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A subtle and provocative article from Jaron Lanier on Wikileaks


Digital information systems can help you lie to yourself better because dubious information can seem so much more credible and substantial when you've digitized it, and there can be so much of it.

But we can't descend into a primal sorting of who is friend and who is enemy.

From the perspective of one who knows Anonymous.

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Submitted by lambert on

Or possibly a wire service.

I suppose the counterargument is that although the documents come over the transom with sources anonymized ("our technology") there's value add in selection, redaction, ordering, and marketing. Investigative journalism... No. Overkill, and I've said that!

NOTE Incidentally, I just made the argument over at Yves's place that the real question isn't whether the First Amendment applies to wikileaks, but whether it applies to Big Media as currently constituted. Who don't seem to be doing a lot of "digging" lately, unless I didn't get the memo.

Submitted by jawbone on

And if the MCMers can act like stenographers for The Powers That Be, what is so wrong about acting as a pass through for the not powerful (and, yes, I do know there is talk of Assange being played or being a CIA plant).

Submitted by lambert on

You're saying Wikileaks passes through everything? I don't think wikileaks is wiki-like in that sense.

I also really dislike the "indiscriminate" talking point, since it shades over into the Versailles (and Hillary partisan) talking point that wikileaks "indiscriminately" released 100,000s of cables, when in fact they've released under 3000.

Submitted by hipparchia on

1. if the infamous insurance file is what assange says it is, then all 291,000 [or whatever the number is] have been released into the wild.

2. how many people inside the wikilieaks organization have unencrypted copes of those cables?

3. but by indiscriminate, in this case, i meant the gazillion different kinds of leaks, from sorority intiation rites to climate scientists' emails to diplomatic cables to ...

Submitted by lambert on

First, I don't think anybody knows what's in it, though I could be wrong. So I'm not sure that the 291,000 files are in it.

Second, if a file is released, and nobody can read it, is it in the wild? IIRC, it's public key encrypted, so the files could only be read if the second, private key were released. (Granted, I don't know how widely the private keys are distributed, but I assume they're closely held.)

Third, how exactly is this different from normal behavior by the press corps? I'd bet there are plenty of secrets in Versailles that are maintained for purposes of leverage. So what do we mean by "in the wild," here? [Always caveating].

Submitted by hipparchia on

oh now, don't do that! you're going to make me have to backpedal [somewhat]. i hate when that happens. also, you're going to make me write a whole post on this...

ok, some loosely-connected thoughts:

over the transom? you're the real techie, not me [i just play one on the internet], but do you really think he got ALL that stuff without doing a single bit of hacking himself?! i'm not buying it, except maybe in the cases of the sorority initiation rites, the mormon church docs, maybe the scientology stuff, maybe some other stuff.

no, i'm not being snarky on this one: mad props to assange for his successful guerilla marketing campaign. yes, a major value-add there.

selection, redacting, ordering, etc - isn't the guardian doing that work? i know assange says he's busy going back and forth between countries to organize the work...

the real question isn't whether the First Amendment applies to wikileaks, but whether it applies to Big Media as currently constituted.

i think you could make a good case for that argument, but big media is probably still doing just [barely] enough real journalism to qualify for first amendment protection.

Submitted by lambert on

Since I came late to the party on this one, I'm hazy on the detail, but my understanding is that the business model of wikileaks is to anonymize whistleblowers. (Manning talked to a writer at Wired, who promptly betrayed him.) I mean, apparently the Pentagon only tightened up on thumb drives after this little episode. So, hacking in the sense of social engineering, but not in the sense of breaching systems by logging into them, Cuckoo's Nest style, with inappropriate permissions (for some definition of "inappropriate." And "permissions").

Since <3000 of the cables have been released, and assuming that they are not released on a random basis, there's an initial selection, redaction, ordering phase prior to the material being handed over to Big Media, which then adds additional value.

