Thursday, January 2, 2014

Transcript: Julian Assange gives "Thought for the Day" on BBC Radio 4 Today programme (2 Jan 2014)

Transcribed from:

"All men by nature desire to know." Aristotle, when he wrote this, was saying that the thing that makes human beings different from other creatures, the thing that defines us, is the pursuit and acquisition of knowledge. This is not just to say that we human beings are curious creatures; it is to say that our ability to think about and to act on the world around us is bound up with our ability to know it. To be alive as a human being is to know in the same way as it is to have a heart that beats.

We all understand this in mundane ways. We understand, for instance, that part of being a fully independent adult, making choices about life, is learning about the world around us and informing our choices with that learning.

In the Book of Proverbs it says, "By wisdom a house is built and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." But there is something more to all of this. The very next saying in Proverbs is, "The wise are mightier than the strong." This is the earliest occurrence known to me of the now well-known idea: knowledge is power. To keep a person ignorant is to place them in a cage.

So it follows that the powerful, if they want to keep their power, will try to know as much about us as they can and they will try to make sure that we know as little about them as is possible. I see this inside everywhere: both in religious writings, which promised emancipation from political repression, and in the revolutionary works promising liberation from the repressive dogmas of the church and the state.

The powerful throughout history have understood this. The invention of the printing press was opposed by the old powers of Europe because it spelled the end of their control of knowledge and therefore the end of their tenure as power brokers. The Protestant Reformation was not just a religious movement, but a political struggle: the fight to liberate hoarded knowledge through translation and dissemination. Through the confessional system, the Catholic Church spied upon the lives of its congregants, while Latin mass excluded most people who could not speak Latin from an understanding of the very system of thought that bound them.

Knowledge has always flowed upwards to bishops and kings, not downward to serfs and slaves. The principle remains the same in the present era. Documents disclosed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show that governments dare to aspire—through their intelligence agencies—to a God-like knowledge about each and every one of us. But at the same time they hide their actions behind official secrecy. As our governments and corporations know more and more about us, we know less and less about them. The policy, as always, is to channel the decisive information upwards, never downwards.

Today remember that it is good to seek to empower the powerless through knowledge and to drag the machinations of the powerful into the daylight. We must be unapologetic about that most basic of humanities: the desire to know.

The powerful would do well to remember the words of one of history's great activists as recorded in the Book of Matthew: "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed at last from rooftop to rooftop."

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Transcript: 30C3: Sysadmins of the World, Unite! with Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, and Sarah Harrison (29 Dec 2013)

Transcribed from:

Sarah Harrison: Thank you. Good evening. My name is Sarah Harrison, as you all appear to know. I'm a journalist working for WikiLeaks. This year I was part, as Jacob just said, of the WikiLeaks team that saved Snowden from a life in prison. This act and my job has meant that our legal advice is that I do not return to my home, the United Kingdom, due to the ongoing terrorism investigation there in relation to the movement of Edward Snowden documents. The UK Government has chosen to define disclosing classified documents with an intent to influence government behavior as terrorism. I'm therefore currently remaining in Germany.

But it's not just myself personally that has legal issues at WikiLeaks. For a fourth Christmas, our editor Julian Assange continues to be detained without charge in the UK. He's been granted formal political asylum by Ecuador due to the threat from the United States. But in breach of international law, the UK continues to refuse to allow him his legal right to take up this asylum.

In November of this year, a US Government official confirmed that the enormous grand jury investigation, which commenced in 2010, into WikiLeaks, its staff, and specifically Julian Assange, continues. This was then confirmed by the spokesperson of the prosecutor's office in Virginia.

The Icelandic Parliament held an inquiry earlier this year, where it found that the FBI had secretly and unlawfully sent nine agents to Iceland to conduct an investigation into WikiLeaks there. Further secret interrogations took place in Denmark and Washington. The informant they were speaking with has been charged with fraud and convicted on other charges in Iceland.

In the Icelandic Supreme Court, we won a substantial victory over the extralegal US financial blockade that was erected against us in 2010 by VISA, MasterCard, PayPal, and other US financial giants. Subsequently, MasterCard pulled out of the blockade. We've since filed a $77 million legal case against VISA for the damages. We filed a suit against VISA in Denmark as well. And in response to questions about how PayPal's owner can start a free press outlet whilst blocking another media organisation, he's announced that the PayPal blockade of WikiLeaks has ended.

We filed criminal cases in Sweden and Germany in relation to the unlawful intelligence activity against us there, including at the CCC in 2009.

Together with the Center for Constitutional Rights we filed a suit against the US military against the unprecedented secrecy applied to Chelsea Manning's trial.

Yet through these attacks we've continued our publishing work. In April of this year, we launched the Public Library of US Diplomacy, the largest and most comprehensible searchable database of US diplomatic cables in the world. This coincided with our release of 1.7 million US cables from the Kissinger period. We launched our third Spy Files, 239 documents from 92 global intelligence contractors exposing their technology, methods, and contracts. We completed releasing the Global Intelligence Files, over five million emails from US intelligence firm Stratfor, the revelations from which included documenting their spying on activists around the globe. We published the primary negotiating positions for fourteen countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new international legal regime that would control 40% of the world's GDP.

As well as getting Snowden asylum, we set up Mr Snowden's defence fund, part of a broader endeavor, the Journalistic Source Protection Defence Fund, which aims to protect and fund sources in trouble. This will be an important fund for future sources, especially when we look at the US crackdown on whistleblowers like Snowden and alleged WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced this year to 35 years in prison, and another alleged WikiLeaks source Jeremy Hammond, who was sentenced to ten years in prison this November.

