Secrets, Wikileaks, and Hacktivism

Current events have put into keen focus the balancing act between privacy, data controls, the reason secrets are kept, and ethics.

So if you haven’t had an interest in Wikileaks, related individuals, the classified information that was leaked to them, and the people that did it, let’s get you caught up.

First, I would suggest the long New Yorker piece on Julian Paul Assange, the ambassador and frontman of sorts for Wikileaks.

Then perhaps you can review the breaking news threat in Wired here, here, here, and here.

The 2600 Magazine synopsis here.

The Wikileaks video from 26c3. My commentary about those conference talks is here.

Really what’s happening here is a conflict of principals. Lamo informing on Manning to the feds is an interesting character distinction in a difficult situation.

This has moved from an example of the tipping of a balancing act between the two separate philosophical ideals of do no harm and that information should be free to one of polarizing schools of thought last weekend. When Manning told Lamo that he was hoovering up compartmentalized information in bulk and throwing it to Wikileaks (I paraphrase), Lamo seemed to reach his tipping point and turned him in.

I have respect for both ideals at play in the 101 write-ups already up about this, a lot of the reactions to it smacks of confirmation bias and radical honesty which prevents me taking some of it’s points very seriously. Taken to an extreme, my view is that these notions undermine diplomacy, privacy, free enterprise, and the rule of law.

Risky Business made an interesting characterization on their podcast that Wikileaks is not a journalistic organization. “You can be an activist or a journalist, but you can’t be both.” The concept of a shield for whistleblowers and journalists is an interesting one and one that I find appealing about Wikileaks. Being a hacktivist is also interesting but is rarely legal. Based on Manning’s chat logs, it’s clear that he went out of his way to gather sensitive data stored places where he did not have ready access and send it to unknown persons overseas.

The uncertainty of who processes that data at Wikileaks is part of what raises concern about the organization to Lamo and to United States agencies if I read the tea leaves correctly.

Interestingly enough, people like Assange feel entitled to picking and choosing what rule of law they follow. I would like to hear which set of laws that he and his organization feel are applicable to them.

The hacker culture ideal of “no more secrets” is great until you realize that it’s hard to have a meritocracy. Maybe it’s impossible.

Will Gragido and myself are going to give a talk sometime about our vision of the ideal natures of our industry. He, speaking about his ideal of a sort of modern bushi, and my taking the other side of the coin of the measured agitator. Samurai vs ninja; mod and troll.

These two archetypes, the one of honor and responsibility and one of instigator and agitator for change are what I see as being the key roles for success. The philosopher warrior and the maker of effective change; innovator and practitioner.

The individuals with our skillset in our industry are usually tasked with safeguarding of data people think is important.

Because of who we are and what we do on a daily basis, most people in this industry develop a highly refined sense of risk and of others maturity for dealing with risks and secrets. Would you ever want to employ someone to keep your secrets that wears one of these t-shirts?

I’ve only read my clients email when they have specifically requested that I do so. Why? Because I’m not a prick who betrays the responsibility that has been entrusted to me. It is my job to secure and safeguard data, not be entertained by it or share it irresponsibly or indiscriminately.

In the end, Manning betrayed the trust and oaths that he took to his employer and nation, the United States. Did he do this to serve what he perceived as a greater purpose? I guess I’ll look forward to learning his answer in court documents and in his lecture series and book on the subject when he pulls a Mitnick later on when he gets out of prison.

Meanwhile, Lamo continues to entertain the whirlwind. It should be an interesting HOPE and Defcon this year.FirefoxScreenSnapz092.jpg

5 responses to “Secrets, Wikileaks, and Hacktivism

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Secrets, Wikileaks, and Hacktivism « Bad Penny --·

  2. Great piece! This case will no doubt (as you and I have discussed), be pivotal in forever changing the guidance used and implemented in assessing not only information but people within what are already highly scrutinized environments. What is still the most strikingly unnerving aspect of this story is the fact that Manning is an outlier in the realms of what is traditionally described as espionage. Speaking more specifically, his actions (and his purpose), echo certainly not a new paradigm (we all know that ‘whistle blowing’ in journalism is a long standing, time honored tradition), but rather a less probable yet perhaps soon to be more common phenomena within environments such as the one he worked: activism for ‘ideals’ vs action for ‘profit’ or as the result of extortion.

    I believe it is intellectually dishonest of people such as Julian Assange hail the actions (should they prove to be as Assange mentions in his comments to the press — true), of Manning as as those of a ‘hero’. I am sure were they to impact and affect either Mr.Assange directly (or those he holds dear — friends, family, countrymen). The concept of modern codes of honor — are important. We’ve discussed this often and likely will for the rest of our days. Can’t wait for the talk!

    • I had another word in place of hacktivism in the title, but when I was reviewing it, this one seemed a better fit.

      Interestingly enough, Wikileaks has been mentioned as shopping around contributed material from submitters to the highest bidder from journalistic outlets. What is a journalist outlet again?

      Here’s where I would like to see a debate. I understand and see the value of being a non-profit whistle-blower protection organization. I understand charging a subscription model to fund your efforts. What I don’t understand and have trouble seeing a way to back up is being a information broker and trafficking in state secrets, trade secrets, and other bits of confidential information to the highest bidder by persons unknown to consumers unknown.

      Wikileaks is clearly the new Cryptome, but as Lamo said initially, they need to practice their opsec or at least figure out what it should be.

      Accountability. Perhaps this new proposed Icelandic data/journalism haven laws will provide such a mechanism.

      Related: (yay metajournalism)

  3. I agree this seems to be an unsustainable model. Idealism and virtue are not necessarily mutually exclusive though when mixed with ‘activism’ the likelihood of anything noble and not slanted decreases. I have great concerns about the intent of organizations such as WikiLeaks and others who espouse similar brands of idealism. Who watches the self appointed watchman? These organizations seem to operate without much thought being given to the costs incurred in gathering the information they seek to make public. I understand and agree that non-profit whistle-blowing outlets whose aim is to right a wrong are important however I have to wonder — and so should anyone who considers WikiLeaks academically, philosophically, analytically or pragmatically — if the ends justify the means?

  4. How about a t-shirt that says “Dyslexic Non-Coding Script Kiddie Whose Daddy Didn’t Love Him?”

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