The Libyan rebels are back on the grid thanks to a telecom executive from Alabama, an airplane napkin and several million dollars worth of equipment. Ousama Abushagur, a Libyan-American living in Abu Dhabi, teamed up with two childhood friends and built a pirate cell phone network to replace the one that Qaddafi shut down after violence broke out in February. Up to the hackers' first phone call on April 2, the rebels had been communicating on the battle field using flag signals with pretty basic capabilities. "Yellow meant retreat, green meant advance," rebel commander Gen. Ahmed al-Ghatrani told the Wall Street Journal.
The feat sounds like something out of a George Clooney movie. And perhaps most the impressive detail: Qaddafi's spokesperson had no idea it existed until the Journal tried to interview him about it. After sketching out the idea on a napkin—just like Twitter's founders did!—the rebels pulled it off in five easy steps:
- Enlist the support of wealthy neighbors like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to buy the very expensive machinery needed to build a wireless telecommunications network.
- Transport the equipment along with engineers and bodyguards through Egypt to the Libyan border. Try not to get caught.
- Steal a bunch of phone numbers from Libyan General Telecommunications Agency, the existing network run by Qaddafi's son.
- Plug the new equipment into Qaddafi's network, route it around Tripoli.
- Hit up the U.A.E. for a satellite feed, take the new "Free Libyana" network online and start thinking about pricing plans.