Thursday, July 28, 2011

OpPayPal: Hacktivists Launch New, Legal Attack on PayPal

Below is my article atWikiLeaks Central yesterday. A follow-up article has been posted there today.

A second wave of online protests has been launched againt PayPal, the Internet payment company whose December 2010 blocking of WikiLeaks donations provoked angry Denial Of Service (DDOS) attacks on their site. The latest protest, code-named #OpPayPal, was launched by AntiSec hacktivists, headed by Anonymous and Lulzsec, in response to recent FBI arrests of people allegedly involved in the earlier protest.

Statements posted by LulzSec and Anonymous encouraged PayPal users to close their accounts and condemned "the FBI's willingness to arrest and threaten those who are involved in ethical, modern cyber operations." The arrested individuals included a minor whose name could not be released in court, and Mercedes Renee Haefer, a 20 year old journalism student who now faces up to 15 years in prison and a maximum $500K fine.

Haefer's lawyer, Stanley L. Cohen of New York, told the media: "In the 18th century, people stood on street corners handing out pamphlets saying, 'Beware the all-powerful military and big government'. Some people listened. Some people walked away. Today, pamphleteers use the Internet."

"What the FBI needs to learn is that there is a vast difference between adding one’s voice to a chorus and digital sit-in with Low Orbit Ion Cannon, and controlling a large botnet of infected computers." said the Anonymous statement. "And yet both of these are punishable with exactly the same fine and sentence." As one protester stated: "A rapist gets 11 years. A minor hacking Paypal gets 15. Close your Paypal now."

The latest protest seems deliberately designed to maximize damage on PayPal (and their parent company Ebay) without breaking any laws, although LulzSec ominously warned: "Wise little LulzLizards should withdraw their funds from PayPal before we do."

Anonymous declared this "a historical activist movement" and noted that "PayPal continues to withhold funds from WikiLeaks, a beacon of truth in these dark times." The official @WikiLeaks Twitter account strongly endorsed the #OpPayPal protests. As many protesters have noted, you can still donate to organisations like the Klu Klux Klan on PayPal, but not to WikiLeaks.

PayPal originally claimed that it was blocking WikiLeaks donations due to illegal activity in contravention of its "Acceptable Use Policy". But WikiLeaks still has not been charged with any illegal activity and even vocal US opponents have conceded that WikiLeaks is protected by First Amendment laws just like other media and publishing companies.

Within hours of the protest's beginning, #OpPayPal was already globally trending in third place on Twitter. An Anonymous tweet claimed over 20,000 PayPal users had already closed their accounts, while others complained that they were confronted by blank screens when trying to close accounts. @AnonymousIRC mused: "According to Twitter trends, this is the most successful operation ever done. Let's see what eBay stock says in 90 minutes."

The answer was soon apparent. Minutes after the NYSE opened, Ebay stock plummeted nearly 2.5% - see Nasdaq:EBAY for latest figures. Within an hour, even the BBC had picked up the story.

In a statement, PayPal told BBC News: "As we state in our privacy policy, PayPal works with law enforcement or government officials if we receive a subpoena or court order; if we need to do so to comply with law; or if we believe in good faith that illegal activity has occurred."

Analysts are already calling this a major departure into legal direct action for Anonymous, LulzSec and AntiSec. There are countless Anonymous supporters on Internet forums, while the official @LulzBoat account has over 346,000 followers on Twitter. The hacktivists seem to have realized that they have strength in numbers, even without resorting to illegal hacking. A peaceful, legal protest like this also draws in many thousand of other sympathetic WikiLeaks supporters, who might otherwise hesitate to get involved.

As Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote after the British Government's massacre at Peterloo, Manchester in 1819:

'Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.'

See the follow-up article here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Framing The Narrative: Murdoch v. Assange

I should be doing something else right now. As my wife frequently reminds me, I don't get paid to write about WikiLeaks. And that is exactly the problem.

