Welcome Andy Greenberg (Forbes.com) (ThisMachineKillsSecrets) and Host Kevin Gosztola (The Dissenter) (author, Truth and Consequences)

This Machine Kills Secrets: How Wikileakers, Hacktivists, and Cipherpunks Are Freeing the World’s Information 

It has been just over two years since Americans were really introduced to WikiLeaks. The high-profile releases of US State Embassy cables, war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the “Collateral Murder” video turned the organization and its founder Julian Assange into a beat, which journalists or reporters were closely following. One journalist, who has closely tracked the organization and its founder, is Andy Greenberg of Forbes.

His book, This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World’s Information, covers what he describes as “a revolutionary protest movement bent not on stealing information but on building a tool that inexorably coaxes it out, a technology that slips inside of institutions and levels their defense against the free flow of data like a Trojan horse of cryptographic software and silicon.”

The introduction briefly highlights the struggles WikiLeaks has faced in the aftermath of leaks in 2010. Greenberg writes, “WikiLeaks is on life support.” It is struggling to raise cash. Its most “ardent supporters” have become its “most bitter critics.” Assange seems to be “more interested in hosting a TV talk show on the Russian government-funded network RT than in rebuilding his organization.” And, skeptics are wondering if the web can ever be this “free anarchic realm” one might want it to be so that information can flow.

Chapter by chapter, Greenberg explores “the forces that coalesced to WikiLeaks happen”—The Cryptographers, The Cypherpunks and The Onion Routers. Then, he details the forces at work ensuring the leaks WikiLeaks brought about continue to happen: The Plumbers, The Globalizers and The Engineers.

The Cryptographers are people like Eric Hughes, a mathematician, and Tim May, an intel physicist, libertarian and crypto-anarchist thinker. They founded the Cypherpunks, a group whose name was inspired by the popular cyberpunk novels of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson that were being written where hackers were fighting mega corporations in virtual worlds.

The Cypherpunks had an email list that grew to more than one thousand subscribers by the mid-1990s. The group had in-person meetings and developed a manifesto that expressed a commitment to writing software that defended users’ privacy. [Assange would later join the list.]

The creation of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption is detailed through the story of developer Phil Zimmerman. What might be interesting to those reading about the challenge from the US government when it figured out this was going to be available to subvert authority is how one paragraph in a crime bill in 1991 tried to create a climate where cryptographers like Hughes, May and Zimmerman could not encrypt their communications:

…It is the sense of Congress that providers of electronic communications services and manufacturers of electronic communications service equipment shall ensure that communications systems permit the government to obtain the plain text contents of voice, data and other communications when appropriately authorized by law…

The person, who inserted the paragraph, is someone who has called Assange a “high-tech terrorist” and is now vice president—Joe Biden.

In chapter on the Cypherpunks, Greenberg explains how a group that played a game Assange invented called “The Puzzle Hunt” grew into WikiLeaks. The game was a “campus-wide scavenger hunt punctuated with dozens of math and logic problems that drew in hundreds of students and still takes place annually on the University of Melbourne’s campus.” Assange dropped out of the university, but a year later he asked former colleagues if they wanted to join a new project.

“Are you interested in being involved with a courageous project to reform every political system on earth—and through that reform move the world to a more humane state?”

And a year later:

I am looking for people, courageous people, intelligent people to help develop and run and international leaked document analysis & essay competition.

WikiLeaks is only new, but we have already broken major stories in the international press that have achieved significant reforms likely to save tens of thousands of lives. Our problem? We’re drowning in leaked documents…

Greenberg provides a portrait of various individuals who he expects to contribute to the future of leaking. For example, he meets up with Birgitta Jonsdottir, the Icelandic parliamentarian. She worked with WikiLeaks when it was a rising organization and helped with the release of the “Collateral Murder” video. (This is why the US government has decided to subpoena her Twitter account records and other personal data.)

Jonsdottir has been instrumental in pushing the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, which she hopes will turn Iceland into a “legal haven for leakers, whistleblowers, and digital truth-tellers of every variety.” She wants to see more leaks organizations out there operating. And when the IMMI is in place, those organizations can move to Iceland for shelter from governments that may try to go after them.

The stories of Atanas Tchobanov and Assen Yordanov, “two Bulgarian investigative reporters who founded the independent media outlet Bivol and were inspired by WikiLeaks to create the Bulgaria-focused leak site BalkanLeaks,” are stirring. Both of these people have taken on the government of Bulgaria with coverage of secrets that has put their lives at great risk. And they played a role in uncovering how The Guardian was “cable cooking,” removing thousands of words from diplomatic cables it had been given.

The internal conflict within WikiLeaks is detailed through the various players. Jacob Appelbaum and the development of the Tor Project is extensively highlighted in a way that helps one understand how WikiLeaks could claim to protect the identity of whistleblowers.

It is a wide-ranging book. Greenberg makes it clear that it does not matter whether you support or oppose WikiLeaks. Secrets are abundant. They are growing in number. And those dedicated to sharing secrets for the greater good are coming out of the woodwork and many are hoping to improve upon what WikiLeaks did.

There is much more to discuss. Thank you for being here and please join in the chat with Andy Greenberg in the comments thread below.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

99 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Andy Greenberg, This Machine Kills Secrets: How Wikileakers, Hacktivists, and Cipherpunks Are Freeing the World’s Information”

BevW October 28th, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Andy, Welcome to the Lake.

Kevin, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

BevW October 28th, 2012 at 1:51 pm

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Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Thanks to Kevin for that thorough introduction.

