Monday, June 14, 2010

Weird intrigue between Wired, Wikileaks, two ex-hackers, and the leaker of Collateral Murder

(This post presented in Bold Name-O-Vision to keep track of the Major Characters)

As someone who checks Wired News regularly and will click on any article about WikiLeaks [Wikipedia article here], in the last few weeks I've been treated to a fascinating drama that's developed because of the arrest of Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning as the alleged source of the Collateral Murder video. This is the footage that came out this spring showing American Apache pilots in 2007 eagerly massacring a group of Iraqis including civilians and children.

The brief background is that Adrian Lamo, a famous ex-hacker, discovered during online chats with Manning that he leaked the classified footage to WikiLeaks. Lamo told the authorities and Manning was arrested. Now here's where it starts to get strange. Wired broke the news because Kevin Poulsen, another famous ex-hacker, is friends with Lamo and also now a writer for Wired. In fact he's been reporting on this story continually in Wired's Threat Level blog. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, is unsurprisingly unhappy about Lamo's outing of their source but is apparently angry at Poulsen too. He (or whoever tweets for WikiLeaks) has been leveling a twitter war against both of them, assuming they're in cahoots. Assange, who has assumed Manning's legal defense, even sent an email to Lamo requesting his chat logs and giving him some pretty derogatory "advice". And we know about the email because of Poulsen, who got it from Lamo and published it on Wired. Confused yet?

Something that makes this so weird is that each side in this seems complicit in at least some dirtiness. For instance I usually like WikiLeaks but Assange's email and tweets are such unmeasured, defamatory attacks that they betray a defensiveness that overrides his ideals. Then Lamo, of course, looks the villain by gaining the trust of, then outing a whistle-blower simply following his conscience. And Lamo's relationship with Poulsen hangs a doubt over the image of Poulsen simply reporting the events in objective journalistic fashion. The greatest example is Poulsen's acquisition of, then public posting of the email from Assange to Lamo. Even the organizations themselves seem a bit questionable in this whole exchange. It's not what I'm used to, having Wired take part in the drama instead of telling the story from a distance. As for WikiLeaks, I've already talked about their tweets.

In fact, the only one who seems to come out clean in this is Manning, who actually appears to have the purest intentions. Not all the facts are out yet but people are already mentioning him in the same breath as Daniel Ellsberg, a leaker from a previous disastrous war.

(credit: helpful background from this post on "TechEYE")

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