Assange on why some countries censor speech more than others:
So you can have a lot of political change in the United States. But will it really change that much? Will it change the amount of money in someone’s bank account? Will it change contracts? Will it void contracts that already exist? And contracts on contracts, and contracts on contracts on contracts? Not really. So I say that free speech in many places – in many Western places – is free not as a result of liberal circumstances in the West but rather as a result of such intense fiscalization that it doesn’t matter what you say. ie. the dominant elite doesn’t have to be scared of what people think, because a change in political view is not going to change whether they own their company or not. It is not going to change whether they own a piece of land or not. But China is still a political society. Although it is radically heading towards a fiscalized society. And other societies, like Egypt was, are still heavily politicized. And so their rulers really do need to be concerned about what people think, and so they spend a portion of efforts on controlling freedom of speech.
About what gets censored first:
JA: Even the censors in China of the Public Security Bureau, people who work there. Why do they censor stuff and what do they censor first? I’ll tell you what they censor first? They censor first the thing that someone in the Politburo might see. That’s what they censor first. They are not actually concerned about darknets.
JC: Sorry, about?
JA: They are not concerned about darknets. Because their bosses can’t see what is on the darknet, and so they can’t be blamed for not censoring it. We had this fantastic case here in the UK, we had a whole bunch of classified documents from the UK military, and published a bunch. And then later on we did a sort of preemptive FOI which we do occasionally on various governments when we can. So we did it on the UK ministry of defense, just to see whether they were doing some investigation, sort of a source protection to understand what is going on. So we got back… first they pretended they were missing documents and we appealed and we got back a bunch of documents. And so it showed that someone in there had spotted that there was a bunch of UK military documents on our website. About their surveillance programme. Another two thousand page document about how to stop things leaking, and that the number one threat to the UK ministry was investigative journalists. So that had gone into some counterintelligence da da da da, and they had like, oh my good, it has hundreds of thousands of pages, and it is about all sorts of companies and it just keeps going, and it’s endless, it’s endless! Exclamation marks, you know, five exclamation marks. And that was like, okay, that is the discovery phase, now the what is to be done phase. What is to be done? BT has the contracts for the MoD. They told BT to censor us from them. So everyone in the UK MoD could no longer read what was on WikiLeaks. Problem solved!
On mainstream media:
Well, the way it is right now is there is very… first we must understand that the way it is right now is very bad. Friend of mine Greg Mitchell wrote a book about the mainstream media, So Wrong For So Long. And that’s basically it. That yes we have these heroic moments with Watergate and Bernstein and so on, but, come on, actually, it’s never been very good it’s always been very bad. And these fine journalists are an exception to the rule. And especially when you are involved in something yourself and you know every facet of it and you look to see what is reported by it in the mainstream press, and you can see naked lies after naked lies. You know that the journalist knows it’s a lie, it is not a simple mistake, and then simple mistakes, and then people repeating lies, and so on, that actually the condition of the mainstream press nowadays is so appalling I don’t think it can be reformed. I don’t think that is possible. I think it has to be eliminated, and replaced with something that is better.
WikiLeaks remains under a near financial blockade, its founder under effective house arrest after having been granted asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The group has yet to release anything as substantial as last year’s “Detainee Policies”—Balkanleaks remains one of the few “leaking sites” still going strong. Its recent insurance-key move comes precisely out of the WikiLeaks playbook.
More than two years ago, a flurry of new WikiLeaks clones sprung up around the world inspired by the world’s most famous transparency-driven organization. They had all kinds of names: QuebecLeaks, BaltiLeaks, EnviroLeaks, and more. PirateLeaks (based in the Czech Republic), BrusselsLeaks (Belgium) and RuLeaks (Russia) all did not respond to Ars’ requests for comments. […]
So how does Balkanleaks thrive where others haven’t?
