WikiFreaks, pt. 3 “Mendax the Liar”

Would you buy a used car from this guy?

“Should’ve realised i know what you are
You’re in suspension
You’re a liar
You’re a liar
You’re a liar
Lie lie”
-Liar, The Sex Pistols

This edition is devoted to one article and one article only. In my opinion, it is the most significant article on WikiLeaks, though it is somewhat supportive, and written by someone who appears to be ignorant of the history that I will go over in Part Four. However, Rami Khatchoudourian has done some excellent work here, which deserves it’s own chaper of Wikifreaks. I would highly advise reading the full thing at the New Yorker website, as I’ve edited down to about 12 pages from what was originally 20 pages, for space reasons.

If you think Julian Assange is a commie muslim-lovin’ traitor to the West who should be hung by his entrails from the Brooklyn Bridge… forget about that for a minute. If you think Julian Assange is a Near-Deity of the “noosphere” who is making a “New Media play” that will lead us to the 2012 Singularity when all of our brains will be uploaded into the Great Hard Drive In the Sky and we’ll all live forever in binary bliss… forget about that for a minute.

At one point, I was torn about WikiLeaks, which may or may not have come across in Chapters 1 and 2. On the one hand, I can REALLY get behind the idea of a spot for leakers to anonymously post info that governments or corporations don’t want getting out. The Psychedelic Dungeon is all about that kind of stuff! I could dig through WikiLeaks for several years and just find story after story to keep me busy. On the other hand, I’m not as naïve as some WikiFreaks and am also fully conscious that counter-intel/psyops types would see WikiLeaks as a dream come true. So easy to slip out a “leak” that serves a hidden political agenda, have WikiLeaks put it out and disseminate it worldwide. So easy to slip out disinformation, let your enemies jump all over it and publicize it, THEN discredit it yourself, thus making your enemies look like idiots. Pretty basic stuff for paid, fulltime propagandists who know how to “think outside the box” as well as the WikiLeaks people do.

But, again, put the politics aside for a moment. The hurdles above may be surmountable. What ISN’T surmountable is the fact that WikiLeaks itself is not honest. They edit, manipulate, and distort the material that is delivered to them. Right there, that blows their credibility out the window. It’s all tainted. And what’s truly amazing is that, far from hiding it, they allowed this New Yorker reporter to sit in while they manipulate material! They are so “open-source” that they can’t figure out that maybe, just maybe, it’s not a good idea to do these manipulations with the “mainstream media” LITERALLY looking over their shoulder. They aren’t called “geeks” for nothing.

"Sure, we can trust the New Yorker to keep a secret!"

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/06/07/100607fa_fact_khatchadourian?printable=true

Assange is an international trafficker, of sorts. He and his colleagues collect documents and imagery that governments and other institutions regard as confidential and publish them on a Web site called WikiLeaks.org. Since it went online, three and a half years ago, the site has published an extensive catalogue of secret material, ranging from the Standard Operating Procedures at Camp Delta, in Guantánamo Bay, and the “Climategate” e-mails from the University of East Anglia, in England, to the contents of Sarah Palin’s private Yahoo account. The catalogue is especially remarkable because WikiLeaks is not quite an organization; it is better described as a media insurgency. It has no paid staff, no copiers, no desks, no office. Assange does not even have a home. He travels from country to country, staying with supporters, or friends of friends—as he once put it to me, “I’m living in airports these days.” He is the operation’s prime mover, and it is fair to say that WikiLeaks exists wherever he does. At the same time, hundreds of volunteers from around the world help maintain the Web site’s complicated infrastructure; many participate in small ways, and between three and five people dedicate themselves to it full time. Key members are known only by initials—M, for instance—even deep within WikiLeaks, where communications are conducted by encrypted online chat services. The secretiveness stems from the belief that a populist intelligence operation with virtually no resources, designed to publicize information that powerful institutions do not want public, will have serious adversaries.

Iceland was a natural place to develop Project B. In the past year, Assange has collaborated with politicians and activists there to draft a free-speech law of unprecedented strength, and a number of these same people had agreed to help him work on the video in total secrecy

Iceland is a NATO country as was discussed in the piece in Part Two by conservative commentator Marc Thiessen. Yet we find them setting up laws to protect Assange?

In his writing online, especially on Twitter, Assange is quick to lash out at perceived enemies. By contrast, on television, where he has been appearing more frequently, he acts with uncanny sang-froid. Under the studio lights, he can seem—with his spectral white hair, pallid skin, cool eyes, and expansive forehead—like a rail-thin being who has rocketed to Earth to deliver humanity some hidden truth. This impression is magnified by his rigid demeanor and his baritone voice, which he deploys slowly, at low volume.
INSERT ASSANGE PIC

In private, however, Assange is often bemused and energetic. He can concentrate intensely, in binges, but he is also the kind of person who will forget to reserve a plane ticket, or reserve a plane ticket and forget to pay for it, or pay for the ticket and forget to go to the airport. People around him seem to want to care for him; they make sure that he is where he needs to be, and that he has not left all his clothes in the dryer before moving on. At such times, he can seem innocent of the considerable influence that he has acquired.

