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How a Microsoft Font Brought Down Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (2017) (theglobeandmail.com)
292 points by ing33k 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments

The scandal wasn't near as big, but a similar issue arose during the 2004 US Presidential election. Documents claiming to be from the early 1970s about George W Bush's air national guard service were found to use things like proportional-width fonts - and, indeed, the entire document seems to have just been typed using the default settings for a contemporary version of Word.

Here's some details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killian_documents_controversy

The letters were short, so someone could easily have retyped them in Word. Did anyone old enough to have used a typewriter seriously claim they were photocopies of 70s era typewritten documents? Surely Dan Rather of all people must have some experience with typewriters.

Yes, on air Dan Rather did in fact claim they were taken directly from Killian’s files and had been ‘authenticated’. The person who sent them to 60 Minutes also claimed they were originals, which he subsequently burned after faxing.

CBS then spent the next couple of weeks in a ‘strident defense’ (their own investigators’ words) of the documents and their use, before ceding they screwed up and firing people over the incident.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killian_documents_controvers...

Culturally, this to me is a turning point of the political bloggers -- the knee in the curve of their credibility and a large drop in the trust of the news media, particularly among conservatives.

The blogs leading the document debunking were Powerline and Little Green Footballs.

This was also when the term Pajamas Media was coined (quote from wikipedia PJ_Media page):

> The network's original name was derived from a dismissive comment made by former CBS news executive Jonathan Klein during the 2004 Killian documents affair: "You couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances at 60 Minutes and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas."

I followed the whole thing closely at the time -- it was a bit surreal.

That whole ordeal seems so quaint now, in retrospect. I wonder if this happened in today's day and age, CBS would have anticipated that the twitter gonzo journalism class would rapidly attempt to identify flaws in the doc and vet it harder?

it was their, the traditional media, wake up call. it also forever broke the belief that the media was impartial. remember that while Rather and Mapes brought this shameful act of reporting we got to witness the New York Times go full Onion with a "fake but accurate" declaration.

Could it happen now? Not as blatant but I simply believe they have changed to simply relying more on innuendo and unidentifiable sources.

One would think the "untitled.txt" at the bottom would have given it away...

Proportional typewriters did exist at the time.

Pakistan acted on the Panama papers is a big news since a lot of countries with allegedly a hard stance against corruption did not.

It was mostly due to the efforts of one man, Imran Khan.

Yep. Hopefully he wins the current elections. Me and my whole family waited hours in lines to vote for him last elections.

Hypothetically speaking, what will your reaction be if he loses this time too? Will you (personally) accept his defeat and wait for the next election or will you take to the streets and protest against the election results like 2014 (given Khan calls his supports out)?

I am only trying to get the feel of Pakistani politics here, no personal bias.

Unlikley as all the other major parties have got their hands tied currently I am more worried about what happens when he goes against the army will he able to or will an army dictator rise again.

He may be less corrupt than the others but I wish his go-to move wasn't to block traffic to express his displeasure with every policy decision.

I beg to differ, rather I think it was due to the fact that Nawaz had certain "disagreements" with the military elite that he was brought down. Imran Khan's whole movement was based on false assumptions which he even admitted later. The lock-down of the national capital in 2014 was based on the famous accusation of "35 punctures". Which he later admitted was his political statement and there was no proof of it. I doubt if the military, especially the ISI had not intervened in the background, Imran alone would have been able to shake such a politically strong prime minister. Wasn't it revealed later on that the news of "35 punctures" was spread by some brigadier or colonel? I am not sure who it was but surely it was some army officer with ties to the politicians.

True. Especially in India where it's wasn't even covered much in the news

It's like watching a movie set in the 1950s and noticing someone in the background walking past with his head looking down at a smartphone.

Like this Charlie Chaplin 1928 movie, with a time traveler talking into a cell phone walking by?


Good luck getting cell reception in 1928 :)

That's called an anachronism.

We're not talking about movies with a giant snake.

Finally a comment about the article and not about Pakistan.

If it was released in beta of longhorn in 2004 couldn’t they have still legitimately created the doc???


> In a separate email, de Groot, the font designer himself, said that while in theory it would have been possible to create a document using Calibri in 2006, the font would have to be obtained from a beta operating system, "from the hands of computer nerds".

> "Why would anyone use a completely unknown font for an official document in 2006?" he went on to question.

> "If the person using Calibri was such a font lover that he or she had to use the new Calibri, then he or she should be able to prove that other documents were printed with Calibri in 2006, and these prints should be in the hands of other people as well," he wrote.

> De Groot said in his opinion the document signed by Maryam Nawaz was "produced much later, when Calibri was the default font in MS Word".

So apparently yes it would be possible but highly unlikely.

