WikiLeaks Watch 12/30/2010

Most of the recent noteworthy news centers around the Greenwald-Wired Debate. This is not an easily deconstructable debate. The latest flare-up originates from a Charlie Savage piece in the NY Times that used Adrian Lamo as a source in detailing how the Justice Department is trying to build a case against Assange sans the 1917 Espionage Act. That angle would rely more on charging Assange of conspiracy as “Mendax” under something like the “The 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.” This angle would require that Assange was instrumental in either providing technical assistance to Manning to hack the necessary access to the documents or had “social engineered” Manning to use his own security clearance to do so.

Savage, in his story, indicated that the sections where Manning had detailed his contacts with Assange could not be verified in excerpts released by “Wired” and that Lamo could not provide the full chat transcript for independent verification because the F.B.I. had since taken his hard drive of his computer which contained the logs.

Greenwald attacked Savage and the NY Times for publishing this story without verifying Lamo’s claims with hard evidence and then asked Wired to publish a story to verify or discount Lamo’s claims in the NY Times piece based on their full possession of “the hard evidence.” When Wired declined to respond to Greenwald, Greenwald then published a broadside against the journalistic ethics of Wired. Wired responded by claiming that the specifics mentioned in Savage’s piece, particularly the secure FTP access to a server provided to Manning to upload his documents to, had already been disclosed in their published excerpts and that what they had not published had no relevance to the Savage piece; the decision not to publish the entire logs was related to protecting the privacy concerns of both Manning and Lamo on matters that had no relevance to the legal case at issue. Wired’s decision not to publish the full transcripts has drawn criticism from many and includes speculation that they have been perhaps served a Patriot Act National Letters restriction.

My opinion on the matter, FWIW. The transcripts implicate Manning(NOTE: also establishing he would be a hero from an ethical and libertarian justice perspective), but they actually exonerate Assange. You can’t charge Assange as Mendax when Manning had the security clearance to access the documents. There was no hacking involved, period. “Hacking,” in this context, would pertain to “engineering” elevated, unauthorized security access to system resources. Not the case here. You also cannot charge Assange for being a “SysAdmin” of his own systems in giving Manning authorized, elevated access to his own systems for him to upload his documents to. Finally, the published transcripts establish that Manning was well-motivated on his own, and that there was no “social engineering, ” or trickery involved in convincing Manning to use his own security access to hand over documents. “The 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act” utterly fails when it comes to Assange.

Another point. Lamo’s “transcripts” would be worthless unless they were recorded by him acting as an agent in a government operation. And, in such a case,(mind you, a potential National security espionage case), it stretches any credibility to think that such “evidence” would not only be turned over to Wired and the Washington Post but also to the primary investigative target, Julian Assange. Yes, the same logs would be turned over later to Wikileaks by Lamo, at the request of Assange who wanted them to assist in his defense.

Another point to consider is just how much of a “lame” hacker Lamo would be by failing to back-up and encrypt his “logs” onto additional media storage devices, particularly given the magnitude of the case and the fact that he was passing them out like candy to media organizations. The FBI “seized” his hard drive is pretty lame.

Kevin Poulsen, in his rebuttal to Greenwald, took offense to any reference to his hacker past. But I would suggest that the whole case against Manning reeks of the hacker-government nexus in the political economy that has built up around computer security. In other words, it was a “snitch operation” by Lamo who used his contacts within this nexus to allow these “chat transcripts” to be taken seriously within the government apparatus. Perhaps enough to get at Manning but not enough to get at Assange.

There is investigative journalism to be had here, but it’s not going to come from Wired.The most potent criticism of Wired’s “Threat Level” and Paulsen is that the “threat” is the political economy of computer/network security. But you are not going to read that there.

2 thoughts on “WikiLeaks Watch 12/30/2010

    1. Hi, Kitty:

      Two points:

      (1) the NY times article is “firewalled,” which is one reason it wasn’t linked to.
      (2) in analyzing my blog stats, I’ve noticed few readers actually click on provided reference links. So, to some extent, particularly in “WikiLeaks Watch” posts, I do commentary without necessarily providing full documentation reference.

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