An increasing number of commentators, including the U.S. secretary of defense, are criticizing Julian Assange and Wikileaks and calling for legal and other attacks on them, CNET News reported Monday. -- On Saturday, CNET News reported that on Jul. 29 a Seattle-based Internet activist and Wikileaks volunteer was detained and questioned while his belongings were inspected, and three of his phones were confiscated. -- "The U.S. government, which was formed by French-backed terrorists in the former British colonies of North America south of Canada on the pretext that the common folk would be a bit freer, has apparently started rounding up geeks at its borders to ask them if they know anything about Wikileaks or Tor," sneered Nick Farrell of London Inquirer. -- Chris Berg criticized Wikileaks for "undermin[ing] its integrity" in its primary mission "to provide a repository of data and documents" by "trying to match that with political activism." -- "It's a shame," Berg said, "because the site couldn't be more important. . . .[I]ts success so far shows how much the world needs an unedited, unfiltered, and above all studiously neutral, depot for data and documents, much more than it needs another new media editor with a political campaign." ...
WIKILEAKS DRAWS CRITICISM, CENSORSHIP THREATS
By Declan McCullagh
August 2, 2010
A week after Wikileaks' 100-megabyte disclosure of Afghan war files appeared, anger in U.S. political circles continues to grow, with some commentators calling for the U.S. government to find a way to pull the plug on the group's Web site.
On Fox News Sunday, conservative commentator Liz Cheney said that Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange clearly has "blood on his hands" and that Wikileaks.org should be taken offline.
"I would really like to see President Obama move to ask the government of Iceland to shut that Web site down," Cheney said. "I'd like to see him move to shut it down ourselves if Iceland won't do it." Wikileaks.org is hosted on a server in Sweden.
Marc Thiessen, formerly the chief speechwriter for George W. Bush and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote a column for Tuesday's Washington Post calling Wikileaks a "criminal enterprise" and asking the U.S. government to employ "intelligence and military assets to bring Assange to justice and put his criminal syndicate out of business." The Pentagon recently created a unit that is charged with, in part, destroying enemy computers.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said on Monday that Taliban members are "scouring these documents and identifying sources, and we have concerns about (Afghans') welfare."
Newsweek reported at the same time that the Taliban has begun to threaten Afghans listed in the document as aiding American troops; over at our sister site, CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan called the publication a "death sentence for those people." (Assange has denied those allegations, saying there's no evidence innocent people or informants have been harmed.)
Crowley had said earlier that the State Department has "reached out" to Wikileaks, but has not actually had discussions with the group's members.
That failed attempt at negotiation hints at the difficulties that official Washington is encountering when dealing with a still-secretive Internet organization with no fixed mailing address, comprised of an unknown number of contributors, who collectively possess an unknown number of sensitive U.S. government files. If traditional diplomacy fails, what next?
So far, politicians' response seems to be twofold: Warning of the dangers of a leak of that magnitude, coupled with vague threats of targeting even journalists who quoted from the leaked Afghan files.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked last week if the investigation into alleged leaker Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence specialist, "should go beyond the source or sources of the leak within the military to include those who received or used the information, Wikileaks, the news media?"
Gates said his position is that "the investigation should go wherever it needs to go, and one of the reasons that I asked the director of the FBI to partner with us in this is to ensure that it can go wherever it needs to go."
CNET first reported over the weekend that Wikileaks contributor Jacob Appelbaum was detained by U.S. agents at Newark, N.J., airport and questioned for three hours after arriving on a flight from Amsterdam. Appelbaum, a U.S. citizen who was traveling to speak at the Defcon hacker conference, had his phone and at least some of his computer equipment seized.
Assange, on the other hand, never showed up at another hacker conference two weeks before in New York City. One reason he might be wary of visiting the U.S. is that the Espionage Act makes it a federal crime for anyone with unauthorized possession of "information relating to the national defense" to share it with anyone else.
On the other hand, the Espionage Act's sweeping prohibition would apply to many newspapers and magazine reporters as well who published leaked information, and the U.S. Justice Department may not want to risk a First Amendment challenge to its scope.
Perhaps as a way to avoid additional legal pressure or extralegal punitive measures on Assange and Appelbaum, a few days ago Wikileaks posted an intriguing 1.4GB file simply titled "Insurance." It's encrypted, meaning that if visitors are sent it in advance, Wikileaks would have to release only the key or passphrase to allow the contents to be read.
RESEARCHER DETAINED AT U.S. BORDER, QUESTIONED ABOUT WIKILEAKS
By Elinor Mills
July 31, 2010
LAS VEGAS -- A security researcher involved with the Wikileaks Web site was detained by U.S. agents at the border for three hours and questioned about the controversial whistleblower project as he entered the country on Thursday to attend a hacker conference, sources said on Saturday.
