Posts Tagged ‘WikiLeaks’

Some stuff which makes WikiLeaks look bad

December 10, 2010

I’m definitely pro-WikiLeaks, as anyone who’s read what I’ve written on the subject would definitely know. But like any other issue, it’s not entirely black and white. And since I already know I’m biased in one direction, I’m definitely at risk for ignoring information which doesn’t fit with said bias. So in order to try to correct that, here are some recent reports which might make one think twice before unconditionally supporting WL:

  1. ARS Technica: Some former WikiLeaks workers are starting up an alternative whistleblowing website called OpenLeaks. Their chief complaints seem to be that WL has become too America-centric and politically ideological, and that it relies too much on one person – presumably Julian Assange – instead of operating more democratically.
  2. The Guardian: In an interview, Julian Assange claimed that a leak involving corruption in Kenyan politics led to the death of 1,300 people and the displacement of 350,000. The context was the tough moral questions the organization faces in dealing with such sensitive information. Assange referred to it as a “chilling statistic.”
  3. Threat Level: WikiLeaks had pledged to assist in the defense fund of Pfc. Bradley Manning who’s been accused of leaking the Afghan War Diaries months ago, but has not yet made good on that pledge. WL spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson claims the payment is currently being processed.
  4. Threat Level: The Wired blog is reporting based on an anonymous source that the organization is now “in chaos” and that “the organization will most likely start to fall apart now.” Time Magazine, however, disagrees.
  5. Reporters Without Borders: The free press advocacy group tries to convince Assange that WL is setting a bad precedent for free speech on the internet.

Despite all this, I’m still definitely on WL’s side. It’s not reasonable to expect every single thing an organization does to be either completely good or completely evil. There’s always going to be nuances when it comes to these really big issues like war and the law and the conflict between transparency and secrecy. But at the same time it’s important to keep all this in perspective.

UPDATE: WikiLeaks has transferred $15,000 to Bradley Manning’s defense fund as of January 13, 2011.

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Weird standards

December 9, 2010

All three of these stories are about private institutions doing things which are completely within their rights to do. Lots of us think they’re very weird and despicable for doing these things, but there’s nothing illegal about any of it. At the same time though it’s very revealing to examine how selectively certain standards can be applied and ignored.

Since I last wrote about WikiLeaks, a lot of shit has gone down. The site was targeted with denial of service attacks and as a result moved to Amazon’s server. So Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) put pressure on Amazon to boot WikiLeaks, which they did. That’s not too unusual considering the cast of characters. But where it gets weird is that Amazon UK is now selling the same cables WikiLeaks released to the press for the Kindle.

MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal also were pressured by the government to stop allowing donations to organizations affiliated with WikiLeaks via the claim that what WL is doing is illegal (even though it’s not- although what the people leaking to them definitely is) and therefore violates those companies’ terms of service.  Instead of checking with their lawyers, those companies capitulated to the government and stopped allowing donations to WL. But it gets weird again here because MasterCard and Visa seem to have no problem with this.

And the Salvation Army is now refusing to distribute Harry Potter and Twilight toys because they’re “incompatible with the charity’s Christian beliefs.” They would not even agree to pass on these toys to other agencies which could then distribute them without sullying the good name of the Starvation Salvation Army. The story broke when a volunteer in Calgary found a bunch of Twilight and Harry Potter toys quarantined in a warehouse. But then it gets weird:

“I was told to withhold a six-inch Harry Potter figure, but when I picked up a plastic M-16, I was told, ‘That’s for the 10-year-olds,'” he said.

It’s not even so much that the Salvation Army would allow one type of toy and not the other. The Bible, taken as a whole, is pretty ambiguous on both warfare and witchcraft. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and makes evil spirits possess pigs and then kills them, but Exodus 22:18 tell us not to suffer a witch to live. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek and to give people our coats, but then says he’s here to divide and comes not for peace, but with a sword.

What I’m trying to get at is that the SA could just as easily distribute Harry Potter toys and ban the plastic M-16s and be just as compatible with Christianity. So it’s not just Christianity that they’re concerned about, it’s a certain variation of it. For some reason they get the benefit of lumping themselves in with the large number of Christians when many of them would be appalled at their selectiveness.