I find that troubling, as if he is someone under control. This is a recurring theme in pieces about Assange.

Assange says that he has chased away strangers who have tried to take his picture for surveillance purposes. In March, he published a classified military report, created by the Army Counterintelligence Center in 2008, that argued that the site was a potential threat to the Army and briefly speculated on ways to deter government employees from leaking documents to it. Assange regarded the report as a declaration of war, and posted it with the title “U.S. Intelligence Planned to Destroy WikiLeaks.” During a trip to a conference before he came to the Bunker, he thought he was being followed, and his fear began to infect others. “I went to Sweden and stayed with a girl who is a foreign editor of a newspaper there, and she became so paranoid that the C.I.A. was trying to get me she left the house and abandoned me,” he said.

Now we get into the most critical passage in this four-part series as we go inside WikiLeaks with Khatchodourian as they formulated what would become one of their claims to fame: the leaking of the Apache attack in Baghdad. If you love Julian, hate Julian, feel like you’ve wasted your time reading this series, fine. Just read this next passage… humor me.

People gathered in front of a computer to watch. In grainy black-and-white, we join the crew of the Apache, from the Eighth Cavalry Regiment, as it hovers above Baghdad with another helicopter. A wide-angle shot frames a mosque’s dome in crosshairs. We see a jumble of buildings and palm trees and abandoned streets. We hear bursts of static, radio blips, and the clipped banter of tactical communication. Two soldiers are in mid-conversation; the first recorded words are “O.K., I got it.” Assange hit the pause button, and said, “In this video, you will see a number of people killed.” The footage, he explained, had three broad phases. “In the first phase, you will see an attack that is based upon a mistake, but certainly a very careless mistake. In the second part, the attack is clearly murder, according to the definition of the average man. And in the third part you will see the killing of innocent civilians in the course of soldiers going after a legitimate target.”

The first phase was chilling, in part because the banter of the soldiers was so far beyond the boundaries of civilian discourse. “Just fuckin’, once you get on ’em, just open ’em up,” one of them said. The crew members of the Apache came upon about a dozen men ambling down a street, a block or so from American troops, and reported that five or six of the men were armed with AK-47s; as the Apache maneuvered into position to fire at them, the crew saw one of the Reuters journalists, who were mixed in among the other men, and mistook a long-lensed camera for an RPG. The Apaches fired on the men for twenty-five seconds, killing nearly all of them instantly.

Phase two began shortly afterward. As the helicopter hovered over the carnage, the crew noticed a wounded survivor struggling on the ground. The man appeared to be unarmed. “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon,” a soldier in the Apache said. Suddenly, a van drove into view, and three unarmed men rushed to help the wounded person. “We have individuals going to the scene, looks like possibly, uh, picking up bodies and weapons,” the Apache reported, even though the men were helping a survivor, and were not collecting weapons. The Apache fired, killing the men and the person they were trying to save, and wounding two young children in the van’s front seat.

In phase three, the helicopter crew radioed a commander to say that at least six armed men had entered a partially constructed building in a dense urban area. Some of the armed men may have walked over from a skirmish with American troops; it is unclear. The crew asked for permission to attack the structure, which they said appeared abandoned. “We can put a missile in it,” a soldier in the Apache suggested, and the go-ahead was quickly given. Moments later, two unarmed people entered the building. Though the soldiers acknowledged them, the attack proceeded: three Hellfire missiles destroyed the building. Passersby were engulfed by clouds of debris.

Assange saw these events in sharply delineated moral terms, yet the footage did not offer easy legal judgments. In the month before the video was shot, members of the battalion on the ground, from the Sixteenth Infantry Regiment, had suffered more than a hundred and fifty attacks and roadside bombings, nineteen injuries, and four deaths; early that morning, the unit had been attacked by small-arms fire. The soldiers in the Apache were matter-of-fact about killing and spoke callously about their victims, but the first attack could be judged as a tragic misunderstanding. The attack on the van was questionable—the use of force seemed neither thoughtful nor measured—but soldiers are permitted to shoot combatants, even when they are assisting the wounded, and one could argue that the Apache’s crew, in the heat of the moment, reasonably judged the men in the van to be assisting the enemy. Phase three may have been unlawful, perhaps negligent homicide or worse. Firing missiles into a building, in daytime, to kill six people who do not appear to be of strategic importance is an excessive use of force. This attack was conducted with scant deliberation, and it is unclear why the Army did not investigate it.