Submitted by Hugh on

Assange had the docs and leveraged their visibility by passing them on to the biggest and most prestigious print media in Europe and the US. Interestingly no Asian papers. I would have thought there might be candidates in Japanese, Indian, Canadian, and Australian outlets but these were bypassed. In the most recent batch the NYT was left out because of their earlier crap reporting but then the Guardian passed them a copy of their cache so they were allowed back in the game.

Assange did not release this stuff to the web to let us go through it. That would maximize transparency but reduce visibility because we don't have the readership or connections to the rest of the MSM. By passing it a small influential group of MSM players, Assange was able to force them competitively to play up the releases, but in doing so he ceded control of how the material was analyzed.

In this, Assange acted more like an executive editor. More importantly, we need to keep in mind that all the standard definitions are changing. Most "reporters" in the MSM are nothing more than propagandists so what does it mean to call Assange one, or not? Most of the time the criticism is that bloggers just provide commentary and analysis and that the MSM does the primary investigation. But here those roles are reversed. A blogger had the material and it was the MSM that did the initial commentary and analysis. Ultimately, I am not interested in the labels. I am interested in the access to content. This may reflect the split in wikileaks between Assange who seeks to exploit the existing media and those who have left promising to put content directly on to the web.

Submitted by wlarip on

In the middle '60's, there was an editorial which suggested that pinball was an expression of sexual angst. It argued that the reason that many, if not most, of pinball players were young white males was that they (uniquely) were struggling with issues of identity in a confusing world.

It was definitely true that young men were dealing with a newly-minted generation of young women recently stamped with the idea(l)(s) of Friedan. With the pill the sexual freedom, that women felt not only entitled but obliged to assert, created a huge collective of male cognitive dissonance based on its conflict with the inculturation of the '50's. Sex without consequences became, well.. sex without consequences. It sounds like paradise but it was actually quite unsettling. In addition, the prominent presence of vocal African-American critics of the 'American dream', such as Malcom X, James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison in the academic curricula of the time and the exponentially growing dichotomy between fact and fiction of the Vietnam War created the need for a little respite. But there was always the solace of the machine.

Pinball machines were much more mechanical in nature than the games of today. In fact, if the tilt sensor was roughly enough adjusted, you could actually influence the outcome of the game by bumping the machine and if done correctly, it was a lot more skillful than it sounds. Someone(not me) was always getting tossed for beating up the machine for the sheer destructive enjoyment of it. What has not changed is the age and intent of the players today and, of course, the machine is radically different.

The motivations of hackers are as different as the people who do it. Some are motivated to 'crush the bastards' for the singular belief that it makes them more technically astute than the 'bastards'. Some simply are trying to understand. Some are enraged. Some are resisting. Not all are equally skilled; but all are usually lumped together.

One of the not so recent European acts of civil disobedience that I found interesting was of the disaffected French-Muslim youth who digitally coordinated a campaign of car-torching(I don't cite the link because much of what I can find seems to be right-wing polemic). To my knowledge, no one was hurt. The authorities were powerless to stop it. This was not a marauding group of geeks on a tear. It was a group of young people protesting using their familiarity with tools of which the authorities only became aware when they were used to violate the law.

Assange is a figurehead and the Anonymous geeks would tear up the pinball machine. But the discontent that fuels Wikileaks support is real and palpable. That is because, since the '60's things haven't gotten better, they are worse.

Funny thing(strange not ha-ha) is that the responsibility for that lies with those of us who started playing pinball for the same motivations. That fault isn't in the machine;it's in the player.

Submitted by Lex on

Shorter Lanier: Beware revolutions, because they have a tendency to establish regime's as distasteful as the ones they hope to overthrow.