Tchobanov, the site’s co-founder, boils it down to one word: Tor. It’s the open-source online anonymizing tool that’s become the de facto gold standard for hiding one’s tracks online. Balkanleaks provides instructions in Bulgarian, Serbian, Macedonian, and English, and the submission website is only available on its Tor-enabled server.
David Forbes is an Asheville, NC based journalist and blogger. He’s a senior journalist at The Mountain Xpress, a regular contributor to Coilhouse (both print and online), and runs his own blog The Breaking Time. You can find him on Twitter here. As a fellow media-geek I asked David to chat with me about WikiLeaks, the future of journalism, and Government 2.0.
Klint Finley: Personally I don’t think there’s one single future for journalism, but many different futures. I think WikiLeaks is one of journalism’s futures – what do you think?
David Forbes: I would agree that there’s not one single future, just as there’s not one single past for journalism — is made up of many different methods of pursuing and conveying information. WikiLeaks represents that raw, juicy information aspect, and there is a role for that, though it’s more limited in impact that some of its apostles may think.
There’s also a desperate thirst for analysis and context, for putting information together in ways that Wikileaks can rarely do.
Above: short version of the “Collateral Murder” video
Well, it seems like they’re trying to do more of that now, with the collateralmurder.com site and all.
A bit yes, but it’s still not their strength, and I don’t think it ever will be. As the release of that video shows, their strength is in finding what others can’t find. Ironically enough, the best analysis of that video has been done by some of the more traditional journalists (in their training at least) who’ve moved well into new media and can use their own contacts and info to put all of this into context.
I’m not sure, but it seems like they were initially trying to be a resource for journalists instead of an actual source of journalism. But they weren’t get the response they were hoping for so they’re doing journalism themselves now.
Jay Rosen called them a “stateless press” which I thought was really interesting.
It is, and does play to that part of journalists’ minds that sees themselves as an investigative society beyond borders.
On a side note, journalism is a capricious field, and what wisdom there is remains usually of the least conventional. For example, this week news emerged that NPR has doubled its market share over the last ten years, to the point where it exceeds network TV news. By a lot of the narratives about “new media” radio’s a dinosaur, and that wasn’t supposed to happen. But it has.
Oh wow, that’s interesting. I knew they’d been growing for the past few years. I wonder if that has to do with increased commute times for American workers.
Partly, yes, but moreso I think it’s that they’ve moved fairly aggressively into new media, enough not to get left behind, and people are thirsty for succinct analysis of the glut of information out there.
So let’s imagine for a moment a scenario in which virtually all professional news organizations have gone out of business. There’s just no business model for them, and all that’s left is “citizen journalism.” (I don’t think it will come to that, but let’s just pretend.)
As a professional journalist yourself do you think “citizen journalism” could step in to fill that gap? Do you think out of work journalists would keep doing journalism on the side, for instance?
Ah, a good hypothetical. No, I don’t think they could, much as plenty of professional journalists are salaryman hacks and plenty of citizen journalists are quite good.
The value of professionalism is underrated, and most news orgs don’t help themselves by having become extremely stodgy, but investigative skills don’t come overnight, and the sort of combined knowledge and contacts some sort of organization has is invaluable.
I think, in that hypothetical, it would quickly “re-professionalize” The best citizen journalists would find backers or form organizations and another system – perhaps bounties for really valuable pieces- would come along to provide the resources.
Yeah, that’s part of why I think it’s an impossible scenario – at least a few people are going to make money some how.
How much investigative work do modern journalists do? It seems a lot of the leg work is actually done by non-profits, advocacy groups, people like that, before journalists even get started.
It depends on the modern journalist. Sadly, a lot of more corporate papers have ditched much of their investigative arms, but plenty, especially locally owned papers or alt weeklies (like the one I work for) are actually going into it more heavily because there’s a hunger for it. Sure, non-profits and advocacy groups will usually do some of the legwork, especially in the initial stages, but at best they’ll only have a piece of the puzzle. Even on basic news stories, plenty of journalists still spend a lot of time chasing down statistics, facts, harassing contacts. A lot of this doesn’t get seen outside, because what the public sees is a very small chunk that’s been battered into a coherent narrative.