It’s a pleasure to be doing this salon with Kevin, a reporter who has written a lot of very important coverage on WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning and media politics, and really followed this story just as closely as I have for the last two years.

For any more introductory information on the book, I’d suggest watching this six minute promo video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwLTSZT8zA4

Look forward to your questions!

DWBartoo October 28th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Thank you, Andy, for joining us, at FDL, this evening.

Thank you, Kevin, for hosting this Book Salon.


dakine01 October 28th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Andy and welcome to FDL. Afternoon Kevin!

Andy, I have not read your book so forgive me if you address this. Did you have much difficulty getting cooperation from Assange and the others? How about from the various governments (especially the US) in discussing the information leaked?

Weren’t most of the “secrets” in the dump of cables by wikileaks classified at the “Secret” level? If so, it seems most of the “serious damage” to national security involved is more along the lines of embarrassing to the US

hpschd October 28th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Welcome to the Lake!

How do organizations like WikiLeaks check on the information submitted to them? How can they tell if they are being used for factoids or mis-information?

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Hello, Andy. Welcome.

And hello everyone. This should be an excellent discussion.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Let’s begin with a general question, Andy—

What led you to write this book? And when did you start regularly writing about WikiLeaks as part of your Forbes blogging?

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:06 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 5

I did have to jump through a lot of hoops to get any access to Assange, and it was mostly limited to a single afternoon I spent with him in London, though that was a very long and thorough interview. Otherwise we mostly chatted very briefly on his terms, and he wasn’t very forthcoming…this was also when he planned to sell his own book.

The U.S. government largely was uncooperative, but I didn’t press very hard. One chapter of my book deals with a program at the Pentagon, specifically within the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, to root out and plug leaks… this is the section about a hacker named “Mudge” who was once a friend of Assange’s but then worked on this anti-leaking project. But I was given limited access and it was mostly rescinded as the direction of my writing became clearer to them.

Yes, the cables allegedly leaked by Manning were “secret.” I do believe they hurt American foreign policy, in the sense that several ambassadors had to be sent home. But I would assert that they did more to help the world as a whole than they did to inconvenience/damage American interests. The most damaging element, of course, was the accidental release of the unredacted cables, including the names of sources and journalists around the world who had acted as sources to the State Department, in late 2011.

TarheelDem October 28th, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Welcome to FDL, Andy. Thanks for hosting this, Kevin.

In your opinion, Andy, after all of your research, is it possible for the internet to remain a de facto common carrier for information without regard to content? Is the anarchic vision of the internet possible and what would it take for it to become a reality?

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:10 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 8

I saw WikiLeaks’ impact with the megaleaks of the summer of 2010, and became convinced it represented a new age where anyone could spill the dirty laundry of the government agencies or corporations. But after doing a Forbes cover story based on a meeting with Assange, I still felt like the whole story hadn’t been told.

At the time, WikiLeaks was essentially treated as the work of one “mad scientist” evil hacker or courageous hero, depending on your view of Assange. But I felt that technological shifts had led us to this point, and I wanted to chart how that evolution took place and where it was headed next, a question that took me all around the country to meet the cryptographers, activists and idealogues whose work was wrapped up in the history of technology that led to WikiLeaks.

And when it became clear that WikiLeaks essentially used freely available technology, I went searching for the next WikiLeaks–at the time dozens of “leaks” sites were popping up around the world–to find which one could successfully replicate or even upgrade WikiLeaks’ work.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:13 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 11

To be clear, the technological evolution I wanted to explore was the development of strong anonymity tools. WikiLeaks used a piece of software called Tor, which encrypts information and routes it around the internet to make it untraceable. So I wanted to figure out who invented Tor and where the idea came from: Pulling on that thread led me to the cypherpunks, a group of politically-motivated cryptography buffs in the 90s who dreamt of using encryption and anonymity tools to take power away from the government and give it to individuals. Assange was part of this group. So then I saw that there was a really fascinating technological and cultural back story to WikiLeaks waiting to be told.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:15 pm
In response to hpschd @ 6

I think the simple answer to that question is that WikiLeaks functions as most journalists do: They call around and try to confirm the tips they’re given. Software tools like Tor–what I argue was really WikiLeaks’ active ingredient during its most active period–do also allow an anonymous source to provide corroborating information to a leaked without revealing their identity.

Misinformation could be an effective strategy to attack a future Wikileaks-like project. I don’t think we’ve seen that yet. To my knowledge, WikiLeaks never published a forged document.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 10

I think it’s possible for at least those willing to seize the technologies that make it possible. Tools like Mixmaster, PGP, OTR and Tor do make it possible to skirt surveillance and behave somewhat anarchically on the Internet. But it’s not that way by default…the default for most users today is something like Facebook, which is designed to know everything about a user and share it with the government whenever that’s politically expedient.

So I guess I’d argue that the Internet is neither fundamentally anarchic or controlled–anonymous or onymous–it all depends on how you use it.

Phoenix Woman October 28th, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 9

The most damaging element, of course, was the accidental release of the unredacted cables, including the names of sources and journalists around the world who had acted as sources to the State Department, in late 2011.

And that, as it turns out, was not Julian Assange’s fault — unless he can be blamed for trusting David Leigh of The Guardian:

The UK’s Guardian newspaper’s Investigative Editor, David Leigh, author of the “Get this Wikileaks book out the door quickly before other Wikileaks books are published” Wikileaks book has messed up.