>> "Why would anyone use a completely unknown font for an official document in 2006?"

De Groot lives in a rarified world where someone would consider this question. Most people never give a thought to which font they are using or whether it's appropriate. Maybe someone just typed the document on a handy computer, on which someone happened to have installed the beta OS.

I'm sure he knows hinting and drop caps far better than I do, but he has no expertise about the likelihood of that happening.

I think his point is also that to even use the font on the beta OS you had to go out of your way.

Having dealt with so many Pakistani web/graphic designers and photo retouchers back then, I don't think it is highly unlikely at all.

There was such a competitive race to the bottom with graphic design work that I could have seen the Prime Minister's son, daughter or anyone in their network having had that font on their computer.

At the time of this trial, I always had to laugh about the argument and wondered if I could present this reality as a third party to the trial, but then I saw that like every Pakistani Prime Minister is brought down this way and realized it has no bearing on my life whatsoever.

Then, as Carter wrote, it must be easy to find documents by one of them also using Calibri.


Honestly I have never seen any drama from Pakistan that matched my expectations of due process.

The rebuttals and speculation are mildly entertaining, and the finality of their court garners no respect from me either way.

If the whole case hinged on the font actually existing in the wild in some capacity but the probability that it was on someone's computer at that point in time, yet some obvious to me possibilities were never even brought up, then all I can say is "lol, Pakistan."

I double Hamza Shahbaz or Mariam Nawaz even know how to use Word on a normal PC, let alone get and install beta software.

Its not my problem that the defense never brought it up.

Shows a real lack of imagination.

"Actually we used to moonlight on Craigslist and routinely searched for fonts in leaked beta software to differentiate ourselves"

Now I'm being facetious.

But there are a lot of probable ways a font was added, ESPECIALLY for people that aren't good with computers. A toolbar added by a hacker group could have stolen fonts in it.

A lot of improbable ways

"A toolbar added by a hacker group could have stolen fonts in it."

Any mention of the existence of such a toolbar would have helped them some bit. If the doc author was a font-nerd, that font would be none other than helvetica.

Even if it was, it would beg the question of probability of them (1) installing and using the beta and (2) somehow selecting an obscure font and (3) the font ends up becoming the default font years later.

Or someone else smuggled the font on their computer, so to set them up on this corruption case 12 years later ... also possible, but even less likely.

"Oh uh... Hashim, we're using this new font now, I send it to you."

"What is wrong with Times New Roman?"

"Pah! Are we Romans? Anyway, the prime minister prefers it."

"What is wrong with Times New Roman?"

According to my design Professor back in University .. a lot. I never really bothered before, but now I see a lot wrong with it, too. But maybe I just have been brainwashed..

or a Pakistani web/graphic designer was in their family and the oversaturated race to the bottom resulted in obtaining that unique touch.

surprised that never came up during the case, but Pakistan drama is fun to watch play out from afar.

What do you mean by “race to the bottom”?

a "race to the bottom" is when people offer better and better services at lower and lower prices, in an almost comical way because the people interested in that trade exert a high level of discipline and are not rewarded for it.

such was the case of graphic design in pakistan, and still is.

"longhorn" aah that word triggers the memories of "packs" we used to get on deviantart to modify your windows back in the day

Extremely unlikely government officials of Pakistan used Longhorn beta in production...

The first public beta was released on June 6, 2006.

> It was first presented in a 2004 beta of Windows Vista, then codenamed Longhorn

According to Wikipedia.

Hence my question. Even tho it wasn’t yet part of office could it have been selected if it was installed on the OS?

chris_wot is saying that the first public beta was in 2006, so a beta in 2004 would have been internal to Microsoft (ignoring any leaked versions)

According to Wikipedia it shipped with longhorn beta in 2004, but was part of office 2007 beta in 2006.

So even tho you couldn’t get it on windows xp at the time. If you were using a beta version of longhorn with office 2003 you could in theory use the font...

That’s my thinking. I just donno if that would work.

Curious how/who noticed the font detail and knew enough that it could help date the document.

However, couldn't the machine identification code from the printer reveal exactly when the document was printed?

It was identified by the JIT (join investigation team) established by the supreme court to look at the case. And Robert W. Radley of London-based The Radley Forensic Document Laboratory was the person who helped in identifying it.

Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1344654

It's an ice reminder that "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" extends beyond computer programming.

Another example: IMDB has a goof documented for the Bourne Supremacy wherein the fluorescent lamp is humming at 60Hz, instead of the 50Hz appropriate for Goa, India: https://twitter.com/deeaen/status/961369721571627009

They hired the services of the expert who identified the font.

Almost every printed document also have hidden yellow dots that allows you to get certain information about that document (print date, print model etc...)