A mentor of mine put it best “investigation is following up 10 leads and having nine of them go nowhere.”
Can give any examples from personal experience of doing investigative work.
This was a case where the investigation had to be done extremely quickly. So I ended up heading to neighbor’s houses, talking to them, getting them to make introductions to others. Turned out one of them had snapped some pretty gripping photos of the arrest. I then uncovered the ruling striking down the old flag desecration law, and found out that the deputy shouldn’t have been responding to a call within the city anyway. The charges were dropped, but it’s an example of how investigative journalism works: the information was there, some of the neighbors had pieces of it, but it still had to be pulled together, put into a whole, added to, etc.
I don’t know if you can speak to this, but how is Mountain Xpress doing through this period of… adjustment… for the newspaper business? Alt weeklies have been amongst the hardest hit. Are you/they doing anything interesting to adapt and weather the storm?
We’re weathering it fairly well. That’s in part because the paper has a lot of loyalty in the area and a lot of support from the communities here. But we’re also adapting from the news end. Now when a news story breaks we’ll have it up on Twitter ASAP, and we’ve worked on building our news hashtags and put those feeds up on our main site. Then we’ll have a blog post, then an in-depth print article
Hell, I’m Twittering news from local government meetings (as my outside Asheville followers are no doubt weary at me for). But I think that “all of the above” approach is necessary to survive. Media changes, the need to deliver stories doesn’t.
Right – I think the hard part though is figuring out how to monetize new media. It’s obvious that you’ve got to be everywhere these days – but paying the bills gets harder and harder.
Are there any particular journalism start-ups or experiments that you find particularly exciting?
Well, you mentioned Wikileaks, and that’s one. I find some of the hybrid experiments interesting: the all-online Seattle Pi has developed a pretty extensive stable of “neighborhood bloggers” I think using Twitter for that quick-hit news (and feedback) is fascinating.
I think, in Seattle, the West Seattle Blog is even more interesting. But the PI is interesting in that it’s a very well established paper daily making a huge change in how they operate.
I’ll have to check that out: good local media is priceless, and I’m glad it seems to be making something of a comeback. The future of the PI will be interesting to follow too: they’re making some interesting steps, but I wonder if a corporate-owned paper can be as adaptable as they need to be.
I’m also really interested to see how the NY Times semi-permeable pay-membrane works out.
Ah, the NY Times. The journalism nerd in me loves them, though I gritted my teeth at the “pay membrane stuff.” Last year, I think someone found that for what it costs to supply all their subscribers, they could buy every last one of them a Kindle.
One of the problems I see with monetization… even if you can get people to pay monthly fees for access or whatever, I don’t know if that will cover the sorts of expenses newspapers have. Newspapers have typically lost money on subscriptions and made up for it with ads.
Indeed they have. One of the problems, I think, is that corporations began buying newspapers and seeing them as just another asset. Newspapers, except for rare boom-times, aren’t meant to make huge amounts of money; they make slow, steady profits instead. Also, many got used to being the only game in town and alienated a lot of smaller advertisers, instead of finding ways to build them into a network that could better endure shaky times.
Ironically, a similar thing happened in the banking industry: this pursuit of massive profits inspired a lot of dumb, risky decisions because parts of the economy apparently can’t work unless they’re making ridiculous amounts of money.
I actually really like the idea of the pay membrane – I hope it works out. But I don’t think it will be their only or even main source of revenue.
So shifting gears a little bit. You’ve been following the “Government 2.0” debate on your blog. First of all, can you sum up what “Government 2.0” is concisely?
Basically it’s technologists looking to revolutionize government with, as one might expect, technology. Gov 2.0, in theory at least, would be more accessible, transparent and allow people and government to better coordinate to solve problems and get needed information. And that “in theory” absolutely has to be stressed.
How do you think that fits into what you do as a journalist?
