Thursday, January 13, 2011

wikileaks part 2: "Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse."

BRIAN WILLIAMS: ...You know they've been tested, they've been given a battery of exams. The military has to get as close as possible to kids they think are going to guard our secrets.

DAVID LETTERMAN: And that brings up the question, if this guy for some reason was disgruntled or unhappy... about what? I mean he enlisted. He wasn't drafted. What's the problem?

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Yeah, that's a tougher one to figure out. The motivation of someone who is patriot enough to raise their hand to put on the uniform in an all-volunteer force during wartime and serve their country, and yet become so soured on it.

—NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, interviewed by David Letterman, aired Jan 03, 2011 [X]

"I think the thing that got me the most, that made me rethink the world more than anything, 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 Prime Minister 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. Everything started slipping after that. I saw things differently. I had always questioned the way 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." —Bradley Manning, from his chat with Adrian Lamo, published June 10, 2010

"BAGHDAD, July 12 — Clashes in a southeastern neighborhood here between the American military and Shiite militias on Thursday left at least 16 people dead, including two Reuters journalists who had driven to the area to cover the turbulence, according to an official at the Interior Ministry.

The American military said in a statement late Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed.

'There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,' said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad." —The New York Times, July 13, 2007. [X] This is the article Bradley Manning read after seeing the Iraq "Collateral Murder" video. He went online to look for information about the event.

"I want people to see the truth... regardless of who they are... because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public." —Bradley Manning

* * *

"Defense Department spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said Friday that Manning has the same privileges as all other prisoners held in what the military calls "maximum custody." He said Manning is in a standard single-person cell and gets exercise, recreation, access to newspapers and visitors." —Associated Press [X]

"Due to being held on Prevention of Injury (POI) watch:

PFC Manning is held in his cell for approximately 23 hours a day.

His cell is approximately six feet wide and twelve feet in length.

The guards are required to check on PFC Manning every five minutes by asking him if he is okay. PFC Manning is required to respond in some affirmative manner. At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure he is okay.

He receives each of his meals in his cell.

He is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets. However, he is given access to two blankets and has recently been given a new mattress that has a built-in pillow.

He is not allowed to have any personal items in his cell.

He is only allowed to have one book or one magazine at any given time to read in his cell. The book or magazine is taken away from him at the end of the day before he goes to sleep.

He is prevented from exercising in his cell. If he attempts to do push-ups, sit-ups, or any other form of exercise he will be forced to stop.

He does receive one hour of "exercise" outside of his cell daily. He is taken to an empty room and only allowed to walk. PFC Manning normally just walks figure eights in the room for the entire hour. If he indicates that he no long feels like walking, he is immediately returned to his cell.

When PFC Manning goes to sleep, he is required to strip down to his boxer shorts and surrender his clothing to the guards. His clothing is returned to him the next morning." —U.S. Army Major and Iraq War veteran David Coombs, Army Court-Martial Defense Specialist [X]

"The U.S. is one of the world's most prolific practitioners of prolonged solitary confinement: unsurprising given that it enjoys the distinction of being the world's largest Prison State and the Western world's most merciless one. As NPR noted in 2006, there are roughly 25,000 prisoners in the U.S. kept in those conditions. But the vast, vast majority of them -- unlike Manning -- have actually been convicted of crimes. It is very rare (though, when it comes to Muslims accused of Terrorism, by no means unheard of) for these conditions to be imposed on people who have yet to be convicted of anything and never posed any threat to prison security. Prolonged solitary confinement is inhumane, horrendous and gratuitous even when applied to those convicted of heinous crimes, but the fact that it's being done to Manning here in order to "persuade" him to offer incriminating statements against WikiLeaks and Julian Asange makes it particularly repellent.

As is true for so much of what it does, the U.S. Government routinely condemns similar acts -- the use of prolonged solitary confinement in its most extreme forms and lengthy pretrial detention -- when used by other countries. See, for instance, the 2009 State Department Human Rights Report on Indonesia ("Officials held unruly detainees in solitary confinement for up to six days on a rice-and-water diet"); Iran ("Common methods of torture and abuse in prisons included prolonged solitary confinement with extreme sensory deprivation... Prison conditions were poor. Many prisoners were held in solitary confinement... Authorities routinely held political prisoners in solitary confinement for extended periods... All four [arrested bloggers] claimed authorities physically and psychologically abused them in detention, including subjecting them to prolonged periods of solitary confinement in a secret detention center without access to legal counsel or family"); Israel ("Israeli human rights organizations reported that Israeli interrogators . . . kept prisoners in harsh conditions, including solitary confinement for long periods"); Iraq ("Individuals claimed to have been subjected to psychological and physical abuse, including... solitary confinement in Ashraf to discourage defections"); Yemen ("Sleep deprivation and solitary confinement were other forms of abuse reported in PSO prisons"); Central African Republic ("As of December, there were 308 inmates in Ngaragba Prison, most of whom are pretrial detainees. Several detainees had been held for seven months without appearing before a judge"); Burundi ("Human rights problems also included... prolonged pretrial detention")." —U.N. to investigate treatment of Bradley Manning