I feel like I should take this moment to clarify my own feelings about this incident. To put it bluntly, it’s a war. As noted by the author “In the month before the video was shot, members of the battalion on the ground, from the Sixteenth Infantry Regiment, had suffered more than a hundred and fifty attacks and roadside bombings, nineteen injuries, and four deaths; early that morning, the unit had been attacked by small-arms fire.” I am not in a position to judge these troops who were shoved into an unpopular war (which I opposed from Day One), with unclear and poorly defined goals, and oftentimes supplied with inadequate and outright broken gear. If I saw people aiding combatants that were intending to kill me, I would have no moral qualms about killing them. It’s a war. War is hell. It truly sucks. Humanity’s focus should be to STOP wars from happening in the first place, not to nitpick about the actions taken by those forced into the cauldron of hell. As the bumper sticker says “War is bad for children and other living things”.

…The edited film, which was eighteen minutes long, began with a quote from George Orwell that Assange and M had selected: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.” It then presented information about the journalists who had been killed, and about the official response to the attack. For the audio of this section, one of the film’s Icelandic editors had layered in fragments of radio banter from the soldiers. As Assange reviewed the cut, an activist named Gudmundur Gudmundsson spoke up to say that the banter allowed viewers to “make an emotional bond” with the soldiers. Assange argued that it was mostly fragmentary and garbled, but Gudmundsson insisted: “It is just used all the time for triggering emotions.”

Catch that? By allowing the audience to hear the U.S. troops banter with each other, it might almost, gosh, “humanize them!”

"The Truthulator Device has failed due to the editing, and lying, and dissembling.. Ga-hayy!"

“At the same time, we are displaying them as monsters,” the editor said.
“But emotions always rule,” Gudmundsson said. “By the way, I worked on the sound recording for a film, ‘Children of Nature,’ that was nominated for an Oscar, so I am speaking from experience.”

Sounds like a humble guy…

“Well, what is your alternative?” Assange asked.
“Basically, bursts of sounds, interrupting the quiet,” he said.

Yeah, that’s probably what Andrew Breitbart would do.

The editor made the change, stripping the voices of the soldiers from the opening, but keeping blips and whirs of radio distortion. Assange gave the edit his final approval.

…Assange wrinkled his brow and turned his attention back to the screen. He was looking at a copy of classified rules of engagement in Iraq from 2006, one of several secret American military documents that he was planning to post with the video. WikiLeaks scrubs such documents to insure that no digital traces embedded in them can identify their source. Assange was purging these traces as fast as he could.
Reykjavik’s streets were empty, and the bells of a cathedral began to toll. “Remember, remember the fifth of November,” Assange said, repeating a line from the English folk poem celebrating Guy Fawkes. He smiled, as Gonggrijp dismantled the workflow chart, removing Post-Its from the cabinets and flushing them down the toilet.

And with them sinks WikiLeaks’ credibility. Bye bye guys, thanks for playing. By the way, it puzzles me to see the idolization of Guy Fawkes within Anarchist/Libertarian circles. Yeah, I know it’s about “V for Vendetta”. Yeah, he tried to “blow up the king and parliament”. But few people remember WHY he wanted to blow them up! He was a radical Catholic who wanted to see the Catholic Church take back control of England. I wonder if the anarchists of the 23rd Century will wear Mel Gibson masks? Interesting…

Next up, we get more of the biographical details on Julian Assange. This is the passage that I excerpted for the start of Part One, establishing his connection to Anne Hamilton-Byrne’s cult. This isn’t some kind of “tangential” thing. If his version is true, then I would assume that being chased by the Australian “Family” would be a rather character-defining, if not utterly psychologically shattering experience. Which if not sufficient to convert him to the cult’s bidding, may have softened him psychologically enough for others to play with him? As you will see in Part Four, his run-in with the Family will not be the last time that he will have close contact with entities related to Australian intelligence.

The name Assange is thought to derive from Ah Sang, or Mr. Sang, a Chinese émigré who settled on Thursday Island, off the coast of Australia, in the early eighteen-hundreds, and whose descendants later moved to the continent. Assange’s maternal ancestors came to Australia in the mid-nineteenth century, from Scotland and Ireland, in search of farmland, and Assange suspects, only half in jest, that his proclivity for wandering is genetic. His phone numbers and e-mail address are ever-changing, and he can drive the people around him crazy with his elusiveness and his propensity to mask details about his life.

Remember that this is “Mr Transparency” who thinks everybody should know everything about everyone.

Assange was born in 1971, in the city of Townsville, on Australia’s northeastern coast, but it is probably more accurate to say that he was born into a blur of domestic locomotion. Shortly after his first birthday, his mother—I will call her Claire—married a theatre director, and the two collaborated on small productions. They moved often, living near Byron Bay, a beachfront community in New South Wales, and on Magnetic Island, a tiny pile of rock that Captain Cook believed had magnetic properties that distorted his compass readings. They were tough-minded nonconformists. (At seventeen, Claire had burned her schoolbooks and left home on a motorcycle.) Their house on Magnetic Island burned to the ground, and rifle cartridges that Claire had kept for shooting snakes exploded like fireworks. “Most of this period of my childhood was pretty Tom Sawyer,” Assange told me. “I had my own horse. I built my own raft. I went fishing. I was going down mine shafts and tunnels.”

