Julian Assange Archive Part 2.

Julian Assange Swears He Didn’t Want to Influence the Election

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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange released a statement about the US election on Tuesday, defending his organization’s decision to post thousands of emails from the Democratic National Party’s senior officials during the height of the US presidential election season.

The published emails, released in batches over nine months, have had a seismic impact on US politics and the election. In July, DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz abruptly resigned when leaked emails proved senior party officials had conspired against Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. In October, CNN ended its relationship with contributor Donna Brazile after leaked emails revealed she shared questions with the Clinton campaign before one of the Democratic primary debates. And some of the emails published by Wikileaks revealed transcripts from paid speechesClinton gave to Goldman Sachs employees in 2013, suggesting that she has a friendly relationship with Wall Street heavyweights. There are dozens of other political scandals that originated from the Wikileaks dumps.

It’s important to note, however, that all of the emails published by Wikileaks targeted Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Party. None of the published databases (including the Hillary Clinton Email ArchiveDNC Email Archive, and Podesta Email Archive) included any revealing information about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

In his newest statement, Assange insists he and Wikileaks did not have any political motives when it published the trove of emails from DNC officials and Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta. He also said Wikileaks did not work with Russia in order to obtain the emails, a direct contradiction of formal accusations made by the US government.

The statement claims that Wikileaks had no intention of hurting Clinton or Trump in the election. It also says Wikileaks was simply trying to provide more information to US voters about the candidates.

This is not due to a personal desire to influence the outcome of the election. The Democratic and Republican candidates have both expressed hostility towards whistleblowers. I spoke at the launch of the campaign for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, because her platform addresses the need to protect them. This is an issue that is close to my heart because of the Obama administration’s inhuman and degrading treatment of one of our alleged sources, Chelsea Manning. But WikiLeaks publications are not an attempt to get Jill Stein elected or to take revenge over Ms Manning’s treatment either.

Publishing is what we do. To withhold the publication of such information until after the election would have been to favor one of the candidates above the public’s right to know.

Assange has been on somewhat of a publicity tour ahead of Election Day as he tries to squash accusations that Wikileaks worked with the Russian government to influence the US election. As part of his ongoing media tour, Assange recently appeared on state-run media outlet Russia Today for a video interview.

“There is a thread that runs through all of these emails,” Assange said about Wikileaks role in the US election during the interview. “There is quite a lot of pay for play, or giving access in exchange for money.”

“The Clinton camp has been able to project a near-McCarthyist hysteria that Russia is responsible for everything,” he said. “Hillary Clinton stated multiple times, falsely, that 17 US intelligence agencies had assessed that Russia was the source of our publications. That is false.”

Just watched the Assange interview, moved to tears. He’s, perhaps, the only hero left in journalism. Heartbreaking. https://t.co/O3swPgfAzh

— MATT DRUDGE (@DRUDGE) November 7, 2016

Assange’s statements are obviously rich, especially given the fact that the interview was conducted on RT, which receives funding from the Russian government. In 2010, the Columbia Journalism Review reported that RT was “conceived as a soft-power tool to improve Russia’s image abroad.”

Assange is now doubling down on his statements made on RT, denying that Russia was in any way involved. The problem is it’s probably too late to matter to anyone important.

In early October, the Obama administration formally accused the Russian government of stealing and publishing emails from the Democratic National Committee. In a joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence James Clapper, the government said the leaked emails “are intended to interfere with the US election process.”

The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.

few days after James Clapper and the Department of Homeland Security blamed Russian officials for cyberattacks on the DNC, Wikileaks published thousands of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. Private security researchers at Dell SecureWorks conducted a formal investigation of the hack and concluded the hacking was performed by Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the GRU, after it tricked Podesta into clicking on a fake Google login link. Hillary Clinton also publicly scolded Trump and Russia in the third debate, calling Trump a “puppet” for playing into Putin’s hands.

So, Assange’s carefully worded statement might not actually matter in the long run. Although it claims that Wikileaks does not work for the Russian government, it was careful not to say anything about the source of the email hacks. On the other hand, US intelligence officials and cybersecurity researchers have gone into great detail about Podesta and other DNC officials were hacked, and how the breaches were tied to Russia. In the long run, it looks like Wikileaks lost credibility in this election, and now it’s just trying to save face.

Swedish Prosecutors Are Going to London for a Friendly Chat With Julian Assange

Image: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Ecuador is officially fed up with Julian Assange.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Swedish prosecutors will be paying Ecuador’s four-year houseguest a visit a week from today. To recap: Sweden is the country from which the Wikileaks founder and “editor” fled in order to avoid rape charges. Those outstanding charges and the fear of extradition is why Assange has been seeking asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy.

While the investigation proper will be conducted by an Ecuadorian prosector, a Swedish assistant prosecutor and police investigator will be present during the meeting. With Assange’s consent, the prosecutors also hope to collect a DNA sample to aid in their investigation.

The visit from Swedish officials comes just weeks after Ecuador confirmed that it was responsible for cutting off Assange’s internet access. At the very least, this should quell the rumors that Assange has been either dead or interned at a CIA blacksite.

The Internet’s Best Conspiracy Theories About Julian Assange’s Meltdown [Update]

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Suppression by “powerful states and organizations” is, according to Julian Assange in his 2012 book Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, “one of the hardships WikiLeaks was built to endure.” That claim must reek of false bluster now that his whistleblowing organization has since been compromised by the US government, according to the internet’s greatest conspiracy theorists.

For the real truth about what’s going on with Wikileaks and Julian Assange these days, we turned to Twitter, Reddit, and a variety of anonymous imageboards, sources of great knowledge known for their cautious, even-handed approach to political events and propensity for rigorous fact-checking. Here are the best theories on The White Wizard’s whereabouts and the future of Wikileaks as we know it. Get ready to eat some truth, cucks.

Julian Assange is probably, maybe, definitely dead or captured

This past Saturday Assange’s internet access was cut—first alluded to by a tweet from Wikileaks and later confirmed by Ecuador’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since then, no one has seen or heard from him. The obvious conclusion, as one commenter on 8chan noted, is that, “Assange is either dead or handcuffed to a bed where he can’t access his window.” October 16th is now being referred to by those who know the truth as DAK or “Day Assange Killed.”

Redditors on Trump forum r/the_donald were suspicious that rumors of Assange’s death was a “disruption technique” engineered by the much-maligned organization Correct The Record. Until…

Image: Tap Blog

Jim Stone of Tap Blog also compiled a massive collection of images showing that Assange has had the ability to post pictures of himself in the past. With rumors of his death circulating since Saturday, surely he’d post some proof of life. Stone also noted:

“He obviously had a cell phone. An INTERNET CAPABLE ANDROID CELL PHONE OR AN IPHONE. The entire story about the embassy cutting his line IS BULLSHIT, he could have had a cell connected computer JUST LIKE I USE FOR EVERYTHING ON THIS WEB SITE.”

Checkmate, Ecuador.

“I’m going to go pester the wikileaks twitter, I suggest everyone else do the same. I expect them to answer within a day or two. If they don’t, I’ll accept he’s dead,” one 8chan poster wrote. So far no one, including Gizmodo, has managed to get in touch with Wikileaks through DM to the best of our knowledge.

Image: 4chan

We can’t even fathom how smart his contingency plan was

After Julian was killed/captured and his internet connection was severed, many speculated that the bizarre series of “pre-commitment” tweets from the Wikileaks account were signs that a “deadman’s switch” had been tripped. With Assange incapacitated, it was thought, Wikileaks would commence dumping all the leaks in its war chest of archives—as well as the keys to the 349 gigs of encrypted “insurance” the organization distributed in 2013.

It’s well documented that among Assange’s first major projects in the late 90s was the development of the rubberhose file system—a type of electronic cryptography made solely for the purposes of being torture-proof. He’s planned for this situation for the past 20 years. So now that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Assange is in the hands of the US Government, where are the leaks?

The answer is simple: The deadman switch is people.