These men, Snowden, Manning, and Hammond, are prime examples of a politicized youth who have grown up with a free internet and want to keep it that way. It is this class of people that we are here to discuss this evening, the powers they and we all have, and can have, and the good that we can do with it.

I am joined here tonight for this discussion by two men I admire hugely: WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange and Jacob Appelbaum, both who have had a long history in defending our right to knowledge, despite political and legal pressure.

(Julian Assange appears via video link)

So Julian, seeing as I haven't seen you for quite awhile, what's been happening in this field this year, what's your strategic view about it, this fight for freedom of knowledge: are we winning or are we losing?

Julian Assange: I have an 18-page speech on the strategic vision, but I think I've got about five minutes, right?

Sarah Harrison: At the most.

Julian Assange: No, less? Okay. First off, it's very interesting to see the CCC has grown by 30% over the last year. And we can see the CCC as a very important type of institution which does have analogues. The CCC is a paradox in that it has the vibrancy of a young movement, but also now has been going nearly 30 years since its founding in 1981 by Wau Holland...

(Assange video link goes out)

Sarah Harrison: Great point, great point.

Jacob Appelbaum: Blame the NSA? It's the new 'blame Canada'.

Sarah Harrison: Is it here or the embassy they're spying on the most?

(clapping, pause)

Such a good talk, isn't it guys?

Jacob Appelbaum: I wish Bruce Willis (Assange's Skype name) would pick up the phone.

Sarah Harrison: Should we move over while we're waiting to you, Jake. As I was saying, I think it's quite interesting, it does seem to be a trend that there are these young technical people. We look at Manning, Snowden, Hammond... often sysadmins. Why are they playing such an important role in this fight for freedom of information?

Jacob Appelbaum: I think there are a couple important points. The first important point is to understand that all of us have agency, but some of us actually have literally more agency than others in the sense that you have access to systems that give you access to information that helps to found knowledge that you have in your own head.

So someone like Manning or someone like Snowden who has access to these documents in the course of their work, they will simply have a better understanding of what is actually happening. They have access to the primary source documents as part of their job. This, I think, fundamentally is a really critical, I would say a formative thing.

When you start to read these original source documents you start to understand the way that organisations actually think internally. I mean, this is one of the things that Julian Assange has said quite a lot, it's that when you read the internal documents of an organisation, that's how they really think about a thing. This is different than a press release. And people who have grown up on the internet, and they're essentially natives on the internet, and that's all of us, I think, for the most part. It's definitely me. That essentially forms a way of thinking about organisations where the official thing they say is not interesting. You know that there's an agenda behind that and you don't necessarily know what that true agenda is.

And so people who grow up in this and see these documents, they realise the agency that they have. They understand it, they see that power, and they want to do something about it. In some cases, some people do it in small starts and fits. So there are lots of sources for lots of newspapers that are inside of defense organisations or really, really large companies, and they share this information. But in the case of Chelsea Manning, in the case of Snowden, they went big. And I presume that this is because of the scale of the wrongdoing that they say, in addition to the amount of agency that was provided by their access and their understanding of the actual information that they were able to have in their possession.

Sarah Harrison: And do you think that it's something to do with being technical; they have a potential ability to find a way to do this safer than other people, perhaps?

Jacob Appelbaum: I mean, it's clearly the case that this helps. There's no question that understanding how to use those computer systems and being able to navigate them, that that is going to be a helpful skill.

But I think what it really is is that these are people who grew up in an era, and I myself am one of these people, where we grew up in an era where we are overloaded by information but we still are able to absorb a great deal of it. And we really are constantly going through this.

And if we look to the past, we see that it's not just technical people, it's actually people who have an analytical mind. So, for example, Daniel Ellsberg, who's famous for the 'Ellsberg Paradox'. He was of course a very seriously embedded person in the US military—he was in the RAND corporation, he worked with McNamara—and during the Vietnam War he had access to huge amounts of information. And it was the ability to analyse this information and to understand... in this case how the US Government during the Vietnam War was lying to the entire world. And it was the magnitude of those lies combined with the ability to prove that they were lies that I believe, combined with his analytical skill... It was clear what the action might be, but it wasn't clear what the outcome would be. And with Ellsberg, the outcome was a very positive one. In fact it's the most positive outcome for any whistleblower so far that I know of in the history of the United States and maybe even in the world.

What we see right now with Snowden and what we've now seen with Chelsea Manning is unfortunately a very different outcome, at least for Manning. So this is also a hugely important point which is that Ellsberg did this in the context of resistance against the Vietnam War. And when Ellsberg did this, there were huge support networks, there were gigantic things that split across all political spectrums of society. And so it is the analytical framework that we find ourselves with still, but additionally with the internet. And so every single person here that works as a sysadmin, could you raise your hand?

Right. You represent, and I'm sorry to steal Julian's thunder, but he was using Skype and well... We all know Skype has interception and man-in-the-middle problems, so I'm going to take advantage of that fact. You see, it's not just the NSA.

Everyone that raised their hand, you should raise your hand again. If you work at a company where you think that they might be involved in something that is a little bit scary, keep your hand up.

Right. So here's the deal: everybody else in the room lacks the information that you probably have access to. And if you were to make a moral judgment, if you were to make an ethical consideration about these things, it would be the case that as a political class you would be able to inform all of the political classes in this room, all of the other people in this room, in a way that only you have the agency to do. And those that benefit from you never doing that are the other people that have that. Those people are also members of other classes as well.

And so the question is, if you were to unite as a political class, and we are to unite with you in that political class, we can see that there's a contextual way to view this through a historical lens, essentially. Which is to say when the industrialized workers of the world decided that race and gender were not lines that we should split on, but instead we should look at workers and owners, then we started to see real change in the way that workers were treated and in the way the world itself was organizing labor. And this was a hugely important change during the industrial revolution. And we are going through a very similar time now with regard to information politics and with regard to the value of information in the information age.

