Wikileaks Crib Sheet, Part 2

Source: a place, person, or thing from which something comes or can be obtained

Bradley Manning is the 23-year-old intelligence analyst who has been charged with “transferring classified data onto his personal computer and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system,” and “communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source,” i.e. he is allegedly the person who supplied Wikileaks with its most spectacular coups of disclosure: the Afghanistan and Iraq War logs, comprised of over 391,000 reports which cover the wars from 2004 to 2009, the video of the 2007 Apache helicopter attack released with the title Collateral Murder in April of 2010, and the 251,287 United States embassy cables, which they began releasing in November 2010.

Manning entered the Army in October 2007, and was an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq when he allegedly took the documents, passed them to Wikileaks, and confessed his actions to former hacker Adrian Lamo. A few details about the interaction between Manning and Lamo can be found in a June Washington Post article. Many more details are in what is nonetheless an extremely edited copy of their chats, available online at Wired’s introduction is vague enough to give the impression that Lamo edited the logs before providing them, although they don’t actually say that, and do say that they removed very personal statements by Manning or what might be sensitive military secrets. According to Glenn Greenwald in Salon, the editing was done by the magazine, and further:

Lamo told me that Manning first sent him a series of encrypted emails which Lamo was unable to decrypt because Manning “encrypted it to an outdated PGP key of mine” [PGP is an encryption program].  After receiving this first set of emails, Lamo says he replied — despite not knowing who these emails were from or what they were about — by inviting the emailer to chat with him on AOL IM, and provided his screen name to do so.  Lamo says that Manning thereafter sent him additional emails encrypted to his current PGP key, but that Lamo never bothered to decrypt them.  Instead, Lamo claims he turned over all those Manning emails to the FBI without ever reading a single one of them.  Thus, the actual initial communications between Manning and Lamo — what preceded and led to their chat — are completely unknown.  Lamo refuses to release the emails or chats other than the small chat snippets published by Wired.

What Greenwald goes on to explain is presumably why he thinks it is significant:

Indeed, Lamo told me (though it doesn’t appear in the chat logs published by Wired) that he told Manning early on that he was a journalist and thus could offer him confidentiality for everything they discussed under California’s shield law.  Lamo also said he told Manning that he was an ordained minister and could treat Manning’s talk as a confession, which would then compel Lamo under the law to keep their discussions confidential (early on in their chats, Manning said:  “I can’t believe what I’m confessing to you”).  In sum, Lamo explicitly led Manning to believe he could trust him and that their discussions would be confidential — perhaps legally required to be kept confidential — only to then report everything Manning said to the Government.

Maybe that the kind of information that would help in a civilian defense of Manning; it seems unlikely to help in a court martial. But the result of the editing is a nearly one-sided conversation, which does not allow what Greenwald alleges about Lamo’s promises of the anonymity to come through at all. What does come through is Manning’s altruism and hopes for changing the world, “i want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public”. Neither factor makes what he did less illegal, and as an enlisted member of the armed forces, he is subject to different laws than civilians, as his defense attorney explains at least in relation to his detention:

PFC Bradley Manning, unlike his civilian counterpart, is afforded no civil remedy for illegal restraint under either the Federal Civil Rights Act or the Federal Tort Claims Act. Similarly, the protection from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment and Article 55 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) does not generally apply prior to a court-martial.

But Manning’s motivations are still important in as much they were clearly not for profit, nor to harm the United States, although he was despairing of the US-backed Iraqi government, and the actions of the US government in Iraq.

The exchange between Manning and Lamo took place between 21 May, 2010, and 26 May, when Manning was arrested.

(02:35:46 PM) Manning: was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…
(02:36:27 PM) Manning: everything started slipping after that… i saw things differently

(02:37:37 PM) Manning: i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…

On a later date:

02:22:47 PM) Manning: i mean what if i were someone more malicious
(02:23:25 PM) Manning: i could’ve sold to russia or china, and made bank?
(02:23:36 PM) Lamo: why didn’t you?
(02:23:58 PM) Manning: because it’s public data
(02:24:15 PM) Lamo: i mean, the cables
(02:24:46 PM) Manning: it belongs in the public domain
(02:25:15 PM) Manning: information should be free
(02:25:39 PM) Manning: it belongs in the public domain
(02:26:18 PM) Manning: because another state would just take advantage of the information… try and get some edge
(02:26:55 PM) Manning: if its out in the open… it should be a public good
(02:27:04 PM) Manning: *do the
(02:27:23 PM) Manning: rather than some slimy intel collector

One of the reasons Spc Manning’s story and situation have received much less international attention than Assange’s is because he is being held at Quantico. He’s in solitary confinement, according to Salon and the New York Times, or being held in a cell with others, according to the Guardian, but either way can’t be reached for comment, photographed, lauded or attacked.

Wikileaks and Assange in his role as its leader, are in many ways new and do not fit into familiar categories of journalism. Prosecution of Assange or his organization is likely to break new legal ground, even if old laws, such as the Espionage Act, are used. But Spc Manning is “the source”; he is charged with well-defined crimes, which I suspect have been successfully prosecuted in the past (feel free to post), and for which he can be imprisoned up to 52 years.

This configuration misses a key point though, in that the actions Manning is accused of resulted in the dissemination of a vastly greater quantity of information than leak laws were created to punish. What this means is that the type of act Manning is accused of is familiar, but the specific act, if it includes any one of the data dumps published by Wikileaks, is unprecedented in scale. This quantitative difference becomes qualitative.