Rupert Murdoch employs thousands and thousands of people, many of them on excellent salaries. His empire includes movie studios, book publishers, and other avenues to public perception. He has a backdoor entry pass to the UK PM's office, dictates US political discussion on a daily basis, and holds politicians around the world in thrall. Meanwhile, wealthy advertisers queue up to give him money in exchange for favourable reporting (or non-reporting) of their business interests.

In Murdoch's empire, talking points from above dictate the news delivered to the masses. Yet Rupert's writers need only scan the front pages to discern how best to please their boss and get prominently featured. It's a culture of corruption, as countless recent articles have documented, designed to maximise profits and political power.

But the media landscape is changing. Why should we ordinary citizens of the world keep paying for news, when we can get it online for free? But then, if media organisations are not making a profit, how can they afford to keep supplying news for free? This remains the great unresolved Catch-22 of the C21st Fourth Estate.

News Corporation is planning more firewalls to protect media content, despite the previous failure of such models at organisations like the New York Times. The UK Independent newspaper is now running an online survey asking readers to tell them how the paper can deal with the shifting media paradigm. The Economist prominently features an on-going debate on the subject.

Meanwhile, I suspect The Guardian's apparent anti-WikiLeaks crusade may be motivated by a desire to "own the space" that WikiLeaks has staked out (namely, the safest place to publish leaks in this new globalized, digital world). Yes, all the big media organisations are scared, even Murdoch's dreaded nemeses at The Guardian.

The sad fact is this: there's just not much money to be made from telling the truth these days. Not when clever lies, well concealed, can lead to far greater profits. Not when the news is available to everybody for free on the Internet, and most people would rather go on Facebook anyway, or watch porn instead. And especially not when you have to compete against media conglomerates and political parties heavily subsidised by Big Business. Nearly all independent online media ventures, like their big media competitors, are struggling to turn even a tiny profit.

The most obvious alternative funding model is state-owned media (sshh, don't scare US readers). But unfortunately, Big Business lobbyists are buying up our governments too. Even in relatively free democracies such as Britain and Australia, state-controlled media outlets like the BBC and ABC have been castrated, politicized, under-funded, and pulled into line.

And so, as the hypocritical Murdoch empire most elegantly exemplifies, we have reached a point where Big Business can effectively control both the policies of our politicians and the content of our media. What, then, is left to us? The Internet remains the final bastion of freedom, as many people realise. But now the Top One Percenters are seeking to control that as well.

And this is the real narrative in the contrived battle between Julian Assange and Rupert Murdoch. Whatever Murdoch's sad minions might suggest, it is not a battle between News Corporation and its more established, reputable (and *supposedly* WikiLeaks-loving) competitors. It is in fact a full-scale Information War between wealthy elites and ordinary citizens, as informed WikiLeaks supporters around the globe understand.

Murdoch outlets have tried to frame the narrative as an historic confrontation between Rupert's supporters (never mind the News Of The World scandal, people, we've already moved on) and his competitors. They are utilising their own negative stereotyping of WikiLeaks to support the ridiculous conceit that competitors have somehow broken US laws by publishing government secrets. Effectively, they suggest that WikiLeaks has co-opted the competition into criminalising Murdoch. Or something.

The ironic truth is that it is not Julian Assange (under house arrest, financially embargoed, facing extradition or execution) but Rupert Murdoch (freshly flown home from London but set to lose control of News Corporation) who is really scared. The ageing Zionist's fear is betrayed by the mindlessly irrational nature of his paid hacks' and wannabes' attacks on WikiLeaks and anyone else who dares even try to hold him to account.

No doubt Murdoch's political and commercial partners are also scared that WikiLeaks will expose their corrupt business practices. And surely they realise that destroying WikiLeaks is just the beginning. Throw Julian Assange into a Guantanamo Bay cell and others will rise to take his place. In this day and age, the only way they can fully manage people's access to information is to seize total control of the Internet.

So it's no surprise they are whipping up anti-WikiLeaks and anti-hacking hysteria in order to justify ever more Orwellian laws. And that's the real story here.