This is one of those areas where it affects me at multiple levels. As a journalist, I know how difficult needed information can be to get and obviously freeing that up would be a major boon to my profession, and most citizens. The political observer in me — which is informed in part from seeing government up close as journalist — has some major criticisms of Gov 2.0.
And what are those?
Oh my, where to start. The Gov 2.0 people for the most part genuinely want to do good, and they’re brilliant. Some of this stuff — like making case law and legislation massively more accessible — will be a big boon. But they’re largely well-heeled business and government types. These are people for whom government’s already working pretty well.
I would’ve killed at the Gov 2.0 conference to see one community organizer up there, talking about how this could help people who aren’t remotely linked in to all this shining technology. Transparency’s great, but there’s already more information out there than ever before about how government operates. There need to be ways to connect people to actually use that information and to press for needed change — basically tomorrow’s political machine. Politics is a fight, it is always and only a fight, whatever form it may take and whatever people may tell you otherwise. I don’t think most of the Gov 2.0 people really comprehend that yet and until they do, we’ll see some fancier tools and more info, but government will continue to be largely as it is now.
I’ve gotten very cynical, myself, about how much transparency and all that actually matters. We know so much about what happened during the Bush administration, and yet nothing was done about and nothing is being done about it.
Well it ended up playing a major role in routing his party in the elections and has led to the reversal of many of their policies (though not nearly enough, by many counts). But yes, it’s a stark example of the limits of transparency when not backed up by the power to make it count.
Hm, well, let’s try to wrap this up with something a little more positive.
Surprise musical number? I’m a terrible singer.
Yeah, I’m only good at making noise so that’s out.
OK, so let’s try and end with this question… If you could tell everyone who reads this to go out and do one thing after reading this, what would it be?
Pay attention to as much of the world around you as you can for one day. That means politics, art, fashion, weather, everything. Then pick a definite course of action to improve things from where they are right now. That’s vague, I know, but basic observation is a good start. I think there’s a grand world coming and we’re fortunate to live in very interesting times. But that same potential means upheaval and uncertainty. We’re going to need everyone engaged and ready to fight like hell in their own way, and taking a good look around is the best first step.
To the list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States, the Pentagon has added WikiLeaks.org, a tiny online source of information and documents that governments and corporations around the world would prefer to keep secret.
The Pentagon assessed the danger WikiLeaks.org posed to the Army in a report marked “unauthorized disclosure subject to criminal sanctions.” It concluded that “WikiLeaks.org represents a potential force protection, counterintelligence, OPSEC and INFOSEC threat to the U.S. Army” — or, in plain English, a threat to Army operations and information.
WikiLeaks, true to its mission to publish materials that expose secrets of all kinds, published the 2008 Pentagon report about itself on Monday.
Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, an Army spokesman, confirmed that the report was real. Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks, said the concerns the report raised were hypothetical.
“It did not point to anything that has actually happened as a result of the release,” Mr. Assange said. “It contains the analyst’s best guesses as to how the information could be used to harm the Army but no concrete examples of any real harm being done.”
When President Obama – in one of his first official acts – committed his new administration to an “unprecedented” level of transparency, EFF applauded the change in policy. Likewise, when Attorney General Holder, at the President’s direction, issued new guidelines liberalizing agency implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), we welcomed it as a “particularly promising development.” But we also noted that it remained to be seen whether reality would match the rhetoric as the new policy was applied, particularly in the context of pending lawsuits – several of which EFF is pursuing – that challenge Bush-era decisions to withhold requested information. […]
It is going to take more than just an open search platform to take on Google. Wikia co-founder Jimmy Wales announced today that he is shutting down Wikia Search, the company’s experiment in creating better search results through crowdsourcing. Wikia Search attempted to port the Wikipedia model over to search by allowing anybody to modify results by including new links or moving natural results up the page. The initial launch last year was awful, but the experience improved over time. Still, it never really attracted anything more than a trickle of searchers. We are placing it in the deadpool.