“Through monitoring his activity it would be relatively easy to estimate the time frame where Assange must give the deadman switch input and thus calculate when they would have to abduct him to have enough time to get him to a black site and torture the required input out of him,” one commenter on 8chan noted.

Image: 8ch.net

“The deadman switch is made up of several people who don’t know each other, and is a tiered setup with different actions depending on whether Assange is arrested, disappeared, or murdered,” another commenter in the same thread added. “And it makes no point for adversaries to deactivate a system like this, because they must assume there are individuals out there who have the key. In some cases people who don’t even know that’s what they have. People who received instructions from friends: If ever on your Saturday walk you don’t see a potted gardenia on my doorstep, open the first envelope. And so on.”

Once someone moves that gardenia, it’s going to be a day of reckoning, but for now more quotidian emails from John Podesta. Speaking of which.

Hillary Clinton DDoS’d the whole internet

As Gizmodo reported earlier today, many major internet services—including Twitter, Reddit, and Github—were unreachable this morning due to a Distributed Denial of Service attack on a slew of Dyn servers. What we didn’t know at the time was that the attack was an attempt to limit dissemination of Wikileak’s latest Podesta emails dump, at the behest of Hillary Clinton and the DNC, no less.

The connection to ICANN is of particular interest as the US Department of Commerce recently ceded its supervision over the organization, which is responsible for DNS root registries, among other things. A massive DNS attack within a month of Big Government washing its hands of ICANN… coincidence? Not likely.

Every tweet is a cry for help

Image: 4chan

With Assange out of the picture and Hillary nuking half the internet, the obvious next step towards Wikileaks’ destruction is to discredit it from the inside. And undoubtedly the organizations’s tweets have gotten stranger and stranger, sometimes tweeting the same thing in quick succession. The tweets range from broad criticisms of government to empty threats, now with the addition of emojihashtags, and spelling errors.

The Wikileaks account truly went off the rails this morning when it tweeted out a link to Thump (one of VICE’s music verticals) and a video from a YouTuber called TYT Nation.

Report: Ecuador Has Been Sick of Julian Assange ‘for Months’

Photo: Getty

It doesn’t matter if you’re an anti-secrecy activist and they’re a leftist government critical of the United States—if you happen to be Julian Assange, everyone gets tired of your shit eventually.

In an announcement confirming that it had restricted the Wikileaks founder’s internet access on Tuesday, Ecuador’s foreign ministry said it nevertheless remained committed to providing him with political asylum. According to a newly released report, however, the country has been looking for a way to deal with its increasingly inconvenient houseguest “for months.”

Citing an unnamed source familiar with the situation, NBC News reports that Ecuador has long been “frustrated” with Assange’s presence at their London embassy, where he has lived since 2012 to avoid possible arrest and extraditionrelated to Swedish rape allegations.

At the time, hosting Assange was a relatively easy way for Ecuador’s government to bolster its anti-American bona fides. But since Assange began acting as an (alleged) proxy for Russia in its (allegedly) brewing cyberwar with the United States, the Wikileaks founder has become a much more serious political liability.

“The general view is he is a willing participant in the Russian scheme but not an active plotter in it,” a U.S. intelligence source told NBC. “They just realized they could use him.”

According to the source, American officials quietly suggested Ecuador stop letting Assange “carry water” for Russian intelligence agencies. Not long afterward, the country cut off his internet access, citing recent Wikileaks releases affecting the United States presidential election and the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states.

Conveniently, the move allows Ecuador to continue supporting Assange while effectively neutralizing him as a political actor. The country denies it did so at the urging of the United States (as Wikileaks has claimed), but that doesn’t mean a little yanqui birdie didn’t give it the idea.

Ecuador Confirms It Has Cut Off Julian Assange’s Internet Access

Photo: AP

On Tuesday, the country of Ecuador confirmed that it has restricted the internet access of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, citing recent releases affecting the United States presidential election and the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states.

“In recent weeks, WikiLeaks has published a wealth of documents, impacting the U.S. election campaign,” said the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility in a statement. “Accordingly, Ecuador has exercised its sovereign right to temporarily restrict access to some of its private communications network within its Embassy in the United Kingdom.”

According to Wikileaks, Assange lost internet access this weekend shortly after publishing transcripts of paid speeches Hillary Clinton gave to investment bank Goldman Sachs. Tuesday morning, the organization suggested that the country had done so at the urging of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a claim that both American and Ecuadorian officials denied.

Nevertheless, Ecuador said it remains committed to providing political asylum to Assange, who has lived in the embassy since 2012 to avoid possible arrest and extradition related to Swedish rape and molestation allegations.

“Ecuador, in accordance with its tradition of defending human rights and protecting the victims of political persecution, reaffirms the asylum granted to Julian Assange and reiterates its intention to safeguard his life and physical integrity until he reaches a safe place,” said the country. “Ecuador’s foreign policy responds to sovereign decisions alone and does not yield to pressure from other states.

These Cryptic Wikileaks Tweets Don’t Mean Julian Assange Is Dead [Update]

Image: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Earlier today, Wikileaks tweeted out a series of three terse, confusing messages, each containing a 64-character code. Now a lot of people think Julian Assange is dead.

In the absence of context, some users on Twitter, Reddit, and various image boards were quick to speculate that the tweets were the result of a “dead man’s switch,” triggered in the event of Julian Assange’s untimely end. Such switches do exist (both mechanically and electronically) and many speculated that all 349 gigs of the heavily-encrypted “Wikileaks insurance” from 2013 are intended for precisely that purpose.

A thread on 4chan’s /pol/
Another thread on Reddit’s r/the_donald
A comment on 8ch.net’s /pol/

Much as these tweets provide great fodder for conspiracy speculation, the secret to their meaning is hidden in plain sight. “Pre-commitment” in this case is a references to a cryptographic scheme to prevent unreleased information from being tampered with. Essentially those unique codes are proof to anyone reading the documents in the future that their contents remain unchanged: alteration to the leaks will likewise alter those 64-character codes.

The same strategy was used by Tor Project developer Andrea Shepard in a warning shot that may have helped reveal years of Jacob Applebaum’s sexual misconduct. Likewise, Edward Snowden tweeted (and quickly deleted) a similar code in August, though its meaning remains uncertain. A torrent file and accompanying SHA-512 hash was even used by someone on Reddit’s r/SilkRoad to share sensitive forum information. The tweets from Wikileaks appear to be in line with these prior examples—and surely a true “dead man’s switch” unleashing all the data Assange currently possesses would amount to much more than three measly leaks.

Further undermining claims of Assange’s death, the Wikileaks account retweeted something approximately 2 hours ago. In any case, we’ve reached out to them to confirm that Assange is still alive. What remains to be seen is when Wikileaks plans to make these three leaks public, and what they’ll contain.

Update 10/17/16 8:53 EDT: A volunteer with Wikileaks confirmed that Assange is very much alive, even tweeting out some photos of them together.

However, the Wikileaks Twitter account has since claimed that “Assange’s internet link has been intentionally severed by a state party” and that they have “activated the appropriate contingency plans.”

Leak Disruption: Will Wikileaks New Kindle Strategy Make Its Content Even More Snackable?

Image: Getty

There’s now even more Russian literature available for your Kindle device. Now you can download the hacked excerpts of Hillary Clinton’s paid Wall Street speeches straight to your e-reader.

Julian Assange, over at Wikileaks, has rolled out a “handy” new distribution strategy. Say goodbye to “Web 2.0″ and hello to the gorgeous e-paper display available on all of the latest Kindle devices. Now you can dig up Hillary Clinton’s public and private position right on your reading device of choice. No Internet connection required.

Wikileaks’ new distribution strategy begs the question: Will the controversial leaking organization’s content become even more snackable? Sure, Wikileaks may have come under fire for being a willing tool of the Kremlin bent on influencing the US election, but this new content strategy will undoubtedly help Wikileaks get more positive exposure for its brand. Reading John Podesta’s emails may seem boring at first, but when you realize you can do it on the go, Wikileaks looks less like Putin’s puppet and more like a tech disruptor.