Assange’s mother believed that formal education would inculcate an unhealthy respect for authority in her children and dampen their will to learn. “I didn’t want their spirits broken,” she told me. In any event, the family had moved thirty-seven times by the time Assange was fourteen, making consistent education impossible. He was homeschooled, sometimes, and he took correspondence classes and studied informally with university professors. But mostly he read on his own, voraciously. He was drawn to science. “I spent a lot of time in libraries going from one thing to another, looking closely at the books I found in citations, and followed that trail,” he recalled. He absorbed a large vocabulary, but only later did he learn how to pronounce all the words that he learned.

When Assange was eight, Claire left her husband and began seeing a musician, with whom she had another child, a boy. The relationship was tempestuous; the musician became abusive, she says, and they separated. A fight ensued over the custody of Assange’s half brother, and Claire felt threatened, fearing that the musician would take away her son. Assange recalled her saying, “Now we need to disappear,” and he lived on the run with her from the age of eleven to sixteen. When I asked him about the experience, he told me that there was evidence that the man belonged to a powerful cult called the Family—its motto was “Unseen, Unknown, and Unheard.” Some members were doctors who persuaded mothers to give up their newborn children to the cult’s leader, Anne Hamilton-Byrne. The cult had moles in government, Assange suspected, who provided the musician with leads on Claire’s whereabouts. In fact, Claire often told friends where she had gone, or hid in places where she had lived before.

Interesting that there is the discrepancy in their two stories.

While on the run, Claire rented a house across the street from an electronics shop. Assange would go there to write programs on a Commodore 64, until Claire bought it for him, moving to a cheaper place to raise the money. He was soon able to crack into well-known programs, where he found hidden messages left by their creators. “The austerity of one’s interaction with a computer is something that appealed to me,” he said. “It is like chess—chess is very austere, in that you don’t have many rules, there is no randomness, and the problem is very hard.” Assange embraced life as an outsider. He later wrote of himself and a teen-age friend, “We were bright sensitive kids who didn’t fit into the dominant subculture and fiercely castigated those who did as irredeemable boneheads.”
When Assange turned sixteen, he got a modem, and his computer was transformed into a portal. Web sites did not exist yet—this was 1987—but computer networks and telecom systems were sufficiently linked to form a hidden electronic landscape that teen-agers with the requisite technical savvy could traverse. Assange called himself Mendax—from Horace’s splendide mendax, or “nobly untruthful”—and he established a reputation as a sophisticated programmer who could break into the most secure networks. He joined with two hackers to form a group that became known as the International Subversives, and they broke into computer systems in Europe and North America, including networks belonging to the U.S. Department of Defense and to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. In a book called “Underground,” which he collaborated on with a writer named Suelette Dreyfus, he outlined the hacker subculture’s early Golden Rules: “Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information.”

Let’s just say that is a pretty good way to get yourself on the radar screen of Western intelligence.

Around this time, Assange fell in love with a sixteen-year-old girl, and he briefly moved out of his mother’s home to stay with her. “A couple of days later, police turned up, and they carted off all my computer stuff,” he recalled. The raid, he said, was carried out by the state police, and “it involved some dodgy character who was alleging that we had stolen five hundred thousand dollars from Citibank.” Assange wasn’t charged, and his equipment was returned. “At that point, I decided that it might be wise to be a bit more discreet,” he said. Assange and the girl joined a squatters’ union in Melbourne, until they learned she was pregnant, and moved to be near Claire. When Assange was eighteen, the two got married in an unofficial ceremony, and soon afterward they had a son.

Hacking remained a constant in his life, and the thrill of digital exploration was amplified by the growing knowledge, among the International Subversives, that the authorities were interested in their activities. The Australian Federal Police had set up an investigation into the group, called Operation Weather, which the hackers strove to monitor.

In September, 1991, when Assange was twenty, he hacked into the master terminal that Nortel, the Canadian telecom company, maintained in Melbourne, and began to poke around. The International Subversives had been visiting the master terminal frequently. Normally, Assange hacked into computer systems at night, when they were semi-dormant, but this time a Nortel administrator was signed on. Sensing that he might be caught, Assange approached him with humor. “I have taken control,” he wrote, without giving his name. “For years, I have been struggling in this grayness. But now I have finally seen the light.” The administrator did not reply, and Assange sent another message: “It’s been nice playing with your system. We didn’t do any damage and we even improved a few things. Please don’t call the Australian Federal Police.”

“I have taken control. For years, I have been struggling in this grayness. But now I have finally seen the light”. O-kaaay. Is this really the guy you want as the arbiter of the world’s “hidden information”?

The International Subversives’ incursions into Nortel turned out to be a critical development for Operation Weather. Federal investigators tapped phone lines to see which ones the hackers were using. “Julian was the most knowledgeable and the most secretive of the lot,” Ken Day, the lead investigator, told me. “He had some altruistic motive. I think he acted on the belief that everyone should have access to everything.”

