T'S well known that some
regions of cyberspace Internet chat rooms, for instance are
rife with poseurs and imaginary characters. But the World Wide
Web is also a breeding ground for more elaborate deceptions, as
demonstrated by the following cautionary tale about gall and
gullibility in the information age.
The story begins with www.gatt.org, which looks at first
glance like an official Web site of the World Trade
Organization, the five-year-old Switzerland-based successor to
the organization that oversaw the General Agreement on Tariffs
and Trade. Unfortunately for the organizers of an October legal
seminar on international trade in Salzburg, Austria, a glance
was all they gave it before clicking on the "contact" link and
sending a speaking invitation to Mike Moore, the W.T.O.'s
Big mistake: it turns out the site is run by the Yes Men, a
loose-knit group of anti-free-trade activists that views hoaxes
as a legitimate weapon of protest.
Excerpts of what transpired follow, culled from e-mail
correspondence and faxes posted at www.theyesmen.org/wto.
BARNABY J. FEDER
It didn't take long for the Yes Men to accept the
invitation in Mr. Moore's name, with a caveat:
Thank you for your kind invitation.
I may not be able to attend personally, but I would like very
much to send a substitute. Would this be possible? Please let me
know and I will begin the search process.
The director of the seminar's sponsor was happy to
Dear Mr. Moore:
Michael Devine advises me that you wish to send a staff
member to speak at the 26-29 October conference in Salzburg.
If you will confirm name of the individual and contact
information, I will have further information sent.
Regards, Dennis Campbell
Center for International Legal Studies
At this point, Charles Cushen, a computer programmer in
Los Angeles who had been masquerading as Mr. Moore and "Alice
Foley," Mr. Moore's secretary, created Andreas Bichlbauer
(choosing the name at random from a Vienna phone book), and made
travel arrangements for Dr. Bichlbauer and two "security
agents," including a cameraman. Dr. Bichlbauer raised eyebrows
with his speech, titled "Trade Regulation Relaxation and
Concepts of Incremental Improvement: Governing Perspectives from
1970 to the Present":
Dear Ms. Foley:
We were somewhat puzzled by Dr. Bichlbauer's participation at
the conference. . . .
The essential thrust of his speech appeared to be that
Italians have a lesser work ethic than the Dutch, that Americans
would be better off auctioning their votes in the presidential
election to the highest bidder and that the primary role of the
W.T.O. was to create a one-world culture.
In the late afternoon, a cameraman (I think it was the same
one who filmed Dr. Bichlbauer's speech) appeared at the hotel
and sought to interview our delegates. He said Dr. Bichlbauer
had been hit in the face with a pie outside the hotel and wanted
to know if the delegates thought Dr. Bichlbauer's speech had
provoked the attack. . . .
Several of our delegates (including work-ethic impaired
Italians) approached me to express concern about the speech, the
alleged pie incident and the cameraman who sought interviews in
the late afternoon.
Your clarification will be appreciated.
Regards, Dennis Campbell
Alice Foley's immediate reply:
Indeed you are correct, Dr. Bichlbauer was in fact "pied"
after speaking at the Salzburg C.I.L.S. conference. At present
we are not completely certain of all the details, but it appears
that the cameraman you mention had something to do with it. . .
. This cameraman . . . seems to have essentially been an agent
provocateur who planned the pieing from the start. . . .
We hope you understand that this sort of incident reflects
primarily the unfortunate circumstances under which the W.T.O.
must accomplish its work, and that our security can never be
entirely adequate to the situations we face.
After another message from Mr. Campbell in which he
reiterated that some delegates found Dr. Bichlbauer's remarks
offensive or flippant, the doctor offered his side of the
I was disappointed to hear from Alice Foley that some people
in the audience on Saturday disliked my lecture. . . . Those who
were upset by the lecture were clearly unreceptive to any
message departing from the simple W.T.O. "party line" as it is
presented in larger arenas. At this conference we hoped to
examine this "party line" through repackaging in a clearer and
more carefully delineated fashion, for the sake of more lucid
examination and a greater awareness of "issue extremes" for use
in more politic descriptions those intended for the
consumption of larger blocs of the consuming public. . . .
Two days later, hoping to elicit further response, Mr.
Cushen slipped again into his Mr. Moore persona:
Dear Professor Campbell:
I was dismayed to learn of your unfortunate experience with
our representative, Andreas Bichlbauer. . . . I will recommend
that Dr. Bichlbauer be required to attend a refresher course on
public speaking, communication and policy before any further
appearances on behalf of the W.T.O. . . .
However, having examined the presentation exhaustively, I am
forced to conclude that never in any particulars do Dr.
Bichlbauer's statements . . . depart from the spirit if not
the precise letter of our intentions and aims. That is, while
we of course do not advocate vote-selling or siesta-banning at
the present time, it is quite true that efficiency and the
streamlining of culture and politics in the interests of
economic liberalization is at the core of the W.T.O.'s
programme, and such practices as described by Dr. Bichlbauer are
useful in clarifying the long-range interests of global
development as promoted by our organization and others.
On Nov. 1, Alice Foley had more bad news for Professor
The situation has, I regret to say, somewhat deteriorated
from an already unpleasant state of affairs: Dr. Bichlbauer has
contracted a rather serious infection from the pie, which
forensic analysis shows contained an active bacillus agent. It
is not certain whether foul play was involved. . . . I know that
this question will sound harsh, but could any of the lawyers
present have been angry enough at Dr. Bichlbauer's lecture to do
this? . . .
On Nov. 6, using addresses collected in Salzburg, Alice
Foley e-mailed six conference participants with the message that
Dr. Bichlbauer was near death from his infection and
Please, please let us know if anything at the conference
struck you as strange, or if you can imagine anyone performing
this masterpiece of cowardice, that so threatens to delete Dr.
Bichlbauer from our midst in the prime of his usefulness.
A similar e-mail message sent two weeks later to 77
delegates elicited a range of responses, most indicating that
the insult to Italian work habits had made the biggest
impression. Dr. Bichlbauer's death was announced via e-mail on
Nov. 27. The legal center's response on Nov. 29 provided the
first clear sign that it finally recognized the hoax and asked
the Yes Men to "let it rest." Alice Foley issued the following
pseudo-clarification to the delegates:
Those who found Dr. Bichlbauer's talk "peculiar," "puzzling"
and so on were alert to a situation that has only now become
clear to our overcentralized eyes: Dr. Bichlbauer was an
impostor! . . . He, his "security guard" and his "cameraman" . .
. belong, it turns out, to an anti-trade cabal called "The Yes
Men," whose interests run exactly counter to our own, and who
will stoop to any level whatsoever to make points. (The point
they were attempting to make with this trickery, according to
the handwritten letter which we received by this morning's post,
had something to do with "corporate power" and "democracy,"
though the syntax and handwriting of the letter are, truth be
told, too execrable to make much of. . . . It is of course
extremely embarrassing to us that we can have been conned, like
common dowagers, in this way. . . .
Postscript: A W.T.O. spokesman said last week that while
his organization deplored the Yes Men's deceptive Web site and
the hoax, it respects the nature of the Internet as a forum for
free expression. Mr. Cushen said "Mr. Moore" had recently
received an invitation to a textile conference in Finland and
that his group was hoping to scrape together the money needed to
send a successor to Dr. Bichlbauer. "We think the ethical thing
to do is to represent the W.T.O. more honestly than they
represent themselves," he said.