(Assange video link comes back up)

Jacob Appelbaum: Fantastic, Bruce Willis.

(Assange video link goes out again)

Jesus Christ, Julian, use Jitsi already.

Sarah Harrison: And so, we've identified the potential people that you're talking about and you've spoken about how it's good for the to unite. What are the next steps? How do they come forth? How do they share this information?

Jacob Appelbaum: Well, let's consider a couple of things. First is that Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning; Daniel Ellsberg, still Daniel Ellsberg; Edward Snowden, living in exile in Russia unfortunately.

Sarah Harrison: Still Edward Snowden.

Jacob Appelbaum: Still Edward Snowden, hopefully. These are people who have taken great actions where they did not even set out to sacrifice themselves. But once when I met Daniel Ellsberg he said, 'Wouldn't you go to prison for the rest of your life to end this war?' This is something he asked to me, and he asked it quite seriously. And it's very incredible to be able to ask a hypothetical question of someone that wasn't a hypothetical question. What he was trying to say is that right now you can make a choice in which you actually have a huge impact, should you choose to take on that risk.

But the point is not to set out to martyr yourself. The point is to set out...

(Assange video link comes back up)

Are you going to stick around this time, Julian?

Julian Assange: I don't know, I'm waiting for the quantum hand of fate.

Jacob Appelbaum: The quantum hand that wants to strangle you?

Julian Assange: Yeah.

Jacob Appelbaum: Yeah. We were just discussing right now the previous context, that is Daniel Ellsberg, the Edward Snowdens, the Chelsea Mannings, how they have done an honorable, a good thing where they've shown a duty to a greater humanity, a thing that is more important than loyalty, for example, to a bureaucratic oath, but rather loyalty to universal principles.

So the next question is, how does that relate to the people that are here in the audience? How is it the case that people who have access to systems where they have said themselves they think the companies they work for are sort of questionable or doing dangerous things in the world? Where do we go from people who have done these things previously to these people in the audience?

Julian Assange: Well, I don't know how much ground you've covered, but I think it's important that we recognize what we are and what we have become. And that high tech workers are (inaudible) a class. In fact, very often (inaudible) a position to in fact prompt the leaders of society (inaudible) cease operating (inaudible, sound goes out completely)

(audience laughs)

Sarah Harrison: Should we just leave him like that and continue?

Julian Assange: Am I back?

Sarah Harrison: Yeah. You've got three minutes to say something. Make it good.

Julian Assange: Those high tech workers, we are a particular class and it's time that we recognized that we are a class and look back in history and understood that the great gains in human rights and education and so on that were gained through powerful industrial workers which formed the backbone of the economy of the 20th century, and that we have that same ability but even more so because of the greater interconnection that exists now economically and politically. Which is all underpinned by system administrators.

And we should understand that system administrators are not just those people who administer one UNIX system or another. They are the people who administer systems. And the system that exists globally now is created by the interconnection of many individual systems. And we are all, or many of us, are part of administering that system and have extraordinary power in a way that is really an order of magnitude different to the power industrial workers had in the 20th century. And we can see that in the cases of the famous leaks that WikiLeaks has done or the recent Edward Snowden revelations, it is possible now for even single systems administrators to have a very significant change, or rather apply very significant constructive constraint to the behavior of these organizations. Not merely wrecking or disabling them, not merely going out on strikes to change policy, but rather shifting information from an information apartheid system which we're developing from those with extraordinary power and extraordinary information into the knowledge commons, where it can be used not only as a disciplining force, but it can be used to construct and understand the new world that we're entering into.

Now, Hayden, the former director of the CIA and NSA, is terrified of this. In "Cypherpunks" we called for this directly last year. But to give you an interesting quote from Hayden, possibly following up on those words of mine and others, "We need to recruit from Snowden's generation," says Hayden. "We need to recruit from this group because they have the skills that we require. So the challenge is how to recruit this talent while also protecting ourselves from the small fraction of the population that has this romantic attachment to absolute transparency at all costs." And that's us, right? So, what we need to do is spread that message and go into all those organisations. In fact, deal with them. I'm not saying, 'Don't join the CIA'. No, go and join the CIA. Go in there. Go into the ballpark and get the ball and bring it out, with the understanding, with the paranoia, that all those organizations will be infiltrated by this generation, by an ideology that is spread across the internet. And every young person is educated on the internet. There will be no person that has not been exposed to this ideology of transparency and understanding and wanting to keep the internet which we were born into free.

This is the last free generation. The coming together of the systems of governments, the new information apartheid, across the world, linking together in such that none of us will be able to escape it in just a decade. Our identities will be coupled to the information sharing such that none of us will be able to escape it. We are all becoming part of the state, whether we like it or not. So our only hope is to determine what sort of state it is that we are going to become part of. And we can do that by looking and being inspired by some of the actions that produced human rights and free education and so on by people recognizing that they were part of the state, recognizing their own power and taking concrete and robust action to make sure they lived in the sort of society they wanted to and not in a hell-hole dystopia.

Sarah Harrison: Thank you. So basically all those poor people Jake just made identify themselves, you have the power to change more systems than the one you're working on right now. And I think it's time to take some questions because we don't have long left.

Julian Assange: While we wait for the first question, I'd like to say, it looks like there's quite a lot of people there, but you should all know that due to the various sorts of proximity measures that are now employed by NSA, GCHQ, and Five Eyes Alliance, if you've come there with a telephone, or if you've been even in Hamburg with a telephone, you are all now coupled to us. You are coupled to this event. You are coupled to this speech in an irrevocable way. And that is now true for many people. So either we have to take command of the position that we have, understand the position we have, understand that we are the last free people, and the last people essentially with an ability to act in this situation. Or we are the group that will be crushed because of this association.