Much-Hyped Leak Shows Clinton Cozied Up to Wall Street With Paid Speeches

Photo: AP

Better late than never, Julian Assange has made good on his promise to release further email leaks involving presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Released last night, the documents allegedly contain excerpts from lucrative paid speeches she made to Wall Street firms.

The excerpts are found in an email from Tony Carrk, the research director of the Clinton campaign, to John Podesta, the campaign chairman. As part of an internal review of Clinton’s speeches, the men identified sections of the speeches that might prove politically problematic. WikiLeaks has added headers like “CLINTON SUGGESTS WALL STREET INSIDERS ARE WHAT IS NEEDED TO FIX WALL STREET” and “CLINTON REMARKS ARE PRO KEYSTONE AND PRO TRADE.”

Indeed, Clinton comes off as far more pro-Wall Street and chummy with the assembled elite than she did during the Democratic primary when she had to face off against the more populist policies of Bernie Sanders. “[I’m] kind of far removed because the life I’ve lived and the economic, you know, fortunes that my husband and I now enjoy, but I haven’t forgotten it,” Clinton said.

According to the New York Times:

In the excerpts from her paid speeches to financial institutions and corporate audiences, Mrs. Clinton said she dreamed of “open trade and open borders” throughout the Western Hemisphere. Citing the back-room deal-making and arm-twisting used by Abraham Lincoln, she mused on the necessity of having “both a public and a private position” on politically contentious issues. Reflecting in 2014 on the rage against political and economic elites that swept the country after the 2008 financial crash, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that her family’s rising wealth had made her “kind of far removed” from the struggles of the middle class.

“If everybody’s watching, you know, all of the backroom discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least,” Clinton elaborated when discussing the need for separate positions out of the public eye.

Some comments about trade could be construed as demonstrating that Clinton is comfortable with the kind of free trade policy and market regulation that her opponent supports. Regarding the revolving door that exists between Wall Street and the Federal Trade Commission she said, “The people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry.”

The Clinton campaign has not confirmed the documents’ authenticity but a spokesperson, Glen Caplin, released a statement that according to the Times, “pointed to the United States government’s findings that Russian officials had used WikiLeaks to hack documents in order to sway the outcome of the presidential election.” The campaign has not officially denied that the documents are real.

While there seems to be very little information in the leak that would satisfy anyone looking for evidence of corruption, the excerpts will certainly not help the candidate with voters who feel that she is too close to Wall Street. She has earned more than $22 million dollars giving speeches since she resigned as Secretary of State.

One quote from the leak could actually be beneficial for her among progressive voters. “If you look at the single-payer systems, like Scandinavia, Canada, and elsewhere, they can get costs down because, you know, although their care, according to statistics, overall is as good or better on primary care,” she said at a speech in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2013. She admitted that “they do impose things like waiting times, you know.” Publicly, Clinton has said that single-payer healthcare will “never, ever” happen in the United States and such a system is not part of her platform.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump, is under fire for a leaked tape in which he suggested a great technique for getting women is to “Grab them by the pussy,” and “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Late last night, Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee used Facebook live to beg Trump to step down as the Republican nominee.

This Former Hacker Now Helps The Times Stay Safe Online

Runa Sandvik believes information security can fit into reporters’ lives seamlessly and conveniently.

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Runa Sandvik, senior director of information security at The New York Times.

Credit

Gabriella Angotti-Jones/The New York Times

By Melina Delkic

July 24, 2018

Times Insider delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how news, features and opinion come together at The New York Times.

Runa Sandvik has slowly persuaded everyone in her life to download Signal, the encrypted messaging app often hailed as the gold standard for privacy: family, friends, co-workers — even Uber drivers.

She always personalizes her appeals: To her friends, she says, “It’s free!” To reporters, she points out that it will protect their sources. Whoever her subjects happen to be, Ms. Sandvik wants to help them fit information security into their lives without having to think about it.

“I have personally always said that my job is to help you do your job securely,” Ms. Sandvik said, “so that you don’t have to think about all of this stuff. It’s just done. It’s taken care of. It’s safe by default.”

 

 

Ms. Sandvik, on the other hand, is the senior director of information security for The New York Times. She spends a lot of time thinking about all of this stuff.

She has written about encryption tools and a dark web email service for Forbes. The URL of her personal website is encrypted.cc. She once threw a CryptoParty with Edward Snowden in Hawaii.

And today, she is known for spearheading security improvements at The Times, including two-factor authentication for reporters, which requires an additional verification method after entering a password; a confidential page for tips from sources; secure communication methods; protection for Times subscriber accounts; and more.

It all started in Norway, when Ms. Sandvik got her first computer at age 15. She became obsessed with the endless puzzles and challenges within: how the computer worked, how it didn’t work, and especially how to break its functions and make it do things it wasn’t supposed to do. “The interest for me at that point, early on, was just to soak up as much info as I could, just learn how things work, learn how things fall apart,” she said. This led her to the hacker space.

 

It wasn’t until she started work for the Tor Project, a nonprofit digital privacy group that often trains journalists, that she changed the way she thought about what computers could do for people.

She recalled beginning to ask herself, “What are ways that I can take what I know about information security, and about hacking — the ways you would go after a reporter, for example — and use that to support and defend and empower the people, as opposed to just figuring out how to break stuff?”

Since coming to The Times in March 2016, she has continued to ask herself that question and to weave her background into the way the newsroom functions. “One of the first things I noticed about Runa when I started working with her was how much she cares for what she does and for the mission of The Times,” said Bill McKinley, her boss and the executive director of information security at The Times. When they meet with reporters for new projects, he said, “she lights up.”

And what she does is increasingly crucial.

Cyberattacks — and cyberattacks against journalists, specifically — are on the rise, Ms. Sandvik said.

 

“If you had asked me a year ago, I probably would’ve said no, the only difference is that we’re paying more attention now,” she said. “In the past year, that has certainly changed. I think that we are seeing not necessarily new types of attacks, but a type of persistence and an escalation that we haven’t seen before.”

Those attacks can include trolling, threats and harassment, as well as persistent and innovative phishing emails that can look as if they come from other colleagues within the newsroom or even friends outside of work. And once a hacker gets a journalist’s user names and passwords, “there’s nothing that you can do to get that data back,” she said.

A project Ms. Sandvik worked on that readers may recognize is The Times’s tips line, a page that allows people to send confidential tips to Times journalists. When the F.B.I. raided Michael D. Cohen’s office, for example, it was a tip to The Times’s investigations desk, via encrypted email, that allowed us to break the story first. More recently, a story emerged from a tip from Deloitte employees about their petition to management to stop working with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Got a confidential news tip?

The New York Times would like to hear from readers who want to share messages and materials with our journalists.

 

The Times still gets more than 50 tips a day. “It’s changed how the newsroom works,” said Gabriel Dance, the deputy investigations editor. And even for less flashy projects, like tweaks in communication methods for journalists, Ms. Sandvik’s work doesn’t go unnoticed.

 

 

“She’s had to help us think really creatively about how to stay secure while also staying flexible to working in a newsroom,” he said. “It’s the coaching she gives to investigative reporters on how best to protect themselves and protect their sources.”

Around the newsroom, she’s also known for her stealthy fake phishing emails (modeled to appear to come from colleagues but, upon closer examination, actually sent from an external email address), often requesting employees’ information and aiming to see who falls for it. For the small number who open attachments or enter their user names and passwords, Ms. Sandvik and her team reach out to them for follow-up training.

Outside The Times, she is well regarded in the information security community, Mr. McKinley said. She frequently attends conferences, speaks at events and hosts CryptoParties, or events that aim to educate people about digital security in an accessible way (two weeks ago, she co-hosted a Times-sponsored CryptoParty). Her friends see her as a tough stalwart of a male-dominated industry.

 

“Sometimes men get the idea that they can bully this tiny Norwegian woman, and that they can push her around,” said Eva Galperin, a friend of Ms. Sandvik’s who also works in information security, as the director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “And she will not move.”

