The Devi of Disinformation
Jabir Islam exposes the many lies of "Sunita Paul"
We have always been told that the pen is mightier than the sword. When wielded by a skilled journalist, we see just how sharp that pen can be. Journalists are the Fourth Estate: a check and balance on the usual power structure. They expose political misdeeds and corruption.
Richard Nixon, once the most powerful man on earth as the US president, was brought down by the tireless (and fearless) work of journalists. This month, the speaker of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom was forced to resign when the Daily Telegraph exposed a scandal involving inappropriate expense by members of parliaments.
With this power come those who would like to abuse this power to serve their own agenda. The formula is simple: they inject patent falsehoods in the public discourse, surrounded by accurate information. To the casual reader, it appears that since points A and B are true, then point C must also be true. Once the credibility has built up, then they would make bolder, sometimes outrageous claims, propelled by people's hunger for information.
Sometimes this is propagated by governments to push their own agenda in the national or international stage, sometimes it is pushed by businesses, and sometimes by intelligence agencies to serve their own agenda that may be different from their governments. Pravda and Voice of America push the agenda of their governments. When intelligence agencies nominate guests for talk shows, they also practice the planting of information.
A lie will go round the world while truth is still putting its shoes on. This 200-year-old saying is even truer with the easy and free instant communication, blogs, and many online outlets where the propaganda can be planted.
But what does someone with evil intent do when they cannot buy a journalist? Pretend to be one, of course. An individual can have a disproportionate level of impact if he or she can produce disinformation padded by some truths.
Today, we look at the genesis and demise of one of such propagandist: one hiding behind the name "Sunita Paul."
Who is Sunita Paul?
This devi of disinformation is a late blooming flower. Her biography makes her 57 years old at this writing. But surprisingly, there is not a single sighting of this prolific author until 2006, when at the ripe old age of 54 she suddenly burst into various online publications, starting with Asian Tribune, an online daily published by an organisation called the World Institute for Asian Studies or WAIS1. Interestingly, there is absolutely no way to contact WAIS. No postal address, no email address, phone, or fax number. The links on the website for conferences are broken. The website itself, like that of Asian Tribune, are hosted in Sweden, and the domain names are registered via a Canadian company.
So a virtual unknown starts writing for a publication that exists only in the murky realms of cyberspace, without any way to contact the publisher. Then Sunita Paul branched out. We saw her prolific writing appear in Modern Ghana2, a website that claims it is a website about Ghana. We saw her handiwork on American Chronicle3 and its sister site California Chronicle, but it has stopped since April 15, 2009, because of a very simple reason: the persons hiding behind the Sunita Paul name stole the writing of others. When American Chronicle was notified of this, they stopped accepting any further articles from her.
American Chronicle is an interesting site. Anyone can register and start publishing articles there. Since it is a website in America and has a professional look, some articles by Sunita Paul were deemed good enough to be quoted by some Bangladeshi intellectuals and politicians. There is only one little problem: Ms. Paul does not let a minor inconvenience like fact stand in her way --she just makes up facts to fit the argument she is making. To paraphrase another old saying, her writing that is original is not good, and anything that is good is not original.
In preparation for this Forum article, we conducted extensive analysis on the writing attributed to Sunita Paul. On a single day, April 18, 2008, American Chronicle published the following articles under the Sunita Paul's name. If you are curious why we picked April 18, the answer is simple: that was the debut of Sunita Paul at the American Chronicle website.
16,975 words -- impressive. This level of output could even be called prodigious. There is only one problem.
The first story, "Is Bangladesh becoming Islam hater?" is no longer on the American Chronicle, because The Daily Star complained that it was stolen from a story published on that newspaper on April 18, titled "National Women Development Policy: Review body opposes equal rights for women"4. American Chronicle removed it after the complaint. But it still exists on Global Politician, another site that accepts writings from any Jodu/Modhu 5.
(A note to readers: instead of juxtaposing columns of stolen text next to the original, we have included the links to the webpages in question at the end of this article. If you are reading this in print, to reduce your typing we have included shorter URLs that will redirect you to the same pages. Judge the extent of plagiarism for yourself.)
"Nation in confrontation"6 steals large parts of its content from the Latvian Red Cross website7. "A war between right and wrong" was stolen from WikiPedia. While it is technically not a copyright violation to borrow from Wikipedia, not citing the source is a violation of journalistic integrity and academic honesty.