Question: So you were talking about the sysadmins here. What about those people who are not sysadmins? Not only joining CIA and those companies, what else can we do?

Sarah Harrison: Jake, do you want to have a go at that one?

Jacob Appelbaum: Sure. This is a question of agency.

(Assange video link goes out again)

Sarah Harrison: Good timing.

Jacob Appelbaum: It's a question in which one has to ask very simply, what is it that you feel like you can do? And many of the people in this audience I've had this discussion with them. For example, Edward Snowden did not save himself. I mean, he obviously had some ideas, but Sarah, for example, not as a system administrator, but as someone who was willing to risk her person. She helped, specifically for source protection, she took actions to protect him. So there are plenty of things that can be done.

To give you some ideas, Edward Snowden, still sitting in Russia now, there are things that can be done to help him even now. And there are things to show, that if we can succeed in saving Edward Snowden's life and to keep him free, that the next Edward Snowden will have that to look forward to. And if we look also to what has happened to Chelsea Manning, we see additionally that Snowden has clearly learned, just as Thomas Drake and Bill Binney set an example for every single person about what to do and what not to do.

It's not just about systems administrators, it's about all of us actually recognizing that positive contribution that each of us can make.

(Assange video link comes back up)

Question: Hi Julian, I'm wondering, do you believe that transparency alone is enough to inject some form of conscience into evil organizations, quote and quote "evil" organizations? And if not, what do you believe the next step after transparency is?

Julian Assange: It's not about injecting conscience, it's about providing two things: one, an effective deterrent to particular forms of behavior and two, finding that information which allows us to construct an order in the world around us, to educate ourselves in how the world works and therefore be able to manage the world that we are a part of. The restriction of information, the restriction of those bits of information, colors it. It gives off an economic signal that information is important when it's released, because otherwise why would you spend so much work in restricting it? So the people that know it best restrict it. We should take their measurements of that information as a guide and use that to pull it out where it can achieve some kind of reform.

That, in itself, is not enough. It creates an intellectual commons which is part of our mutual education. But we need to understand, say, if we look at the Occupy event, a very interesting political event, where revelations and perhaps destabilization led to a very large group wanting to do something. However, there was no organizational scaffold for these people to attach themselves to, no nucleus for these people to crystallize onto. And it is that problem, which is an endemic problem of the anarchist left, actually.

The CCC. Why are we having this right now? Because the CCC is an organized structure. It's a structure which has been able to grow to accommodate the 30% of extra people that have occurred this year. To shift and change and act like one of the better workers' universities that are around. So we have to form unions and networks and create programs and organizational structures. And those organizational structures can also be written in code. Bitcoin, for example, is an organizational structure that creates an intermediary between people, it sets up rules between people. It may end up as a quite totalitarian system one day, who knows, but at the moment it provides some kind of balancing.

So code and human structures do things. WikiLeaks was able to rescue Edward Snowden because we are an organized institution with collective experience.

Sarah Harrison: Okay, I think there's one question left that's coming from the internet.

Question: On IRC there was the question, what was the most difficult part on getting Snowden out of the US?

Jacob Appelbaum: That's quite a loaded question.

Julian Assange: Yeah, that's interesting to think whether we can actually answer that question at all. I'll give a variant of the answer because of the legal situation it is a little bit difficult.

As some of you may know, the UK Government has admitted to spending £6 million a year approximately surveilling this embassy in the police forces alone. So you can imagine the difficulty in communicating with various people in different countries in relation to his diplomatic asylum and into logistics in Hong Kong in a situation like that. And the only reason we were able to succeed is because of extemely dilligent...

(Assange video link goes out again)

Jacob Appelbaum: Perfectly timed.

Sarah Harrison: And we didn't use Skype.

Jacob Appelbaum: Do we have time for one more question? That was such a fantastic, perfect way that you didn't learn the answer to that question.

Announcer: Unfortunately that is all the time we have for this talk.

(end talk)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

David Leigh's disgraceful performance at Frontline Club's Bradley Manning panel

Frontline Club panel (screenshot via Youtube)
On May 13, 2013, London's Frontline Club held a panel entitled "The Case of the U.S. vs Bradley Manning". On the panel was Chase Madar, author of "The Passion of Bradley Manning", former Guardian investigations executive editor David Leigh, and campaigner Naomi Colvin. The discussion was moderated by Richard Gizbert of Al Jazeera's Listening Post.

David Leigh is well-known to those familiar with WikiLeaks, mainly due to his publication of the Cablegate password in his and Luke Harding's book, "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy". This led to the release of all 251,287 unredacted State Department cables in September 2011.

Throughout the hour-and-a-half long discussion, David Leigh put a great deal of effort into downplaying the significance of the what WikiLeaks has released, thereby downplaying Bradley Manning's sacrifice. His comments show a broad range of insensitivity, misunderstandings, and grand understatements. For someone whose career has relied heavily on WikiLeaks in the past few years, and for someone who was invited onto a panel due to his prior experience with WikiLeaks, his attitude is contemptible.

All emphasis in quoted statements is my own.

WikiLeaks: "not that sensational"

Despite The Guardian having published over 240 articles using WikiLeaks cables and having pages dedicated to both the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, David Leigh stressed the idea that WikiLeaks' releases were fairly insignificant.

