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5:57:48 PM
  • updated Another Yes Men hoax. The group that has delighted in bringing derision to the Geneva-based World Trade Organization has apparently struck again, and their handiwork is clever indeed. here Added 2002-05-24, 12:38 pm: The signs all point to the involvement of The Yes Men and RTMark -- read on for the gory details.

    This morning I received a press release apparently from the communications office of the WTO, with the headline: World Trade Organization will disband, refound under new charter.

    The press release claimed:

    As of September, agreements reached under the WTO will be suspended pending ratification by the new organization, tentatively referred to as the Trade Regulation Organization... Existing agreements... each will be subject to individual review for compliance with the TRO's charter, which is based upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Disbanding for humanitarian reasons sounded quite unlike the WTO I have come to know and dislike. The press release pointed for further details to gatt.org. In the past this site has been central to hoaxes and spoofs at the WTO's expense -- see for example this mirrored copy of a New York Times story on a highly amusing speech delivered to an international group of lawyers meeting in Austria. The WTO itself has deplored gatt.org.

    Several things made me suspicious of the press release. First, the domain name gatt.org is registered to someone in Washington D.C. with the email address jonathan@killyourtv.com. Hmm. Second, the email headers in the press release revealed that it had been sent from panix.com, a venerable ISP in New York City but an unlikely source for a press release from Geneva. here Updated 2002-05-24, 12:38 pm: (Sources tell me there have been rumors about Panix turning a blind eye in the past to questionable mass mailings, one might almost call them spam, from RTMark and The Yes Men.) And third, I found the actual home page of the World Trade Organization at wto.org. It was very similar to the material at gatt.org except for the press release and its supposed backup research. In fact here Updated 2002-05-24, 12:38 pm: many of the intra-site links at gatt.org point instead to wto.org. See this site map for links to other gatt.org pages, as well as some on rtmark.com and theyesmen.org.

    The emailed press release was prefaced with a realistic-sounding note:

    [NOTE: On May 21, information regarding the WTO's restructuring was released prematurely at a special luncheon of CPA Australia, Sydney. The early release of this information, which met with overwhelming approval, has accelerated this announcement, originally scheduled for next Friday.]

    The home of the supposed early release of the news is clever. AAP MediaNet in an Australian site that carries press releases without verifying their authenticity. The announcement appears to have been posted by one Barbara Magee, who is indeed a press officer of CPA Australia, according to this page. The release might have been faxed to AAP MediaNet from almost anywhere; it is not clear that Ms. Magee was involved in the hoax. (Online submission of press releases to the AAP MediaNet site requires a membership login. If I were the hoaxters I would not have wanted to risk a charge of breaking and entering; faxing is safer.)

    The hoax goes still deeper. The premature release of the WTO's plans was supposed to have been made by one Kinnithrung Sprat, Development and Economic Research officer for the WTO. There is such a person; he works for the WTO; and he holds that title. Indeed, on May 21 he spoke to a meeting of the CPA Australia organization. But according to the program, his topic was the globalization of agri-business, not the dissolution of the WTO.

    here Added 2002-05-24, 12:38 pm: OK, now it gets really twisty. A source emailed me as follows:

    I think there may actually be a grain of truth underlying this all. I'm very foggy on details, but I believe that one of the rtmark/YM guys actually was down in Australia giving a talk -- as a representative of gatt.org, no doubt.

    So the possibility exists that CPA Australia's Barbara Magee might have posted the "news" on the AAP MediaNet site herself, in all sincerity -- having been taken in by a speaker who was a gatt.org imposter.

    The contact information given in the AAP MediaNet press release for Sprat and for the WTO's claimed PR spokesman are email addresses at gatt.org, suspiciously backed up by addresses at Hotmail and Yahoo.fr. A test message sent to these free accounts bounced (given the thoroughness of the hoaxters, I'm surprised they didn't register these addresses). Of course any inquiries addressed to gatt.org will go to the hoaxters, who will -- if their past behavior is any indication -- happily confirm the news of the WTO's imminent dissolution.


    The multilateral trading system known as GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) has been in effect since 1948. In 1995, GATT's oversight transitioned to a new organization, the WTO. The domain name wto.org was registered in April 1995. The name gatt.org was registered in October 1997 by Jonathan Prince of Washington D.C., who runs a blog called Kill Your TV. As far as I can discover, the name gatt.org was never used by the WTO's predecessor.

    As protesters planned the disruption of the Seattle meeting of the WTO (Nov. 30 - Dec. 3, 1999), Jonathan Prince was approached by representatives of a shadowy international organization calling itself The Yes Men. They wanted use of the domain name gatt.org, and Prince obliged. The Yes Men are affiliated with anti-corporate hoaxters Rtmark; and it was Rtmark who put up the first content at gatt.org, according to Prince. The Internet Archive's WayBack Machine captured a snapshot of the first hoax site on November 28, 1999. According to Rtmark's site, gatt.org had been published 8 days earlier, garnering a fair amount of press coverage.

The previous few TBTF Log entries

Sunday, 2001-07-29

  • An Echelon BOTEC   7:41:12 pm

    Ever wondered what percentage of the world's telephone traffic the NSA could intercept?

Wednesday, 2001-07-25

Friday, 2001-07-20

Wednesday, 2001-07-18

  • Make A Shorter Link   8:29:31 am

    This new free service makes short work of URLs hundreds or thousands of characters long.

Sunday, 2001-07-01

  • NSI blocking domain name transfers?   12:29:54 pm

    A stealthy policy change may have resulted in thousands of domains remaining with NSI after their owners had requested a transfer to another registrar.

Sunday, 2001-06-24

  • A new Siliconium   8:31:21 pm

    Other regions may not feel as much like emulating Silicon Valley as they once did. Here's a Siliconium for these dot-doom-and-gloom times.

Wednesday, 2001-06-06

  • The StinkyFlowerCam   10:59:49 am

    The worlds largest and smelliest flower is blooming now -- a rare event -- and its minders have set up a Web cam for it.

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