He was also approached by two FBI agents at the Defcon conference after his presentation on Saturday afternoon about the Tor Project.
Jacob Appelbaum, a Seattle-based programmer for the online privacy protection project called Tor, arrived at the Newark, New Jersey, airport from Holland flight Thursday morning when he was pulled aside by customs and border protection agents who told him he was randomly selected for a security search, according to the sources familiar with the matter who asked to remain anonymous.
Appelbaum, a U.S. citizen, was taken into a room, frisked, and his bag was searched. Receipts from his bag were photocopied and his laptop was inspected but it's not clear in what manner, the sources said. Officials from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Army then told him he was not under arrest but was being detained, the sources said. They asked questions about Wikileaks, asked for his opinions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and asked where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is, but he declined to comment without a lawyer present, according to the sources. He was not permitted to make a phone call, they said.
After about three hours, Appelbaum was given his laptop back but the agents kept his three mobile phones, sources said.
Asked for comment, Appelbaum declined to talk to CNET. However, he made reference to his phone getting seized to Defcon attendees. Following a question-and-answer session after his talk on the Tor Project Appelbaum was asked by an attendee for his phone number. He replied "that phone was seized."
Shortly thereafter two casually dressed men identified themselves as FBI agents and asked to talk to him.
"We'd like to chat for a few minutes," one of the men said, adding "we thought you might not want to." Appelbaum asked them if they were aware of "what happened to me?" and one of them replied "Yes, that's why we're here."
"I don't have anything to say," Appelbaum told them. One of the agents said they were interested in hearing if "human rights" [were] being "trampled" and said "sometimes it's nice to have a conversation to flesh things out."
Marcia Hofmann, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was in the room and asked if the agents were at the event in an official capacity or for personal reasons. "A little of both," one of the said.
Appelbaum asked when his equipment would be returned and one of them said "We aren't involved in that; we have no idea," and walked away when Appelbaum declined to talk further.
The agents declined to identify themselves to CNET. They said they were attending the conference and declined to talk further.
Appelbaum is a hacker and security researcher who co-founded the Noisebridge hacker space in San Francisco's Mission district. He's also worked to bypass the security of "smart" parking meters, unearth flaws in Web security certificates, and discover a novel way to bypass hard drive encryption.
At the Next HOPE hacker conference in New York in mid-July, Appelbaum filled in for Julian Assange, the controversial figure who's become the public face of Wikileaks. Assange skipped his appearance at Next HOPE on the expectation that Homeland Security agents would be looking for him. After his own presentation, Appelbaum beat a hasty exit and hopped on a flight to Europe.
While he was on stage at Next HOPE, Appelbaum urged the largely sympathetic audience to support Wikileaks by volunteering or by donating money, to address recent criticisms of the document-publishing Web site, and to boast that Wikileaks remains uncensorable. "You can try to take us down . . . but you can't stop us," he said. He also challenged modern U.S. foreign policy and called for civil disobedience by way of exposing heavily guarded secrets.
Appelbaum told the Next HOPE audience that although he's significantly involved in Wikileaks, he has no access to classified U.S. data that may have been sent to the site.
(CNET's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.)
U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERROGATES A WIKILEAKS ASSOCIATE
By Nick Farrell
** Does not like Tor either **
August 2, 2010
The U.S. government, which was formed by French-backed terrorists in the former British colonies of North America south of Canada on the pretext that the common folk would be a bit freer, has apparently started rounding up geeks at its borders to ask them if they know anything about Wikileaks or Tor.
On his way home from a security conference Jacob Appelbaum, a Seattle-based programmer for the online privacy protection project Tor, arrived at the Newark, New Jersey airport from Holland on a flight Thursday morning when he was pulled aside by US Customs and Fatherland Homeland Security agents.
According to CNET, he was initially told that it was just a routine security search but it turned out that he was detained and questioned for three hours about Wikileaks.
Appelbaum, a U.S. citizen, was taken into a room, frisked, and his bag was searched. Anything in it that was in written form was photocopied and his laptop was scanned.
Officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Army then told him he was not under arrest but that he was being detained, the sources said.
They then proceeded to ask him about his opinions regarding the arguably illegal wars launched by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan and demanded he tell them the whereabouts of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
He told them to go forth and multiply unless he had a lawyer present, but he was not allowed to call one.
After about three hours, Appelbaum was given his laptop back, but the agents kept his three mobile phones, sources said. Obviously a techie who needs three mobile phones must be a terrorist, or at least knows some.
Later at the Def Con conference he was approached by FBI agents who were apparently also interested in having a word.
