Ousama Abushagur, a 31-year-old Libyan telecom executive raised in Huntsville, Ala., masterminded the operation from his home in Abu Dhabi. Mr. Abushagur and two childhood friends working as corporate managers in Dubai and Doha started fund-raising on Feb. 17 to support the political protests that were emerging in Libya. By Feb. 23, when fighting had erupted, his team delivered the first of multiple humanitarian aid convoys to eastern Libya.
But while in Libya, they found their cellphones and Thuraya satellite phones jammed or out of commission, making planning and logistics challenging.
Security was also an issue. Col. Gadhafi had built his telecommunications infrastructure to fan out from Tripoli—routing all calls through the capital and giving him and his intelligence agents full control over phones and Internet.
On March 6, during a flight back to the United Arab Emirates after organizing a naval convoy to the embattled city of Misrata, Mr. Abushagur says he drew up a diagram on the back of a napkin for a plan to infiltrate Libyana, pirate the signal and carve out a network free of Tripoli’s control.