The two often trade war stories and tips on instituting new security features in the workplace. One of her favorite stories about Ms. Sandvik took place during Def Con, a convention for hackers and security experts, when Ms. Sandvik and her husband presented their research on how to hack and disable a sniper rifle. “It was the very first time I had ever seen coverage of a man and a woman doing security research together, and the woman got all the credit and the man was a footnote,” Ms. Galperin laughed. “I can tell you, that almost never happens.”

As for Ms. Sandvik, she knows her industry is dominated by men, but she said it had never really gotten in her way.

“It’s kind of interesting that security is in her title,” Mr. Dance said, “because she is like a security blanket. She makes us feel more comfortable that no matter what file or source or situation we find ourselves in, we can go to Runa.”

Wikileaks May Have Withheld Key Russian Documents From ‘Syria Files’ Leaks

Image: Getty

Wikileaks withheld a batch of emails showing a $2.2 billion transaction between the Syrian regime and a Russian government-owned bank, according to a Daily Dot report. If true, the report will likely have a lasting negative impact on Wikileaks’ credibility. The report alleges that the transparency organization betrayed its own core values of “pristine leaking,” and did so in a way that protects Russia’s public image.

As the Daily Dot reports, court records placed under seal by a Manhattan federal court and obtained by the news organization “show in detail how a group of hacktivists breached the Syrian government’s networks on the eve of the country’s civil war and extracted emails about major bank transactions the Syrian regime was hurriedly making amid a host of economic sanctions.”

The report claims batch of emails were not included in the cache of documents Wikileaks published under the name the “Syria Files”in 2012. The emails allegedly show correspondence between the Central Bank of Syria and Russia’s VTB Bank. When the Daily Dot asked Wikileaks for comment, the transparency organization denied removing the batch of emails and vaguely threatened the journalist, saying, “You can be sure we will return the favor one day.”

It’s entirely possible that the hackers removed the email batch from the data dump it provided to Wikileaks. But it also seems very unlikely. As Daily Dot reporters Dell Cameron and Patrick Howell O’Neill point out in their story, they received 500 pages showing every step the hackers went through to infiltrate the Syrian government’s networks. The reporters say, “the court records leaked to the Daily Dot reveal the Moscow bank’s emails were, in fact, part of the larger backup file containing numerous emails currently found on the WikiLeaks site.”

If Wikileaks did indeed remove emails from its data dump, it would completely undermine founder Julian Assange’s repeated claims of providing “pristine” leaks since the organization was founded in 2006. It would indicate that the transparency organization is not neutral and is even willing to tamper with the information it’s publishing, thus undermining its mission of transparency.

Wikileaks’ credibility has been increasingly called into question with each of its last major leaks. When the organization published 19,252 emails from top US Democratic National Committee members earlier this year, cybersecurity experts said the leak was likely facilitated by the Russian government.

During an appearance on HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also claimed the organization did not publish sensitive information from DNC donors. “We did not publish full credit card numbers of donors,” he said. “It’s the last four digits, just like your 7-Eleven receipt.” As Gizmodo reported, Assange blatantly lied about the contents of the dump. Wikileaks had in fact published dozens of full credit card numbers.

WikiLeaks was also criticized for publishing more than 80 variants of malware in the second email dump from Turkey’s ruling political party (AKP). Anti-virus security expert Vesselin Bontchev published the allegations on his GitHub page, showing how extensive the threats inside Wikileaks AKP email dump were.

New York Times reporter Zeynep Tufekci has also been vocal about the lack of legitimacy and newsworthiness of Wikileaks dumps. She wrote that the newest batch of AKP leaks “have nothing on Turkey’s political power structure” and contains “personal info of ordinary people as they email inquiring for jobs, share travel plans.” She also criticized Wikileaks for “putting women in danger” by publishing sensitive information of every female voter in 79 of 81 Turkish provinces.

The saddest part of Wikileaks’ eroding credibility is that we’re losing a major source for leaking information while protecting sources. The ideal of “ethical leaking” and “scientific journalism” has been completely undermined by an egomaniacal campaign from Assange, who has almost certainly received documents from Russian-backed hackers in an attempt to influence the U.S. election. Now, it appears Wikileaks went to great lengths to cover its tracks and also protect its sources image. If Wikileaks, Russia, and Syria are working together in a coordinated political campaign, the public deserves to know.

Wikileaks Will Publish More Clinton Campaign Data (and Probably More Personal Info, Too)

Image: Getty

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange promised to leak “thousands” of documents from the Clinton campaign on Wednesday during an interview with Fox News’s Megyn Kelly. He also said the documents would be “significant” in the context of the presidential election. Assange vowed to publish the data before the November election because he believes “people have the right to understand who they’re electing.”

“We have a lot of pages of material, thousands of pages of material,” Assange said during the interview. “I don’t want to give the game away, but it’s a variety of different types of documents from different institutions that are associated with the election campaign. There are some unexpected angles that are quite interesting, and some are that are even entertaining.”

Assange didn’t say whether Wikileaks will re-employ the “ethical leaking” guidelines it has all but abandoned in its last three major data dumps. As Gizmodo previously reported, Wikileaks included dozens of credit card and social security numbers in the 19,252 emails it published from top US Democratic National Committee members. The organization has also been criticized for “putting women in danger” when it published emails from the Turkish government earlier this year.

Assange has gone to great lengths to control the conversation about the “information war” he’s currently embroiled in. He even recently stooped as low as the politicians he so frequently criticizes when he lied on national television about the information Wikileaks published in the DNC email dump.

In an interview on the HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, Assange said Wikileaks “did not publish full credit card numbers” when it in fact had done just that. Assange doubled down on his claims when he refused to answer CNN’s Jake Tapper’s question about criticism toward even modest curation.

“We have a 10 year history of publishing pristine archives under the rubric of ‘scientific journalism’—which we invented,” Assange said. “The readers can check the accuracy of any story, and that material can go on to be used in litigations and prosecutions.”

So why hasn’t Assange published the new leaks yet? He told Megyn Kelly he and Wikileaks editors are “working around the clock” to vet the materials and get them ready for publishing. Assange has not said whether the new leaks will include sensitive personal information, but it seems inevitable. As its founder said, Wikileaks is now focused on publishing “pristine archives under the rubric of ‘scientific journalism.’” Apparently, science and privacy don’t mix.

Wikileaks Published Dozens of Malware Links in Email Dump 

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WikiLeaks published more than 80 variants of malware in the second email dump from Turkey’s ruling political party (AKP), according to anti-virus security expert Vesselin Bontchev.

Bontchev published his research on his GitHub page, which shows just how extensive the threats inside Wikileaks AKP email dump were. This is just the latest example of unethical leaking to come from the whistleblowing organization. In July, the site was criticized for “putting women in danger” by publishing sensitive information of every female voter in 79 of 81 Turkish provinces. Now, there is yet another reason to refer to the AKP email dump and dangerous and poorly executed.

Anyone searching the Wikileaks database can easily download malware attachments by clicking on the wrong link. Dr. Bontchev disclosed the links safely in his report, and also said his findings were “by no means exhaustive.” He said most of the malware discovered was “run-of-the mill” spam, scam, phishing attacks inciting you to click on the attachment, which is terrible news for journalists and anti-censorship advocates investigating the leak.

Dr. Vesselin Bontchev identified more than 80 links to malware included in the Wikileaks AKP database. (Image: Wikileaks)

The published report breaks the findings into three pieces: Links to the original email in the Wikileaks database, one to the malicious attachment hosted on the Wikileaks website, and a VirtusTotal analysis of the attachment. A vast majority of the malware links appear to deploy ransomware or remote access trojans. Neither would be good for an ordinary citizen to download.

The most alarming thing about the findings is that they’re only a small subset of the total information published by Wikileaks over the past few months. Bontchev insinuated on Twitter that the size of the threat could actually be in the thousands rather than in the dozens as he initially reported.

 

Researchers have questioned the moral legitimacy of the AKP email dump altogether since the beginning. New York Times reporter Zeynep Tufekci has pulled no punches when publicly shaming Wikileaks since the original AKP email dump. She wrote that the newest batch of leaks “have nothing on Turkey’s political power structure” and contains “personal info of ordinary people as they email inquiring for jobs, share travel plans.”