“Underground” describes Assange’s growing fear of arrest: “Mendax dreamed of police raids all the time. He dreamed of footsteps crunching on the driveway gravel, of shadows in the pre-dawn darkness, of a gun-toting police squad bursting through his backdoor at 5 am.” Assange could relax only when he hid his disks in an apiary that he kept. By October, he was in a terrible state. His wife had left him, taking with her their infant son. His home was a mess. He barely ate or slept. On the night the police came, the twenty-ninth, he wired his phone through his stereo and listened to the busy signal until eleven-thirty, when Ken Day knocked on his door, and told him, “I think you’ve been expecting me.”

Assange was charged with thirty-one counts of hacking and related crimes. While awaiting trial, he fell into a depression, and briefly checked himself into a hospital. He tried to stay with his mother, but after a few days he took to sleeping in nearby parks. He lived and hiked among dense eucalyptus forests in the Dandenong Ranges National Park, which were thick with mosquitoes whose bites scarred his face. “Your inner voice quiets down,” he told me. “Internal dialogue is stimulated by a preparatory desire to speak, but it is not actually useful if there are no other people around.” He added, “I don’t want to sound too Buddhist. But your vision of yourself disappears.”

It took more than three years for the authorities to bring the case against Assange and the other International Subversives to court. Day told me, “We had just formed the computer-crimes team, and the government said, ‘Your charter is to establish a deterrent.’ Well, to get a deterrent you have to prosecute people, and we achieved that with Julian and his group.” A computer-security team working for Nortel in Canada drafted an incident report alleging that the hacking had caused damage that would cost more than a hundred thousand dollars to repair. The chief prosecutor, describing Assange’s near-limitless access, told the court, “It was God Almighty walking around doing what you like.”

Assange, facing a potential sentence of ten years in prison, found the state’s reaction confounding. He bought Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The First Circle,” a novel about scientists and technicians forced into the Gulag, and read it three times. (“How close the parallels to my own adventures!” he later wrote.) He was convinced that “look/see” hacking was a victimless crime, and intended to fight the charges.

Really? That’s pretty delusional and fairly informative to how out of touch some of these hackers are with reality.

But the other members of the group decided to coöperate. “When a judge says, ‘The prisoner shall now rise,’ and no one else in the room stands—that is a test of character,” he told me. Ultimately, he pleaded guilty to twenty-five charges and six were dropped. But at his final sentencing the judge said, “There is just no evidence that there was anything other than sort of intelligent inquisitiveness and the pleasure of being able to—what’s the expression—surf through these various computers.” Assange’s only penalty was to pay the Australian state a small sum in damages.

Judge Roy: "This is an open and shut case of 'Boys Will Be Boys'"

I don’t buy this part. I suspect he made a plea deal. My guess is at this point he decided to work for the State in exchange for having his charges reduced to a “small sum in damages”. A very common story with hackers.

As the criminal case was unfolding, Assange and his mother were also waging a campaign to gain full custody of Assange’s son—a legal fight that was, in many ways, far more wrenching than his criminal defense. They were convinced that the boy’s mother and her new boyfriend posed a danger to the child, and they sought to restrict her rights. The state’s child-protection agency, Health and Community Services, disagreed. The specifics of the allegations are unclear; family-court records in Australia are kept anonymous. But in 1995 a parliamentary committee found that the agency maintained an “underlying philosophy of deflecting as many cases away from itself as possible.” When the agency decided that a child was living in a safe household, there was no way to immediately appeal its decision.

The custody battle evolved into a bitter fight with the state. “What we saw was a great bureaucracy that was squashing people,” Claire told me. She and Assange, along with another activist, formed an organization called Parent Inquiry Into Child Protection. “We used full-on activist methods,” Claire recalled. In meetings with Health and Community Services, “we would go in and tape-record them secretly.” The organization used the Australian Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents from Health and Community Services, and they distributed flyers to child-protection workers, encouraging them to come forward with inside information, for a “central databank” that they were creating. “You may remain anonymous if you wish,” one flyer stated. One protection worker leaked to the group an important internal manual. Assange told me, “We had moles who were inside dissidents.”

In 1999, after nearly three dozen legal hearings and appeals, Assange worked out a custody agreement with his wife. Claire told me, “We had experienced very high levels of adrenaline, and I think that after it all finished I ended up with P.T.S.D. It was like coming back from a war. You just can’t interact with normal people to the same degree, and I am sure that Jules has some P.T.S.D. that is untreated.” Not long after the court cases, she said, Assange’s hair, which had been dark brown, became drained of all color.

So that is the origin of the Family-style “silver platinum peroxide blonde” hair that we’ve heard so much about… perhaps.

