Pentagon investigators are trying to determine the whereabouts of the Australian-born founder of the secretive website Wikileaks for fear that he may be about to publish a huge cache of classified State Department cables that, if made public, could do serious damage to national security, government officials tell The Daily Beast.
The officials acknowledge that even if they found the website founder, Julian Assange, it is not clear what they could do to block publication of the cables on Wikileaks, which is nominally based on a server in Sweden and bills itself as a champion of whistleblowers.
The Daily Beast also interviewed Pentagon papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, who says that national security probably isn’t in danger, but Assange probably is:
The Daily Beast: Could the release of the diplomatic cables said to be in the possession of Wikileaks endanger national security?
Daniel Ellsberg: Any serious risk to that national security is extremely low. There may be 260,000 diplomatic cables. It’s very hard to think of any of that which could be plausibly described as a national security risk. Will it embarrass diplomatic relationships? Sure, very likely—all to the good of our democratic functioning. The embarrassment would be our awareness that we are supporting and facilitating dictators and corrupt and murderous governments, and we are quite aware of their nature.
An example would be surrounding a visit of Hamid Karzai to this country…where he is given a special audience with the president. We know that privately he is seen realistically. We know that because of the leak, which I think started out of this investigation. We know that because of the leak from Ambassador Eikenberry. He describes him as irredeemably corrupt, not an appropriate partner for a pacification program, and cannot change.
They would regard this as very embarrassing, [since publicly they’ve been] saying, he is a perfectly suitable partner for pacification, working on corruption…Ha ha….Bullshit.
Do you think Assange is in danger?
I happen to have been the target of a White House hit squad myself. On May 3, 1972, a dozen CIA assets from the Bay of Pigs, Cuban émigrés were brought up from Miami with orders to “incapacitate me totally.” I said to the prosecutor, “What does that mean? Kill me.” He said, “It means to incapacitate you totally. But you have to understand these guys never use the word ‘kill.’”
I’ve read, but can’t confirm since I don’t have it running on my computer now, that an entire backup of Wikileaks is available on Freenet. (More info on Freenet: here)
Whistle-blowing website Wikileaks has said that the detention of an alleged confidential source by the US military does not compromise its work.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told BBC News that other potential whistle-blowers should not be put off from sending material to the site.
The US has detained US military analyst Bradley Manning on suspicion of leaking classified material to the site.
Mr Assange would not confirm whether Mr Manning was a source.
“We endeavour to protect our sources,” he told BBC News. “We do not know if Mr Manning is a source, but we understand there are allegations that are being taken seriously so we are naturally inclined to try to defend [him].”
Federal officials have arrested an Army intelligence analyst who boasted of giving classified U.S. combat video and hundreds of thousands of classified State Department records to whistleblower site Wikileaks, Wired.com has learned.
SPC Bradley Manning, 22, of Potomac, Maryland, was stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer, 40 miles east of Baghdad, where he was arrested nearly two weeks ago by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. A family member says he’s being held in custody in Kuwait, and has not been formally charged.
Manning was turned in late last month by a former computer hacker with whom he spoke online. In the course of their chats, Manning took credit for leaking a headline-making video of a helicopter attack that Wikileaks posted online in April. The video showed a deadly 2007 U.S. helicopter air strike in Baghdad that claimed the lives of several innocent civilians.
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.
The Report also cites the “fall of the Dutch Government over its troop commitment to Afghanistan” and worries that — particularly if the “bloody summer in Afghanistan” that many predict takes place — what happened to the Dutch will spread as a result of the “fragility of European support” for the war. As the truly creepy Report title puts it, the CIA’s concern is: “Why Counting on Apathy May Not Be Enough” […]
The Report seeks to provide a back-up plan for “counting on apathy,” and provides ways that the U.S. Government can manipulate public opinion in these foreign countries. It explains that French sympathy for Afghan refugees means that exploiting Afghan women as pro-war messengers would be effective, while Germans would be more vulnerable to a fear-mongering campaign (failure in Afghanistan means the Terrorists will get you). The Report highlights the unique ability of Barack Obama to sell war to European populations. […]
It’s both interesting and revealing that the CIA sees Obama as a valuable asset in putting a pretty face on our wars in the eyes of foreign populations. It is odious — though, of course, completely unsurprising — that the CIA plots ways to manipulate public opinion in foreign countries in order to sustain support for our wars. […]
All of this has made WikiLeaks an increasingly hated target of numerous government and economic elites around the world, including the U.S. Government. As The New York Times put it last week: “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.” In 2008, the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center prepared a secret report — obtained and posted by WikiLeaks — devoted to this website and detailing, in a section entitled “Is it Free Speech or Illegal Speech?”, ways it would seek to destroy the organization. It discusses the possibility that, for some governments, not merely contributing to WikiLeaks, but “even accessing the website itself is a crime,” and outlines its proposal for WikiLeaks’ destruction as follows:
One idea someone on Slashdot came up with is using Freenet to submit stories to Wikileaks, which could be then be mirrored on the regular web, helping insure the security and anonymity of contributors and assuring the availability of the information.
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.”
Shortly after 9pm on Tuesday the 24th of March 2009, seven police officers in Dresden and four in Jena searched the homes of Theodor Reppe, who holds the domain registration for “wikileaks.de”, the German name for wikileaks.org. According to police documentation, the reason for the search was “distribution of pornographic material” and “discovery of evidence”. Police claim the raid was initiated due to Mr. Reppe’s position as the Wikileaks.de domain owner.
Police did not want to give any further information to Mr. Reppe and no contact was made with Wikileaks before or after the search. It is therefore not totally clear why the search was made, however Wikileaks, in its role as a defender of press freedoms, has published censorship lists for Australia, Thailand, Denmark and other countries. Included on the lists are references to sites containing pornography and no other material has been released by Wikileaks relating to the subject. […]
The raid appears to be related to a recent German social hysteria around child pornography and the controversial battle for a national censorship system by the German family minister Ursula von der Leyen. It comes just a few weeks after a member of parliament, SPD minister Joerg Tauss had his office and private house searched by police. German bloggers discussing the subject were similarly raided.