Now whether Wikileaks and Assange are revolutionary is immaterial. Assange very clearly sees himself as a revolutionary; that's what's important. Unfortunately for those who would like to line up behind him and get their revolution on, he's a shitty revolutionary leader. As one, he had two choices: he could go the public, non-violent confrontation route or he could go cloak and dagger. He seems to lean towards the latter, but does a laughable job of it. He's convinced that intelligence agencies are chasing him around the globe, but then he's quick to stick his hand in any potential honey pot presented to him. (Note, i'm not saying the Swedish women were honeypot operations. I'm saying that the cloak and dagger revolutionary would be very careful and extremely distrustful of situations that could compromise him.) And when he fucks up his cloak and dagger routine, he starts acting like any political celebrity.

I don't know what to make of the CIA plant conspiracy. Granted, Assange is so terribly bad at playing the game that he could well be organization that's never penetrated anything except the American Left. It's been incompetent since it was founded. But i don't see anything that looks damning. Some say, "Well look at how the cables have seemed to bolster the case for war with Iran." But there's nothing earth shaking in the cables related to Iran, except that the cables have been used to frame arguments for war. What's odd is that the same CIA conspiracy theory people won't even take a breath before pointing out that there's nothing earth shaking in the cables.

The question, "Who did the leaking?" is a good one. If there were fewer people with access to these cables it would be a better question yet. As it stands, these are standard diplomatic communication from a shared network. Again, there's not much here that people who follow foreign policy haven't assumed or pieced together without the cables. What the cables do show is that all the denying done by the USG is as much bullshit as your average cynic would assume.

Also, it should be considered that there is no "whole truth" in these. Take the S. Korean diplomat telling the American diplomat that China is ready to let N. Korea go. Do we assume that the Chinese diplomat was telling the truth? Do we assume that the S. Korean diplomat was telling the truth about what the Chinese diplomat said? And do we assume that the FSO who wrote the cable for DC audiences was telling the truth about what the S. Korean diplomat said?

In this example, the cables are both interesting and important because they flesh out the picture of what's happening now on the Korean peninsula. Lee Myung-bak has been militantly anti-engagement with the the DPRK since he was elected, but that was in 2007...and it's no surprise, given that his party is the political legacy of Pak Chang-he and the anti-Communist military dictatorship. But since the cooked report on the Choenan* the ROK has been pushing harder than ever. Those yellow headbands on the ROK helmets pictured in the artillery exercises, they say "unification". The South is very clearly provoking the situation in what looks like a hoping for war that will reunify the peninsula. I'd bet good money that they're doing so (and the US is letting them) because they think that China won't defend the DPRK. That rumor reported in the cable is the only significant change to the situation in Korea.

And what if either the S. Korean or the Chinese diplomat was lying?

What needs to be done with these cables is to put them in context. Wikileaks doesn't do that. The MSM outlets don't really do it either. Using them to frame an issue is not the same putting them into real world context. It's only in context that they'll have any value and where their veracity can even be tested.

My problem with the whole situation is that there's very little discussion of the contents of the leaks and a whole lot of editorializing about Assange, digital revolution, espionage, blah, blah, blah. And, frankly, the ones who look most like CIA plants are those on the Left who keep focusing the discussion on Assange's personal character instead of looking at the actual issues/cables in context. But then again, that shouldn't surprise me given that the CIA has only ever been successful in the American Left.

*Oh, yes, the Cheonan report was a cock up. If we're to believe it, a N. Korean sub snuck into the middle of a joint, US/ROK antisubmarine drill. Nobody detected it. It then launched a torpedo at one of the world's most sophisticated antisubmarine corvettes. It missed, but the bubble jet from the torpedo detonating on the sea bed ripped the ship apart. And then it snuck out completely undetected. The report says that two N. Korean subs left port several days before the attack and returned several days after. That's it. Never mind that the initial distress call was "grounded". I'd say that if the Cheonan report is the truth, the greater worry should be just how badly the US Navy sucks ass.

Submitted by Lex on

The Army Times article linked in your link "cannot be found". But it's ok, i remember that exercise and the pounding the USN took. This has become standard. I don't think that the US military is even capable of honest self-analysis at this point. A situation made much worse by political leadership that's been even more incapable of that act for even longer.