* * *

"The United States government is perpetually guilty of the very things it claims to be against, namely authoritarian oppression of voice. However, the unique quality of the US is that it is not as obvious as its predecessors. America has no Minister of Propaganda or reeducation camps. America has constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly and press. America has free-market capitalism. Americans can say anything they want.

Yet, if we compare how the US government, press and private sector have responded to Julian Assange and Wikileaks with the Iranian Government’s response to Jafar Panahi and Muhammad Rasoulof, and the Chinese Government’s response to Liu Xiaobo, we may discover striking resemblances." —Andrew (The Fifth Terrace): Assange/Panahi/Xiaobo

"US politicians are no longer in a position to lecture other countries about their human rights. The kind of unlicensed, city-wide demonstrations being held in Tehran last week would not be allowed to be held in the United States. Senator John McCain led the charge against Obama for not having sufficiently intervened in Iran. At the Republican National Committee convention in St. Paul, 250 protesters were arrested shortly before John McCain took the podium. Most were innocent activists and even journalists. Amy Goodman and her staff were assaulted. In New York in 2004, 'protest zones' were assigned, and 1800 protesters were arrested, who have now been awarded civil damages by the courts. Spontaneous, city-wide demonstrations outside designated 'protest zones' would be illegal in New York City, apparently. In fact, the Republican National Committee has undertaken to pay for the cost of any lawsuits by wronged protesters, which many observers fear will make the police more aggressive, since they will know that their municipal authorities will not have to pay for civil damages.

The number of demonstrators arrested in Tehran on Saturday is estimated at 550 or so, which is less than those arrested by the NYPD for protesting Bush policies in 2004." —Juan Cole, June 2009 [X]

"In July of this year, U.S. citizen Jacob Appelbaum, a researcher and spokesman for WikiLeaks, was detained for several hours at the Newark airport after returning from a trip to Holland, and had his laptop, cellphones and other electronic products seized -- all without a search warrant, without being charged with a crime, and without even being under investigation, at least to his knowledge. He was interrogated at length about WikiLeaks, and was told by the detaining agents that he could expect to be subjected to the same treatment every time he left the country and attempted to return to the U.S. [...] To date, he has never been charged with any crime or even told he's under investigation for anything...

That campaign of intimidation is now clearly spreading to supporters of Bradley Manning. Last Wednesday, November 3, David House, a 23-year-old researcher who works at MIT, was returning to the U.S. from a short vacation with his girlfriend in Mexico, and was subjected to similar and even worse treatment. House's crime: he did work in helping set up the Bradley Manning Support Network, an organization created to raise money for Manning's legal defense fund, and he has now visited Manning three times in Quantico, Virginia, where the accused WikiLeaks leaker is currently being detained (all those visits are fully monitored by government agents). Like Appelbaum, House has never been accused of any crime, never been advised that he's under investigation, and was never told by any federal agents that he's suspected of any wrongdoing at all.

Last Wednesday, House arrived at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, and his flight was met in the concourse by customs agents, who examined the passports of all deplaning passengers until they saw House's, at which point they stopped. He was then directed to Customs, where his and his girlfriend's bags were extensively searched. After the search was complete, two men identifying themselves as Homeland Security officials told House and his girlfriend they were being detained for questioning and would miss their connecting flight. House was told that he was required to relinquish all of his electronic products, and thus gave them his laptop, cellphone, digital camera and UBS flash drive. The document he received itemizing his seized property is here. He was also told to give the agents all of his passwords and encryption keys, which he refused to do. [...] He was told that he would not receive his laptop or camera back, and the agents kept it. To date, he has not received them back and very well may never. When he told them that he had roughly 20 hours of source code work in his laptop and would like to save it or email it to a saved site, they told him he could not do that. He subsequently learned from Agent Santiago that although Agent Louck identified himself as a Homeland Security agent, he is, in fact, with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.