And when I say “messed up”, I mean that Mr. Leigh let slip the top secret password revealing the names of U.S. collaborators around the world—information now freely available to all the enemies of the U.S.

And when I say “let slip”, I mean that David Leigh published the password as a chapter heading in his book, “WIKILEAKS: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy”…

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 12

Were you able to confirm that WikiLeaks is able to claim it can protect the identities of leakers/whistleblowers because they are using Tor?

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:22 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 16

No, I don’t think anyone can confirm Tor’s absolute efficacy as an anonymity tool, and I’m glad you point this out. But I also don’t know of any case in which someone was identified because of a vulnerability in Tor. And Tor is by far the most secure anonymity tool for Web use in existence. It’s been peer-reviewed and audited to a degree no other tool has.

One thing I sometimes think about: If the NSA/FBI/CID were able to crack Tor and identify Manning (the alleged source of many of WL’s leaks, who has said in his chats with Adrian Lamo that he used Tor to do so) using technological means, wouldn’t they have done so?

Siun October 28th, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Andy, welcome to the Lake! I’m in the middle of reading your book and wanted to thank you for doing such a good job of telling the story and making so many connections. It really helps to see everything tied together.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:24 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 15

Yes, I agree there were many factors in this accidental leak of the unredacted cables. But I do think Assange is somewhat to blame as the custodian of the data, and could have been more careful to prevent even a careless/non-techy journalist from having the means to accidentally leak it.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 17

And that question could be interpreted in two ways (now that I re-read it).

So, there is no way to know for certain that WikiLeaks is using Tor? And, if they aren’t using Tor, you’d be surprised?

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to Siun @ 18

That’s very nice to hear, thank you! It’s certainly not the first book on WL. I think Kevin actually worked on that one with Greg Mitchell, and they completed it in an amazingly timely fashion. But I did want to tie in everything across 40 years of history and hopefully include some arrows pointing at years to come to make this the most comprehensive book on the subject. Hope you enjoy it.

bmaz October 28th, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Andy and Kevin, thank you both for sharing some time with us.

Andy I have the book and have been through most, but not yet all, of it. It is truly superb work. It strikes me that WikiLeaks was once, and maybe to its detriment, remains perhaps even moreso, very much a singular creature of Assange. Do you see a path for WL to truly exist and thrive if it remains so yolked to Assange the man?

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 20

To be clear, I’m not sure how WikiLeaks is getting its leaks today. They haven’t even had a submissions site since late 2010. But I do know that in its most effective period, WikiLeaks ran a Tor hidden service (or possibly multiple ones) as a submissions system, which requires the visitor to the site to run Tor and remain anonymous. And Bradley Manning also said he used Tor to submit files to WL in his chats with Lamo.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Let’s get to some of the roots of WikiLeaks, which I think is what makes this book such a worthwhile read.

The Cryptographers — Briefly, why don’t you share a little bit about the culture that drove people like Eric Hughes, Tim May and Phil Zimmerman to develop encryption. The culture is partly anti-authoritarian, isn’t it?

TarheelDem October 28th, 2012 at 2:32 pm

If the NSA/FBI/CID were able to crack Tor

What little we know about how that could occur is through the sweep-up of all telecommunications through a commercially owned telephone switch. Does that indicate that a anarchic democratized internet for political speech depends on a self-organized means of peer-to-peer communications hardware? At at that point, do we not run into spectrum issues that can be only solved by market or government allocation of frequencies? So any anarchic democratic political communication will always be vulnerable (it even is in Ben Franklin’s device for political commmunications – the postal service).

DWBartoo October 28th, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Clearly, Andy, the National Security State and state’s secrets are going to be THE policy adopted by the legacy parties of the US, when either controls the executive “branch”, for the foreseeable future.

As we witness the severe pressures being made use of against Manning and the obvious efforts to seriously intimidate Assange, as well as the increasing hostility to whistleblowers, as we see with Kiriakou, do you imagine that the efforts to reveal to the world, what the US, in particular, is doing secretly, but always in the name of the people, will be effectively chilled?

You appear to suggest that attempts to “chill” such necessary efforts will not be successful and I certainly hope that you are correct.

Do you imagine that, in its tendency to over-react, efforts to silence or intimidate reporters like Kevin will be stepped up?

It seems, to me, that there is a much more concerted effort, now, to establish and “protect” an Official Narrative … even as the political class resorts, more and more, to fear mongering and encouraging the “media”, which are also a part of the political class, to become mere propaganda arms of the MICC – Military-Industrial-Congressional-Complex with help from the judicial “branch” as well.

With the number of “secret” wars now engaged, do you see any reason to consider that the endless war mentality, with Iran on the “horizon”, is likely to be effectively challenged any time soon by a war-weary public, yet one that is primed to believe whatever that public is told?

I apologize for sticking several questions together like that, but I consider them to be very much related.


Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:37 pm
In response to bmaz @ 22

Thanks for the kind words, bmaz. I do think that WL has been mostly under the control of Assange continuously since its inception, at least in the sense that those who have disagreed with him about anything significant are soon pushed out of the group. And I do think that has helped to paralyze the group, particularly now that Assange is very constrained legally.