And all that is what makes the current situation in Korea incredibly dangerous. Far more dangerous than even the sensationalist headlines we've been seeing would lead us to believe.

We know that all the provocation being done by Lee is backed fully by the US. It has to be, given that in the event of war, command and control of all ROK forces goes to the US. So Lee is, in fact, playing with the US's fire. Now i have no doubt that administration officials would love to have BO preside over bringing freedom to N. Korea. I do question whether they know what they're getting into (hahaha). If they are basing their decisions on the assumption that China will not defend N. Korea at all, i've got nothing left but head shaking.

I'm also not so sure that the US military can handle the DPRK without any fuss. It will "win" eventually, but the costs of victory will be quite high for S. Korea. It's only real hope is a fairly massive first strike. The DPRK border armaments may be obsolete, but there's enough of them to wreak a great deal of havoc in the S. Korean capitol that sits less than 30 miles away and is home to something like 18M people.

Suzie's picture
Submitted by Suzie on

Hi, this is Suzie from Echidne's blog. I'm blogging regularly, and often first, on the sex-crime allegations and other gender issues in regard to Assange. Please feel free to read me and then come back immediately to Corrente. For example, I discussed Lanier on 12/23 and who benefits from revolutions on 12/12.

Lambert, Manning allegedly talked to Adrian Lamo, an ex-hacker, who told the authorities. Wired printed some of the chat logs between Lamo and Manning, but that was at least a couple of weeks after Manning already had been arrested. Basically, Wired broke the story, but it didn't turn in Manning.

I don't think we know how much editing, redacting, etc., that WikiLeaks does before handing files over to major newspapers. WL does select what it turns over, of course, and they should face as much scrutiny as corporate media or anyone else who decides what's important.

A Norwegian newspaper says it has gotten hold of all the documents.

I'm not sure how Assange is different from corporate media, except that his NGO is much less transparent. He's both playing the media and playing its game. He has always known that bombshells would bring the attention and the big bucks. (See John Young at Cryptome.)

I disagree with Hugh and others who see a huge conspiracy among reporters and editors at mainstream media. Hugh calls reporters "propagandists." No one's objective. Everyone's biased. But that doesn't mean that reporters sit at their computers saying, "I must shore up the government by writing something inaccurate." Most journalists in the MSM are mainstream in their knowledge and understanding.

As media changed, and newspapers were not making the same huge profits as before, bosses cut lots of people. I first worked at a big newspaper in 1980. Reporters could spend weeks, maybe months, working on big stories, and there was plenty of room for those stories. Now papers have shrunk, and reporters are under the gun to produce stories faster. I know plenty of reporters who would love the time and space to do more investigative work. Reporters have talked about forming nonprofits so that they have time to do investigations.

Submitted by hipparchia on

(See John Young at Cryptome.)

WL does select what it turns over, of course, and they should face as much scrutiny as corporate media or anyone else who decides what's important.

No one reads me, boohoo
i read you! but yeah, after i made this comment i decided i needed a break from the sex and gender aspects, so while i've been tempted to link here to some of your writing on it at echidne's [and i thank you for that writing], i mostly haven't wanted to think about it any longer.

Submitted by lambert on

It's a combination of class interest and groupthink among cohorts. Probably a lot of it is unconscious, making it all the harder to fight.

Submitted by Hugh on

Glenn Greenwald has been recently writing about how there is little distinction between government officials, present and past, and the media interviewers in the spots he's done on the Manning case. When I watch cable news or read a story in the NYT or WaPo or other media outlet, I count the errors, omissions, and spin as I go. I'm sure there are a few reporters left in journalism. Notwithstanding this, the media's product is overwhelmingly, even relentlessly, propaganda. When was the last time that the media led on an important story, reported what was really going on in it, and did adequate follow up on it? Healthcare? The wars? Wall Street? Foreclosuregate? The Cat Food Commission? The recent tax deal? Corporatism in government?