Assange was burned out. He motorcycled across Vietnam. He held various jobs, and even earned money as a computer-security consultant, supporting his son to the extent that he was able. He studied physics at the University of Melbourne. He thought that trying to decrypt the secret laws governing the universe would provide the intellectual stimulation and rush of hacking. It did not. In 2006, on a blog he had started, he wrote about a conference organized by the Australian Institute of Physics, “with 900 career physicists, the body of which were sniveling fearful conformists of woefully, woefully inferior character.”
He had come to understand the defining human struggle not as left versus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution. As a student of Kafka, Koestler, and Solzhenitsyn, he believed that truth, creativity, love, and compassion are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, and by “patronage networks”—one of his favorite expressions—that contort the human spirit. He sketched out a manifesto of sorts, titled “Conspiracy as Governance,” which sought to apply graph theory to politics. Assange wrote that illegitimate governance was by definition conspiratorial—the product of functionaries in “collaborative secrecy, working to the detriment of a population.” He argued that, when a regime’s lines of internal communication are disrupted, the information flow among conspirators must dwindle, and that, as the flow approaches zero, the conspiracy dissolves. Leaks were an instrument of information warfare.

These ideas soon evolved into WikiLeaks. In 2006, Assange barricaded himself in a house near the university and began to work. In fits of creativity, he would write out flow diagrams for the system on the walls and doors, so as not to forget them. There was a bed in the kitchen, and he invited backpackers passing through campus to stay with him, in exchange for help building the site. “He wouldn’t sleep at all,” a person who was living in the house told me. “He wouldn’t eat.”

As it now functions, the Web site is primarily hosted on a Swedish Internet service provider called PRQ.se, which was created to withstand both legal pressure and cyber attacks, and which fiercely preserves the anonymity of its clients. Submissions are routed first through PRQ, then to a WikiLeaks server in Belgium, and then on to “another country that has some beneficial laws,” Assange told me, where they are removed at “end-point machines” and stored elsewhere.

This will be discussed in more detail in Part 4, but PRQ not only hosts WikiLeaks, but the Pirate Bay downloading site, NAMBLA, and various pedophile forums. It is also linked to Swedish fascist Carl Lundstrom who helped to start the Pirate Bay.

These machines are maintained by exceptionally secretive engineers, the high priesthood of WikiLeaks. One of them, who would speak only by encrypted chat, told me that Assange and the other public members of WikiLeaks “do not have access to certain parts of the system as a measure to protect them and us.” The entire pipeline, along with the submissions moving through it, is encrypted, and the traffic is kept anonymous by means of a modified version of the Tor network, which sends Internet traffic through “virtual tunnels” that are extremely private. Moreover, at any given time WikiLeaks computers are feeding hundreds of thousands of fake submissions through these tunnels, obscuring the real documents. Assange told me that there are still vulnerabilities, but “this is vastly more secure than any banking network.”

Before launching the site, Assange needed to show potential contributors that it was viable. One of the WikiLeaks activists owned a server that was being used as a node for the Tor network. Millions of secret transmissions passed through it. The activist noticed that hackers from China were using the network to gather foreign governments’ information, and began to record this traffic. Only a small fraction has ever been posted on WikiLeaks, but the initial tranche served as the site’s foundation, and Assange was able to say, “We have received over one million documents from thirteen countries.”

In December, 2006, WikiLeaks posted its first document: a “secret decision,” signed by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Somali rebel leader for the Islamic Courts Union, that had been culled from traffic passing through the Tor network to China. The document called for the execution of government officials by hiring “criminals” as hit men. Assange and the others were uncertain of its authenticity, but they thought that readers, using Wikipedia-like features of the site, would help analyze it. They published the decision with a lengthy commentary, which asked, “Is it a bold manifesto by a flamboyant Islamic militant with links to Bin Laden? Or is it a clever smear by US intelligence, designed to discredit the Union, fracture Somali alliances and manipulate China?”

The document’s authenticity was never determined, and news about WikiLeaks quickly superseded the leak itself. Several weeks later, Assange flew to Kenya for the World Social Forum, an anti-capitalist convention, to make a presentation about the Web site. “He packed in the funniest way I have ever seen,” the person who had been living in the house recalled. “Someone came to pick him up, and he was asked, ‘Where is your luggage?’ And he ran back into the house. He had a sailor’s sack, and he grabbed a whole bunch of stuff and threw it in there, mostly socks.”

Assange ended up staying in Kenya for several months. He would check in with friends by phone and through the Internet from time to time, but was never precise about his movements. One friend told me, “It would always be, ‘Where is Julian?’ It was always difficult to know where he was. It was almost like he was trying to hide.”

It took about an hour on Easter morning to get from the house on Grettisgata Street to Iceland’s international airport, which is situated on a lava field by the sea. Assange, in the terminal, carried a threadbare blue backpack that contained hard drives, phone cards, and multiple cell phones. Gonggrijp had agreed to go to Washington to help with the press conference. He checked in, and the ticketing agent turned to Assange.

