wikileaks: shots over the bow

One of the things that fascinates me about Wikileaks is that the reaction to it is all out of proportion to what it has done. To begin with, here’s a September WaPo article Top Secret America which is arguably far more compromising than the information from Wikileaks. The article includes detailed maps and names and so on. But there is no public outcry nor government censure. Why? I suspect it is because WaPo is “ours” — a media corporation under control of the U.S. government and on U.S. ground. In contrast is the stateless and global Wikileaks, under no one’s control (not even under Assange’s nor his cohorts at this point).

In examining the details of the Dutch arrest (Anonymous’ Operation Payback IRC Operator Arrested) we find the terrifying criminal… is a 16 year old boy, with the handle Jeroenz0r. Now certainly teenagers are not quite children, and are capable of taking up dangerous work (being soldiers and so on) but we are still talking about a very young sixteen year old. But the online world is a mysterious one, in which teenagers are popularly supposed to be the technocrats, tearing through code and security with arrogant ease. I think this continues the stateless, uncontrolled narrative of Wikileaks quite admirably.

Over the last days several high profile companies and institutions were taken offline temporarily by DDoS attacks including Mastercard, Visa and Paypal. Conversely, Operation Payback’s operation was also obstructed with the deletion of their Twitter and Facebook accounts after the news hit the mainstream media. Yesterday, this was followed by the arrest (Dutch) of an alleged ‘member’ of Operation Payback in The Netherlands. The local police announced that a 16 year old boy was arrested, suspected of being involved in the DDoS attacks on Wikileaks related targets.

In addition, the response by his cohorts (at the end of the article) is particularly pointed.

Is it in the haste of getting something done, that the Dutch government labeled him as a scapegoat and a terrorist, just so they could say: “We have done our part about the cyber terrorists”? Is the detention and possible conviction of Jeroenz0r an act by law, or is it –as we suspect– a political statement? Is Jeroenz0r being used to scare the hell out of everybody who would think that they could do something about censorship and the forces our governments (ab)use?

This story perfectly illustrates both the strengths and weaknesses of the Internet. Defenders of WikiLeaks Swarmed Wrong Target. Information — both correct and incorrect — propagates with dizzying speed.

Keep your eye on this set of articles: The Wikileaks RevolutionThis touches on another of the reasons I’m so interested in this whole affair:

But what could be different post-cablegate? One Web analyst asks a series of key questions in this vein: “Will the end result be a more repressive global Internet regime? An Internet kill switch? Online anonymity outlawed? Licensing for journalists? Or will the global political order be remade? It could become more agile, more transparent, more accountable, more distributed, more contemporary, more egalitarian.”

Also:

Yet, what many authors (including some I quote in this piece) often do is to conflate the state with government. Governments come and go, but states are intended as permanent structures, staffed by unelected bureaucrats, with the power to tax, and comprise the military, police, and courts. Tea Partiers—and once more this ignorance is no surprise—say they are against “big government” because they do not comprehend that what they really mean is “big state.” If Wikileaks is a challenge to Obama’s foreign policy, it is just as much if not an even greater challenge to the state.

Go read the whole thing.

By way of an informal single datapoint, I asked my mother the other day what she thought of Wikileaks. (Not much of an online person, fairly liberal, hated Reagan/Bush, hates Fox News.) Her understanding of the material released is that “people have been compromised” and thus lives put in danger. She compared it to when Valerie Plame was outed. She also viewed Assange as something of a grandstander, self absorbed in his goals without looking to see what the collateral damage might be. She thought it was strange to try and hold a non-US-citizen “accountable” in the way that many of our politicians have called for. She was also critical of what she thought was Wikileaks’ failure to protect its sources (ie, Bradley Manning). Was definitely suspicious of how the rape charges came up so conveniently but on the other hand “I want my taxpayer money back if that was the best the CIA could do to frame him!” I made the point to her that If Assange Were In China, US Politicians Would Be Cheering Him On and she blinked, then laughed and agreed.

Of course mainstream media has really failed to cover the story. (In fact, when called on factually incorrect statements, some have refused to correct their mistakes: I have already linked to Greenwald’s example with Time.) For example, most people think Wikileaks is releasing all the material, when in fact it gave five newspapers (two others turned down the opportunity) access to the materials, and then those newspapers chose which items to publish. Wikileaks itself later released a much smaller, redacted portion of the material. The process of release is nicely illustrated here (bottom third of the article): Anatomy of the leak. In addition, the material itself was widely distributed insecurely within the State Department, making it trivially easy for anyone to have leaked the materials: The WikiLeaks Release: Blame the State Department, Not the World’s Media. There are some sources that claim the material was vetted by the State Department. Whether true or enthusiastic conspiracy theater, it is still a part of the narrative — one that many of the underground hackers will probably embrace: SHOCKER: US State Department ‘cleared’ the release of Wikileaks documents published so far

Worse, these 623 ‘leaks’ were apparently cleared by the State Department itself. According to noted American civil rights attorney Michael Ratner, “In the recent disclosure, Wikileaks has only posted cables that were reviewed by the news organisations and in some cases redacted. The news organisations showed them to the Pentagon and agreed to some of the government’s suggested redactions.” (3)

This article is published several places on the net, but none of them include the footnotes, so I can’t determine the source (3) in the above quote. It would appear to be based on NYT’s explanation of how they handled their publication of the material from Wikileaks: After its own redactions, The Times sent Obama administration officials the cables it planned to post and invited them to challenge publication of any information that, in the official view, would harm the national interest. After reviewing the cables, the officials — while making clear they condemn the publication of secret material — suggested additional redactions. The Times agreed to some, but not all. The Times is forwarding the administration’s concerns to other news organizations and, at the suggestion of the State Department, to WikiLeaks itself. In all, The Times plans to post on its Web site the text of about 100 cables — some edited, some in full — that illuminate aspects of American foreign policy. If state officials suggested certain redactions and suggested forwarding them to Wikileaks — which complied with those requests — then it seems particularly disingenuous to turn around and try to somehow prosecute Assange and Wikileaks (Assange attorney: Secret grand jury meeting in Virginia on WikiLeaks).

As for Manning, his role in the leaking of the materials was discovered through a fellow hacker turning him in, not Wikileaks. In fact it’s entirely probable that the way Wikileaks obtains their materials, they may not have known precisely who he was. Manning’s story is covered more fully here: WikiLeaks cables: Bradley Manning faces 52 years in jail.

Another interesting article — this person gets quite a bit of it, I think: Wikileaks Saga Reveals Governments’ Hypocrisy, Deep Fear of Internet.

This one lays out the tension between the public, the government & the State’s interests in just where the line of transparency should lie: WikiLeaks Considered

It’s a good point and its opposite is also true: it’s the job [of] a free press to push to reveal more about what’s going on than a government wants. Governments tend to protect information, and media tends to want to reveal it. This is an old line of tension with a messy history, with no simple answer. The balance between both forces is what matters, rather than one dominating the other. There is no utopia at either end of the spectrum, only a tenuous and ever-shifting balance somewhere in the middle.

To further reiterate the decentralized nature of the Internet, take a look at this: The Unknown Blogger Who Changed WikiLeaks Coverage

This article explores how that happened because it shows that in today’s media landscape, an act of journalism can spread quickly to the very highest levels of the culture and news industry, no matter where it comes from.

The “media landscape” is, of course the online blogosphere rather than the august print media of old.

Finally, I found this worth watching: Wikileaks – USA [Embedding disallowed, Autocaptioned -] YouTube’s autocaptioning is particularly hallucinatory when dealing with non-American English accents. Let me know if you find a transcript — I didn’t.

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