It just isn't possible that the media is made up of conscientious reporters at the same time that it disgorges daily torrents of propaganda and infotainment.

Submitted by wlarip on

for your blog doesn't work in my browser.

But if you're still here, what's your take on Poulsen's reluctance to release all of the chats between Lamo and Manning?

Suzie's picture
Submitted by Suzie on

I'm 100 percent behind Poulsen and Wired unless I hear something different. He and his editor have said there's nothing more in the chats that is pertinent. If someone doesn't want to trust them, then they have no reason to trust them even if they did release all the chats. It's not like raw data is always imbued with the absolute truth. Data can be manipulated.

What GG is doing is similar to saying: We want all your recorded and/or written notes from your interview with X person so that we can judge for ourselves whether you've failed to publish something of interest. It's a fishing expedition.

Submitted by wlarip on

GG may have his own reasons in engaging in a 'flame war' with Wired and I don't see all of his arguments as persuasive.

But the account of the chats between Manning and Lamo doesn't pass the smell test.

Lamo loses his secret key to decrypt Manning's initial emails and so suggests to Manning that an ex-hacker and a wanna-be hacker converse over a clear text logged(at least on Lamo's part) chat channel. Manning shows enough familiarity with SSH to know how dangerous that is.

Also, in the part of the chats that have been released, Lamo shows a marked propensity for asking a lot of questions but not volunteering too much information. Was he functioning as a journalist at the time of the chats? If so, he was entitled to inform the authorities of a crime. But did Manning know he was talking to a journalist (if in fact that was Lamo's role)?

There are too many questions of credibility of the roles of both Lamo and Poulsen. The entire log of the chats may or may not illuminate that. But if there is a possibility they may, they need to 'fess up'. It's not about Manning. It's about them.

Whatever roles they may have adopted, it's clear they weren't Manning's friends.

Suzie's picture
Submitted by Suzie on

Lamo wasn't Manning's friend, but it's GG who's convinced that Lamo & Poulsen are BFF. I think Poulsen's response rang true -- Lamo was a source for him, but he also was a source for others.

Submitted by wlarip on

If Poulsen isn't Manning's friend, what's he protecting?

Before any journalistic hackles get raised, let me add that that question is both rhetorical and a fishing expedition. The information revealed by a source to a journalist is confidential and protected by the 1st Amendment.

But the reason it is being proffered as a legitimate question (by GG and a lot of others) is that Wired isn't Caesar's wife here. Wired made a lot of money from breaking the Manning story(as did the Post with Watergate). But when the circumstances are questionable and that is definitely a matter of opinion, it raises the specter of entrapment.

Wired's latest drip of previously unreleased information as refutations via Twitter of GG's allegations seems to acknowledge that.

Wired lives or dies by its credibility with techies. The criticism has been withering. In the end, they will be forced to defend themselves in a credible way probably by release of the logs through a proxy.

This problem won't go away.

** NOTE **

By making money, I mean drawing eyeballs to the page.

Submitted by jawbone on

would result in wider actual publication of leaked materials and reading of it by the public. For the info on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, WikiLeaks did release all (most?) of the materials to the general web and relied on crowd analysis to get out important information. That happened only on a limiited basis, iirc.

There was, however, strong criticism that WikiLeaks had not done a good job of vetting the information and deleting names of individuals who could be harmed in some way.

Based on that and very little attention paid to the information by the MCM and The Powers That Be (like, governments), with lots of "Oh, that's old news, nothing to see here" and
This imperils our valiant (insert group name); these WikiLeaks are dangerous to national security!", when someone from The Guardian approaced WL to discuss a more controlled release, along with vetting by knowledgeable reporters, Assange agreed that might work better for actually informing the public.

WL had done total dump and went to controlled release for what appear to be very good reasons.