WikiLeaks v. Pentagon

August 1, 2010

So it’s been a week since WikiLeaks published the leaked internal US military documents which detail some aspects of the occupation of Afghanistan which the administration would rather not emphasize. Like how Pakistan’s ISI is funneling our ‘aid’ back to the Taliban, which they then use to attack our troops. And civilian casualties are being massively underreported. And there’s a secret task force which captures and executes Taliban leaders. Oh yeah, and the US military is paying Afghani journalists to write favorable stories about the occupation.

Certain people can be expected to react to this leak in certain ways. Republicans will insist that we firebomb the internet and every last one of its many series of pneumatic tubes. Liz Cheney just now said something like that, as if anyone gives a shit.  Newt Gingrich is calling it treason, etc.

If you’ve paid attention to the Obama administration’s pattern of hostility towards whistleblowers, then it’s not very difficult to predict how they would react. Here’s White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs being questioned:

Q Thanks, Robert. Two questions, a few on WikiLeaks. What was the President’s reaction once he heard about the leaking —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I remember talking to the President sometime last week after discussions with news organizations that these stories were coming. Look, I think our reaction to this type of material, a breach of federal law, is always the same, and that is whenever you have the potential for names and for operations and for programs to be out there in the public domain, that it — besides being against the law — has a potential to be very harmful to those that are in our military, those that are cooperating with our military, and those that are working to keep us safe.

OK, got that? This is all VERY SERIOUS and will PUT ALL OF OUR TROOPS IN DANGER, and by the way it’s also a FEDERAL CRIME. If it’s putting our troops in danger to have this information publicly available, it must be the case that this is new information in the public sphere. Because if it were already known, then there would be no danger in releasing it. Right? Well, only a few questions later, Gibbs contradicts that line of reasoning:

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let’s understand a few things about the documents.  Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t think that what is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government for quite some time.

So the WikiLeaks data dump is at the same time both YAWN OLD NEWS and VERY SERIOUS TREASONOUS TROOP-KILLING CRIMES. Julian Assange must be both a dangerous anti-American criminal and a harmless kid living in his parent’s basement all at the same time. That’s pretty much how it plays out inside the heads of people like Robert Gibbs and the President.

But all that’s not that surprising, especially given the aforementioned administration’s record on whistleblowers and the internet in general. What’s more surprising is that one of the three publications given access to the documents pre-publication, the NY Times, has basically been toeing the administration’s line on their own leak. And the Washington Post has been producing their copy on the subject pretty much directly from the Republicans’ playbook. The two other newspapers (Der Spiegel and The Guardian) have been a bit more responsible and independent, to their credit.

If you’ve been following the ongoing saga of WikiLeaks, you might remember the ‘Collateral Murder’ video they released a few months ago of the US military shooting at a group of people from a helicopter which turned out to be civilians and a journalist. US Army Intelligence Analyst Bradley Manning was charged with forwarding the video based on an online conversation he had with a hacker named Adrian Lamo who subsequently informed on him. Manning is now in the brig in Virginia, where he faces a sentence of up to 52 years. And now the NY Times is quoting unnamed Pentagon officials who claim that Manning is a “person of interest” in the case of these newly-released documents. Here you can find a support group for Manning.

The Pentagon’s also going after WikiLeaks founder/editor Julian Assange, who’s more or less on the run. He is wanted for questioning, presumably to verify or deny whether or not Manning was the source of the Afghan War Diary. And oh yeah, they’d also like WikiLeaks to be shut down, please. For now, Assange is staying out of the US and responding strongly to comments from the administration. As a side note, he’s also trying to turn Iceland into a journalistic refugee’s paradise.

Now two more things just happened in the past day or two. First, a WikiLeaks volunteer named Jacob Appelbaum was detained, searched, and interrogated by US Customs officials at the Newark airport. They asked him to decrypt his laptop, an offer he refused. Then they confiscated it, but his laptop had no storage device and therefore there was nothing for the officials to search. He was later approached by FBI agents at a conference where he gave a talk in place of Julian Assange, who could not attend for reasons which should by now be pretty obvious.