Wikileaks has not yet responded to the latest allegations that it published dozens of malware attachments. Even if the organization comments, it’s unlikely that the editors would show any remorse. It appears that the organization has basically given up on trying to leak things ethically.

The DNC Hack Was Much Bigger Than We Thought

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The recent hack that targeted Democratic officials and led to the resignation of Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was much bigger than initially suspected, according to a new report from the New York Times.

Sources tell the paper that over 100 officials and groups had their private email accounts breached, and the primary targets appear to include Hillary Clinton campaign officials. The Democratic Governors’ Association may also have been affected. As a result, the FBI has widened its investigation, and authorities have begun reaching out to Democratic officials to tell them their accounts may have been compromised. Previously, officials said the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee were the targets of the hackers, who were reportedly from Russia.

Democratic sources are apparently readying themselves for the possibility of another embarrassing data dump before November. Last month, Wasserman Schultz resigned after emails obtained in the hack saw party officials rooting for Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

Authorities are still unsure if this was a standard case of political hacking or whether it was intended to specifically screw up the 2016 electoral process. There’s no proof that hackers gained access to the accounts of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but Trump did ask Russia—jokingly, he claimed—to hack Clinton to recover her “lost” emails.

In July, WikiLeaks published a trove of nearly 20,000 emails—many of which included social security numbers and other personal information—obtained in the hack. Not long after, Julian Assange bragged that the group had “more material related to the Hillary Clinton campaign.” And this week, WikiLeaks offered $20,000 as a reward for information about former DNC staffer Seth Rich, whose death last month prompted whisperings that he was involved in the hack. (Assange isn’t Clinton’s biggest fan.)

As for the Democrats, they’re reportedly “scrubbing their files to determine what internal information might have been compromised” and “shoring up their cybersecurity defenses to guard against another attack,” according to the Times. How many days until the election again?

Julian Assange Lied About a WikiLeaks Data Dump on National Television

Image: HBO

Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange blatantly lied about publishing only the “last four digits” of credit card numbers from democratic donors during an appearance on the HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday.

“We did not publish full credit card numbers of donors,” Assange said in response to a torrent of criticism from the show’s host. “It’s the last four digits, just like your 7-Eleven receipt.”

Maher, who was already frustrated by Assange’s defensive blathering, let the comment slide. But as the reporter who broke the original story, I can definitively say Assange looked directly into the camera and lied.

This is the same person who prides himself on exposing the absolute truth and built his notoriety promising to do so. He could have said that he can’t account for all the emails or doesn’t care about sensitive information.

But he didn’t. Instead, he lied.

The fact is Wikileaks published dozens of full (and active) credit card numbers in the original DNC email dump. The emails that include these numbers are so rife with personally identifiable information, it makes it nearly impossible to publish a redacted screenshot in a responsible way.

“We’re really good at this,” Assange said. “We have a 10-year perfect record of having never got it wrong in relation to the integrity of what we have released.”

That’s not exactly true, either. A decade ago when Wikileaks was born, its founders promised to “facilitate safety in the ethical leaking movement,” but they’ve since abandoned that promise. The organization has been criticized for publishing the names of Afghan civilians, putting Turkish women in danger, and now publishing personal information of donors to the Democratic National Committee. Wikileaks ethics are closer to pure anarchy than any virtuous cause.

Assange’s latest interview with Bill Maher leads me to believe that he and other Wikileaks editors have no clue what the site is publishing. Maybe the editors just don’t care anymore, but that’s not what they’re saying publicly. Instead, they’re trying to mislead the public and misrepresent the data it has published.

For example, the organization tried to stir up controversy on the last night of the Democratic National Convention sending a tweet that made it appear it had published new DNC voicemails. Several news organizations took the bait despite the fact that the voicemails were discovered 5 days earlier. And now, Wikileaks’ editor-in-chief has been caught lying on national television.

What Happened to WikiLeaks? 

Julian Assange

WikiLeaks has hit rock bottom. Once dedicated to careful vetting and redaction—sometimes too much redaction—the “whistleblower site” is now gleefully basking in its dump of thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee—most of which are full of personal, non-newsworthy information—published with the express intent of harming Hillary Clinton’s political campaign. In this latest release, there is no brave whistleblower in sight, just an anonymous hacker believed by the FBI and U.S. intelligence community to be a front for Russian intelligence services. The WikiLeaks project has fallen far from the lofty heights of its founding a decade ago, when Julian Assange promised to “facilitate safety in the ethical leaking movement.”

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way: It’s a good thing that, thanks to the leak, the public now knows the extent to which the DNC tilted the scales in favor of Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary. It’s also a good thing that former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to step down as a result of these revelations. The DNC had an obligation to stay neutral during the nominating process, and these emails show that the organization failed at that. Much of what has been reported on out of the hack was newsworthy.

What isn’t good is that the documents released last week (19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments) were dumped in an extremely calculated manner by an organization that holds clear and obvious political motives. It’s also not good that these emails most likely came from hackers working with the Russian government in an attempt to influence the U.S. election. On top of that, WikiLeaks’ careless failure to vet the contents of what they were unleashing on the internet led to the dumping of credit card and social security numbers of individuals who had committed the crime of donating to the Democratic Party.

It hasn’t always been this way. In 2010, when Wikileaks published 15,000 classified field reports from the U.S. war in Afghanistan, it delayed the release until it could properly redact and vet the documents. In the case of the DNC emails, it appears that WikiLeaks was more interested in timing the release for maximum political damage than in combing through the trove to ensure that what it was releasing met its own goal of publishing “materials involving war, spying and corruption.”

The value in publishing the field reports, as well as the trove of State Department cables that WikiLeaks also obtained from Chelsea Manning, was in part the sheer volume of information: There were specific stories and details that were newsworthy, to be sure, but the bold act of tearing the cover of secrecy wholesale off of hundreds of thousands of official documents that were generated by a purportedly democratic government was breathtaking. They permitted global analysis of both our conduct of foreign policy and a largely undercovered war, and gave citizens a rare look inside the behaviors and thinking of officials who were acting in their name. At the time of those leaks, Assange described his vision as “scientific journalism”:

I want to set up a new standard: ‘scientific journalism.’ If you publish a paper on DNA, you are required, by all the good biological journals, to submit the data that has informed your research—the idea being that people will replicate it, check it, verify it. So this is something that needs to be done for journalism as well. There is an immediate power imbalance, in that readers are unable to verify what they are being told, and that leads to abuse.

But this DNC dump is a different animal, reeking of the sort of “information vandalism” that anti-secrecy activist Steven Aftergood has accused Assange of perpetrating. These emails were not official documents, they were not created by government employees. The logic of wholesale non-consensual transparency does not apply as cleanly to the email inboxes of political workers who do not act in the name of the citizenry. Yes, the DNC is a powerful institution, and yes, its internal machinations are newsworthy. But innocuous exchanges between DNC employees and their spouses or partners do not become evidence of corruption simply by virtue of their adjacency in a database to more substantive conversations about kneecapping Bernie Sanders. Nor do the Social Security numbers of Democratic donors—even the rich ones!—whose donations are already public in Federal Election Commission databases.

It’s hard to explain this disregard. It could be some sort of ideological aversion to redacting even the most personal or pointless information. Or it could be a lack of manpower and time: Assange has never shied away from expressing his disdain for Hillary Clinton, and he certainly appears to have deliberately timed the release to maximally disrupt the proceedings of the DNC. It’s unclear how long he has had access to the data, but it could be that time ran out and he decided to publish and be damned. In any case, his failure to apply even his own “war, spying and corruption” to the release makes the whole thing look more like a personal vendetta than journalism, scientific or otherwise.

When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for Julian Assange, the publisher and creator of WikiLeaks, referred Gizmodo to the WikiLeaks Twitter page and his interview with DemocracyNow.

