18 July 2010

The Next Hope and Wikileaks are wrong about Bradley Manning

Let me preface this post with what should be some obvious acknowledgments. Before I even attended my first HOPE conference two years ago, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. My experience then and this year both confirmed it. It is no surprise that HOPE is political--more so than any other hacker conference--and the politics are hard left. While many other conferences touch on privacy and legal issues that dance into politics, these are usually issues that don't split the community in half. Indeed, in my experience there is a noticeable libertarian slant to the community at large that you'll tend to see almost anywhere. But HOPE is an entirely different ballgame. I say this not because it should be news to anyone (because it isn't), just that I want to acknowledge up front that my comments come with these ideas in mind.

While I haven't blogged about the Wikileaks situation, I have written about it on both Twitter and on the DEFCON forums. I won't rehash the whole thing here over again, but my general feeling is this: While I don't condone it, I can understand why someone would release the Collateral Murder video. Even then, Wikileaks' analysis of the video was miserably flawed. But no one could convince me that Bradley Manning even read, much less understood the context, of 260,000 diplomatic cables, and that by doing so he felt compelled to release them.

What I'm saying is that if you want to call him a whistleblower for releasing the video, go ahead; I would disagree with you, but I can understand your point of view. With respect to the diplomatic cables, on the other hand, you cannot be a whistleblower if you do not know the content or context of the material you're releasing. It defies logic.

On Saturday night at The Next HOPE, Jacob Appelbaum spoke on behalf of Julian Assange and Wikileaks. That Assange didn't show was not a surprise with rumors that federal authorities are seeking to speak with him. That being said, many attendees were understandably disappointed that he couldn't pre-record, or Skype in to the conference. Either way, the show went on with Appelbaum and without Assange.

Eric Corley (Emmanuel Goldstein) "introduced" Julian Assange and gave a very brief background of the Wikileaks situation. He also claimed that Bradley Manning was a "national hero."

Now before I go any further let me speak a bit about Jacob Appelbaum. We met at a conference in Poland last year and we spoke at length about a variety of political issues. We're on opposite sides of the political spectrum and I understand that. That being said, he has done a lot of great work on behalf of Tor and other projects. I'm not judging his politics here, and I don't want this to come across as disparaging in a personal way because it's not meant that way.

Jacob appeared on stage wearing a hood and lifted it off his head. He then proceeded to explain that his pockets were more or less empty, and that there was no reason to arrest him. A little bit of unnecessary drama. Really. Is there anyone that truly believes that Jacob was ever in any danger of being arrested?

Within a few minutes of the beginning of his talk, a steady stream of people were walking out by this point (I'll be the first to admit I was among them; I followed the rest via Twitter and by downloading the audio).

During the speech I made the following observation on Twitter:
It is interesting that among all the @wikileaks drama and threats, @6 [Adrian Lamo] showed up at #thenexthope and Assange didn't
Now this was a little bit of button-pushing, but also an interesting observation. I was not trying to make a direct comparison of their respective situations, as I recognize that this is apples vs. oranges. I got a few replies like this but also nearly a dozen retweets. I think a few people understood the observation I was making.

I won't go into a number of the leaks he documented, or the political viewpoints he discussed, because that's not what this post is about. But I do have a few points I want to make.

Transparency

Jacob quotes Julian as saying that Wikileaks is about transparency. Can we assume then that they'll continue to regularly update and publish their list of donors? I give them credit for publishing the leak of their own donors, but why does it have to be leaked? If you want transparency, then practice it yourself.

Jacob asked for $200,000 in donations for Bradley Manning's legal fund. Will Wikileaks practice transparency by releasing the names of donors to the legal fund?

"Forget about him"

Appelbaum didn't call out Adrian Lamo by name, but made a clear reference to him as "a person who has no name in this community anymore." Since the audience failed to applaud at the appropriate time, Appelbaum had to goad them along. "Do I have agreement on this?" to applause, of course. And then again, "with a little sincerity." Oh man, this really is some good shit. He finished by claiming that Lamo "doesn't exist." To "forget about him." Ah, the love.

What ever happened to tolerance? Well, I guess tolerance doesn't go that far. Appelbaum is trying to excommunicate Lamo from the community because of this situation. But apparently it's not good enough to state your disagreements and move on, you have to literally claim the person "doesn't exist". This is childish and counterproductive and flies in the face of tolerance. I expect more from someone like Jacob.

Interestingly enough, Adrian Lamo was at the speech, and was present for much of the weekend. He appeared to be in casual conversation with a number of people. He also appeared on the informant panel on Sunday (which I missed, but am trying to get the audio). I didn't really see much hostility toward him (other than the "Wanted" poster), so I'm not sure how well the desire to "forget about him" worked. Oh yeah, a few "stop snitching" shirts and buttons (I'll have more on this in a later post) and one speaker who felt necessary to include a disparaging comment about Lamo on virtually every slide of his presentation. Stay classy, my friends.

More drama

He then showed the Collateral Murder video, suggested that he would return afterwards, and while it was playing, slipped out the back door while someone similarly dressed walked out the front. Really? More over the top and completely unnecessary drama. No doubt the crowd loves it.

But what about those diplomatic cables?

Jacob talked about the charges against Manning and specifically the video. More interestingly, Appelbaum didn't mention the diplomatic cables. Why not? Perhaps because leaking the cables is indefensible. As I stated before with respect to the cables, you cannot be a whistleblower if you do not know the content or context of the material you're releasing. Surely, Manning may have read some of them, but unless he read them all, you lose any claim to being a whistleblower. It defies both common sense and logic.

Combat and Rules of Engagement

In regards to both the Collateral Murder video (with "subtitles") and Appelbaum's comments about combat situations and the rules of engagement, it is pretty clear to me that they have never been in these types of situations. Jacob mentions casually that the rules of engagement permit soldiers to fire into the engine block of a vehicle which could also potentially kill the driver. Ok. But this is entirely out of context without describing the steps of escalation that occur before someone would even consider pulling the trigger. Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that Wikileaks or Appelbaum don't have the right to comment on them, as they clearly do. And I'm not justify any specific action. But their comments have to be taken with some degree of caution.

Finally...

Look, I get that Eric Corley and the 2600 crowd enjoy controversy, and it was clear from the beginning that they wouldn't let this one pass. I get that Julian Assange is "wanted." I read that federal agents showed up looking for him. That's understandably dramatic. But it was clear weeks ago that Assange wasn't going to show up. The drama surrounding this talk in particularly was almost entirely artificial and totally over the top.

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