Transcribed from: https://soundcloud.com/dlf-wissenschaft/sysadmins-of-the-world-unite
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?
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)
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.