Perhaps Assange will end up in Ecuador and can rebuild the site from there. But I believe Assange’s credibility has also been hurt by his own role in the accidental leak of the full cable set in late 2011, his politicized role on a Russian-government funded TV show, and most recently the institution of a paywall-type donation pop-up around content on the site. So as much as I respect many aspects of Assange’s work and I find him to be one of the most interesting and brilliant people I may have ever interviewed, I am inclined to believe that WL won’t reach its former stature with Assange as the controlling force of the site.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 2:37 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 21

The book I did with Greg had a much more specific focus than yours: the current court martial of Manning. It’s only a fraction of the WikiLeaks story, really.

eCAHNomics October 28th, 2012 at 2:38 pm

If you know, why did Cass Sunstein write this about wikileaks in his 2/24/07 WaPo op-ed:

Wikileaks.org, founded by dissidents in China and other nations, plans to post secret government documents and to protect them from censorship with coded software.

DWBartoo October 28th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 29

Interesting question, eCAHN, and good to “see” you again.


Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 24

Yes, I agree the roots of WL are probably the most important thing I delved into in the book. The cypherpunks, who were inspired in part by Zimmermann’s creation of PGP encryption and founded by May and Hughes, were absolutely anti-authority. May in particular is a very strong libertarian, who I believe would like to see the abolition of the government as we know it. He’s mentioned cheering for the “nuclear cauterization of Washington DC” at some points in his writings.

But other cypherpunks, including John Young or Assange himself, were anti-authority in a less libertarian and more leftist, revolutionary way. I believe Assange for instance would say that he seeks to destroy corrupt authority, not the whole statist system as some of the early cypherpunks did.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 25

Tor runs as an overlay network on the existing Internet, and I think it’s still very hard to crack. I’m not sure we need a new mesh-network Internet or something of that sort to have the kind of anarchic network that Tor allows.

bmaz October 28th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 27

FWIW, that is my take as well. And the concept in today’s society is absolutely critical to have available against the secrecy culture.

yellowsnapdragon October 28th, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 31

How does the Pirate Party fit in to the history of WL, if at all?

Gitcheegumee October 28th, 2012 at 2:44 pm

x2,DW…on both counts!

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:44 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 29

Assange gave the impression early on that WL’s staff included Chinese dissidents at its founding. To my knowledge, this was made up to lend more credibility to the project. But I do think it’s true that WL initially hoped to focus on releasing information mostly about the most closed governments in the world such as those in Asia and the Middle East.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 27

Just to push back a bit: Assange did say he could have had the show air on Al Jazeera English but chose to go with RT America because more American satellite or cable providers include RT in their packages. However, I will say that in some way Assange should admit there have been issues with the submission system and make some kind of statement to potential whistleblowers/leakers to try and regain trust. Otherwise, I do not know if whistleblowers/leakers would risk submitting. Seems like the organization becomes one that primarily gets documents or information via hacks from individuals, who may or may not claim to be part of Anonymous.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Hm…well, there is some connection in the sense that PRQ, where WL has been hosted at times and is still hosted at least in part today, was founded by the same three hackers who also created the Pirate Bay, which is associated with the Swedish PiratByran. Otherwise I’m sure that the Pirate Party has been very politically supportive of WL, and I believe it hosted mirrors of the site during the wave of cyberattacks on WL that hit the site after Cablegate, though I’d have to check.

yellowsnapdragon October 28th, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 37

Yes, and the infiltration of government into Anonymous makes all WL releases of questionable authenticity. That’s by the design of the PTB, but it’s been very effective in damaging the credibility of WL releases.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Cryptome vs. WikiLeaks—

How do you think Cryptome fits in the genesis of WikiLeaks? How would you compare Cryptome to WikiLeaks? And what are your thoughts on John Young?

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 2:52 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 26

I do think we’ve seen a chilling of whistleblowing under Obama. But this is really just a pressure that may just accelerate the technological cat-and-mouse game between leakers and those who would catch and punish them. The lessons of Tom Drake, Shamai Leibowitz, Stephen Kim and others is that without careful measures to protect your anonymity, you will be caught and prosecuted. Use Tor (like Manning, allegedly) and keep quiet about it (not like Manning) and you have a much better chance of getting the information out safely.

If anything, Obama’s war on whistleblowers shows that traditional whistleblowing has become too dangerous, and that WL style whistleblowing may be leakers’ last resort.

Phoenix Woman October 28th, 2012 at 2:57 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 19

I’m as non-techy as they come, and even I would have known better than to take the password to the information trove with which I was entrusted and — far from keeping it secret — turn it into the chapter heading of a book I was writing.

Assange was being urged to “legitimize” himself in the eyes of the press by collaborating closely with them. He made efforts to do so, the key one of which was trusting David Leigh — and now he’s blamed because the person he was urged to trust as a requisite for being taken seriously turned out to be breathtakingly stupid, breathtakingly duplicitous, or possibly both.

DWBartoo October 28th, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 41

Thank you for your response, Andy. I quite agree, and as you, Kevin, and bmaz suggest, that WL-style sites must become increasingly free of domination by single personalities or even narrow “philosophies.”

I am also, however, very concerned that Kevin and reporters like him, are also being subjected to pressures to “tone down” their coverage or run the risk of being considered accessories to the “terrorism” fantasies of the executive or the sexed up “concerns” of intelligence agencies.


Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 40

I think John Young and the website he founded with his wife Deborah Natsios, Cryptome.org, was a direct inspiration to WikiLeaks. When the site launched, it contained a reference to Young as the “spiritual godfather of online leaking.” Cryptome, after all, was leaking hundreds of intelligence agent’s names and sources’ names and other very sensitive secrets many years before WL launched.