A recent hit-piece in Murdoch's reviled "The Australian" newspaper brings together the amalgamation of business, political and media agendas. The Big Business partnership with government now masquerades behind buzzwords like "privacy" and "security", so who better to write an attack on WikiLeaks than the co-author of a book on Privacy Law. Especially if he has publicly subscribed to the Murdoch-sponsored notion that torture is "a moral means of saving lives".

Meanwhile, we WikiLeaks supporters continue to trust that Truth itself has an enduring value, and that exposing the misdeeds of the world's most powerful elites will lead us all to a more free, fair, and equitable future. After all, there's got to be more to life than money, right?

PS: If anyone wants to offer me a lucrative writing contract, my wife would be very thankful. But more importantly, readers with the wherewithal should consider supporting WikiLeaks and other organisations who continue to fight, against ever-growing odds, for truth, peace and justice.

Friday, July 15, 2011

How Wired Magazine Helped The US Government Try To Frame Julian Assange (And Failed)

We've learned a few important things from the full transcripts of Bradley Manning's online chats with Adrian Lamo. Glenn Greenwald has already focussed on how with-holding the full transcripts has damaged the reputations of Manning, Assange and WikiLeaks. But it's worth examining in more detail exactly how Wired's subterfuge has affected Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in particular.

Firstly, and most importantly, it's now clear that Julian Assange did NOT know if Bradley Manning was the source who leaked the US cables to WikiLeaks. Manning tells Lamo that Assange “knows little about me” and “he takes source-protections uber-seriously.” Furthermore, he says, Assange "won’t work with you if you reveal too much about yourself.” Assange even (allegedly) instructs Manning to lie about his identity!

This blows apart the US government's protracted efforts to suggest that Assange actively enticed Manning to hand over the cables, and thereby charge the Australian with criminal activity. In fact, it was only through his own protracted sleuth work that Manning even confirmed in his own mind who HE was talking to: "it took me four months to confirm that the person i was communicating [with] was in fact assange".

Why would Wired with-hold this critically important information, unless they were actively co-operating with US agents trying to fabricate charges against Assange? Given that Lamo had notified authorities of Manning's alleged actions while still continuing to chat with him, it's logical to assume the Feds would have wanted to censor any published details. Wired appears to have willingly complied, without informing readers.

The full transcripts also destroy whatever shreds remain of Adrian Lamo's tattered reputation. The ex-hacker - who has been described as "the FBI's star witness against WikiLeaks" - appears to have deliberately deceived Manning from the beginning, then lied repeatedly to have the public believe that he didn't. He claimed to be both a journalist and a minister, repeatedly assuring Manning that their conversations were "never to be published". Why would Wired redact these portions of the transcripts, expect to maintain the illusion that Lamo is a credible source?

In fact, Lamo comes across as a sociopath. His callous disregard for Manning's fraught emotional state is evident throughout the transcripts, as is his interest in Assange. Lamo repeatedly asks about Assange, and how he can get in contact with him. He even offers to work for WikiLeaks. At one stage Manning pours his heart out while Lamo goes away to have a cigarette break. When he gets back, Lamo presses Manning for more details of confidential data and Manning snaps: "im not a source for you… im talking to you as someone who needs moral and emotional fucking support".

Ironically, it seems Manning only reached out to Lamo after reading a Wired article about Lamo's own experiences as a sexually confused, frequently homeless, drug-addicted "child prodigy" hacker with Aspergers Syndrome. He really couldn't have picked a worse target. Towards the end of the chat logs, when Lamo has already snitched on his "friend", he asks Manning if he is a "leftist" or a "centrist". Manning rebuffs such political pigeon-holing.

"I’m a fan of of realpolitik myself," boasts Lamo.

Realpolitik is the favoured politics of Kissinger and the neo-conservatives, where moral principles do not apply and the end always justifies the means. I wonder what the USA's favourite dictators in the Middle East think of such ideology nowadays?