“Often it’s the case that we have to do a lot of exploration and marketing of the material we publish ourself to get a big political impact for it,” Assange told DemocracyNow. “But in this case we knew because of the impending DNC and the degree of interest in the U.S. election we didn’t need to establish partnerships with the New York Times or the Washington Post.”

According to Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on Edward Snowden’s NSA documents, it is now harder than ever to defend WikiLeaks.

“I used to defend WikiLeaks all the time on the grounds that they were not indiscriminate dumpers of information,” Greenwald told Slate. “They were carefully protecting people’s reputations. And they have changed their view on that—and no longer believe, as Julian says, in redacting any information of any kind for any reason—and I definitely do not agree with that approach and think that they can be harmful to innocent people or other individuals in ways that I don’t think is acceptable.”

WikiLeaks was once a grand idea—a way to protect vulnerable sources while helping important information find its way to the public. Its successes changed the history of journalism. But the dream of scientific journalism has devolved into an egomaniacal campaign of attention-seeking, and a political war waged with documents Assange almost certainly received from Russian-backed hackers looking to influence the U.S. election.

UN Panel Rules That, Yes, Julian Assange Has Been Arbitrarily Detained

A United Nations panel has ruled that Julian Assange has been “arbitrarily detained by the Governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom” and believes he is “entitled to his freedom of movement.”

Assange and his legal team complained to the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2014 that his living in 300 square feet within the Ecuadorian Embassy was unwarranted and had taken a toll on his health. Now, the panel has determined that Assange has “been subjected to different forms of deprivation of liberty” since his initial arrest back in 2010. It explains:

The Working Group therefore requested Sweden and the United Kingdom to assess the situation of Mr. Assange to ensure his safety and physical integrity, to facilitate the exercise of his right to freedom of movement in an expedient manner, and to ensure the full enjoyment of his rights guaranteed by the international norms on detention. The Working Group also considered that the detention should be brought to an end and that Mr. Assange should be afforded the right to compensation.

Swedish authorities have been seeking Assange over allegations of rape, but he has resisted questioning—largely over fears that he may end up extradited to the US. If that happened, he’d likely face some severe charges over the files he exposed during the WikiLeaks releases that started in 2010.

The BBC first reported news about the UN panel’s decision yesterday. At the time, Assange took to Twitter to explain that:

[S]hould I prevail and the state parties be found to have acted unlawfully, I expect the immediate return of my passport and the termination of further attempts to arrest me.

The verdict, however, doesn’t actually have any influence over what British and Swedish authorities do—as countries around the world ruled by the UN to violate human rights would attest. Indeed, London’s police force has already pointed out that the UN ruling doesn’t undermine the European arrest warrant against him, and say he’d still be taken into custody if he were to leave the embassy.

According to BBC Radio 4, Assange will provide a reaction to the news via Skype later today.

Julian Assange To Be Questioned by Swedish Authorities in His London Panic Room

An agreement between Ecuadorian representatives, Julian Assange and Swedish authorities has apparently been reached, that may see him questioned by Swedish police without having to leave the safety of his diplomatic immunity bunker in London.

The charges against Assange stretch back a long way, back to before the more sympathetic (and likeable?) Edward Snowden took over the mantle of being the internet’s favourite source of governmental shame. The move would conveniently allow Assange to avoid extradition to Sweden to face those charges of sexual assault against two women—charges Assange has previously rubbished.

It would also mean Assange would be able to fulfil the Swedish request to answer questions while remaining in his tiny bit of London—inside the Ecuadorian embassy—without fear of being arrested by U.S. authorities should he leave. Indeed, that’s why he’s so keen to avoid travelling to Sweden. (It’s also quite cold there at the time of year, too, we guess…)

Assange’s legal defense team leader Baltasar Garzon has said that: “Julian Assange’s rights need to be respected by Sweden and the United Kingdom. These countries have failed to do so until now. Julian Assange’s only demands are that his fundamental rights are acknowledged and respected, including the asylum granted to him by Ecuador.”

In Jonathan Franzen’s New Novel Purity, the Internet Is the Villain  

Is Jonathan Franzen trolling us?

The Great Literary Curmudgeon famously detests the internet, and in his latest novel, Purity, the internet plays a central role to the pulpy plot: It’s the villain.

(Spoilers ahead. A lot of them.)

Franzen’s protagonist is a capital-M Millennial called Pip. (Full name: Purity. I know.) She’s recruited to work for a fictional WikiLeaks rival called the Sunlight Project. The Sunlight Project is led by a guy named Andreas Wolf. Even though Julian Assange is repeatedly mentioned as his rival, he’s a direct inspiration for the character—a conniving, cold-eyed blonde womanizer with an ego running a digital secret-leaking project. Except Wolf is from East Germany and he’s a murderer who loves to masturbate.

Pip’s recruitment to work for the Sunlight Project initially seems like a weird deux ex machina; she’s a caustic squatter with no special internet skills. She’s told that she is “special” because it turns out that Wolf has plans for her. Wolf only invites her to the Sunlight Project so he can eventually seduce her into spying on on a man named Tom who may expose his secrets. Pip’s not actually special in her own right. It’s a pretty good burn on Millennial entitlement, really.


Purity is Franzen’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, an attempt by an aging white man scribbler with a string of hit novels to Write About Young People and The World Today that reads like the guy wrote it with one hand while shaking his other fist at the local youths. Like Tom Wolfe’s naive co-ed Charlotte, Pip is never believable as she’s ping-ponged between people who treat her like a pawn. Not when she repeatedly says “Criminy!” or when she beguiles an older man into eating her out but can’t bring herself to say “vagina.” Not when she takes the entire novel to stand up to her emotionally abusive mother but bitches out every one of her bosses with a weird sense of impunity for someone whose poverty is a plot point. And especially not when the culmination of her character arc is “starts dating a dude she met at a coffee shop because they both like to read the Sunday New York Times in print whilst drinking coffee.”

That is to say: I would call Purity an achievement, but not a success. Pip is a truly terrible character. Franzen’s sex descriptions remain horrifying. (Sample: “transforming his dinky worm into something big and hard.”) The plot is ambitious, but it’s too obviously plotted, simultaneously overstuffed and pat.

And yet. Franzen’s dyspeptic take on technology is one of the more compelling themes. It’s not an optimistic one. It’s myopic and wary, but it’s not wrong. Whether he did it to antagonize or not, Franzen’s decision to write his “internet novel” isn’t the “dinky worm” de-purifying Purity. The sections detailing Pip’s use of Facebook or the way the Sunlight interns communicate are surprisingly accurate considering they spewed from the pen of the Tweet Hater himself.

(Please imagine, for a moment, Franzen googling “encryption” and then frantically calling Jeffrey Eugenides to get him to install PGP so they could practice.)

Aside from his highly entertaining feud with Oprah, Franzen has been annoying people on the internet for years by saying shit like “Twitter is unspeakably irritating” and “Twitter stands for everything I oppose” and kvetching about social media as the downfall of culture.

If you’re known as the famous writer who hates the internet and you include lines like “The problem is we trust technology” and your most vapid character goes on about how many Twitter followers someone has, it’s not just a recurring theme. It’s a provocation.

Franzen presents the internet as a hegemonic force, alternately circumscribing and driving its characters into new states of torment. There’s a prolonged section where Wolf criticizes the internet. “If you substituted networks for socialism,” he thinks, “you got the Internet. Its competing platforms were united in their ambition to define every term of your existence.” Then he mentally derides TED talk enthusiasts for their “smarmy syrup of convenient conviction.” (One point to Franzen. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.)

Wolf’s narcissism is fed as he starts thinking of his internet persona as his truer self on his path to fame:

He was so immersed and implicated in the Internet, so enmeshed in its totalitarianism, that his online existence was coming to seem realer than his physical self […] Private thoughts didn’t exist in the retrievable, disseminable, and readable way that data did. And since a person couldn’t exist in two places at once, the more he existed as the Internet’s image of him, the less he felt like he existed as a flesh-and-blood person.

I suspect Tila Tequila once felt the same.

Wolf uses the internet as a tool for self-aggrandizement, but he is undone by it, so fixated on how his persona will be destroyed if Tom works reveals the truth about him that he goes to absurd (plot-driving) lengths to ensure it doesn’t.