The second recent development was WikiLeaks posting a mysterious encrypted 1.4 GB file called ‘insurance’ on their Afghan War Logs page. There are no instructions or details on what it’s supposed to be, but the general consensus is that a password will be issued in the event that anything fishy happens to WikiLeaks, Assange, or anyone associated with them. This is turning into a very interesting conflict, much better than anti-war protesters v. cops. But don’t bother downloading the file just to see if the password is “password,” that’s already been checked.

WikiLeaks publishes tens of thousands of documents detailing the harrowing inside story of Lindsay Lohan’s imprisonment

July 27, 2010

(WASHINGTON, DC) The whistleblower group WikiLeaks released to three major newspapers this weekend tens of thousands of leaked internal documents which detail the first few days of Lindsay Lohan’s imprisonment in Lynwood, CA.

The documents detail incidents of Lindsay Lohan crying, and some of the conversations the actress had with her fellow prisoners in neighboring cells. There are even some of the menus from the prison’s kitchen; meals which the former child star reportedly described as “unpalatable garbage.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs earlier today condemned WikiLeaks at a press conference.

“I think WikiLeaks should concentrate on ways of disagreeing with Ms. Lohan which are legal and which do not put our future reality television stars in danger,” Gibbs remarked to a question from the NY Times. Staring off into a far corner of the room he continued, “These people keep us safe from the.. uh…” At this point, Gibbs wandered off mic and out of the room, oblivious to the gathered reporters’ urges to continue with the conference.

President Obama later made a statement claiming that the WikiLeaks documents give no new information on Lohan’s imprisonment, but that he is very concerned with how they may endanger the ability of the inexplicably famous to serve relatively small prison terms. The President said that he is worried that this will endanger national security, and will proceed immediately to destroy the internet with predator drones.

Collateral murder

April 6, 2010

So there’s this wiki site called WikiLeaks. It’s a good way for people to anonymously leak documents which some people might not want you to see. A typical example would be a former Scientologist keeping some weird doctrine or incriminating document and putting it online. And like Wikipedia, it’s best not to always take everything you read there as 100% true. But it is a good starting point for people trying to find information about topics.

With Wikipedia, you’d want to find the cited source. With WikiLeaks, you’d want to see if whatever organization had their info made public has acknowledged that the document really did come from them. It’s basically a good starting point for new data to the extent that it’s peer-reviewed and fact-checked.

A couple of weeks ago, they started tweeting about being followed, intimidated, and detained by the governments of Iceland (???) and the United States. And they claimed that it was because they were scheduled to release a film on April 5.

What seemed kind of weird about this is that the whole nature of a wiki site like this where people can immediately release whatever information they happened to have obtained is to avoid this kind of intimidation when a release (like the release of this film) is pending.

If you go around telling people that you’re about to print the Pentagon Papers in the NY Times, then chances are good the Pentagon is going to try to exercise prior restraint against the Times. The WikiLeaks format of just releasing whatever and whenever is a great antidote to that problem. If you just release info in real time, the spin from corporate media necessarily has to be after the release of the information, and so the public is influenced by it in its rawest form. That”s how the truth can out. But in this case that purer method really wasn’t being used.

As it turns out, this was a case of hyping their release because they are now backing off on some of their earlier claims. And it’s difficult to be very upset about that since the video they released showed US troops killing civilians in Baghdad back in July of 2007 when they mistook a Reuters reporter’s camera for an RPG. Here is the video (people get killed and children are injured in it, so consider yourself warned).

It’s easy to be angry at the kids in this video with their weird mixture of video game playing stoner enthusiasm for shooting people from a helicopter and unnecessary military/corporatespeak. But as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, this isn’t some strange anomaly in the midst of a normally benevolent military occupation. Killings like this are the inevitable consequence of war on a day to day basis. And we’ve had 2,576 of those days since the beginning of this war. It’s really more surprising that we’re shocked by a killing like this than the fact that it happened at all.

Some more background information the killings, including interviews with the surviving widow and her two children (pictured above) were also released by WikiLeaks on their Collateral Murder website. If you didn’t watch the video, they were trying to take the wounded reporters and civilians to a hospital after they were attacked, only to be shot at themselves.