I think what prevented Cryptome from simply becoming WikiLeaks was that Young was unwilling to make the promises of anonymity that WikiLeaks would. Cryptome put the responsibility for anonymity entirely on the leaker, rather than the recipient of the leak. That’s an admirable strategy, in the sense that it’s far more cautious than WL in avoiding an illusion of security. But I do think it’s what prevented John Young from becoming Julian Assange, as well as Young’s lower profile–having white hair and a history as a legendary hacker helps to attract leaks, too.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:03 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 42

To defend Leigh just a little, he says he believed the password had changed, and even says Assange told him as much. But yes, he should have known that you don’t publish even old passwords. His reporter’s attraction to historical detail got the best of him.

Nonetheless, Assange is at fault for allowing the encrypted file to end up in torrent form on the Pirate Bay. That’s also not very wise operational security.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 41

I’m just going to leave this here for people to read while waiting for Andy to get to questions. On March 25, 2011, the Bradley Manning Support Network held a press conference call and Julian Assange answered questions.

This comment could be tied in to Andy’s answer. Assange, I think, accepts the War on Whistleblowing as something that is an inevitable byproduct of the US government and he would probably say it benefits WikiLeaks.

…James Risen, myself and Valerie Plame were due to speak at an investigative journalism panel in Las Vegas. I had to cancel that event because we had intelligence that the investigation against Mr. Manning was in full flight. James Risen had to cancel because he had intelligence that the investigation against his alleged source was also being reactivated.

So we can see already that the new Obama administration’s attempts to expand the 1917 Espionage Act into territory where it has normally never been permitted has had an effect on journalism.

If that continues, and as Daniel Ellsberg suggested, if it continues and we see a conviction related to Bradley Manning or to one of our people in the United States or to myself or to James Risen or other media sources, it will put a chill across all investigative journalism if it’s in the U.S. The result of that is that whistle blowers will be unwilling to step forward to the mainstream press and inform the public about abuses that are occurring behind closed doors.

Now, from our perspective, from WikiLeaks’ perspective, actually either of these outcomes works. Either the mainstream press in the United States collapses as an effective investigative organ holding the government to account and all sources then are forced to only deal with WikiLeaks, or the administration finds that it has to conform to the U.S. First Amendment and other parts of the Constitution and then the United States is a free society that upholds our values…

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:09 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 37

Yes, I agree with you on all this.

Regarding RT, I didn’t know that Al Jazeera English had also sought to air the show. Nonetheless, I think it has hurt Assange’s reputation to have accepted Russian government money. I would imagine most of his American viewers watched on the web, anyway, so I would argue Al Jazeera English would have been a better choice for preserving his appearance of impartiality, as well as avoiding money tainted by a government that severely oppresses journalists.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:12 pm

I think I’ve caught up on all questions. Anything I missed, Kevin?

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:13 pm

(I’ve appreciated how well-informed all these questions are, BTW.)

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 47

Let’s get into the “Future of Leaking.”

I mentioned Atanas Tchobanov and Assen Yordanov in my introductory post. Would you share a bit about meeting them and the risk they are taking by operating BalkanLeaks (or just trying to be investigative journalists in Bulgaria)?

TarheelDem October 28th, 2012 at 3:17 pm

How did the unfolding political consciousness (to the extent that such can exist in an anarchic group) of Anonymous and the profile of Wikileaks with governments coincide to create the impact that Wikileaks has had.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 3:17 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 48

I don’t think you’ve missed anything. And I will just keep asking questions so people can follow along. We have a little over a half hour until the chat wraps. Readers will continue to drop in and ask questions as they see the chat is ongoing.

Thank you again for your time this evening.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:26 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 50

Assen Yordanov and Atanas Tchobanov, the two Bulgarian investigative reporters who founded BalkanLeaks, have taken amazing personal risks to create their WikiLeaks copycat, and they’ve also been one of the only sites to do so in a way that effectively leaked new secret material. I tell their story, which includes a near-fatal knife attack on Yordanov, in detail in the book, but you can also read a very abbreviated version at Slate in a three part series. (Part three links to parts one and two: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2012/10/what_happened_after_u_s_cables_revealing_massive_bulgarian_corruption_were_leaked_in_bulgaria.html)

However, as a result of publishing incredible scoops, both independently and as a Wikileaks partner releasing State Department cables related to Bulgaria, they’re now facing a similar attack from the Bulgarian banking system. They’ve been accused of violating a banking regulation by publishing a cable that lists banks allegedly involved in money laundering and corrupt loans. As a result they may be fined as much as $100,000, enough to bankrupt them .

See my story about this at Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2012/10/24/bulgarian-banks-threaten-to-crush-wikileaks-most-successful-copycat-site/

I think BalkanLeaks proves two things: 2) That WikiLeaks can be replicated with the same tools, and 2) that in a very closed, corrupt society without free media like Bulgaria, leaks alone may not be enough to cause revolutionary change. BalkanLeaks, after all, published the equivalent of Watergate in Bulgaria, and yet they’re the ones suffering the consequences, not the Prime Minister who was revealed in their publications (allegedly) to have mafia ties.

It’s a sad lesson.

TarheelDem October 28th, 2012 at 3:27 pm

And the leaks go on….

Kostas Vaxevanis, was arrested in his home last night for publishing the ‘Lagarde list’. The list consists of the names of about 2000 Greeks who made $1.9 billion in deposits in the Swiss based HSBC bank and are being probed for tax evasion. The full list contains the names of 22,000 wealthy European tax evaders.

hpschd October 28th, 2012 at 3:30 pm

This is a most interesting and complex issue, and I’m sure that there are a lot of lurkers who (like me) don’t know what to ask, but want to know a lot more.

