NPR website, Twitter accounts hacked by Syrian counter-revolutionary group

By Andrew Lapin

Late at night on April 15, hackers affiliated with the Syrian counter-revolutionary movement vandalized NPR.org and several NPR-affiliated Twitter accounts by posting fake articles and statements criticizing the  network’s coverage of the Syrian civil war.

A statement from NPR acknowledged that the hacks came from the Syrian Electronic Army, a collection of hackers loyal to the regime of Syria President Bashar al-Assad. The bogus articles, which were also distributed to and posted on several member station websites, read, “Syrian Electronic Army Was Here.” The attacks began around 11 p.m. EST, NPR said. Adam Schweigert, director of technology at the Investigative News Network, posted a screen-grab of NPR’s hacked homepage on Twitter late Monday night.

The Syrian Electronic Army’s official Twitter account took credit for the attacks and claimed five of NPR’s Twitter accounts had been hacked into. After tweeting, “We will not say why we attacked @NPR … They know the reason and that enough [sic],” the account later added, “You can ask @deborahamos” – a reference to NPR’s Middle East correspondent Deborah Amos, whose coverage of Syria alongside fellow NPR correspondent Kelly McEvers was recognized with a Peabody award in March.

Additionally, the Syrian Electronic Army posted a screen-grab of an internal email sent late Monday night by Mark Stencel, managing editor for NPR’s digital news team, acknowledging the hacks. The still appeared to have been taken from the email account of an NPR employee.

NPR took down the vandalized content and tweets and removed them from member station sites within hours of discovering the hacks. When contacted by Current, NPR declined to comment on the incident.

An August 2011 profile of the Syrian Electronic Army in The Atlantic noted that, while there is no evidence the group is officially backed by the Assad regime, the collective has nevertheless gone to great lengths to target and attempt to discredit any news outlet critical of the Syrian government. “Their campaign does not seem to much distinguish between opposition organizers within Syria and sympathetic groups or media outlets outside of it,” The Atlantic noted.

In recent months, the group has attacked the BBC, al-Jazeera and other news organizations covering the Syrian conflict. It has also been known to direct supporters to overrun the Facebook pages for ABC News and other media outlets. The group’s efforts have been praised by Assad in the past.

Questions, comments, tips? lapin@current.org

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