Fifty Shades of Fake University Degrees

On Sunday, Declan Walsh delivered a blockbuster report on the vast network of fake univeristies, diplomas for purchase and high-pressure upsales of “validation” credentials for fraudulently purchased diplomas. Remarkably, the company in which these activities were housed, Axact, with headquarters in Karachi and offices throughout Pakistan, had enjoyed a role as a prominent software company billing itself as Pakistan’s biggest software success story. Despite the massive amount of evidence compiled by Walsh and the Times, Axact initially pushed back hard, trying to threaten the Times with legal action and even going after a local Pakistani blog that merely accumulated amusing Tweets relating to the story.

Today, authorities in Pakistan took decisive action, with as many as 45 Axact employees arrested and the seizure of computer equipment and files:

According to Express News, employees were evacuated from the software company’s head office in Islamabad. Further, around 45 employees were rounded up, including HR and PR managers, to be taken to FIA headquarters.

The arrested Axact employees were shifted to FIA’s cyber-crime wing office.

The seven-member FIA team also seized hard disks, computers, other electronic equipment and documents belonging to the IT firm. The bags and mobile phones of department heads in Islamabad have also been seized.


The FIA also raided Axact’s call center in Rawalpindi and seized voice call and other devices. Axact’s regional director Colonel (retd) Jamil has been taken into custody.

With “university” names like Columbiana and Barkley, the cynicism of Axact’s scam is breathtaking. But once I started thinking about it, I realized that the new world of online degrees is a very cutthroat place with questionable marketing practices everywhere. Just right here in Gainesville, the University of Florida has raised many eyebrows with its decision this year to admit an extra 3000 students who would not otherwise be admitted and then inform them that they have to complete the first year of studies toward their degree online. But don’t worry, poor little online second class students, because at UF, even if you complete your entire degree online, your diploma won’t reflect that fact. Here’s the very first entry on the FAQ’s for UF online:


It’s a highly competitive world for those online degrees, whether they come from fake diploma mills, for-profit “universities” or traditional universities being forced by backwards legislators to come up with online competition.

Call me old-fashioned, but my concept of a university education involves an actual university with libraries housing real books, laboratories where real experiments can take place, lecture halls where students and professors actually interact face to face and a shared site where a community moves about freely. Sure, fake diplomas from legitimate universities do get penned now and then, but the market for fakery has been enabled greatly by the rapid expansion of online “learning”.

Pervez Musharraf Indicted for Benazir Bhutto Murder

Although he is already under house arrest for a number of other charges pending against him, Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military leader who took control of the government after ousting then (and once again, now) Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup, was indicted today on three charges relating to the assassination in 2007 of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The charges were filed in the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawilpindi. From Dawn:

“He was charged with murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation for murder,” public prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar told AFP at the ATC in Rawalpindi hearing the case.

The six accused persons include former City Police Officer (CPO) of Rawalpindi Saud Aziz, the then SP Khurram Shahzad, Hasnain Gul, Rafaqat Hussain, Sher Zaman and Abdul Rasheed respectively.

Salman Masood and Declan Walsh provide more in the New York Times:

The sight of a once untouchable general being called to account by a court had a potent symbolism in a country that has been ruled by the military for about half of its 66-year history. While the military remains deeply powerful, the prosecution has sent the message that Pakistan’s top generals are subject to the rule of law — at least after they have retired.

If only Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus were called to account for their crimes. But I digress.

The Times continues with interesting information on the basis of the charges against Musharraf:

The case against Mr. Musharraf is believed to rest largely on a statement by Mark Siegel, a Washington lobbyist and friend of Ms. Bhutto’s, who says that Mr. Musharraf made a threatening phone call to her before she returned to Pakistan in October 2007. Ms. Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack as she left a rally in Rawalpindi in December 2007.

Mr. Siegel said Ms. Bhutto had warned him in an e-mail that if she were killed, the blame should fall on four named people — a former director of the ISI spy service, a military intelligence agent, a political rival, and Mr. Musharraf.

It would appear that Siegel now bases his career on his former association with Bhutto and a book they wrote together just prior to her death. Here is more on the email at the heart of the case: Read more

Did Declan Walsh Get Expelled from Pakistan because He Provided Drone Cover for Brennan’s Confirmation?

Three things have recently gotten me thinking about the legitimacy of US counterterrorism in Pakistan in terms of the partners we choose:

  • UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson, using the opposition to US drone strikes of Pakistan’s political classes as the basis for claiming the drones are illegitimate, in spite of the silence of Pakistan’s national security class. 
  • General Joseph Dunford’s recent suggestion that the solution to US difficulties with Pakistan is to increase military-to-military ties; never mind that Admiral Mike Mullen had put a lot of faith in just such a plan as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, only to be disappointed by Pakistan’s support for the insurgency in Afghanistan.
  • The recent Pakistani court ruling declaring drones illegal (note, some international law experts have told me the decision is problematic on those terms, but nevertheless, it represents Pakistani courts censoring the policy supported by the national security establishment).

After all, everyone marginally attentive to drones in Pakistan knows the game: the US and the ISI and Pakistan’s military make agreements permitting the US to launch drone strikes in Pakistan — at both US and Pakistani targets — while the political and judicial classes in Pakistan increasingly voice their opposition.

To sustain its claim that its drone strikes in Pakistan operate with the sanction of the government, it seems, the Obama Administration must treat the consent of the military as more legitimate than that of the political classes. Our necessary disdain for what Pakistan’s fragile democracy has to say is precisely the kind of thing I meant when I talked about how drones undermine the nation-state.

Mind you, I think the US is giving unelected national security figures an increasingly large role in legitimizing its counterterrorism and counternarcotic programs in a lot of places (a topic I suspect I’ll return to). It’s one natural outcome of waging diplomacy primarily by military training.

Anyway, with all that in mind, I wanted to point to this explanation for why NYT’s reporter Declan Walsh was thrown out of Pakistan just before the elections (note: someone on Twitter pointed this out — though I’ve lost track of who said it).

Declan Walsh was thrown out for apparently annoying the military back in February with a story about conflict between the CIA and the ISI over the use of drone missiles.

These two stories — in which the CIA and ISI squabbled over who conducted two drone strikes in Waziristan in early February (significantly, the day before and the day after John Brennan’s February 7 confirmation hearing; the CIA had appeared to hold off on strikes during his confirmation because of sensitivity about drones) — appear like they may be the ones in question.

The first article, published March 4, the night before the Senate Intelligence Committee voted on Brennan’s nomination, cited 3 “American officials” denying the strikes were ours, and adding that the CIA had not engaged in such activities since January (that is, since Brennan’s nomination).

Yet there was one problem, according to three American officials with knowledge of the program: The United States did not carry out those attacks.

“They were not ours,” said one of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the drone program’s secrecy. “We haven’t had any kinetic activity since January.”

Read more