"Anatomy of the Economist report" is the shortest article at 1,076 words, and quotes liberally from "The Economist" with the original content reduced to less than 500 words.
"Bangladesh's Playboy Politician" also steals from Wikipedia without citing it as the source.
Lastly, "Who must win -- Donkey or Elephant?"8 steals from an article by Dr. Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University9.
Dear reader, note that this is from a single day's publication at a single site: April 18, 2008, which also happens to be the very first day Sunita Paul published on American Chronicle. We have documented her plagiarism in detail for the other days as well, but we hope we have made the point.
The web of deception started to unravel when a blogger, Mash Rahman, noticed that Sunita Paul has lifted paragraphs from one of his blog posts and used it without attribution. His article elicited a venomous reply from Sunita Paul, where all charges of plagiarism were denied, which reply was subsequently proven to be outright lies.
Why would this person plagiarise? As we mentioned in the beginning, it is important to build up credibility, and the fastest way to do that is to steal quality writing from others.
A fake identity
But it was not just stealing other people's writing. Our Sunita Paul is a writer of fiction as well. Her online biography listed as her birthplace a city called "Kochin" in India. When we pointed out10 that no such city exists, four days later the birthplace was changed to "Cochin" along with some other revisions we suggested.
Surprisingly, Sunita Paul has no shortage of defenders. One commenter wrote: "Whoever (s)he is, I find her commentary to be much more interesting and incisive than what is available from other sources." Another visitor told us that: "She may plagiarise but can you deny the facts?"
We are very glad you asked. Thankfully, facts are very rare in the writing of Sunita Paul, or about even the made-up persona that the people hiding behind that name uses.
In her biography11, Sunita Paul claims: "Her works have appeared in Sunday Ledger, African Times, Global Politician, Jerusalem Post, Women's World, Insight Magazine, Europe Post, The Asian Tribune, Countercurrents, American Thinker, Intelligence Reporteur, Daily Post, Daily Sun, Times Herald, Daily News, New York Sun, Newsday, New Yorker."
We have contacted most of the magazines and newspapers listed here, specifically the ones that can be uniquely identified, such as The New Yorker, New York Sun, Jerusalem Post, etc. We found that with the exception of a few free-to-anyone sites like Asian Tribune, every single one of these publications reported that they have not published any articles by anyone named Sunita Paul.
In an April 14, 2009 article12, Sunita Paul breathlessly reported: "Check here two points! Sajib Wajed Joy could not bring his former wife Christine Ovemarrie as they already got separated long time back. Secondly, on April 13, 2009, he had two-hour long closed door meeting inside the ministry of Home Affairs with none but Tanjim Ahmed Sohel Taj, the junior minister for the ministry."
Mr. Wajed is happily married to his wife, whose name was misspelled. Bangladeshi newspapers regularly report about them and publishes photos of them together. The latest installment was after Dr. Wajed Miah, Joy's father, passed away.
So Sunita Paul is a liar -- she lies in print about her own birthplace, about the publications where her work appeared, and she manufactured "facts" about the marital status of Sajib Wajed.
Mr. Wajed, while not officially engaged in politics, is definitely not a private citizen. As an adult, he can brush off rumours like that.
But what happens when the manufactured facts reach levels that could result in much more serious consequences? On April 1, Sunita Paul wrote13: "One of my very good friends, who coincidentally was flying in the same flight with Koko surprisingly saw that, as soon as the aircraft took off, Koko burst into laughter and was jumping like a kid with other members of his family who were on board with him."
This makes it appear that Arafat Rahman Koko's parole is based on fake illness. Fortunately for Mr. Rahman, the government does not rely on news reports, otherwise he may still be behind bars.
The same article goes on to say:
"On the other hand, Mirza Azam, who is the brother-in-law of Islamist militancy group kingpin Shaikh Abdur Rahman, had direct hands behind the brutal murder of Colonel Gulzar and another former officer of Rapid Action Battalion, who were also sent on deputation by the present government …
Most of the political figures, which are suspected to be involved in the bloody massacre, are greatly concerned about the investigation conducted by Bangladesh Armed Forces, and that is the only one, which is expected to be neutral, unbiased and true. Although there are rumors that the ruling party is actively trying to manage the high-commands in the armed forces too in somehow getting a favorable report. With this goal, the government reportedly is buying time. But, it is opined by many that, none of the members of the Bangladesh Armed Forces will ever compromise with the blood and dignity of their brother officers and their families."
