of Human Rights – Brandon Turbeville
White Helmets Video And Supporters’ Demonstrations Confirm Lack Of Credibility – Brandon Turbeville
Who Are Syria’s White Helmets? – Vanessa Beeley