Of more interest is the identity of the mysterious Jerusalem21, whose courageous disregard of Wikipedia’s ban on fringe material provided WND’s Aaron Klein with his smoking gun in the first place, spawning what will soon be a national wiki-scandal.
Curiously, it turns out that Jerusalem21, whoever he or she might be, has only worked on one other Wikipedia entry since the account was created, notes ConWebWatch. That’s Aaron Klein’s entry, which Jerusalem21 created in 2006, and has edited 37 times.
Klein, who serves as WND’s Jerusalem bureau chief, did not immediate respond to an e-mail Monday.
[Wikileaks] sent an emergency fund-raising appeal on Saturday to previous donors. But instead of hiding email addresses from the recipients by using the bcc field, the sender put 58 addresses into the cc field, revealing all the addresses to all the recipients.
Someone then submitted the email as a leaked document, writing “WikiLeaks leaks it’s own donors, aww irony. BCC next time kthx.”
Wikileaks, which has been criticized for lacking discretion in deciding whether to release documents or not, published the email and the donors’ email addresses on Wednesday. The entry noted that the email was submitted “possibly to test the project’s principles of complete impartiality when dealing with whistleblowers.”
Surprising even a judge at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a lawyer for the Obama administration embraced the Bush administration’s position in the first state secrets case since Obama took power. The case involves five accused terrorist detainees who are attempting to sue a subsidiary of Boeing for arranging flights to accommodate the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program, which flew them off to be tortured by other governments.
Though it’s now well-known that the practice went on and the details even of these particular cases have been well-documented, just as it did in the horrifying case of Khalen Masri the Bush administration invoked states secrets privilege to prevent the suit from coming to trial. State secrets is a judge-made law (based entirely on a lie, by the way) allowing the executive branch to exclude evidence in a case merely by stating it would be contrary to the interests of national security to allow the evidence to be admitted. Bush administration officials claimed judges are obligated to show the president “utmost deference” on state secrets claims, provoking a federal judge in a domestic spying/wiretapping case to ask if that means “the king can do no wrong,” and that judges are supposed to “bow” before the president in such claims.
According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the state secrets privilege was invoked about 55 times from 1954 to 2001. In the first four years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush administration invoked it 23 times.
Obama has promised to review Bush’s invocation of state secrets privilege, including voicing his support for a reform bill working its way through Congress. But the case this week was his first opportunity to do something about it. He didn’t.
The Obama administration talks a lot about transparency. It’s a key element of the pitch behind the president’s stimulus bill. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” said the president last week in a typical remark. “I know that restoring transparency is not only the surest way to achieve results but also to earn back that trust in government without which we cannot deliver the changes the American people sent us here to make.” […]
But when it comes to personnel appointments like Daschle’s, the administration has fallen short of its own standard. Daschle’s and Tim Geithner’s tax troubles were first reported in the press. William J. Lynn and Mark Patterson, exceptions to Obama’s new ethics guidelines regarding lobbyists, were also discovered by the press. Because the administration failed to come forward on its own with this information, it looks as if it’s trying to hide something and creates the distractions that predictably follow. […]
Telling us about Daschle’s problems before the press did would not have wiped them away. But if the White House had revealed them first, at least it would have reduced the feeling that it was trying to hide something. In addition to whatever credit they would have gotten for acting in good faith, early disclosure would also have allowed the administration to get the first crack at defining the debate on its own terms.
Instead, it tried the old Washington wiggle. Aides had the information, didn’t release it, and then just tried to manage the fallout. This ensured a new degree of skepticism not only about the Obama team’s vetting process but about its judgment and ability to live up to its ethics and transparency standards. This rolling day-by-day set of stories distracted from the administration’s own message—Hey, look at Tom Daschle when he didn’t have a chauffer!—and created a pressure that makes it harder to deal with each new problem. This pressure is also what caused Nancy Killefer to resign before she could even take the job as administration performance officer.