I just want to underscore how abusive this all is. Totally independent of the intimidation aspects -- which are the worst part of this -- just consider what an absolute mockery this makes of the Constitution. If House (or Appelbaum) had been inside the U.S., the Government would have never have been able to search or seize their laptops because the Fourth Amendment prohibits that behavior without a search warrant, which they obviously can't obtain. So instead, the Government just waits for them to leave the country -- which many many people do these days -- and then seizes their belongings and searches all of their communications upon their return, without a shred of judicial review or any basis to establish wrongdoing. What conceivable purpose is there in having a Fourth Amendment if it can be so easily circumvented this way through the blatant abuse of border searching powers?" —Glenn Greenwald, columnist and constitutional attorney [X]

* * *

"Authoritarian regimes give rise to forces which oppose them by pushing against the individual and collective will to freedom, truth and self realization. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial." —Julian Assange, State and Terrorist Conspiracies (2006), in which he likens authoritarian conspiracies to computational networks. [X] (pdf)

"Thus it happens in matters of state; for knowing afar off (which it is only given a prudent man to do) the evils that are brewing, they are easily cured. But when, for want of such knowledge, they are allowed to grow until everyone can recognize them, there is no longer any remedy to be found." —The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli (quoted by Julian Assange in State and Terrorist Conspiracies)

"[Assange] decides, instead, that the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make "leaks" a fundamental part of the conspiracy's information environment. Which is why the point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective. Wikileaks does not leak something like the "Collateral Murder" video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive "secrecy tax") and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

The leak, in other words, is only the catalyst for the desired counter-overreaction; Wikileaks wants to provoke the conspiracy into turning off its own brain in response to the threat. As it tries to plug its own holes and find the leakers, he reasons, its component elements will de-synchronize from and turn against each other, de-link from the central processing network, and come undone. Even if all the elements of the conspiracy still exist, in this sense, depriving themselves of a vigorous flow of information to connect them all together as a conspiracy prevents them from acting as a conspiracy. As he puts it:

If total conspiratorial power is zero, then clearly there is no information flow between the conspirators and hence no conspiracy. A substantial increase or decrease in total conspiratorial power almost always means what we expect it to mean; an increase or decrease in the ability of the conspiracy to think, act and adapt.. An authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think is powerless to preserve itself against the opponents it induces.

—Aaron Bady, Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy

"This is democracy's Napster moment, the point at which the forms of governance that have evolved over 200 years of industrial society prove wanting in the face of the network, just as the business models of the recording industry were swept away by the ease with which the internet could transmit perfect digital copies of compressed music files.

Napster was neutered by court action in the US, but its failure inspired peer-to-peer services that were far harder to control. The sharing of music is now unstoppable, and Wikileaks and the organisations that come after it will ensure that the same is now true of secrets.

Of course we should never underestimate the power of the state to reinvent itself, just as modern capitalism and constitutional monarchy seem able to do.

Wikileaks has exposed the inadequacies in the way governments control their internal flow of information, and organisations dedicated to transparency and disclosure will observe the tactics used to shut it down and adapt accordingly. But the state can learn too, and has the resources to implement what it learns.

I fear that Wikileaks is as likely to usher in an era of more effective control as it is to sweep away the authoritarian regimes that Julian Assange opposes.

He may look to a day when the conspiratorial power of the state is diminished, but I think we are more likely to see new forms of government emerge that exploit the capabilities of the network age to ensure their power is undiminished." —Bill Thompson, BBC [X]

* * *

"The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 is a bill introduced in the United States Senate by Joe Lieberman (Independent Democrat, Connecticut), Susan Collins (Republican Party, Maine), and Tom Carper (Democratic Party, Delaware) on June 10, 2010. The purpose of the bill is to increase security in cyberspace and prevent attacks which could disable infrastructure such as telecommunications or disrupt the nation's economy. The legislation would create an Office of Cyberspace Policy and a National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications.

Senator Lieberman has been criticized for giving the President the power to use a "kill switch" which would shut off the Internet. He has called these accusations "total misinformation" and said that "the government should never take over the Internet". Lieberman further inflamed skeptics when he cited China's similar policy in a backfired attempt to show the policy's normalcy. However, the bill would allow the President to enact "emergency measures" in the case of a large scale cyber attack. The original bill granted the US President the authority to shut down part of the internet indefinitely, but in a later amendment the maximum time for which the President could control the network was reduced to 120 days. After this period, the networks will have to be brought up, unless Congress approves an extension." —wikipedia [X]

Dec 17, 2010: "A United Nations task force formed last week said it was considering the creation of a new inter-governmental working group to help further international cooperation on policies to police the Internet.

The discussion was undertaken to "enhance" and extend the work of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a UN-sponsored organization that makes recommendations on how governments should deal with the Internet. The IGF's mandate is due to expire soon, so members of the UN's Commission on Science and Technology for Development Bureau took up the issue and formed a task force to determine what the new IGF should look like.