(00:21:39) LEIGH: Another thought about the coverage that occurs to me is, and it's kind of a paradoxical one: the truth is, the uncomfortable truth is, that a lot of stuff that Bradley Manning leaked, in fact all of the stuff that he leaked, was at the end of the day not that sensational, and that's why it wasn't classified so high. It was actually classified really low, when you consider the habit of overclassification. This stuff was relatively trivial.
(00:23:00) LEIGH: The State Department cables, although politically deeply embarrassing and probably caused a great deal of rage in the State Department, were not such a big deal. They didn't actually show anything really bad about the United States Government. What they showed was a fairly accurate graphic reporting by United States Government employees of the crimes of other Governments.

Leigh emphasizes his opinion that not some, but all of what Manning is accused of leaking is "not that sensational". In court, Bradley Manning admitted to the following leaks:

Within these leaks, come thousands of revelations. Chase Madar specifically mentions the contribution Cablegate made to the uprising in Tunisia and the revelations about U.S. attempts to stifle an increase in Haiti's $3/day minimum wage law. They also revealed a U.S. cover-up of child abuse in Afghanistan, the FBI training Egyptian tortures, warnings about nuclear plant safety in Japan before the Fukushima disaster, men being sent to Guantanamo solely for wearing a certain Casio watch, Yemen claiming responsibility for U.S. airstrikes, and 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths in Iraq. Cables have been used in multiple court cases and were sourced in half of The New York Times' 2011 issues. And all these make up just a small portion of the tens of thousands of headlines that continue to be made to this day.

At one point, Richard Gizbert asks David Leigh if Bradley Manning helped end the Iraq War, to which Leigh emphatically responds, "No". But, as Madar, Colvin, and Gizbert all say, there is quite a strong argument to the contrary. CNN reports:

These talks [between Iraq and the U.S.], however, broke down over the prickly issue of legal immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq, a senior U.S. military official with direct knowledge of the discussions told CNN this month.
The negotiations were strained following WikiLeaks’ release of a diplomatic cable that alleged Iraqi civilians, including children, were killed in a 2006 raid by American troops rather than in an airstrike as the U.S. military initially reported.

The cable details an event in which U.S. troops executed at least 10 civilians, including an infant and an elderly woman, then proceeded to call in an airstrike to destroy the evidence of the atrocity. CNN makes a clear connection between this cable and Iraq's unease at granting immunity to U.S. troops who commit such acts.

Yet to David Leigh, none of this shows "anything really bad about the United States Government". He admits that the cables did reveal crimes by other Governments, but of course these revelations are downplayed by his sweeping statement that the leaks as a whole were "not that sensational".

Furthermore, he comments:

(00:22:47) LEIGH: The rest of the stuff that was revealed about the Afghan fighting and the Iraq fighting show that the American troops were confused, brutal, ineffective, and killing civilians, but we knew that.

While David Leigh again dismisses the significance of WikiLeaks documents, Richard Gizbert tells an anecdote of a conversation he had with a T-shirt salesman:

(00:25:10) GIZBERT: I was surprised at how many people were affected, actually, by those WikiLeaks cables.
This guy said to me, you know that 8,000 of those WikiLeaks cables came out of Islamabad. They didn't tell us anything we didn't know, but it confirmed everything that we knew, that our Government was denying, that Washington was denying.

To only look to WikiLeaks for brand new revelations dismisses a huge part of its value. By publishing official documents, WikiLeaks provides concrete evidence for people's suspicions, which may never be confirmed otherwise. 

Collateral Mistake

David Leigh also spoke in detail about the Collateral Murder video released by WikiLeaks.

(00:22:12) LEIGH: Even the notorious Apache video of the helicopter gun crew gunning down Reuters' employees in error in Baghdad, horrific as it was, wasn't ultimately a scandal on the level of Abu Grahib, say, because it was plain that the soldiers had made a mistake, they had not intentionally murdered these civilians.

Screenshot from Collateral Murder
Even military officials do not call the actions depicted in Collateral Murder a mistake; they say the attacks were justified. Throughout the video, the soldiers in the helicopter are constantly requesting for "permission to engage". A van, which was carrying a man and two children, is fired upon as it attempts to help one of the men shot by the helicopter.

Calling the brutal and intentional killing of civilians a "mistake" is frankly disgusting and severely disrespectful to the victims, their families, and all those who are affected by such violence each and every day. 

David Leigh continues:

LEIGH: And Reuters, it turned out, had already been shown a big chunk of the video, anyway, and chosen to keep quiet about it.

Some Reuters employees were shown the video in an off-the-record briefing. To say that they chose to keep quiet is entirely misleading. Reuters attempted to gain a copy of the video through a FOIA  request, but instead received documents stating the presence of weapons at the scene. After the release of Collateral Murder, Reuters "pressed the U.S. military to conduct a full and objective investigation into the killing of the two staff". Contrary to David Leigh's comment, Reuters showed a strong interest in discovering the truth behind the murders of their journalists.

"I'd like to think...."

Those who have been following the WikiLeaks saga for awhile, may be familiar with David Leigh's infamous 2011 tweet, which became a short-lived meme:

I like to think that if someone like #bradleymanning had first dealt with me at the #guardian, he wouldn't now be in jail

It seems David Leigh has not dropped his habit of imagining alternatives, as he spends a large portion of the discussion attempting to explain how Bradley Manning would be far better off had he leaked to The Guardian instead of WikiLeaks.

He initially dismisses the importance of the question, as he believes that the circumstance of Bradley Manning as a whistleblower was "over and done with" once the chatlogs between Adrian Lamo and Bradley Manning were released. (He also describes Adrian Lamo as a "fellow hacker" of Bradley Manning's, implying that Manning was a hacker as well).