I am very concerned about the aggressive anti-whistleblower attitude of the Obama administration – the excessive use of the Espionage act in particular.

Why are they pushing so hard? Why now?

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 3:30 pm

The Bulgarian investigative reporters played a role in helping WikiLeaks discover that The Guardian had “cooked” a cable. What are your thoughts on this episode?

It was later discovered that there were other cables that had sections taken out—redactions that went beyond protecting identities. Essentially, censorship was happening. The New York Times did this. What does this mean generally for the future of leaking?

karenjj2 October 28th, 2012 at 3:30 pm

welcome to the lake, Andy. I’m curious about how information is shared via Tor encryption. Is that a program that an inexperienced computer user would install on their computer? If so, then wouldn’t that be used as “presumptive evidence” against them? Just curious about the process involved. And wondering about secure communications in general.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 51

I would argue that for the most part, WikiLeaks has influenced Anonymous, and not the other way around. That’s no small thing: WikiLeaks made leaking information “cool,” and I think it’s been an important factor in Anonymous’ transformation from a group of griefers who rigged epilepsy forums to show seizure-inducing graphics into a political movement.

But I don’t see how Anonymous influenced WikiLeaks, really, aside from providing their recent, lower-impact leaks. In fact, I would argue that the round of site-takedown attacks that Anonymous launched in early 2011 were a distraction from the real story of the content of WikiLeaks’ Cablegate release. A lot of the media lumped WL and Anonymous together at that point, and it wasn’t helpful to have Anonymous acting as willy-nilly disruptors and making the story all about “cyberattacks” when very substantive stuff in the cables wasn’t receiving enough attention.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to hpschd @ 55

I would say that the federal government is fighting leaks with more force than ever because, without enforcement, leaking is both easier than ever and there are more secrets to be leaked than ever before.

The fact that Obama seems desperate to convince the right that he is serious about national security seems to have contributed to this. But I do think it’s also just a technological shift: The Pentagon Papers took a year of on-and-off photocopying for Daniel Ellsberg. Manning was able to copy his data in minutes, and there are many more people with Manning’s access today than Ellsberg’s in 1971. So the government must feel that they’re trying to reinforce a dam with a thousand holes in it…one way is to make examples of leakers.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to hpschd @ 55

Additionally, Andy sort of addressed this in the ninth comment in this thread.

I think the government recognizes how technology has advanced in a way that makes leaking easier. They know that no amount of software/hardware will change the fact that they really have to know who the people are who will leak before they leak in order to prevent leaks. So, it tightens up and agencies become even more closed (which only ensures corruption is allowed to persist).

TarheelDem October 28th, 2012 at 3:38 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 58

Are you lumping the LulzSec attacks into what you are calling Anonymous? Does this include the HBGary leaks and the Stratfor leaks?

How likely were those two organizations acting as bait to draw an attack?

hpschd October 28th, 2012 at 3:38 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 59

I would say that the federal government is fighting leaks with more force than ever because, without enforcement, leaking is both easier than ever and there are more secrets to be leaked than ever before.

Why are there more secrets now?

bmaz October 28th, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Andy, how do you think the Manning trial process will affect WL as it continues to play out? What effects does the, somewhat distinguishable from civil, justice system of the UCMJ place on the bigger picture?

Dearie October 28th, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Andy@59: The bitter irony is that I think Obama would be the first to say, “If you are not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear if we read your personal emails, etc.”

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to bmaz @ 63

Good question

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:41 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 56

I’m not really aware of other incidents of censorship other than the example of the Guardian’s redaction of the Bulgarian cable. (I’d be interested to hear about others)

But I would guess that in the case of the Bulgarian cable, that was simply the work of the Guardian’s lawyers. UK libel law is a pain in the ass, to put it bluntly, and the Guardian likely had less info on the Bulgarians mentioned in this mafia-related cable (whose names they redacted) than the Russians (who they left in.)

I experienced something like this myself: I had to take out the cable that alleges Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s mob ties in the UK version of the book, and instead replace it with a suggestion that readers simply google “Boyko Borisov and BalkanLeaks” to find the cable in question. It felt very silly, and it shows the serious chilling effects of the UK’s system.

bmaz October 28th, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Because time is closing in, I’m going to throw one more question in. Apologize about the rapid succession. This is for bothy Andy and Kevin:

Can you give a better feel for the interaction between the Anons and WL? Specifically, are they a net help or hindrance in the bigger picture. While much is claimed to be benign and socially helpful, there are, as opposed to WL itself, so many what, on the surface, at least appear to be clear property and/or intellectual property crimes at issue. Say what you will, breaking, entering theft and dissemination of proprietary digital information constitutes federal (and state) crimes. How does this play in to the Secret Killing Machine future?

hpschd October 28th, 2012 at 3:44 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 60

If the government is paranoid about electronic communication, why don’t they just encode it?

PGP is easy to use.

DWBartoo October 28th, 2012 at 3:44 pm
In response to bmaz @ 63

I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about that question, sometime, bmaz, as well, it being an excellent question, and one I’m rather certain you have considered, more than somewhat, already.


spocko October 28th, 2012 at 3:45 pm

I haven’t read your book yet, I wonder if you cover the way that commercial entities were used to cut off funding of WikiLeaks? And have other groups figured out how to avoid that?

