Julian Assange, founder, editor, and publisher of WikiLeaks, has a book to sell: When Google Met Wikileaks, and unlike juicy leaks, hardcovers don’t sell themselves. Consequently today he hit the interwebs and he hit them hard.
First he did a Question and Answer session at Gawker which I will never live down missing entirely due to no internet, and then he did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything).
Ironically, one Redditor found to his consternation that asking anything wasn’t really allowed: when he asked about censorship on Reddit, users found he was shadowbanned by the site admins. In fact, an admin admitted that he was banned before his comment was even approved. Reddit admins clarified, “That user has actually been banned for a while but the moderators specifically approved the post so it would be visible.”
Which is whack.
The Reddit AMA had between 4000-7500 people on the page while it occurred and got 835 comments, while the Gawker post has had 17,500 reads and counting, and 247 comments.
While we (and certainly Assange) certainly advocate reading the original source material, we also believe that if Assange can turn a couple of conversations into a pair of books we can turn a couple of internet Q & A’s into a blog post. So here is your Julian Assange Blog Post Sausage. Black text is Reddit, dark green is Gawker.
First up in newsiness, just exactly how WikiLeaks saw itself through the Banking Blockade which cost it millions, when Paypal, Mastercard, Visa, and Amazon confiscated its funds.
There’s lots on Bitcoin in my book – on my thoughts on it, and on WikiLeaks’ history with it. Eric Schmidt and I conversed for a while about it, and I also included a lot of notes to expand on my views. It’s a fascinating and complex subject, so I can’t possibly go through all of it. But here’s footnote 23 as a teaser:
On 5 December 2010, just after VISA, MasterCard, PayPal, Amazon, and other financial companies started denying service to WikiLeaks, a debate broke out on the official web forum for Bitcoin about the risk that donations to WikiLeaks using Bitcoin could provoke unwanted government interest in the then nascent crypto-currency. “Basically, bring it on,” wrote one poster. “Satoshi Nakamoto,” the pseudonymous inventor of Bitcoin, responded: “No, don’t ‘bring it on.’ The project needs to grow gradually so the software can be strengthened along the way. I make this appeal to WikiLeaks not to try to use Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy. You would not stand to get more than pocket change, and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage.” See the post on the Bitcoin Forum: archive.today/Gvonb#msg26999. Six days later, on 12 December 2010, Satoshi famously vanished from the Bitcoin community, but not before posting this message: “It would have been nice to get this attention in any other context. WikiLeaks has kicked the hornet’s nest, and the swarm is headed towards us.” See the post on the Bitcoin Forum: archive.today/XuHCD#selection-1803.0-1802.1. WikiLeaks read and agreed with Satoshi’s analysis, and decided to put off the launch of a Bitcoin donation channel until the currency had become more established. WikiLeaks’ Bitcoin donation address was launched after the currency’s first major boom, on 14 June 2011.
And here’s footnote 185:
On the day of the conversation [with Eric Schmidt], Bitcoin had risen above the US dollar and reached price parity with the Euro. By early 2014 it had risen to over $1,000, before falling to $430 as other Bitcoin-derived competing crypto-currencies started to take off. WikiLeaks’ strategic investments in the currency saw more than 8,000 percent return in three years, seeing us through the extralegal US banking blockade.
On the credibility of news sources.
Form follows funding (and cultural bias). All news sources other than archives like https://search.wikileaks.org/ have an intent to influence the audience. The key is to understand the bias and then try and cancel it with a bias working in the opposite direction.
It is an interesting experience having a $60m attack on your reputation distributed by Disney. It even had a scene in it showing us helping the Iranians explode a nuke until we leaked the script and attacked the producers. The audience could see it was not well intentioned and turned against it. https://wikileaks.org/The-Fifth-Estate.html
Some of my friends went to see the film, and this was their reaction:
We also released our own movie, Mediastan, to compete with the launch of the film. It did well! http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/wikileaks-sabotages-fifth-estate-own-649685
Russia threatened you, and you choked instead of publishing RussiaLeaks. Then you got a tv show with them. And sent them Snowden. Even though they have massive human rights abuses. Well?
This is the usual attempt to attack the messager because the message is indisputable. The approach would already be invalid at that level, but it is also strictly false. Many things you may perceive to be true about an individual or a nation are helpful rhetorical positions that spread around through one group or another like a virus. In the end the collection of these thought-viruses, or memes, reflects the psychological and political contours of the group in which it inhabits. We have published more than 600,000 documents relating to Russia. The US stranded him in Russia by cancelling his passport. The US State Department just keeps kicking own goals. It is not my fault, or Edward Snowden’s fault that they’re so incompetent.
What have you done lately?
Please see today’s “Spy Files 4” [ https://wikileaks.org/spyfiles4/ ] In the past year, we have published a lot of material including the big open shots for the TPP and TISA and several hundred thousands cables. We’re now upto more than 2 million.Also, see our release of an Australian superinjunction on reporting on an anti-corruption case involving Australia, involving Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. You can now search more than 8 million of our publications at once using WikiLeaks search: https://search.wikileaks.org/
What about the rapes? Wouldn’t WikiLeaks be better off without you?