(00:06:09) LEIGH: So the whole issue about whistleblowing and how you handle a source and how you look after them was already over and done with. Had it not been over and done with, I would have said the whole saga's raised some very serious questions about how you do look after sources, because the whole WikiLeaks notion that you could automate the process of leaking, that you could devise a mechanical system under which things could be uploaded and nobody would know who was involved and that you would never even know your source... that this sort of automated approach just doesn't work, because sources are human beings. And Bradley Manning was very much a human being in a very difficult human situation who cracked, talked, confessed to somebody he shouldn’t have done, who he didn't know. If... I don't know, if he'd been our source, I would've liked to think that we would've developed a relationship in which he could have been cared for a bit more and not proceeded to blow himself up. So that, you know, that's my main reaction as a journalist to the whistleblower situation. That you can't handle whistleblowers in a mechanical system or terrible things happen to them like this.

David Leigh blames two people for Bradley Manning's arrest: WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning himself. He blames WikiLeaks for not treating its sources as "human beings", and Bradley Manning for confessing the leaks to Adrian Lamo.

Leigh continues:

(00:35:50) LEIGH: If Bradley Manning had dealt with any professional journalist, I imagine they would have said to him, 'Now shut up, don't say a word of this to any other person'. It seems an obvious thing to say, and obviously he wasn't instructed in that way. And so he goes and talks to someone he doesn't know online and gets himself betrayed.

Leigh is managing to blame both WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning for the same act. WikiLeaks for not telling him to keep quiet, and Bradley Manning for telling Adrian Lamo. Of course, while David Leigh claims it is "obvious" Bradley Manning wasn't instructed to keep secret, that is not something we know. The interaction between Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks, besides what was stated by Manning in his testimony, is largely unknown.

It is distressing that Leigh makes no attempt to define Lamo's role in the incident, as he is the person who turned Bradley Manning in, after explicitly telling him the conversation was protected and it was not for publication.

David Leigh continues to bash WikiLeaks' anonymous drop-box system multiple times throughout the panel.

(00:37:05) LEIGH: When this all happened, The Guardian, along with lots of other mainstream media, got very interested in the idea of setting up WikiLeaks-style anonymous dropboxes and so on. And then we all lost interest and thought, this isn't really what it's about. Y'know, these automated systems aren't what it's about; it's about human beings. And y'know, we all do it the same way we did before. If you contact somebody at The Guardian, I'd like to think that they deal with you in a secure and sensitive way as a person.

David Leigh implies that there was no interaction between Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks, which, if you have read or listened to Manning's testimony, is entirely false.

Naomi Colvin responds:

(00:34:32) COLVIN: What Bradley describes is... he talks about trying to go to New York Times first, and actually New York Times responded to this... sort of, quite dismissive of it.
After going to The New York Times, trying to contact The Washington Post, what Bradley Manning describes with dealing with WikiLeaks is pretty much a conventional source-journalist relationship.
So I think that trying to draw the hard line between this is how WikiLeaks deals with sources and this is how other media outlets deal with sources, probably isn't all that justified, if you go by what Bradley says.

In Bradley Manning's testimony, he stated the follwing:
Bradley Manning. Photo via AP
Due to the strict adherence of anonymity by the [WikiLeaks organization], we never exchanged identifying information. However, I believe the individual was likely Mr. Julian Assange [he pronounced it with three syllables], Mr. Daniel Schmidt, or a proxy representative of Mr. Assange and Schmidt.
As the communications transferred from IRC to the Jabber client, I gave 'office' and later 'pressassociation' the name of Nathaniel Frank in my address book, after the author of a book I read in 2009.
After a period of time, I developed what I felt was a friendly relationship with Nathaniel. Our mutual interest in information technology and politics made our conversations enjoyable. We engaged in conversation often. Sometimes as long as an hour or more. I often looked forward to my conversations with Nathaniel after work.

According to Bradley Manning himself, there actually seemed to be a great deal of conversation between him and a member of WikiLeaks, which completely contradicts David Leigh's representation of WikiLeaks' submission system as something entirely mechanical, with no respect for the sources.

Furthermore, Leigh never touches on how anonymous drop-boxes are helpful to sources, i.e. that even WikiLeaks is not able to reveal its sources, as they never know who they are. Leigh instead suggests that a less technical approach would be better, referencing Cold War tactics of hiding letters in holed out trees and how the Offshore Leaks were transferred using a harddrive sent via FedEx. (00:40:50) Yet Leigh fails to realize that, had Bradley Manning sent physical items as opposed to digital uploads, Adrian Lamo still would have turned him in, the records of his access would still be on the computers, and the likelihood of his arrest would still have been very high.

Chase Madar also combat Leigh's attacks on WikiLeaks' submission system.

(00:33:33) MADAR: I don't think it's entirely fair to beat on Wikileaks for failing to protect Bradley Manning as a source. Certainly, the New York Times has a terrible record of this. They left Daniel Ellsberg flapping in the breeze 40 years ago, and Ellsberg is still very upset about it.

There is no evidence backing up David Leigh's claim that Bradley Manning would have been better off had he leaked to The Guardian or any other media outlet. In fact, knowing that Bradley Manning attempted to contact mainstream media outlets before WikiLeaks, and knowing past records of poor source protection, Manning quite possibly would have been worse off had he gone to The Guardian.

But David Leigh goes even further, questioning whether Bradley Manning should have even leaked in the first place.

"I sometimes wake up in the night"

(00:23:30) LEIGH: "I hate to say this as a journalist, but in a way, I sometimes wake up in the night and wonder whether it was worth it for Bradley Manning, what he did."

Having stated his belief that all of WikiLeaks' recent releases have been mediocre, David Leigh questions whether it was worth it for Manning to have leaked at all, which put him through long, sometimes torturous confinement, and the possibility of life imprison. While it may seem like Leigh's trying to be sympathetic toward Manning, in reality he is completely undermining Bradley Manning, his morals, and his justification for the leaks.