I point out to people that in order for the government to put the pressure on a project like Wikileaks they go to the various commercial entities that they use to get donations, hosting, or bandwidth and look for how those companies Terms of Service or Acceptable Use Policies have been violated.

This way the “government” isn’t shutting them down in violation of someone’s first amendment rights, it’s the commercial entity that is cutting people off.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:45 pm
In response to karenjj2 @ 57

Yes, Tor is super simple to install and use. And it’s not really much in the way of “incriminating” evidence if someone finds it installed on your machine–it’s used by tens of millions of people around the world for all kinds of reasons. Anyway, the whole idea is that you’re an anonymous needle in a haystack, so any surveillance attempt wouldn’t ever know how to find your machine in the first place.

Check out Torproject.org, and if you’re interested in other tools, also try googling other tools like OTR, Truecrypt, PGP and Cryptocat.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:46 pm
In response to bmaz @ 63

I could take a stab at this, but I think Kevin has been following Manning’s trial much more closely and I’d be eager to hear his thoughts on this. Kevin?

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 3:47 pm

There are many questions out there right now. You may not get to this one before the chat comes to an end. But, I would like to know what you thought about meeting Birgitta Jonsdottir. She seems like a luminary in this revolutionary movement you covered.

I appreciated your inclusion of her anti-Iraq War poem she wrote in 2003:

mountains of starved children
shiny bones
burning flesh
these are images we should
put in a frame
mount them in our homes
so we never forget
the true horror of war

You write “protest became practically a way of life for Jonsdottir. She is a bold individual, who really puts herself out there. Now, she’s challenging the indefinite detention provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed by Obama on New Year’s Eve last year.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 66


Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to hpschd @ 62

Partly because there’s simply more data out there. And also perhaps because the military-intelligence-industrial complex is growing. In the first year of Obama’s presidency, 76.7 million documents were classified, compared with 8.6 million in the first year of Bush’s presidency. And that’s under President Transparency himself.

hpschd October 28th, 2012 at 3:52 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 75

An order of magnitude (almost) increase!?
Have things changed so much?

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:52 pm
In response to bmaz @ 67

I have always thought Anonymous’ efforts have been at least as counter-productive as they are productive. They confuse whistleblowing-style leaking with external theft, suppress information by performing site takedowns, and publish documents under false pretenses (like the million Apple device identifiers they claimed were taken from the FBI as evidence of surveillance, but weren’t.)

Occasionally they’ve published important information, as in the case of the HBGary release. But if I were WikiLeaks, I would have done more to distance one group from the other.

hpschd October 28th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Thanks Andy and Kevin – this has been great.
Thanks to Bev and all the commenters.

I wish I had read some of the book beforehand. I’ve had a reserve on it from the library, and it is ‘in transit’ from another branch, but not here yet. I’ll read it as soon as it arrives.

BTW, the Toronto library system has 18 copies.

BevW October 28th, 2012 at 3:54 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Andy, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and the history of leaking information.

Kevin, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Andy’s website (Forbes.com) and book (This Machine Kills Secrets)

Kevins’s website (The Dissenter)

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

spocko October 28th, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to hpschd @ 68

As someone who has written under a pseudonym I know how important it can be to have methods to be anonymous. I also know that even though PGP is “easy to use” there are lots of ways that people’s identity can be figured out by people who understand the system.

For example, I think that it is never okay to send death threats to people, and if I got any I would turn them over to the appropriate authorities. It is the twisting of any kind of comment into a “death threat” that can be used to get to someone’s identity if necessary. I have no illusions that if someone using the right tricks wanted to find out my identity they could, so I try to always be careful in what I say online.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 72

It is my opinion that the United States government will not be making any significant moves to prosecute Assange or any individuals connected to the WikiLeaks organization until Manning has been successfully convicted and sentenced to whatever term in jail.

So, to answer your question, I would say the effect it has on WikiLeaks is dependent on how the world perceives the prosecution and eventual trial. If it is perceived as fair, I think because WikiLeaks is struggling as an organization it is even more vulnerable to pursuit by the US. Perhaps, the US may even back off a bit and just let it become even more of a pariah and liability to pro-transparency advocates or the “leaks” movement.

If it does not appear fair—and already I think there are some irregularities especially since the press and public do not have access to court records, that empowers WikiLeaks. I think it could help the world rally even more around Manning and WikiLeaks and it perhaps makes it easier to wage a battle of world public opinion to shame the US for any prosecution of Assange and WikiLeaks staff.

hpschd October 28th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to spocko @ 80

I was wondering why emails between embassies and departments are
not routinely encoded.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to spocko @ 70

Quick answer to a hard question as I’m running out of time: I think the extralegal embargo against WikiLeaks was an important lesson. It’s an argument for the use of decentralized technologies like Bitcoin. But I also think we should hold these companies to account with boycotts or other means.

Another strategy might be to take a more legally defensible approach that WikiLeaks. OpenLeaks, for instance, despite its failure to launch, has sought to register as a non-profit and pass on its materials directly to the media, which I think would help it to avoid the barrage of attacks that struck WikiLeaks.

TarheelDem October 28th, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Andy, thanks for an excellent conversation. Kevin, thanks for keeping the flow going. And BevW, thanks for lining up more excellent authors.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Thanks, Andy, for joining us today to chat.

It has been a very enjoyable experience.

