kony2012 spies

"Kony 2012" producer accused of spying

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Invisible Children, the makers of the viral video “Kony 2012,” are the subject of controversial headlines once again this year. This time, it’s over their involvement with the Ugandan Military and the U.S. State Department, and what some media outlets are billing as “spying.”

The hubbub stems from a U.S. Diplomatic cable sent in 2009 and leaked last year by the whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks.

The cable states Invisible Children passed information along to the Ugandan government that they learned while filming their documentaries. The information proved to be legitimate enough to warrant an arrest of a sought-after “rebel” named Patrick Komakech. According to the cable:

“The latest plot was exposed when the Government received a tip from the U.S. non-governmental organization (NGO) Invisible Children regarding the location of Patrick Komekech... Invisible Children reported that Komekech had been in Nairobi and had recently reappeared in Gulu, where he was staying with the NGO. Security organizations jumped on the tip and immediately arrested Komekech on March 5.”

In a statement to Raw Story, Invisible Children explained they had severed ties with Komakech, who had appeared in their films before, as he was engaging “in activities that could be jeopardizing the lives of civilians and putting the organization and its staff at risk.”

Invisible Children also denied the allegations they were spying, in a statement to Raw Story:

“Invisible Children is an independent non-governmental organization dedicated to the assistance of communities affected by LRA violence through development efforts; we do not conduct intelligence efforts of any kind for a foreign government.”

That claim hasn’t stopped outlets, riding the knee-jerk wave of Invisible Children criticism, from accusing the non-profit of spying. The accusations originated from an editorial published by The Black Star News, which bills itself “New York’s leading investigative newspaper,” on April 8, under a title Foreign Policy magazine called “inflammatory.”  

Mass interest in the Invisible Children-spying story, especially after a related thread hit the front page of Reddit, took down the Black Star site twice in the last 24 hours, a fact redditors joked about on the evening of April 10. Black Star has since come out claiming to be the subject of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that, coincidentally, began the same time as the Reddit mention. Black Star also admitted the site was facing a larger than normal traffic spike.

NYU Local wrote about the Wikileaks cables pertaining to Invisible Children on March 20, concluding the dozen “cables shed light on a positive, sometimes collaborative, relationship between the State Department and Invisible Children.”

NYU Local also pointed out “it’s not unusual for the State Department to give the activities of NGO’s consideration and that meetings with NGO’s also do not appear to be particularly uncommon.”

Photo by Tony Fischer