Naomi Colvin responds, referencing comments made by Manning to Adrian Lamo:

(00:29:16) COLVIN: I just wanted to come back on what David said, about y'know, was it worth it, would Bradley Manning have thought it was worth it. In that conversation with Adrian Lamo that led to Bradley Manning being arrested, he was asked what he wanted to see from what he did. And he said, 'worldwide discussions, debates, and reforms'.

She proceeds to detail the worldwide political action throughout 2011.

COLVIN: All that, that spark of enthusiasm started in the middle east. And the State Department cables are at least a contributing factor to that. I hope that Bradley Manning is sitting wherever he is, in Fort Leavenworth or in Washington, wherever it is, I hope he's very pleased with himself and I hope he's satisfied with what he's done because I think he has every right to be.

David Leigh asking whether it was "worth it" for Bradley Manning shows complete disrespect for Manning's decision to blow the whistle. Because Leigh is dismissive of WikiLeaks' impact, he fails to recognize the importance of Bradley Manning's sacrifice. But as Colvin says, Manning leaked these documents because he wanted to affect the world and inform the public. He was well aware of the risk he was taking, but sacrificed his freedom in order to expose wrongdoings within the U.S. and other governments.

Toward the end of the panel, WikiLeaks staffer Joseph Farrell, present in the audience, asks David Leigh the following:

(1:20:42) FARRELL: The Guardian, during the three major leaks of the Afghan, Iraq, and Cablegate, increased their print run and their sales and clearly benefited a lot from these leaks. And I was wondering, has The Guardian helped towards Manning's defense? Do you know?

David Leigh responds:

LEIGH: Well, I made a donation. That's all I can tell you.

He then refuses to answer a question from Richard Gizbert asking how much.

David Leigh benefited greatly from the WikiLeaks saga. He authored a book on his experiences and The Guardian gained increased sales due to interest in WikiLeaks' coverage.

So, while David Leigh may toss and turn over the possibility that Bradley Manning could have chosen to stay quiet, it seems there is little that he and The Guardian have actually done to support him.

Of course, Leigh couldn't end a WikiLeaks panel without taking a few jabs at Julian Assange.

"The Ecuadorian regime"

During the Q&A session, David Leigh is discussing Julian Assange's situation at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

(1:10:15) LEIGH: He could stay there indefinitely as far as I can see, or until the Ecuadorian regime is replaced by a different el presidente.

Richard Gizbert immediately questions him about using "regime":

GIZBERT: "Regime? You see it as a regime, or..."
LEIGH: "Well, you know, I mean the administration."

Regime carries the connotation of a non-democratic, authoritarian government. To use it in reference to Ecuador, a democratic republic with an elected president, is extremely misleading. Although, it is of little surprise coming from David Leigh, as The Guardian is one of the papers who decided to publish multiple articles attacking Ecuador shortly after Julian Assange took refuge in the Embassy. David Leigh's description of it as a "regime" does not fall short from The Guardian tree.

"I'm a professional journalist"

Another audience member asks a detailed question about David Leigh's appearance in Channel 4's documentary "WikiLeaks: Secrets and Lies":

(1:14:30) AUDIENCE MEMBER: Do you not think that by trashing and by character assassination of Julian Assange in the Channel 4 documentary you have assisted Julian and Bradley Manning's detractors and even detracted from the broader principle that we're all looking for out of this, which is of freedom of information?
David Leigh. (screenshot via Youtube)
After listening to the question, David Leigh asks, "Me?", as if in surprise, despite the question being directly addressed to him.

LEIGH: What, because I gave an interview on a Channel 4 documentary about Assange.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Uh, you gave more than an interview in a Channel 4 documentary. Looked to anybody who was watching the film as if you had appeared with the sole intention of assassinating the character of Julian Assange.

LEIGH: Well, if you think that then there's no discussion to be had, because that's just dumb. I'm a professional journalist, I'm not an assassinator.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: The way you describe Julian Assange, now I can't quote from the documentary, but there was a constant preoccupation with his personality, which you found displeasing or inadequate or in some way, you know, there's something wrong with it. So, the impression you're left in that documentary was that Julian Assange is barmy, and that therefore the unfortunate outcome of that documentary was that public were persuaded that what he was trying to do was lacking in any value.

LEIGH: Well, I guess people can come to their own conclusions. People who have watched that documentary would have come to very different conclusions to you. And if you think I'm a person that spends my time assassinating Julian Assange, you don't understand the practice of professional journalism.

The documentary discussed came under a huge amount of controversy due to its biased take. Not only was David Leigh interviewed in the film, as he claims, but he was also "the programme's fact-checker and was paid 'consultancy fees' for this role", as reported by WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks filed an Ofcom complaint over the inaccuracies of the film, however the complaint was ultimately dismissed. I previously wrote on "Secrets and Lies" in 2012, noting comments from Der Spiegel's Holger Stark about omitted facts. For David Leigh to berate the audience member as "dumb" for bringing this up is far from "professional".

And one last point, David Leigh seems to believe that "mainstream media" is some crazy term coined by Julian Assange:
(01:17:12) LEIGH: We're the mainstream media, as he calls it. And from the get-go, Julian disliked us, the mainstream media, the MSM, as he calls us.

Wikipedia defines "mainstream media" thusly:

Mainstream media (MSM) are those media disseminated via the largest distribution channels, which therefore represent what the majority of media consumers are likely to encounter. The term also denotes those media generally reflective of the prevailing currents of thought, influence, or activity.

It's not "the mainstream media, as Julian Assange calls it" it's the mainstream media, as everyone calls it. As The Guardian is the third most circulated newspaper in the UK, there's little to argue against it being part of the MSM.

