Sunday, April 28, 2019


Quotable: Astro Noise

[Setting: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson discuss information in the Edward Snowden "revelations" from "The adventure of the extraordinary rendition" by Cory Doctorow]

Holmes to Watson: "Naturally, as those agencies have commanded more ministerial attention, more freedom of action, and more strings-free allocations with which to practice their dark arts, Mycroft's star has only risen. As keen a reasoner as my brother is, he is not impervious to certain common human failings, such as the fallacy that if one does good, then whatever one does in the service of that good cannot be bad."


Watson to Holmes: "I know that malware is the latest in a series of names for computer viruses, and I suppose that 'malware implantation' is the practice of infecting your adversaries with malicious computer code."

H to W: "Quite so. You may have heard, furthermore, of Edgehill, the top secret Strap 1 program whose existence was revealed in one of the Snowden documents?"

W to H: "It rings a bell, but to be honest, I got a sort of fatigue from the Snowden news—it was all so technical, and so dismal."

H to W: "Tedium and dismalness are powerful weapons—far more powerful than secrecy in many cases. Any bit of business that can be made sufficiently tedious and overcomplexified naturally repels public attention and all but the most diligent of investigators. Think of the allegedly public hearings that demand their attendees sit through seven or eight hours of monotonic formalities before the main business is tabled—or of the lengthy, tedious documents our friends in Brussels and Westminster are so fond of. If you want to do something genuinely evil, it is best for you that it also be fantastically dull."


[An excerpt from Jacob Appelbaum's "Letter to a young selector".]

In war, surveillance is obvious. Watching an enemy seems as natural as the coming of winter. But even in "peacetime," surveillance is never a matter of peace. Proponents of surveillance often paint a picture of terrorism versus surveillance, when in reality surveillance is used in service of nonconsensual control of all kinds, including extreme acts of terror. It is used to more effectively extract economic value, to squelch dissent, to undermine, and to harm with the information gathered. Those who wield power over surveillance systems will use them to more effectively target, censor, murder, and wage war. Surveillance is violence and it makes other kinds of violence more likely.


Source: Laura Poitras, ed., Astro Noise: A Survival Guide for Living under Total Surveillance (Whitney Museum of American Art, 2016) pp. 42, 44, 156.

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Saturday, April 27, 2019


Quotable: Assange on Israel

Russian actions on its own doorstep in Eastern Europe do not in fact threaten the United States or any actual vital interest. Nor does Moscow threaten the U.S. through its intervention on behalf of the Syrian government in the Middle East. That Russia is described incessantly as a threat in those areas is largely a contrivance arranged by the media, the Democratic and Republican National Committees and by the White House. Candidate Donald Trump appeared to recognize that fact before he began listening to Michael Flynn, who has a rather different view. Hopefully the old Trump will prevail, there is, however, another country that has interfered in U.S. elections, has endangered Americans living or working overseas and has corrupted America’s legislative and executive branches. It has exploited that corruption to initiate legislation favorable to itself, has promoted unnecessary and unwinnable wars and has stolen American technology and military secrets. Its ready access to the mainstream media to spread its own propaganda provides it with cover for its actions and it accomplishes all that and more through the agency of a powerful and well-funded domestic lobby that oddly is not subject to the accountability afforded by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938 even though it manifestly works on behalf of a foreign government. That country is, of course, Israel.

Source: Attributed to Julian Assange in "Assange: Forget Russia,The Real Threat to America comes from Israel and the Israel Lobby" by, December 18, 2016.

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Friday, April 19, 2019


Media Condemns Julian Assange For Reckless Exposure Of How They Could Be Spending Their Time

From the Onion:

WASHINGTON—In the wake of the WikiLeaks founder’s arrest by British authorities on behalf of the U.S. for charges stemming from the publication of classified military documents in 2010, members of the American media condemned Julian Assange Friday for the reckless exposure of how they could be spending their time. “We denounce Julian Assange in the strongest possible terms for his negligence in publicly demonstrating the kinds of work journalists could actually be doing to investigate government malfeasance and hold the powerful accountable,” said Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, speaking on behalf of many of the leading members of the media who castigated Assange for never once considering the harm that bringing rampant government criminality to light no matter the consequences could do to other news publications’ reputations. “It’s abundantly clear that Mr. Assange was focused on exposing documented evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan without so much as a thought for the journalists who faithfully parroted the U.S. military’s talking points when we could have been investigating information that ran contrary to that narrative—does he realize how that makes us look? The fact that he’d just publish information vital to the public interest from primary sources exactly as it was written instead of working with government officials to omit the most damaging parts in exchange for keeping access channels open is simply beyond the pale. The fact that the American public now knows what we’re actually doing day to day is incredibly harmful to this nation.” Media industry leaders did, however, admit that they could probably stand to go easier on Assange where the sexual assault allegations made against him were concerned.

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Saturday, April 13, 2019


NPR and Assange/Wikileaks

I've been listening to National Public Radio's coverage this week on the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and the reporting has generally been abysmal. In other words, it has been par for the course.

At least four things have stood out to me in the NPR  coverage I have heard. First, the NPR reporting on the withdrawn (but possibly soon-to-be resumed) Swedish sexual assault investigation has consistently failed to fully report Assange's position. As Wired noted nearly two years ago: "Assange has always maintained that extradition to Sweden was a thin ruse intended to make him vulnerable to further extradition to the United States, where it's widely believed that a secret grand jury for years was investigating him for WikiLeaks-related crimes." (I offer no judgment on the veracity of Assange's protestations that he was innocent of the Swedish allegations.)