As "Sunita Paul" is not burdened by facts, she explicitly mentioned that Mirza Azam had a direct hand in the killing of Col. Gulzar and another army officer.
"Why" Sunita Paul?
Perhaps more important than finding out the identities behind Sunita Paul is to find out what motivates them to plagiarise and make up facts.
It is one thing to steal an article about national women's policy, and an entirely different thing to name a person as having a direct hand in the murder of two army officers. Along with naming Mirza Azam, in a previous article, Sunita Paul cites unnamed sources who witnessed Sajib Wajed Joy handing out fat envelopes to fleeing BDR personnel at the Dubai airport 14.
We heard how heated the meeting between Sheikh Hasina and the army officers became. Newspapers and electronic media widely reported that politicians avoided the janaja of the slain army officers after some unpleasant incidents at the army mosque. But it could have escalated further.
The army's own investigation report has been submitted, along with the civilian report. Compared to those, Ms. Paul's version of the involvement of Awami League leaders seems to be entirely fabricated. Unfortunately, we do not see a retraction -- just more of the same.
We do not believe accusations of murder and aiding and abetting murderers happen lightly. What would have happened if an army officer decided to take the law in his own hands, and trusting the writings of Sunita Paul, decided to hand out some vigilante justice? What if the fabricated stories of complicity by the son of the prime minister and a senior leader of Awami League had gained credence within the section of the army that was already apoplectic about what it viewed as the government's mishandling of the crisis?
We believe these writings were meant to provide the final spark to an already agitated heap of gunpowder. Fortunately for the country, that did not happen.
Which leads us to the question: who would have benefited from the kind of instability that might have resulted?
In the polarised politics of Bangladesh, anything bad for Awami League is good for BNP, and vice versa. But our mystery woman is equally harsh on AL and BNP. One of her earliest articles was about the corruption of Giashuddin Mamun, Tarique Rahman, and Hawa Bhaban, and as late as 2009 she claimed that the basis of Koko's parole was fake. Could it be possible that "Sunita Paul" is driving the agenda of a third party?
Our first clue was an interview with Kazi Azizul Huq (KAH), the International Affairs Secretary of Bangladesh Khelafat Andolon15. Since Sunita Paul claims to be deaf and dumb, and also has claimed to have never visited16 Bangladesh, we assume this interview took place over email. So what we are seeing is not a spontaneous exchange, rather, a pre-set series of questions being asked by Sunita Paul.
From the very first question, the interview leads: "As I know, most of the Islamist and Islamic parties in Bangladesh are against withdrawal of travel ban. In your case, you are very exception. May you kindly elaborate the reason as to why you feel that Bangladesh should lift travel ban on Israel?"
The companion piece17 in Asia Tribune starts off with this line: "Bangladesh, although demanding to be a moderate Muslim nation, is in reality a notorious Jew hater and anti West and anti American nation."
These two paragraphs sets the tone. For the rest of the interview and the Asia Tribune piece, the goal is clear:
"Dhaka's stand has nothing to do with the Holy Quran, but is absolutely a political position. In this case, let us leave a question to all as to whether Bangladesh is trying to echo the anti Semitic sentiment by becoming one-sided supporter of Palestine …
Definitely, any sovereign nation has the right to hold its own policy. But, in this case, can we raise a plain question as to whether the Jewish business communities and friends of Israel like United States should patronize Dhaka economically to sharpen and strengthen their anti Semitic and anti US sentiments?"
Hmm. Definitely strange. A person allegedly born in India, someone who writes a few thousand words per day, never bothered to write a single article over a three-year period on India-Bangladesh relationship or the anti-Indian sentiment expressed by at least one major political party in Bangladesh. But the same person conducted one interview where most of the questions focused on anti-Semitism, Bangladesh, and Israel, and wrote another article on the relationship between friends of Israel, i.e. US and Bangladesh? This is not just a simple case of the aunt caring more than the mother -- this is a major propaganda push to sway public opinion.
Our Kazi Azizul Huq is quite the letter-writer: he wrote a letter to the Saudi king, and copied it to, among others, Salahuddin Shoaib Choudhury, a self-proclaimed Muslim Zionist, and Richard Benkin, an American Jewish activist and the founder of Interfaith Strength, a website that seems to be dedicated to promoting Salahuddin Shoaib Choudhury18.
Richard Benkin also happens to be the author of an Open Letter to Bangladesh, written in November 2003 and published in JewishWeek19 where he asks Bangladesh to recognise Israel. Interestingly, this came on the heels of Colin Powell's visit to Bangladesh prior to the start of the Iraq war where he asked the government to recognise Israel.