David Leigh's attitude throughout this entire event was hugely disrespectful, not only to WikiLeaks, but to Bradley Manning, to victims of the Iraq War and their families, and to all those who have discovered important truths hidden within WikiLeaks documents. For someone who has benefited so greatly from WikiLeaks, Leigh shows absolutely no gratitude. His attempted sympathy for Bradley Manning falls flat, as it shows no understanding of Manning and his stated motives.

To have David Leigh describe himself as a "professional journalist" after this disgraceful display of ignorance and disrespect is truly laughable.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Guardian's obsession with sullying the reputation of Julian Assange

[Updated below]

After Julian Assange gave a speech at the Oxford Union on January 23, 2012, The Guardian published an article criticizing his appearance, saying "he refused to be gracious". At the time, video had not been uploaded of the event, so it was impossible to contradict The Guardian's claims. Now that the Oxford Union has uploaded the full speech and Q&A session (albeit only after editing out footage of "Collateral Murder" due to copyright fears), The Guardian's blatant smear tactics can be revealed.

It should first be noted that The Guardian chooses to focus on Julian Assange, rather than the event which he was speaking at: the Sam Adams Award ceremony. Thomas Fingar, the recipient of the award who authored a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate which asserted that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, is not even mentioned in The Guardian's article.

The Guardian describes Mr Assange's talk as "an impassioned defence of WikiLeaks and against censorship of all kinds", but foregoes any actual discussion of his 21-minute speech, instead focusing on the Q&A session. The article states that Mr Assange "repeatedly refused to answer questions about his decision not to return to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault". This is false as Mr Assange did not "refuse" to answer any questions, but indeed answered all that were asked of him.

The first question The Guardian mentions is a student asking how long Mr Assange will stay in the Embassy. He responds, "We will see. Hopefully not much longer, but who knows". As Mr Assange and the Ecuadorian Government are attempting to arrange a diplomatic solution with Britain, this can be viewed as an honest, straightforward answer. But The Guardian implies that his answer was insufficient, stating that "the next student fared no better".

The following question is about Julian Assange's refusal to return to Sweden. The Guardian describes his answer stating:
"Assange's smile faded. "I have answered these questions extensively in the past," he replied sharply and referred the student to a website."

First off, The Guardian implies that the question altered Julian Assange's mood, something which can be concluded to be false upon seeing the video. He receives and answers the question in the same manner. Secondly, it is true that he has "answered these questions extensively", and it is also detailed in Ecuador's statement on the acceptance of his asylum. Furthermore, after referring the student to the Justice for Assange website, he goes on to give a brief explanation of how Sweden refuses to guarantee against his extradition to the U.S. Again, answering the question. 


Mr Assange is then asked, "What would you say to the protesters outside who say that your appearance here and you being in the Ecuadorian Embassy is dismissing victims of rape and the seriousness of the crime of rape?"

The Guardian states, "Assange half closed his eyes and sighed", neither of which happen. Again, we see The Guardian attempting to paint Mr Assange as someone who is annoyed by these questions, when he is actually answering them in an even, straightforward manner.

The Guardian continues:
"[Assange speaking:] "I heard there was a protest but we sent our cameras out there before joining you tonight and there were 28 supporters of me and of no one else."
Before the event, however, there had been at least 50 protesters and no supporters of Assange to be seen. After the ceremony, security staff confirmed they had not seen anyone defending the WikiLeaks founder all evening."
If you listen to Mr Assange's actual response, you will notice that he is implicitly referring to the planned protest outside the Ecuadorian Embassy:
"Well, I'm here at the Embassy. I heard there was going to be a protest, repeated ad infinitum in The Guardian by PPE students who somehow have roles writing for The Guardian. But actually, we count 28 supporters of ours out there—we just sent out the cameraman—and no one else."

As he suggests, there were plans to protest both outside the Oxford Union and the Ecuadorian Embassy, arranged by the same person.

The second half of The Guardian's article contains quotes from the protesters outside, as if to frame Mr Assange as a liar based on the previous claims they make. All other questions he is asked go unreported—namely, all the ones not about the Swedish allegations, but about a government's right to keep secrets, Mr Assange's asylee status, the publication of unredacted cables, WikiLeaks' decision process of what to publish, and cyberterrorism.

It is clear from The Guardian's article that they have an obsession with Julian Assange and are incredibly selective of their quotations in order to frame him as an ungrateful liar. But if one reviews the actual source material, it is evident that The Guardian's claims hold no truth.

All videos of Julian Assange's speech at the Oxford Union can be seen at its YouTube Channel.


A short letter criticizing the same article, signed by ten former intelligence officers and foreign service officers, has been published by The Guardian. It reads as follows:
If the Guardian could "find no allies" of Julian Assange (Report, 24 January), it did not look very hard. They could be found among the appreciative audience at the Oxford Union, and in our group seated at the front: the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence. Many in our group, which co-sponsored the event, had travelled considerable distances to confer the 10th annual Sam Adams award on Dr Thomas Fingar for his work overseeing the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that revealed the absence of an Iranian nuclear weaponisation programme since 2003. Many of us spoke about the need for integrity in intelligence, describing the ethical dilemma that confronts government employees who witness illegal activity, including serious threats to public safety. However, none of this, nor any aspect of Dr Fingar's acceptance speech, made it into your article.
Signatories: Ann Wright Retired US army colonel and foreign service officer of US state department, Ray McGovern Retired CIA analyst, Elizabeth Murray Retired CIA analyst, Coleen Rowley Retired FBI agent, Annie Machon Former MI5 intelligence officer, Thomas Drake Former National Security Agency official, Craig Murray Former British ambassador, David MacMichael Retired CIA analyst, Brady Kiesling Former foreign service officer, US department of state, Todd Pierce Retired US army major, judge advocate, Guantánamo defence counsel