Even monochrome printers?

This may not amount to much for Pakistani people. The forces and judiciary are so pathetically weak that they couldn't force the PM and his Daughter and his sons to remain inside of Pakistan - so what if the PM's wife is sick in London (which we don't even know if it's true) - let her die alone because she and her life is worthless for Pakistani people. For months the PM's daughter barked daily in front of masses against the judiciary yet received full security protocol and no judge's order was put forward to muzzle her rabid speeches.

And then there is the magical softening of stance overnight and miracle reduction of punishments which Pakistani judges are famous for - absolute joke. I won't be surprised at all if at the end of day, all he gets is a 'warning' and 'stern lecture'.

Finally, PM in question and his family aren't the only corrupt folks in Pakistan - the other 'dynasty' is the PPP-clan of Bhuttos/Zardaris -- now watch them flee scotch-free from Pakistan.

And the icing on cake - UK/UAE/Swiss are among nations which actively harbor corrupt and dangerous Pakistani individuals, have granted them/their families citizenship, and allow them to bring their illegal wealth - these Govts will not send the wealth or the individuals back to Pakistan. Perhaps Pakistani ISI should learn from Israel's Mossad.

Slightly offtopic, but this [1] is a great series of podcasts about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. No idea if she would have made a good leader, but she was certainly brave. Even if you're not interested in Pakistani politics, it's still fascinating.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05r6cgx/episodes/downloads

What do you mean no idea. She was PM several times in the 1990s and not a good one. She and Nawaz took turns robbing Pakistan until Musharraff came.

How was she brave? She was born into a political dynasty. Used the platform laid down by her Daddy to jumpstart her own political career. Lived a privileged, pampered life. Brokered deals with the scum Taliban to help further her ambitions. Under her party the economy ALWAYS suffer and corruption increases.

It is better to take a tennis ball, declare it the next PM+Emperor-for-life of Pakistan then anybody from the Bhutto party PPP.

I stand corrected by you all. She would be a PM as bad as the others.

I call her brave because she knew she would likely be killed if she returned.

Uh, she put a hit out on her brother (or let her husband do it)

That’s really funny. Don’t think I’ve ever seen Calibri on any legal document now that I think of it.

They should have used Comic sans. Released 1994.

There a saying in Urdu (Pakistani Language) Nakal ke liye Bhi Akal Chaye i.e Even to cheat you need brains.

I guess Courier would be the standart choice, right? At least most of the official and semi official papers I've seen were typed in a variant of it.

A large part of that seems due to inertia; these kind of documents have always been typeset in a monospaced font, so there is bound to be a good reason for it — or so the mindset goes.

That reason usually boils down to 'because that's what it looked with typewriters before we switched to desktop publishing'.

In the US Courier stuck, in other countries it was Times New Roman with bad default choices for leading, font size, and line width. Legal and government typography for Latin alphabet based scripts seems to mostly be substandard everywhere.

Judicial experts in France love to make reports with fancy fonts.

My quick Google was unsuccessful. Care to provide an example?

That's what I found on google [1]. I am not in that profession but the TV show "Faites entrer l'accuse" often shows extracts of medical or psychological reports, and they often use a font of that kind, sort of intermediary between hand-writing and machine type. Certainly not the default font of any text editor I am aware of.

[1] http://pedophilie-castres.over-blog.com/article-piece-n-3-qu...

Thank you! Very interesting

Discussion from about a year ago:


BTW, Avenfield reference case verdict has just been pronounced. Literally few minutes ago: Nawaz gets 10 years!

Good. Corruption needs jail time, not just fines.

Only if the same standard is held to everyone. I don't know any details about this case nor pakistans situation in general, but I know that in most corrupt states, corruption trials are usually used in a power struggle, where one corrupt side brings down the other side, and just has their own corpses better buried and/or is connected better to the investigators/secret intelligence.

Eh, better the powerful bringing each other down than united against the people.

Hm, but it is not like the evil powerful ones would go away this way. Besides, I don't mind "the powerful" per se. What matters to me is what people do with their power. Whetter it be much power or little. Also with little power you can do bad things.

So I like a fair trial for everyone, no matter the power/money.

Nawaz 10 years jail.

His daughter, who faked the document, 7 years in jail.

Millions in fines.

Apartments in question to be returned to government.

Here's another one. This guy spent 2.6 million Rupees on tea and biscuits. With the bill of bakery items for one TV channel's interview team being 175000 Rupees.



Looks like that Zardari is next: https://www.dawn.com/news/1418348/eminent-banker-and-zardari...

Hussain Lawai - Zardari's personal banker. There can't be anybody with more dirt on "the Beast" than him.