Kudos to Assange for taking a simple “How’s your health” and turning it around to set it in a geopolitical context.
Never better, still very bad though. It’s interesting being in a position where your health is of interest to diplomats and spies. We’ve discovered a lot of examples of this; for example our materials contain many references to US embassies illicitly collecting health information not just on presidents and foreign ministers, but also, high profile prisoners, including at the ICC, where the prison governor was corrupted to spy on the defense case in all respects.
Do you feel like some sort of lab rat, like the Biosphere participants mimicking a flight to Mars in an enclosed environment?
Scientific trip to Mars with a lot ($12m over two years) targeted government surveillance and a lot of cops. What do I miss? The same as what those sci-fi writers have been speaking about since the 1950s. My family and a few blades of grass. [See http://govwaste.co.uk]
What’s the last work of fiction you read?
On Google making what amounts to a “state visit” to Greece, and the influence huge multinational corporations can exert over small, financially vulnerable nations.
Your recognition of that visit and what it means is exactly what I was hoping for–simply that people see Google for what it is and when its representatives turn up in Greece or elsewhere they are not falsely perceived to be kindly wizards with hats stuffed with cash but rather understood in the same way that, say, an information pied piper from SAIC might be.
It’s been suggested that conscious or unconscious bias in Google could change the results of elections. What are your thoughts?
Yes, it is a real possibility. There are also examples of Google abusing this kind of power in my book, for e.g.; “In Autumn 2013 the Obama administration was trying to drum up support for US airstrikes against Syria. Despite setbacks, the administration continued to press for military action well into September with speeches and public announcements by both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. On September 10, Google lent its front page—the most popular on the internet—to the war effort, inserting a line below the search box reading “Live! Secretary Kerry answers questions on Syria. Today via Hangout at 2pm ET.””
An archive snapshot of the page can be found at archive.today/Q6uq8.
Is the use of force against enemies like ISIS justified?
Firstly, people who argue that ISIS poses a threat to our democracies are out to lunch. ISIS is an ugly phenomenon, but it’s largely the consequence of one blunder after another by the US and its allies in the region, who shouldn’t have been meddling there in the first place. If ISIS poses a threat to anyone, it is to countries in the region, and they are the appropriate parties to address it. If the US and its allies want to reduce “terror” in the region – as Noam Chomsky says – they need to stop participating in it.
The US and the UK, etc, have no business in the region, so the idea that they need to gather intelligence there is wrong, never mind the idea that they need to do it through mass surveillance, as opposed to targeted surveillance. Remember, mass surveillance means targeting everyone, not just the people who are identified as a threat. Mass surveillance provides little advantage against something like ISIS. They can be surveilled through normal targeted surveillence methods, without the need to scoop up every innocent person’s communications with it. And ISIS likely has accomplished opsec and infosec, so, again, mass surveillance disproportionately affects innocents, and provides little advantage.
In the meantime, a real threat to democracies is the erosion of civil liberties that is brought about by mass surveillance.
We’re taking this particular Q&A verbatim, for obvious reasons:
What can governments do to “repent” from their actions over the last few years?
The first thing they can do is place a moratorium on mass surveillance. The mass surveillance of significant portions of the world’s population is an ongoing violation of rights on a mass scale. Putting an end to it – pending a full investigation into who was responsible, and who gave the orders – would be a good first step. Official channels for releasing documents exist: FOI laws, for instance, and declassification laws. I would support making these stronger and more transparent, of course. But they cannot supplant the function that a free press plays: the safety valve of secret institutions.
Is there a single country or current political model that seems right to you?
No, but there’s many countries doing interesting things in certain areas. There seems to be a self-determination demographic sweet point. Big enough to not be dominated by others, small enough to not be dominated by your own elites power factions due to the small hop count between decision makers and those making the decisions.
What about the Baltics?
Baltics are dominated by the interplay between the two former occupying empires of Sweden and Russia (Sweden still dominates Estonia and Latvia in different ways) and the new global power, the United States. If they were’t geographically crammed between these two there might be a better outcome.
Are we headed to a new Cold War, or can Russia and the BRIC nations be an effective counterpoint to the US, UK and related nations? Who has the moral authority on the global landscape?
Moral authority is more a creation of having a powerful content generation and distribution industry than anything else. The BRICS are slowly developing their own international media platforms, as they’re sick of being whacked daily by western cultural and geopolitical propaganda (along with the occasional unpleasent truths). They have a disadvantage however as English is broader lingua franca than their endemic languages.
With technology firmly allied with intrusive surveillance, where do we find hope? Tech was meant to make our lives easier, not an Orwellian dystopia.