Tom is also screwed over digitally: By installing spyware on Tom’s hard drive, Wolf is able to open a Word Document that contains a sprawling, sexually explicit memoir of Tom’s relationship with Pip’s mother, Anabel. Then he emails it to Pip.

And Anabel’s attempts to shut the world out are foiled by her daughter’s entry into digital leaking and journalism. “This is a nightmare, a nightmare,” Anabel sobs when Pip tells her she’s going to work for Wolf. Of course, she’s right. Wolf also tracks Anabel using facial-recognition software.

Tom’s investigative journalist girlfriend Leila derides internet writing for its lack of person-to-person sourcing. “When I’m sitting at a computer, I’m only half alive,” Leila tells Pip. (Never mind that all of the journalism that Leila produces over the course of the novel stems from Wolf tipping her off from information he discovered by having one of his interns Facebook-friend somebody.)

Purity is a book about characters who are tortured by dirtiness, by contamination. Wolf is concerned that his righteous internet persona/project will be polluted if his homicidal past is revealed. Anabel is a screeching parody of a trust fund SJW, who turns her back on billions and her husband because she demands an impossible moral standard.

Pip’s motivations for everything she does are not made very clear; she exists to everyone else in the book primarily as a place to project their ideas about morality. It’s odd, but Franzen somehow managed to imbue more realism and life into his depiction of the internet than his title character.

Exclusive: Read Julian Assange’s Introduction to The Wikileaks Files

This essay by Julian Assange is taken from the introduction to The Wikileaks Files: The World According to the US Empire, a collection analyzing how Wikileaks’ release of US diplomatic cables impacted foreign policy.


One day, a monk and two novices found a heavy stone in their path. “We will throw it away,” said the novices. But before they could do so, the monk took his ax and cleaved the stone in half. After seeking his approval, the novices then threw the halves away. “Why did you cleave the stone only to have us throw it away?” they asked. The monk pointed to the distance the half stones had traveled. Growing excited, one of the novices took the monk’s ax and rushed to where one half of the stone had landed. Cleaving it, he threw the quarter, whereupon the other novice grabbed the ax from him and rushed after it. He too cleaved the stone fragment and threw it afield. The novices continued on in this fashion, laughing and gasping, until the halves were so small they traveled not at all and drifted into their eyes like dust. The novices blinked in bewilderment. “Every stone has its size,” said the monk.

At the time of writing, WikiLeaks has published 2,325,961 diplomatic cables and other US State Department records, comprising some two billion words. This stupendous and seemingly insurmountable body of internal state literature, which if printed would amount to some 30,000 volumes, represents something new. Like the State Department, it cannot be grasped without breaking it open and considering its parts. But to randomly pick up isolated diplomatic records that intersect with known entities and disputes, as some daily newspapers have done, is to miss “the empire” for its cables.

Each corpus has its size.

To obtain the right level of abstraction, one which considers the relationships between most of the cables for a region or country rather than considering cables in isolation, a more scholarly approach is needed. This approach is so natural that it seems odd that it has not been tried before.

The study of empires has long been the study of their communications. Carved into stone or inked into parchment, empires from Babylon to the Ming dynasty left records of the organizational center communicating with its peripheries. However, by the 1950s students of historical empires realized that somehow the communications medium was the empire. Its methods for organizing the inscription, transportation, indexing and storage of its communications, and for designating who was authorized to read and write them, in a real sense constituted the empire. When the methods an empire used to communicate changed, the empire also changed.

Speech has a short temporal range, but stone has a long one. Some writing methods, such as engraving into stone, suited the transmission of compressed institutional rules that needed to be safely communicated into future months and years. But these methods did not allow for rapidly unfolding events, or for official nuance or discretion: they were set in stone. To address the gaps, empires with slow writing systems still had to rely heavily on humanity’s oldest and yet most ephemeral communications medium: oral conventions, speech.

Other methods, such as papyrus, were light and fast to create, but fragile. Such communications materials had the advantage of being easy to construct and transport, unifying occupied regions through rapid information flow that in turn could feed a reactive central management. Such a well-connected center could integrate the streams of intelligence coming in and swiftly project its resulting decisions outwards, albeit with resulting tendencies toward short-termism and micromanagement. While a sea, desert, or mountain could be crossed or bypassed at some expense, and energy resources discovered or stolen, the ability to project an empire’s desires, structure, and knowledge across space and time forms an absolute boundary to its existence.

Cultures and economies communicate using all manner of techniques across the regions and years of their existence, from the evolution of jokes shared virally between friends to the diffusion of prices across trade routes. This does not by itself make an empire. The structured attempt at managing an extended cultural and economic system using communications is the hall- mark of empire. And it is the records of these communications, never intended to be dissected, and so especially vulnerable to dissection, that form the basis for understanding the nature of the world’s sole remaining “empire.”

Anatomy of the US empire

And where is this empire?

Each working day, 71,000 people across 191 countries representing twenty-seven different US government agencies wake and make their way past flags, steel fences, and armed guards into one of the 276 fortified buildings that comprise the 169 embassies and other missions of the US Department of State. They are joined in their march by representatives and operatives from twenty-seven other US government departments and agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the various branches of the US military.

Inside each embassy is an ambassador who is usually close to domestic US political, business or intelligence power; career diplomats who specialize in the politics, economy, and public diplomacy of their host state; managers, researchers, military attachés, spies under foreign-service cover, personnel from other US government agencies (for some embassies this goes as far as overt armed military or covert special operations forces); contractors, security personnel, technicians, locally hired translators, cleaners, and other service personnel.

Above them, radio and satellite antennas scrape the air, some reaching back home to receive or disgorge diplomatic and CIA cables, some to relay the communications of US military ships and planes, others emplaced by the National Security Agency in order to mass-intercept the mobile phones and other wireless traffic of the host population.

The US diplomatic service dates back to the revolution, but it was in the post–World War II environment that the modern State Department came to be. Its origins coincided with the appointment of Henry Kissinger as secretary of state, in 1973. Kissinger’s appointment was unusual in several respects. Kissinger did not just head up the State Department; he was also concurrently appointed national security advisor, facilitating a tighter integration between the foreign relations and military and intelligence arms of the US government. While the State Department had long had a cable system, the appointment of Kissinger led to logistical changes in how cables were written, indexed, and stored. For the first time, the bulk of cables were transmitted electronically. This period of major innovation is still present in the way the department operates today.

The US Department of State is unique among the formal bureaucracies of the United States. Other agencies aspire to administrate one function or another, but the State Department represents, and even houses, all major elements of US national power. It provides cover for the CIA, buildings for the NSA mass-interception equipment, office space and communications facilities for the FBI, the military, and other government agencies, and staff to act as sales agents and political advisors for the largest US corporations.

One cannot properly understand an institution like the State Department from the outside, any more than Renaissance artists could discover how animals worked without opening them up and poking about inside. As the diplomatic apparatus of the United States, the State Department is directly involved in putting a friendly face on empire, concealing its underlying mechanics. Every year, more than $1 billion is budgeted for “public diplomacy,” a circumlocutory term for outward-facing propaganda. Public diplomacy explicitly aims to influence journalists and civil society, so that they serve as conduits for State Department messaging.

While national archives have produced impressive collections of internal state communications, their material is intention- ally withheld or made difficult to access for decades, until it is stripped of potency. This is inevitable, as national archives are not structured to resist the blowback (in the form of withdrawn funding or termination of officials) that timely, accessible archives of international significance would produce. What makes the revelation of secret communications potent is that we were not supposed to read them. The internal communications of the US Department of State are the logistical by-product of its activities: their publication is the vivisection of a living empire, showing what substance flowed from which state organ and when.

Diplomatic cables are not produced in order to manipulate the public, but are aimed at elements of the rest of the US state apparatus, and are therefore relatively free from the distorting influence of public relations. Reading them is a much more effective way of understanding an institution like the State Department than reading reports by journalists on the public pronouncements of Hillary Clinton, or Jen Psaki.