The author of this article is opposed to the neo-conservative agenda that predicates all Middle-Eastern politics on the security and pre-eminence of Israel. In case you have forgotten, it was the neo-cons in the US that pushed the US to a war in Iraq, one of the goals of which military action was to secure Israel forever.
The writings of Sunita Paul, along with cohorts Salahuddin Shoaib Choudhury and Richard Benkin, are pushing the same agenda in Bangladesh. It is our duty to our motherland to not fall for their deception.
Like the Hydra that grew two new heads every time Hercules cut one off, Sunita Paul and her spawn will continue to dog Bangladesh.
Consider the following: due to the proven complaints of plagiarism, American Chronicle has stopped publishing any new articles by Sunita Paul. Although her articles and bio are still there and reachable by the links we provided, searching for Sunita Paul brings up a single article that refers to her. Her last article was published on April 15, 2009.
But we are also watching the fascinating rise of one Joe Fleishman20 on American Chronicle: "Joe was born in 1968, in Philippine. His mother is from Philippine and father is an American. He grew up in Manila and starts his career as a news photographer for a local newspaper. In 2001 he moved to Japan and join Mainichi magazine. He spends a significant time in India."
This senior reporter of Mainichi is contributing his writing to a free online news outlet, approximately 50% of which seem to be devoted to Bangladesh. He also shares with Sunita Paul the propensity of overuse of exclamation signs and misuse of the comma. And this 41-year old senior writer suddenly appeared out of nowhere in April 2009, just as American Chronicle was shutting down Sunita Paul? Being the suspicious type, we called Mainichi Magazine. It does not have any Joe Fleishman on its staff.
1. World Institute for Asian Studies, WAIS: http://www.worldinstitute forasianstudies.org
2. Modern Ghana
3. American Chronicle:
4. Is Bangladesh becoming Islam hater? http://www.globalpolitician.com/24549-bangladesh-islam or
5. National Women Development Policy. Review body opposes equal rights for women
http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=32657 or http://tinyurl. com/ sunitapaul6
6. Nation in confrontation: http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/58901 or
7. Latvian Red Cross:
http://www.redcross.lv/en/conventions.htm or http://tinyurl.com/ sunitapaul8
8. Who must win - Donkey or Elephant?: http://www.american chronicle.com/articles/view/58898 or http://tinyurl .com/sunitapaul9
9. Professor Lichtman's article from the US Embassy in Japan website
http://tokyo.usembassy.gov/e/p/tp-20080123-02.html or http://tinyurl.com/sunitapaul10
10. Sunita Paul: Plagiarist
http://www.docstrangelove.com/2009/04/03/sunita-paul-plagiarist/ or http://tinyurl.com/sunitapaul11 12. http://shadakalo.blogspot .com/2009/04/what-difference-4-days-make.html or http://tinyurl. com/sunitapaul12
11. Sunita Paul bio: http://www. american chronicle. com/authors/ view/2950 or
12. "Suppressed trip, hidden meeting and treatment luxury of Bangladeshi politicians": http://www.american chronicle.com/articles/view/98368 or http://tinyurl.com/sunitapaul14
13. Phone calls, ailment and mystery unfolded in BDR massacre case http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/96720 or
14. Bangladesh: Manipulation of BDR massacre probe
15. An interview with Sunita Paul
http://bangladeshkhelafatandolan.blogspot.com/2008/06/interview-with-sunita-paul.html or http://tinyurl .com/sunitapaul18
16. Who used my name and created the false blog?
http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/90278 or http://tinyurl .com/sunitapaul19
17. They hate US-West too
http://www.asiantribune.com/?q=node/10252 or http://tinyurl.com/ sunitapaul20
18. Letter to Saudi king regarding Madrid interfaith conference
http://bangladeshkhelafatandolan.blogspot.com/2008/07/letter-to-saudi-king-regarding-madrid.html, or http://tinyurl.com/sunitapaul21
19. Take lesson from Bangladesh on pluralism and religious tolerance (original no longer available)
http://www.mombu.com/culture/bangladesh/t-take-lesson-from-bangladesh-on-pluralism-and-religious-tolerance-1172135.html or http://tinyurl.com/sunitapaul22
20. Joe Fleishman bio: http:// www.americanchronicle.com/authors/view/4140 or
Jabir Islam blogs at http://shadakalo. blogspot.com