Suzie's picture
Submitted by Suzie on

Controlled release does make sense, but remember: 1) WL is becoming more and more like big media, or at least, a broker to big media. So, anyone who dislikes big media needs to pay attention.

2) Assange is like Murdoch or Hearst in that he's a powerful figure who has a political agenda, dislikes dissent and controls the dissemination of important information. It appears that he's choosing what to release, when and to whom. Look what happened with Nick Davies, the longtime investigative journalist with the Guardian who persuaded Assange to do the controlled release.

After Davies broke the story with details from leaked documents from Swedish authorities, Assange attacked him and gave more information to London's Times, owned by Murdoch. All of this is very personal with Assange.

Davies says he cut off contact with Assange in early August, before the rape allegations, the first time he's done that to a source in his 34 years. Davies hasn't said why. Shouldn't someone be asking that question?

Also, Davies' editor says the Guardian didn't publish all the details in the police reports because some would be very hurtful to Assange. Let's see those details!

Submitted by lambert on

News to me. One of the consistent, and to my mind, false or at least diversionary critiques of Assange is that he's a powerful figure. That drastically flattens the representation of the power curve in our society. Last I checked, Assange wasn't a billionaire oligarch with control over a huge slice of Big Media, including the newspaper of record for the business community. Assange is much more like a celebrity who parlayed notoriety into a book deal.

Now, I saw your qualifier "in that", there, but saying Assange is "like" Murdoch in that some of the plays they both run are the same is like saying that one's local high school football team is "like," say, the Oakland Raiders. The scope and scale of their operations, and the scope and scale of the damage they do, are different by orders of magnitude, and in kind, too.

Submitted by hipparchia on

if ever there was one! and yes, i do want to know the answer to that one.

in case anyone's wondering what we're talking about, nick davies, writing at huffpo:

There is one final point lurking in the background. Assange has been suggesting -- for example, in his interview with David Frost on Al Jazeera -- that all this is something to do with the fact that he and I fell out. It is true that at the beginning of August, I cut off contact with him in order to protest at several things he had done -- the first time I have cut off a source in 34 years as a reporter. This was nothing to do with the sex allegations in Sweden.

Suzie's picture
Submitted by Suzie on

Sorry, I'm late in responding. Thanks, Hipparchia! Lambert, I appreciate Echidne being in the blogroll. I was just worried that no one was actually reading. But I also understand needing a break from the topic.

I'm done with Glenn Greenwald. The Assange thing brings back memories of the 2008 primary in which some leftists got so enamored of Obama that they were happy to pass along misinformation.

Hugh, there are tons of errors, omissions, spin, etc., among bloggers, including paid bloggers like GG. Look at it this way: I was a longtime journalist and now I'm a blogger. I haven't changed, but the structure and format affect what I write.

For example, I'm not paid, nor am I trying to advance myself in any way. (I'm currently in remission from a cancer considered terminal, and so, I don't care about my resume.) That allows me to express controversial views that I probably couldn't have done at my last newspaper. At newspapers, I was never forced to write anything that I thought was untrue. I often didn't have the time or space to give all of the information or perspective that I would have liked. But that's true in blogging, too. I'm quite a critic of big media, but thinking that the reporters there are almost all corrupt makes it harder to see how similar issues affect the information being delivered by new media.

Look at Assange and WikiLeaks. As it grows in power, it has some of the same issues that hurt journalism. He complains that it doesn't have enough time and money to do all that it wants. He seeks big donors, and believe me, that will influence what gets released when. He understands the need to do sensational stories to attract attention and money.

Hugh, I see plenty of good reporting. In fact, many blogs link to stories in big media, and not just to criticize them. I'm not trying to defend big media; I'm trying to get you to see that GG isn't that different from a columnist in a newspaper or magazine that tilts left.

Submitted by wlarip on

Why El Pais chose and chooses to continue publishing the cables.

But tinged with some justification and no mention that a 'great story' means revenue.