Appelbaum did not make many friends in the U.S. government with his speech at Defcon, either . He urged the throngs to support Wikileaks by volunteering or donating money.
He challenged current U.S. foreign policy and called for civil disobedience through exposing the heavily guarded secrets of the U.S. imperium.
"You can try to take us down . . . but you can't stop us," he said.
THE DICHOTOMY OF WIKILEAKS
By Chris Berg
August 3, 2010
Does Julian Assange understand the significance of what he is doing? Perhaps not.
The Australian editor-in-chief of Wikileaks has published some extraordinary material in the past, but the release of the Afghan war logs is a big deal. The 91,000 classified documents -- only 75,000 have been publically uploaded so far -- cover six years of the War in Afghanistan.
The meaning of it all isn't yet clear.
At Slate, Fred Kaplan has written "Just because some documents are classified doesn't mean that they're news or even necessarily interesting." But if nothing else the documents provide a portrait of a war which hasn't been going well. There may not be any smoking guns of conspiracy here. But there is a lot of murkiness.
This isn't the way Assange sees it. On Thursday's Lateline, Assange said the documents revealed "negligence that's on a massive scale." He told Der Spiegel the material "shines light on the everyday brutality and squalor of [the Afghan] war." It will "change public opinion".
With Wikileaks Assange is trying to pursue two missions at once. And they clash.
The first mission is to provide a repository of data and documents. Wikileaks is where whistle-blowers can dump raw material -- everything interesting and uninteresting.
But Assange is obviously trying to match that with political activism. In this case, activism against the war in Afghanistan.
He's welcome to walk and chew gum if he can. But the editorializing necessary for his activism undermines Wikileaks' integrity, and ultimately weakens the site's power.
Nothing illustrates the perils of this two sided approach as well as the Baghdad air strike footage. Released in April, three months before the Afghan War Logs, the footage depicts a 2007 American attack against insurgents and what appears to be unarmed individuals, including two journalists.
Wikileaks released two versions of the footage.
The original, unedited version was 39 minutes long. The other version was an 18 minute highlight reel. Opening with a George Orwell quote -- "Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind" -- the film, titled "Collateral Murder," broadcast Assange's opinion proudly. (The video's provisional title, "Permission to Engage," was discarded.) The audio was edited carefully to avoid viewers making an emotional bond with the American soldiers.
As they say: don't telegraph your punches. Let the material speak for itself.
Instead, by editing it he made the video into a political football. Supporters of the war were able to dismiss the leaked video as nothing more than anti-war hype -- they focused on what was edited out, not what was left in.
Wikileaks risks being dismissed as just another partisan media outlet.
It's a shame because the site couldn't be more important.
The biggest barrier to the scrutiny of government is their monopoly over information. Governments like secrecy a lot. It's a precautionary thing. From a political perspective it's far safer to claim something is confidential, or of too great importance to national security to be shared with the public. You never know how information, once released into the public domain, could create political problems.
So it's easier not to release information at all, if you can avoid it.
Last month, the Australian Attorney General's Department gave a very clear example of how pervasive this risk-averse, secrecy-first attitude is.
A freedom of information request focused on the federal government's plans to have internet service providers monitor the surfing habits of consumers. The request was successful. But the document which was released by the Attorney-General's Department had been almost entirely censored -- 90 per cent of what was released had been blacked out.
In a supporting letter, the department claimed censorship was necessary because releasing more information "may lead to premature unnecessary debate."
Obviously the government thinks it better to encourage uninformed speculation.
The South Australian government recently kept an embarrassing list of defective bridges secret, claiming that the information could be used by al-Qaeda.
Wikileaks has the potential to disrupt this habitual secrecy once and for all; an institutional counterweight to the government's monopoly over its information.
Yet it seems that for Assange, Wikileaks is instead a new media venture, and comes complete with an editorial stance. Those 91,000 documents are the supporting material for Wikileaks' investigative work.
Talking to the *New Yorker*, he described this practice as "scientific journalism," comparing Wikileaks to academic scholarship: "If you publish a paper on DNA, you are required . . . to submit the data that has informed your research -- the idea being that people will replicate it, check it, verify it."
But some commentators have pointed out Assange had to pitch his story to the Guardian, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel to get publicity, rather than rely entirely on his site.
Assange should take that as a compliment, not a criticism.
Wikileaks has done some amazing things since it was founded four years ago.
But its success so far shows how much the world needs an unedited, unfiltered, and above all studiously neutral, depot for data and documents, much more than it needs another new media editor with a political campaign.
--Chris Berg is a research fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs and editor of the IPA Review. You can follow Chris Berg on Twitter.