I encourage people to pick up a copy of Andy’s book. I knew a lot about WikiLeaks before I read the book—I thought. But, then I began to read Andy’s book and there was so much more to the story that I realized had not been told and was not part of any coverage of WikiLeaks. There were characters responsible for the roots of WikiLeaks, who I had never read anything about. And that made the book a very good read.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:58 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 73

I admire Birgitta quite a lot. Check out the upcoming film about her by Judith Ehrlich of “The Most Dangerous Man In America” The working title is “The Mouse That Roared.”

karenjj2 October 28th, 2012 at 3:58 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 71

Thank you! Very interesting discussion!

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:59 pm
In response to hpschd @ 68

The challenge is that you can’t keep data permanently encrypted if it has to be used. The whole problem of the “insider threat” as they call it in the infosec industry is that people have to actually access the data, and that allows them to leak it, too.

DWBartoo October 28th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Truly excellent Book Salon, Andy and Kevin.

I hope, Andy, that you might consider stopping by on occasion should time and opportunity permit, for what you speak to, here, and in your book, is of very substantial interest to many at this site.

May great appreciation, Andy, to both you and Kevin.

Thank you, Bev, as always.

And my thanks to all who gather here in defense of democracy, the Rule of Law, and of open, and honest civil society which needs fewer secrets and more respect of humanity, the Constitution, and foundational principle.


Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Thanks everyone for the great questions! I’ll see if I can scour over them one last time to answer any I missed.

TarheelDem October 28th, 2012 at 4:01 pm
In response to hpschd @ 82

Those were. The allegations against Bradley Manning is that he had authorization to see encrypted messages and in effected decrypted and released them. But there are Secret and Confidential and other classifications being put on all sorts of stuff in the Federal government that amounts to over-classifying it to CYA.

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 4:02 pm
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 90

Quick note: The thread remains open for a little bit so you can answer any questions you missed or add any quick comment you may want before leaving the chat. And you don’t have to stick around. It’s entirely up to you.

BevW October 28th, 2012 at 4:03 pm

The thread stays open for 24 hours for comments.
Andy – thank you again.

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 4:04 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 85

Very kind of you to say, Kevin. Thanks for having me on here, and look forward to continuing to read your excellent coverage of WL and the Manning trial.

bmaz October 28th, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Andy, thanks, you and Kevin have been great. The issues around this subject are far more complex than often given credit for. You book, and your responses here, give layer to all of it that is truly useful.

On last parting question – how did, vis a vis Woodie Guthrie, you come to pick the title for your work? I cannot fathom it was by coincidence, is there a story behind it?

Kevin Gosztola October 28th, 2012 at 4:24 pm
In response to bmaz @ 95

I’ll supply:

…As I traveled from San Francisco to Iceland to Berlin to Bulgaria to report this story, I was searching not so much for WikiLeaks’ methods, its influences or its sequels as I was trying to write the story of an ideal that drove this hidden movement. It was on a street in my own neighborhood in Gowanus, Brooklyn, that I saw a busker sitting on a curb, strumming guitar with the same words scrawled across it that once were written across it that once were written across the one Woody Guthrie played: This Machine Kills Fascists. That sentence, to me, brought to mind the ideological arrow I see from Ellsberg to Assange and beyond: a revolutionary protest movement bent not on stealing information, but on building a tool that inexorably coaxes it out, a technology that slips inside of institutions and levels their defenses against the free flow of data like a Trojan horse of cryptographic software and silicon…

Andy Greenberg October 28th, 2012 at 4:26 pm
In response to bmaz @ 95

I was searching for a title, and wanted to give the sense of a kind of an idealized “transparency machine,” like Kevin quoted in his intro from my intro to the book: “a technology that slips inside of institutions and levels their defense against the free flow of data like a Trojan horse of cryptographic software and silicon.” I think that’s an ideal that’s existed at least from the time of Tim May’s Blacknet in 1993, through Cryptome, to WikiLeaks and beyond.

I was walking to the subway in my Brooklyn neighborhood when I spotted a busker playing a guitar with Woodie Guthrie’s slogan on it: “This Machine Kills Fascists.” I thought “This Machine Kills Secrets” sounded intriguing. And I think it also implies that the secret-killing machine–whether it’s the photocopier that duplicated the Pentagon Papers, or WikiLeaks, or the Internet itself–is a persistent idea in a tradition that will live on, just like Guthrie’s tools of protest.

Cryptome October 29th, 2012 at 4:44 am
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 44

Cryptome does not primarily leak except as a library may leak now and then as part of more studiously stultifying disclosure. Vainglorious leaks are lurid, deceptive, biased, manipulative, addictive, a fictional literature genre in Dewey decimal with Augustinian sexcapades precursing the lucrative business of sainthood. St Assange, ecce homo.

Arbed October 30th, 2012 at 3:34 am
In response to Andy Greenberg @ 47

Regarding RT, I didn’t know that Al Jazeera English had also sought to air the show. Nonetheless, I think it has hurt Assange’s reputation to have accepted Russian government money.

So, following that logic, how would you have viewed a series funded by a licence deal with the BBC, another State-funded broadcaster? I’m sure you can’t view the UK media climate as particularly healthy for a free press, given the use of D Notices, the problem of UK libel ‘tourism’ by wealthy elites to suppress negative coverage, and the well-known bias of the BBC itself?

Granted, journalists seem to be singled out for particularly brutal treatment under the Russian regime but your logic seems to say that if Assange had produced his series (for which, he says, he was given complete editorial independence) using money from the BBC his reputation wouldn’t have been hurt at all. Despite the fact that all sorts of cases are now coming before the courts showing the UK government’s complicity in torture interrogations by MI5 personnel, rendition flights, etc, etc.

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