“I am sorry,” she said to him. “I cannot find your name.”
“Interesting,” Assange said to Gonggrijp. “Have fun at the press conference.”
“No,” Gonggrijp told the attendant. “We have a booking I.D. number.”
“It’s been confirmed,” Assange insisted.
The attendant looked perplexed. “I know,” she said. “But my booking information has it ‘cancelled.’ ”

The two men exchanged a look: was a government agency tampering with their plans? Assange waited anxiously, but it turned out that he had bought the ticket and neglected to confirm the purchase. He quickly bought another ticket, and the two men flew to New York and then rushed to catch the Acela to Washington. It was nearly two in the morning when they arrived. They got into a taxi, and Assange, who didn’t want to reveal the location of his hotel, told the driver to go to a nearby cross street.

“Here we are in the lion’s den,” Gonggrijp said as the taxi raced down Massachusetts Avenue, passing rows of nondescript office buildings. Assange said, “Not looking too lionish.”

A few hours after sunrise, Assange was standing at a lectern inside the National Press Club, ready to present “Collateral Murder” to the forty or so journalists who had come. He was dressed in a brown blazer, a black shirt, and a red tie. He played the film for the audience, pausing it to discuss various details. After the film ended, he ran footage of the Hellfire attack—a woman in the audience gasped as the first missile hit the building—and read from the e-mail sent by the Icelandic journalists who had gone to Iraq. The leak, he told the reporters, “sends a message that some people within the military don’t like what is going on.”

The video, in both raw and edited forms, was released on the site that WikiLeaks had built for it, and also on YouTube and a number of other Web sites. Within minutes after the press conference, Assange was invited to Al Jazeera’s Washington headquarters, where he spent half the day giving interviews, and that evening MSNBC ran a long segment about the footage. The video was covered in the Times, in multiple stories, and in every other major paper. On YouTube alone, more than seven million viewers have watched “Collateral Murder.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked about the footage, and said, clearly irritated, “These people can put anything out they want and are never held accountable for it.” The video was like looking at war “through a soda straw,” he said. “There is no before and there is no after.” Army spokespeople insisted that there was no violation of the rules of engagement.

At first, the media’s response hewed to Assange’s interpretation, but, in the ensuing days, as more commentators weighed in and the military offered its view, Assange grew frustrated. Much of the coverage focussed not on the Hellfire attack or the van but on the killing of the journalists and on how a soldier might reasonably mistake a camera for an RPG. On Twitter, Assange accused Gates of being “a liar,” and beseeched members of the media to “stop spinning.”

In some respects, Assange appeared to be most annoyed by the journalistic process itself—“a craven sucking up to official sources to imbue the eventual story with some kind of official basis,” as he once put it. WikiLeaks has long maintained a complicated relationship with conventional journalism. When, in 2008, the site was sued after publishing confidential documents from a Swiss bank, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, and ten other news organizations filed amicus briefs in support. (The bank later withdrew its suit.) But, in the Bunker one evening, Gonggrijp told me, “We are not the press.” He considers WikiLeaks an advocacy group for sources; within the framework of the Web site, he said, “the source is no longer dependent on finding a journalist who may or may not do something good with his document.”
Assange, despite his claims to scientific journalism, emphasized to me that his mission is to expose injustice, not to provide an even-handed record of events.

Again, this article is almost a “sneak preview” of Part Four, as one of the key facts about Assange is that even if he isn’t an “asset of the CIA”, as some would claim, it is clear that he thought at one point that it would be very profitable for WikiLeaks to work with Western intelligence. Author Khatchadorian is being deceptive here. When citing Assange’s writing below, I suspect he knows EXACTLY who those “potential collaborators” are, but deigns not to tell the reader. It’s CIA. Again, “Part Four”.

In an invitation to potential collaborators in 2006, he wrote, “Our primary targets are those highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia and Central Eurasia, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal illegal or immoral behavior in their own governments and corporations.” He has argued that a “social movement” to expose secrets could “bring down many administrations that rely on concealing reality—including the US administration.”

Assange does not recognize the limits that traditional publishers do. Recently, he posted military documents that included the Social Security numbers of soldiers, and in the Bunker I asked him if WikiLeaks’ mission would have been compromised if he had redacted these small bits. He said that some leaks risked harming innocent people—“collateral damage, if you will”—but that he could not weigh the importance of every detail in every document.

When making these excerpts, I sometimes leave in small notes that I want to expand later. Sometimes it is just one word or maybe two. After that part about him leaking SSIDS of soldiers, I made a one-word note which I will leave as the final commentary without further expansion:
DOUCHEBAG

Perhaps the Social Security numbers would one day be important to researchers investigating wrongdoing, he said; by releasing the information he would allow judgment to occur in the open.