Wired Editor-In-Chief Evan Hansen seems a bit more conflicted, writing a Huffington Post article titled: "Is Bradley Manning a Traitor or a Hero?" Evans plays Pontius Pilate, wringing his hands over the "divisive national debate about the role and legitimacy of whistleblowers" while claiming that Wired only held back details of the chat logs "out of respect for Manning's privacy". The facts suggest otherwise.

Why can't Hansen just admit that he considers Manning a dangerous traitor, that he happily helped sell him out, and that he protected Lamo on instructions from the government? It seems neither Hansen nor Lamo have any real moral compass. They take their orders from authority and cling to "patriotic" cliches for justification. While innocent lives are destroyed, Hansen and Lamo are left swinging in the breeze, unable to justify their own actions, unwilling to repent them.

Meanwhile Tim Webster, the US Army Counterintelligence agent who first talked Lamo into working with the feds, is doing a good Jack Nicholson "Code Red" impersonation in the Wired comments:

"Manning is a traitor. You and others like you can cry and moan and wring your hands and pace back and forth while braying the words "hero" and "duty" and "patriotism" all you want -- words which you and your ilk know nothing about -- but rest assured that Manning will get precisely what he deserves (that is, almost: apparently death is off the table)."

I'm sure Webster is a big fan of Wired magazine. More discerning readers should by now be cancelling their subscriptions.

UPDATE: Amended para 2 per comments below: thanks for your input guys. JA's ALLEGED instructions about not revealing source's identity clearly demonstrate just how carefully he designed the WikiLeaks platform.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Look Who's Lining Up To Whack Wikileaks!

Next time you see a negative media report on Julian Assange or Wikileaks, have a think about who is writing it, and why. Behind every character-assassinating "newsy" hit-piece you will discover a writer or a publisher (usually both) with an agenda. And you don't have to look too far to find it.

I was reminded of this after I complained about a particularly nasty article on a Hollywood news site. The author couldn't seem to distinguish Wikileaks' legal activities from illegal hacking by groups like Anonymous and LulzSec. Worse yet, he insisted that Assange and all these hackers were terrorists on a par with Al Qaeda and deserved to be punished accordingly. A little investigation revealed that the writer was heavily involved in the Blu Ray DVD industry - to him, and to Hollywood in general, pirate hackers represent a serious threat to profitability. What's Wikileaks got to do with that? Well, who cares? Just get your hands off our Intellectual Property!

You might expect a more level-headed approach from former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, a last-minute replacement on a recent Wikileaks public forum. Evans said he was against attempts to “persecute or prosecute” Assange, but nevertheless labelled him an “anarchically-minded autocrat”. He calmly argued that leaks of secret government information “won’t contribute to better government” but would “inhibit internal communication within government” and lead to worse government decision-making.

Evans then wrote an article expounding his views in more detail. He neatly categorised leaks into three categories. While conceding that some leaks genuinely serve the public interest (never mind how or by whom that is defined), he warned that "some leaks are indefensible".

"This category includes leaks that put intelligence sources or other individuals at physical risk ... It also includes leaks that genuinely prejudice intelligence methods and military operational effectiveness; expose exploratory positions in peace negotiations (invariably helping only spoilers); or disclose bottom lines in trade talks."

Now, never mind that even the US government admits Wikileaks revelations have never led to a single casualty. Let's consider Evans' definition of "military operational effectiveness". Did the Afghan War Logs, including the Collateral Damage video, prejudice "operational effectiveness"? Well, um, what exactly IS the operation in Afghanistan anyway? After 10 years and countless deaths, the general public still have no idea. But it obviously hasn't been very "effective", and that's hardly Wikileaks' fault.

Or what about "peace negotiations"? Was it a bad thing when the Palestine Papers revealed that the US-backed Palestinian Authority had offered just about every possible concession to Israel, only to be knocked back? Is it against the public interest to reveal that the Saudi king wanted the USA to bomb Iran? Or what about disclosing the "bottom lines in trade talks"? Which side decides what is in whose best interest?