At very least, it seems unlikely that the military wouldn’t take this opportunity to revise the punishments associated with “transferring classified data” and “communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source” when those actions can occur several orders of magnitude up from what they have been in the past, although it should not be possible for this to be retroactively applied to Manning. Presumably  the military will also take the opportunity to redesign its information systems network, since the SIPRNet and  JWICS components of that system are what Manning is alleged to have accessed. What they should do is reconceptualize how information is defined, in order to then rethink how to link and store it, since the system which allowed such such a massive quantity of significant information to change “locations” (siprnet to the internet) and status (from secret to public) seems pretty clearly to not to understand digital data.

That’s all for now on sources.


A Wikileaks Crib Sheet, Part 1

I think what is happening with Wikileaks is an event, maybe the first one since 9/11. The organization has been around for about four years, this is far from its first significant release, and further, something that could be called a hacktivist subculture has been in existence for probably twenty years already; but if events are ruptures, they are ruptures of what was already existing anyway. One way or another things snowballed for Wikileaks so I am going to write a couple of posts that offer my potted analysis of how: a Wikileaks crib sheet. I needed a way to organize the pieces for myself, so, if you’ve lost track of all the threads, or don’t have time to read them exhaustively (I didn’t really either, but now it’s done), this is for you. A lot of interesting things have been written about Wikileaks, some of which I’m going to summarize. Rather less interesting and generally less accurate things have been written about the charges brought against Wikileaks’ frontman Julian Assange, international warrants and policing, and since I know relatively more about those things, I want to do an analysis of that as well.

A brief summary of what has happened might seem unnecessary except that I just watched a video in which Lula (the president of Brazil) seemed to be under the impression that the charges against Assange had to do with making public the diplomatic cables rather than sexual misconduct.

There’s a difference between not knowing what the charges are for so assuming that Assange is being held because his organization released secret cables, and knowing that the allegations against him concern sexual misconduct but believing those to be trumped up. I think that there are probably a very large number of people around the world who haven’t paid enough attention to think anything more than the first (and it is what they expect from the US anyway), and so their position doesn’t have anything to do with how seriously they take rape charges. As a point of fact though, it is important to note that it is unclear what a person associated with Wikileaks could be charged with in relation to the release of secret information, and Assange is actually being detained on four allegations of sexual misconduct and a European Arrest Warrant issued in order to question him about those charges. But this is getting ahead of myself.

In 2010, Wikileaks describes itself as a non-profit media organization. I actually like the term “media insurgency” (from this June New Yorker piece, because “rising in active revolt” against the status quo of  excessive secrecy and repression of information in both governments and the mainstream media seems apt. I also like the term because it has resonance with the “talibanization” of information in a “flat world” or as Geert Lovink and Patrice Riemens more eloquently put it in their Twelve theses on WikiLeaks “Despite being a puny non-state and non-corporate actor, in its fight against the US government WikiLeaks does not believe it is punching above its weight – and is starting to behave accordingly. One might call this the ‘Talibanization’ stage of the postmodern ‘Flat World’ theory, where scales, times and places are declared largely irrelevant”. What Wikileaks is legally defined as is much more important than what I happen to like though, since its status as a media organization (or not) will determine what protections it has and what charges can be brought against it. This exchange at a press briefing by Department of State Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley on 2 December 2010 was meant to lay the ground for the US government position that Wikileaks shouldn’t get first amendment protections:

QUESTION: Some of the governments that have been mentioned in these cables are heavily censoring press in terms of releasing some of this information. How do you feel about that? (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: The official position of the United States Government and the State Department has not changed. We value a vibrant, active, aggressive media. It is important to the development of civil society in this country and around the world. Our views have not changed, even if occasionally there are activities which we think are unhelpful and potentially harmful.
QUESTION: Do you know if the State Department regards WikiLeaks as a media organization?
MR. CROWLEY: No. We do not.
QUESTION: And why not?
MR. CROWLEY: WikiLeaks is not a media organization. That is our view.

Wikileaks traces the principles on which its work is based (on its site, which I can’t reliably link to because it keeps getting shut down), “freedom of speech and media publishing, the improvement of our common historical record and the support of the rights of all people to create new history” not of course to the US constitution and its amendments, but to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular, Article 19.

I think that Wikileaks problematizes both our conceptions of media and information, but more about that later. Since officially launched in 2006 (according to Wikipedia) or 2007 (according to its site), the organization has posted a staggering number of leaked documents. Until recently, everyone’s favorite leak, for which it won the 2009 Amnesty International human rights reporting award (New Media) was the 2008 publication of “Kenya: The Cry of Blood – Extrajudicial Killings and Disappearances”, a report by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights about police killings in Kenya. According to the Wikileaks website, the leak “swung the vote by 10%. This led to changes in the constitution and the establishment of a more open government”. Since the beginning of 2010, Wikileaks has made four major releases, possibly all from the same leak, of information from various branches of the US government: on 5 April 2010 a video of US soldiers in an Apache helicopter shooting people in an Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad; on 25 July 2010 the “Afghanistan War logs” and on 22 October 2010 the “Iraq War Logs”, both compilations of documents detailing the war and occupation of those countries by the United States military; and beginning on 28 November 2010, what will eventually be a quarter million diplomatic cables from US Embassies around the world.

Below are some pieces I’ve found useful. Next post, I’ll write about the charges against Julian Assange, the role of Interpol, European Arrest Warrants, and extradition, among other things.

Best pieces on Wikileaks
Twelve theses on WikiLeaks
Wikileaks, Now

Best pieces on Assange
Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government”
What is Julian Assange Up To?

In Julian Assange’s own words
Interview on the Colbert Report
His blog on the wayback machine
Opinion piece posted 8 December 2010 in an Australian paper, before turning himself in the UK Don’t shoot messenger for revealing uncomfortable truths