Pretty much live coverage of that for the last hour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQu5n7Nh42Y

Given the channel is pro PTI, half of it is about Imran's people rawing hard on the streets.

I’ve been following this case from the beginning. I think in a country like Pakistan it’s a huge accomplishment! Pakistan is known for its corrupt leaders because they control the system inside out this is probably the first time law is being upheld and people are backing it.

It's not over yet. The person is still in London.

tl;dr: Forged document claims to be from 2006, uses a font (Calibri) that was introduced 2007. Newsletters headline: "Sans Sharif".

With a name like that how can you not make the pun :)

Would using the hidden printer tracking dots/stenography also work to disprove the documents age?

Microsoft bought a pirate Arabic font because they would not pay the orginal owner- Boutros Fonts, his asking price, and got away with it.

Pakistan is not a democracy, it is run by the military regardless of who is in power, the ISI it's it's real head of state, which have a pro-islamist agenda but with a slightly modern outlook for economic growth. Regardless if he did any wrongdoing, there have been far worse acts by politicians in Pakistan and they have got away with it.

This reply is off-topic, political, flamebait and without references. Not Hacker News material.

Pakistan is not a democracy. That remains a fact.

Your constitution has a clause that only a Muslim and a pious one at that can be president or PM. Nawaz Sharif was dismissed because he was not considered a pious Muslim. Imran Khan is a Military stooge who led the charge against him.

That may have been true a few decades ago, but it's certainly becoming more democratic.. still not the best, though. Especially with the military curb circulations of a private national newspaper.

Democracy is more palatable these days because the power it yields to the people can be reclaimed easier than ever through modern technology. Keep the wrong ideas contained through control of media channels, censorship, etc. and you can marginalize the true freedom their vote supposedly provides.

Sure its not perfect but its definitely not how it was in my childhood ( The Musharraf days )

Attack on Dawn and Geo were first of a kind after 5 years lull.

In last 5 years, Pakistan saw, well, nothing less than an explosion in privately owned press and TV channels.

Not last 5 years. That was mostly under an actual dictator Perviz Musharraff. That period was more democratic than after him which removed all power for local governments and probably more censorship/bans by PEMRA, our media regulatory agency.

I think people are too quick to judge other countries through their lens.

This is as true for some of us Pakistanis judging to the west through our cultural lens.

>This is as true for some of us Pakistanis judging to the west through our cultural lens.

Am I? Well, media curbs were then and now, but have you noticed a very apparent change in tone?

Yes, there were already quite a few private medias by late Musharaf, but back then news section was nearly the same all across them. Aside from the usual aha, aha, nod, nod, in news coverage of the junta, they just varied in kinds of entertainment content.

But once Mush was gone, it was only then for the first time in decades that news became somewhat resembling what they are supposed to be.

I didn't really understand USA until I spent some time considering Pakistan.

I didn't really understand geopolitical theater until I spent some time considering USA, China, and Pakistan.

This. Pakistan is a Republican wet dream, if Republicans were Muslim.

Please don't do this here.

Like Venezuela is a Democrat wet dream? Please...


Your comment looks like part of the venom. "The top of Hacker News" is determined by a mixture of recency, votes and flags. Everything starts on top and then it's downhill from there. The comment you're responding to has been flagged, by the way.

Whataboutism. Corrupt politicians have ruined Pakistan and all of them should rot in prison regardless of their political affiliations. This also includes the corrupt Army generals and officers who have sucked Pakistan dry for years.

pknerd 8 months ago [flagged]

Our neighbor's democratic PM has a pro-Hinduism agenda despite of heading a secular state. A year back many opposite voices silents who raised questions about the fake surgical strike. What's your point here by the way?

Please don't take HN on flamewar tangents and especially not on nationalistic or religious flamewar tangents. Those are right out here.


iamshs 8 months ago [flagged]

Dude, your law and order has made sure to eliminate all Sikhs not only in Pakistan but even in Afghanistan. Million strong minority has been reduced to mere thousand. Let’s not point fingers here, your dictators have made this whole region a hellhole for minorities.

pknerd 8 months ago [flagged]

This is not a political forum so I will not continue to reveal further what's been happening in India.


Personal, national, and religious attacks will get you banned here. There's no place for any of them on Hacker News, regardless of how wrong someone else is. You managed to combine all three; that's bad. Please don't do it again.


I got infuriated by his argument. I will try to be better in my arguments.

pknerd 8 months ago [flagged]

I don't need to run away. I clearly said This is not the forum to flat your bubbles. This is hacker news, not a Republic forum.

Thanks for understanding.

You sure tried to inflate that bubble though by starting to use this forum, and you know that it was a disingenuous attack.

Haha! Sans Sharif indeed!

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