Exactly. All the talk of mass surveillance is very dangerous if it doesn’t come with some hope of a solution because it grants more perceptual power to a system that already has a radical, extreme and destabalising amount of it. All that is necessary to control others is the projected perception of power. That’s why we have worked hard to break that perception, for example in the race to spirit Edward Snowden to asylum vs. Washington DC’s race to arrest him, we won, demonstrating that with a few good ideas and some determination it is possible to beat this power cluster in a well defined head on contest.Solutions are going to come form the demand that organisations, governments and individuals have for protection. Don’t be dispirited; a lot of people are now working rapidly on tools and standards to counter the mass surveillance attack. There’s a great flowering in that field.
So, does your book give us specific suggestions for push-backs?
Yes, some directly, but more importantly, the book gives you a way to think for yourself about what is happening and with that, you are well armed to make these decisions and events unfold.
One thing you can do, which is quite simple, is treat companies like Google and Facebook as the corporations they are. Lots of people – especially on the left – are aware of the ways in which corporations are exploitative and harmful. But there is a disconnect when it comes to Silicon Valley. Lots of people refuse to buy Coca Cola, but they don’t see any problem with having a Gmail account. I think that is changing lately, but we need a movement to divest from these corporations – which destroy privacy – and to build an alternative internet that isn’t as actively harmful to human interests.
After WikiLeaks and Snowden, the US has pulled the reins tighter and tighter. Is there a future for leaks?
Not only are leaks of this magnitude still possible, they are an inevitability. And there’s more coming, not less. While Washington DC has tried to set general deterants, we’ve set general incentives. That’s why we beat them at their own game and got Snowden to safety. So he could keep his voice and through his example of relative freedom act as general incentive.
How do you see the next five years playing out for US internet users, in terms of privacy and access?
For now, learn how to use a Tor bridge, the way Chinese Tor users must. In the long term, it’s going to be about fighting the fight for public ownership of ISPs, because clearly it is unacceptable to have Comcast as our line to the network.
What did you leave out of the book?
Only personal gossip which I decided would distract from the argument more than it would advance it or those matters which I knew from contacts, but couldn’t prove with documentary evidence.
What about Truecript? Is it safe?
It is a strange situation. But if your threat model is a major intelligence agency then one must assume it is not safe given that was has occurred with the author or whoever (now) controls the cryptographic signing keys.
Do you personally like Eric Schmidt?
Eric Schmidt is personably likeable in the sense that most billionaires are. You can’t get there without making friends. Obama’s also likable, but runs an extrajudicial kill list each Tuesday and has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined. The problem with Google, as in the US administration is not the personalities. It is the structure, the business model and social and ideological matrix in which its decision makers are embedded.
Do you have anything in common with Schmidt?
Plenty – I discuss it a lot in the book, e.g. : “Schmidt’s dour appearance concealed a machinelike analyticity. His questions often skipped to the heart of the matter, betraying a powerful nonverbal structural intelligence. It was the same intellect that had abstracted software-engineering principles to scale Google into a megacorp, ensuring that the corporate infrastructure always met the rate of growth. This was a person who understood how to build and maintain systems: systems of information and systems of people. My world was new to him, but it was also a world of unfolding human processes, scale, and information flows. “
Do you think Schmidt really buys into the Star Trek statist idealism that Google publicly espouses (as expressed in this Slate piece), or is does he have a different, conflicting agenda?
Can Google actually help protect people, do a better job of looking after their privacy?
Google can certainly do something better to fight privacy violations and protect their users. For instance, in the book, you’ll see that I asked Eric Schmidt to leak secret government requests to WikiLeaks. He refused. On a larger scale, companies like Google have a lot more heft than, say, Lavabit. Imagine Google had engaged in the kind of resistance to a government order that Ladar Levison engaged in. Google’s population is gigantic. That would be a serious challenge to the US government. But you won’t see that happen, because – as I argue in the book – Google is too close to the government.
But in a wider sense, I think it is misguided to be looking to Google to help get us out of this mess. In large part, Google has us in this mess. The company’s business model is based on sucking private data out of parts of human community that have never before been subject to monitoring, and turning that into a profit. I do not think it is wise to try to “reform” something which, from first premises, is beyond reform.
Lastly, what about that Reddit censorship?
It’s pathetic. It’s pathetic, but look on the bright side. It creates market pressure for alternatives.
But censorship by companies controlling privatized political space is now almost a norm. Facebook is implementing its own “laws” for social behavior and politics. Even Twitter has now folded; censoring for example, leaks about the New Zealand prime minister just this week and some time ago banning Anonymous Sweden after a request from that country. High volume publication+control of publication by powerful organisations = censorship, all the time. We have to fight to create new networks of freedom. The old and powerful always become corrupt.
I have to go now, but I note with disappointment that someone has apparently been “shadowbanned” for asking me a question about censorship. If true, I think that’s a pity, and, as I already said, pathetic. Otherwise, I’ve had a nice time. Thanks.
Categories: Books, Censorship, Cyberpunk, Edward Snowden, Google, Hackers, Interviews, Julian Assange, Leaks, Long Reads, Media, Reddit, WikiLeaks
Your asking me to tell you what I think ! You really have to be kidding. ;)