The bureau's members, however, decided their task force would be limited to governments only, with no representation by civil or industry groups.

The decision drew a sharp warning from search giant Google, which insisted that the next IGF, if comprised only of governments, could result in them obtaining a "monopoly" on how the Internet is run, as opposed to the current model where innovation flows from the bottom up. Google's blog said the firm had joined a petition of other industry groups in opposing the composition of the UN's task force.


Open Internet advocates called the series of events, which triggered what some called an "all-out cyber war" against firms that tried to censor WikiLeaks, showed a need for a decentralized DNS system to make government takedowns impossible. One project, called dot-P2P -- based on the same peer-to-peer technologies that helped popularize "bittorrent" networks after the shutdown of the Napster music sharing service's first iteration -- was already well on its way to establishing a workable, decentralized system for connecting domain names to servers.

Another project called P2P DNS, headed up by one of the founders of The Pirate Bay website, aims to take on ICANN and spread DNS registries on the .p2p domain to as many computers and servers as possible. The Pirate Bay has been castigated by governments and trade groups worldwide for hosting torrents that allow files of any variety to be shared, much like the US music industry's response to Napster." —Stephen C. Webster, The Raw Story [X]

* * *

" is a planned whistleblowing website. [...] The organization intends to be democratically governed, rather than being run by one person or a small group. 'Our long term goal is to build a strong, transparent platform to support whistleblowers — both in terms of technology and politics—while at the same time encouraging others to start similar projects,' says a colleague wishing to remain anonymous."



Tyler said...

This post has undergone many changes. About half of what was originally intended has been excised for an upcoming post that focuses much less on WikiLeaks. New information has also been added.

Andrew said...

One of the most disheartening selections you've posted is the Brian Williams/David Letterman clip. I'm not sure why I'm surprised, but it exposes the true feelings, held by many, who fulfill roles as observers and commentators on American society.

If I may step away from Wikileaks for a moment, I find it curious how someone like Letterman has achieved a status as an intellectual (or literate) alternative to other, flashier talk show hosts. If I am remembering correctly, there exists a stream of unconventional, angry, or passionate intellectuals and artists who are humiliated and "laid to rest" in the public arena by Letterman: Harvey Pekar, Andy Kaufman, even Crispin Glover.

Kaufman may be an exception, similar to Letterman giving Norm MacDonald air time.

Tyler said...

And don't forget that an entire Bill Hicks routine -- and one of his most placid ones at that -- was removed from the Letterman show before it aired. He did apologize for it and later showed the footage, though this was long after Hicks came to be regarded as one of the finest stand-up comedians of all time. (To read a great article about this, and about Hicks more generally, go HERE.)

Though it might not sound like it from everything I'm about to say, I mostly agree with you. Letterman is surely given far too much credit for being a rebel -- or even an intelligent host -- than he deserves. But what is most unfortunate is that he is the "intellectual" alternative to the other late night hosts, especially when you compare him to his main rival, Jay Leno (who is also more popular). Letterman still does small things, like expressing his contempt for Donald Trump during an interview by constantly talking about how Trump's new golf courses are ruining the beautiful coastline of Scotland, for example. And while this is hardly anything to cheer about, sadly the most daring thing Jay Leno ever does is invite Bill Maher on his show.

Also, very early Letterman was a lot more interesting and daring (this is probably where his reputation comes from), and the same can be said for early Conan (though in his case I think history has shown that it was largely his very late time slot that should be given most of the credit). I don't know if it's their age that has changed them or the culture, but Letterman and Conan used to be the only talk shows where you could see respectful interviews with people like Captain Beefheart, or performances by bands like Ween. Even mid-career Letterman would interview Harmony Korine (three times), and though he mocks Korine a great deal you can also see that he genuinely gets a kick out of him. But back to your comments: Letterman certainly comes off horribly in his last Pekar interviews (though again, you won't see interviews with Harvey anywhere else on late night talk shows). Personally I don't think Crispin Glover was humiliated any more than Joaquin Phoenix was. And if I understand your Norm MacDonald remark correctly, I agree: it's impossible to humiliate Andy Kaufman (and I say this as a compliment).

Dick Cavett was the best host of any show of this type, period. Too bad he only lasted a handful of years.

In regards to your more recent comment on my "People in glass empires shouldn't fly drones" post, I just wanted to let you know that I haven't responded because my head keeps spinning whenever I think about writing anything. LONG and BORING are the only types of responses I think I could manage. I do have a few answers of my own to some of your concerns, but yeah, I understand your dilemma. It's complicated.