Second, the range of guests NPR has hosted on the Assange segments has generally run the gamut from "I don't like Assange much" to "I really dislike the treacherous Assange". For instance, on the day Assange was arrested NPR interviewed Leon Panetta, secretary of defense and CIA director during Obama administration.

(NPR thought it not worth mentioning that Panetta was also Bill Clinton's OMB director and, later, chief of staff or that Panetta endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Less than three months before the election, Panetta also went to bat for her regarding alleged Clinton Foundation improprieties during her tenure as Secretary of State. In 2017, Clinton blamed Wikileaks, in part, for her 2016 loss to Donald Trump. And why mention that less than a year ago the DNC filed a lawsuit against Wikileaks?)

Predictably, Panetta is in favor of the extradition and prosecution of Assange: "So I think ... as a result of the impact of releasing this classified information that he ought to be subject to the laws of the United States and face our system of justice." He also raised the Clinton defeat: "Well, there's no question that there was a huge amount of attention, particularly to WikiLeaks and the impact of WikiLeaks on the 2016 election. There's no question that as a result of the information that he was able to release, it had a huge impact in terms of our politics ..." In response to a question about a recent Tweet by Edward Snowden on Assange's arrest, Panetta avoided commenting on the substance of Snowden's position and launched an ad hominem attack.

Third, NPR on-air personalities and guests have repeatedly made (or declined to challenge the accuracy or relevance of) the claim that Assange/Wikileaks are not covered by the 1st Amendment because they allegedly released classified material without redactions of sensitive material.

Just today, NPR hosted former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, who asserted Assange is not a "legitimate journalist", in part, because Assange allegedly declined to redact material that "mainstream journalists" wanted him to remove and, further, that Assange wouldn't even listen "to that case [for redactions]". McLaughlin makes this claim twice in the segment and it is never challenged.

I am unaware of any "not enough redactions" exception to the freedom of the press. Moreover, in October 2010, CNN reported:
With the posting of 400,000 classified documents from the Iraq war, WikiLeaks has shown a much heavier hand redacting compared to its previous publication of documents.

After the leak in July of more than 70,000 Afghanistan War documents, the website was heavily criticized by the U.S. government, the military and human rights groups for failing to redact names of civilians in the documents, putting them at risk of retaliation by the Taliban.
Assange's role in the alleged failure to redact names in the July leak is not discussed in the CNN article, which does go on to say concerning later releases: "An initial comparison of a few documents redacted by WikiLeaks to the same documents released by the Department of Defense shows that WikiLeaks removed more information from the documents than the Pentagon" (emphasis added). Yep, Wikileaks apparently withheld more information than the US military but you're not likely to learn that on NPR.

In the same piece CNN also reported: "Even with redaction, the Pentagon is critical of the documents' release, saying the site had no right to publish and is not equipped to understand what information is harmful." This seems to suggest that Wikileaks failure to redact what the military wanted redacted was due to incompetence or negligence, not malice. In any case, where does the 1st Amendment require journalists to keep secret what the government wants kept secret?

Finally, it is striking that NPR's coverage has featured very little discussion of the substance of the actual charges against Assange' let alone the substance of the material Chelsea Manning provided for Wikileaks to publish (see e.g. the video below). The unsealed federal grand jury indictment is only seven pages long and pretty straightforward but NPR has instead covered ancillary issues, such as Assange's cat, with the seeming goal of smearing and convicting Assange in the court of public opinion.

Assange's purported crime appears to be agreeing to help Manning crack a government password (Indictment, para. 7). However, the indictment also indicates that Assange's assistance did not extend to him actively accessing a restricted government computer system. Thus, paragraph 9 of the indictment speaks of "the portion of the password Manning gave to Assange". At first glance this seems analogous to asking Assange, from afar, for help opening a physical combination safe. It's akin to Assange saying "try this combination" while not turning the dial himself or even being in the same room.

If it's illegal for a journalist to help someone from afar break the password of a computer file or crack a safe then would it also be illegal to open/unseal a stolen envelope clearly marked "Top Secret" and containing classified material or turn the pages of a stolen document clearly marked "Top Secret"? What about helping to decipher an encrypted text? If not, why not? What's the substantive difference between these acts?

To be clear, if Assange sat at a keyboard and unlawfully attempted to access classified files while they were still stored on a government system then that would seem to be an overt, illegal act. However, that's not what Assange is accused of doing.

He is accused of conspiring to help Chelsea Manning do that and, under the particular circumstances, that seems a little fuzzier, especially when something as important as the 1st Amendment is in play. But as Glenn Greenwald puts it:
Neither the most authoritarian factions of the Trump administration behind this prosecution, nor their bizarre and equally tyrannical allies in the Democratic Party, care the slightest about press freedoms. They only care about one thing: putting Julian Assange behind bars, because (in the case of Trump officials) he revealed U.S. war crimes and because (in the case of Democrats) he revealed corruption at the highest levels of the DNC that forced the resignation of the top 5 officials of the Democratic Party and harmed the Democrats’ political reputation.

Collateral Murder - short version


Download the US indictment of Assange here (PDF):

Here, in no particular order, are some alternative views on the Assange arrest that you're not likely to hear represented on NPR:

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