To gain some insight, perhaps we should consider Gareth Evans' own history with regard to military operational effectiveness, peace negotiations, and trade talks. From his Wikipedia entry:

"In 1991, during a political storm over Indonesian military violence in East Timor, in his capacity as Australia's foreign minister, Evans defended the Indonesian military junta's actions by describing the Dili massacre as 'an aberration, not an act of state policy'. This was despite growing evidence (both within Australian intelligence and the international media) of increasingly violent Indonesian military efforts to protect and extend their business interests in East Timor — interests that included coffee plantations, marble mines and large oil contracts — by utilising starvation, napalm, torture and death camps. Oil contracts that Evans himself had co-signed with the Indonesian military junta that enabled Australian companies to share with the Suharto family in what would later be established as clearly East Timor's oil.

"This connection was highlighted during an extensively publicised video recorded in a private jet over the Timor Sea. Senator Evans, replete with champagne, offered an astonishingly naive toast, characterising the Timor Sea oil contract as "... uniquely unique". Later, in a coincidental occurrence, when carriers of a secretly-filmed video exposing the Dili massacre arrived in Australia, they were inexplicably strip-searched by customs officials."


Obviously, the man has a history of dramas with leaks. But despite such clearly incriminating evidence against his own character, Gareth Evans concludes that "it simply cannot be left to the judgement of WikiLeaks and media outlets to make the necessary calls without consulting relevant officials." M'kay?

SEE HERE FOR MORE

But Mr Evans, the first Australian senator to drop an F-bomb in the Senate, reserves his strongest criticism for a third category of leaks: scurrilous leaks of personal information which serve no public interest whatsoever. One can only wonder how the former Labor Party senator would categorize his own extra-marital affair with former Democrats leader Cheryl Kernot, which was leaked to the press in 2002. Kernot's 1997 defection to the Labor Party had by then led to the collapse of the Democrats, who were once the only serious challenger to the two main parties.

At least Evans was polite in his criticism of Wikileaks and Assange. Gushing over her colleagues' brilliance at the Aspen Ideas Festival, The Atlantic's Jennie Rothenberg Gritz (a senior editor) took a far more personal approach:

"The panelists at the festival's WikiLeaks discussion seemed to agree on one thing: Julian Assange is creepy. As Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain quipped, the only thing the pale, nihilistic Assange needs to be a James Bond villain is a hairless cat.

Lest there be any doubt, the second para confirms that "the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief is the villain in this story". So who are the heroes? One is The Atlantic's national correspondent James Fallows, who bizarrely insists that Wikileaks has made traditional media like the New York Times look better than ever. The other is fellow Atlantic writer Zittrain, who just as bizarrely claims that Bradley Manning's leak of several thousand classified diplomatic cables shows just how fantastically well the US government's network security functions.

"Talk about a glass 999,999 one-millionths full," he drools, "rather than one one-millionth empty."

So what is the "Aspen Ideas Festival" anyway? Politico.com calls it "DC's Summer Camp". Salon.com's Alex Pareene describes it as one of The Atlantic's "little parties for America's ruling elite" - a much better way to make money than "producing a magazine full of good journalism."

"The best thing the organizers could do to solve America's most pressing problems would probably be to encase the city of Aspen in an impenetrable dome on the last day of the festival, trapping all participants and attendees inside, forever."

Of course all this is nothing new. Politicians and the establishment media have been taking pot-shots at Assange and Wikileaks ever since they arrived on the scene. Glenn Greenwald wrote a brilliant expose in December 2010 and things have only gotten worse since then.

But right now, with Assange facing extradition to Sweden, and with a farcically extra-judicial "Grand Jury" seeking to haul his ass to the USA, we should expect even more ruthless mainstream media attacks. So please, before you drink the Kool-Aid, take a good look at who's selling it.

PS: Thanks to Christine Thie (@cthie on Twitter) for inspiring this article. My apologies for losing the link to the original Hollywood Inquirer article - maybe it's for the best! ;-)