A year and a half ago, WikiLeaks published the results of an Army test, conducted in 2004, of electromagnetic devices designed to prevent IEDs from being triggered. The document revealed key aspects of how the devices functioned and also showed that they interfered with communication systems used by soldiers—information that an insurgent could exploit. By the time WikiLeaks published the study, the Army had begun to deploy newer technology, but some soldiers were still using the devices. I asked Assange if he would refrain from releasing information that he knew might get someone killed. He said that he had instituted a “harm-minimization policy,” whereby people named in certain documents were contacted before publication, to warn them, but that there were also instances where the members of WikiLeaks might get “blood on our hands.”

And, uh, I had a two-word note after that part… which I will also leave as is:
DOUCHEBAG TWO

Lieutenant Colonel Lee Packnett, the spokesperson for intelligence matters for the Army, was deeply agitated when I called him. “We’re not going to give validity to WikiLeaks,” he said. “You’re not doing anything for the Army by putting us in a conversation about WikiLeaks. You can talk to someone else. It’s not an Army issue.” As he saw it, once “Collateral Murder” had passed through the news cycle, the broader counter-intelligence problem that WikiLeaks poses to the military had disappeared as well. “It went away,” he said.

A very trenchant point. While the New Media/internet hypesters like to think they are always on top of things, they fail to understand certain aspects of reality that would help them out. The arrogance of WikiLeaks, whatever their real goal may be, has proved and will continue to prove to be their undoing. They have a significant power, for now at least, but they can’t control the news media. They can’t control the military. They don’t understand counter-intelligence, infiltration, psychological operations, to the degree they need to for survival. Blog geeks can strut and boast all they want about their “discoveries” going “viral”, but if the larger media shuffles it off onto the back pages in a few days, what impact do they really have?

In 2007, he published thousands of pages of secret military information detailing a vast number of Army procurements in Iraq and Afghanistan. He and a volunteer spent weeks building a searchable database, studying the Army’s purchasing codes, and adding up the cost of the procurements—billions of dollars in all. The database catalogued matériel that every unit had ordered: machine guns, Humvees, cash-counting machines, satellite phones. Assange hoped that journalists would pore through it, but barely any did. “I am so angry,” he said. “This was such a fucking fantastic leak: the Army’s force structure of Afghanistan and Iraq, down to the last chair, and nothing.”

… Assange has been experimenting with other ideas, too. On the principle that people won’t regard something as valuable unless they pay for it, he has tried selling documents at auction to news organizations; in 2008, he attempted this with seven thousand internal e-mails from the account of a former speechwriter for Hugo Chávez. The auction failed. He is thinking about setting up a subscription service, where high-paying members would have early access to leaks.

But experimenting with the site’s presentation and its technical operations will not answer a deeper question that WikiLeaks must address: What is it about? The Web site’s strengths—its near-total imperviousness to lawsuits and government harassment—make it an instrument for good in societies where the laws are unjust. But, unlike authoritarian regimes, democratic governments hold secrets largely because citizens agree that they should, in order to protect legitimate policy. In liberal societies, the site’s strengths are its weaknesses. Lawsuits, if they are fair, are a form of deterrence against abuse. Soon enough, Assange must confront the paradox of his creation: the thing that he seems to detest most—power without accountability—is encoded in the site’s DNA, and will only become more pronounced as WikiLeaks evolves into a real institution.

So in the end, Assange is just another capitalist, who wants to profit from this whole leaky mess. Auctioning off leaks?

CONCLUDED IN PART FOUR

“THE NERD WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE”

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~ by psychedelicdungeon on September 10, 2010.

11 Responses to “WikiFreaks, pt. 3 “Mendax the Liar””

  1. your inability to adequately convince me convinces me that you are inadequate

  2. tl;dr
    you don’t like julian assange and you think he is a cray-cray.

    *yawn*

  3. Actually the group was carrying an Rpg and at least two rounds, in addition to the camera

    and they edited the voice chat from the soldiers to make them appear worse. It’s such subtly propaganda that most people miss it, they are the faux news of leaks, injecting opinion instead of just giving us raw data to interpret ourselves

    • Problem? – You are saying that a Reuters reporter was carrying an RPG?! Clarify yourself.

      The last point you made is an example of a viewpoint of somebody who reads far too deeply into things. Life is based on recurring compounds – fractal geometry. You can create whatever delusion you so wish by projection and superimposition – life is organic and can bend to your will on the sub-atomic level.

      Just as the gist of this article, I find fault in a viewpoint which doesn’t find the concept of a conspiracy theory second to the endeavours of an alternative and legitimate news source – not run by Murdock or any global interest. The sheer amount of information available at Wikileaks (and on the torrent – try downloading it!!) UNEDITED and causing serious consideration to our legal/economic/political and ethical way of living is staggering.

  4. I’d be interested in your investigations taking the form of a wikileaks cable or leaked legal documents (available from wikileaks website or on P2P via magnetic torrent) which uncovers the kind of corruption you yourself are accusing the wikileaks team of!

    The evidence for such remarks are contradictory.

  5. This is just a large pile of ad hominem

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  7. Skin moles can be malignant specially if they are painful. They should always be checked by a doctor. .’.`:

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