While in their internal communications State Department officials must match their pens to the latest DC orthodoxies should they wish to stand out in Washington for the “right” reasons and not the “wrong” ones, these elements of political correctness are themselves noteworthy and visible to outsiders who are not sufficiently indoctrinated. Many cables are deliberative or logistical, and their causal relationships across time and space with other cables and with externally documented events create a web of interpretive constraints that reliably show how the US Department of State and the agencies that inter-operate with its cable system understand their place in the world.

Only by approaching this corpus holistically—over and above the documentation of each individual abuse, each localized atrocity—does the true human cost of empire heave into view.

National security religiosity and the international studies association

While there exists a large literature in the structural or realpolitik analysis of key institutions of US power, a range of ritualistic and even quasi-religious phenomena surrounding the national security sector in the United States suggests that these approaches alone lack explanatory power. These phenomena are familiar in the ritual of flag-folding, the veneration of orders, and elaborate genuflection to rank, but they can be seen also in the extraordinary reaction to WikiLeaks’ disclosures, where it is possible to observe some of their more interesting features.

When WikiLeaks publishes US government documents with classification markings—a type of national-security “holy seal,” if you will—two parallel campaigns begin: first, the public campaign of downplaying, diverting attention from, and reframing any revelations that are a threat to the prestige of the national security class; and, second, an internal campaign within the national security state itself to digest what has happened. When documents carrying such seals are made public, they are transubstantiated into forbidden objects that become toxic to the “state within a state”—the more than 5.1 million Americans (as of 2014) with active security clearances, and those on its extended periphery who aspire to its economic or social patronage.

There is a level of hysteria and non-corporeality exhibited in this reaction to WikiLeaks’ disclosures that is not easily captured by traditional theories of power. Many religions and cults imbue their priestly class with additional scarcity value by keeping their religious texts secret from the public or the lower orders of the devoted. This technique also permits the priestly class to adopt different psychological strategies for different levels of indoctrination. What is laughable, hypocritical, or Machiavellian to the public or lower levels of “clearance” is embraced by those who have become sufficiently indoctrinated or co-opted into feeling that their economic or social advantage lies in accepting that which they would normally reject. Publicly, the US government has claimed, falsely, that anyone without a security clearance distributing “classified” documents is violating the Espionage Act of 1917. But the claims of the interior “state within a state” campaign work in the opposite direction. There, it orders the very people it publicly claims are the only ones who can legally read classified documents to refrain from reading documents WikiLeaks and associated media have published with classification markings on them, lest they be “contaminated” by them. While a given document can be read by cleared staff when it issues from classified government repositories, it is forbidden for the same staff to set eyes on the exact same document when it emerges from a public source. Should cleared employees of the national security state read such documents in the public domain, they are expected to self-report their contact with the newly profaned object, and destroy all traces of it.

This response is, of course, irrational. The classified cables and other documents published by WikiLeaks and associated media are completely identical to the original versions officially avail- able to those with the necessary security clearance, since this is where they originated. They are electronic copies. Not only are they indistinguishable—there is literally no difference at all between them. Not a word. Not a letter. Not a single bit.

The implication is that there is a non-physical property that inhabits documents once they receive their classification markings, and that this magical property is extinguished, not by copying the document, but by making the copy public. The now public document has, to devotees of the national security state, not merely become devoid of this magical property and reverted to a mundane object, it has been inhabited by another non- physical property: an evil one.

This kind of religious thinking has consequences. Not only is it the excuse used by the US government to block millions of people working for the “state within a state” from reading more than thirty different WikiLeaks domains—the same excuse that was used to block the New York Times, Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, El País, and other outlets publishing WikiLeaks materials.

In fact, in 2011 the US government sent what might be called a “WikiLeaks fatwa” to every federal government agency, every federal government employee, and every federal government security contractor:

The recent disclosure of US Government documents by WikiLeaks has caused damage to our national security.Classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites, disclosed to the media, or otherwise in the public domain remains classified and must be treated assuch until such time it is declassified by an appropriate US government authority … Contractors who inadvertently discover potentially classifiedinformation in the public domain shall report its existence immediately to their Facility Security Officers. Companies are instructed to delete the offending material by holding down the SHIFT key while pressing the DELETE key for Windows-based systems and clearing of the internet browser cache.

After being contacted by an officer of the US Department of State, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs warned its students to “not post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.”

A swathe of government departments and other entities, including even the Library of Congress, blocked internet access to WikiLeaks. The US National Archives even blocked searches of its own database for the phrase “WikiLeaks.”So absurd did the taboo become that, like a dog snapping mindlessly at every- thing, eventually it found its mark—its own tail. By March 2012, the Pentagon had gone so far as to create an automatic filter to block any emails, including inbound emails to the Pentagon, containing the word “WikiLeaks.” As a result, Pentagon prosecutors preparing the case against US intelligence analyst PFC Manning, the alleged source of the Cablegate cables, found that they were not receiving important emails from either the judge or the defense.10 But the Pentagon did not remove the filter— instead, chief prosecutor Major Ashden Fein told the court that a new procedure had been introduced to check the filter daily for blocked WikiLeaks-related emails. Military judge Col. Denise Lind said that special alternative email addresses would be set up for the prosecution.

While such religious hysteria seems laughable to those outside the US national security sector, it has resulted in a serious poverty of analysis of WikiLeaks publications in American international relations journals. However, scholars in disciplines as varied as law, linguistics, applied statistics, health, and economics have not been so shy. For instance, in their 2013 paper for the statistics journal Entropy, DeDeo et al.—all US or UK nationals—write that WikiLeaks’ Afghan War Diary “is likely to become a standard set for both the analysis of human conflict and the study of empirical methods for the analysis of complex, multi-modal data.”

There is even an extensive use of WikiLeaks materials, particularly cables, in courts, including domestic courts, from the United Kingdom to Pakistan, and in international tribunals from the European Court of Human Rights to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Set against the thousands of citations in the courts and in other academic areas, the poverty of coverage in American international relations journals appears not merely odd, but suspicious. These journals, which dominate the study of international relations globally, should be a natural home for the proper analysis of WikiLeaks’ two-billion-word diplomatic corpus. The US-based International Studies Quarterly (ISQ), a major international relations journal, adopted a policy against accepting manuscripts based on WikiLeaks material—even where it consists of quotes or derived analysis. According to a forthcoming paper, “Who’s Afraid of WikiLeaks? Missed Opportunities in Political Science Research,” the editor of ISQ stated that the journal is currently “in an untenable position,” and that this will remain the case until there is a change in policy from the influential International Studies Association (ISA). The ISA has over 6,500 members worldwide and is the dominant scholarly association in the field. The ISA also publishes Foreign Policy Analysis, International Political Sociology, International Interactions, International Studies Review, and International Studies Perspectives.

The ISA’s 2014–15 president is Amitav Acharya, a professor at the School of International Service at the American University in Washington, DC. Nearly half of the fifty-six members on its governing council are professors at similar academic departments across the United States, many of which also operate as feeder schools for the US Department of State and other internationally- oriented areas of government.

That the ISA has banned the single most significant US foreign policy archive from appearing in its academic papers—something that must otherwise work against its institutional and academic ambitions—calls into question its entire output, an output that has significantly influenced how the world has come to understand the role of the United States in the international order.

This closing of ranks within the scholar class around the interests of the Pentagon and the State Department is, in itself, worthy of analysis. The censorship of cables from international relations journals is a type of academic fraud. To quietly exclude primary sources for non-academic reasons is to lie by omission. But it points to a larger insight: the distortion of the field of international relations and related disciplines by the proximity of its academic structures to the US government. Its structures do not even have the independence of the frequently deferent New York Times, which, while it engaged in various forms of cable censor- ship, at least managed to publish over a hundred.

These journals’ distortion of the study of international relations and censorship of WikiLeaks are clear examples of a problem. But its identification also presents a significant opportunity: to present an analysis of international relations that has not been hobbled by the censorship of classified materials.

The world according to US empire

The response of the United States to the release of the WikiLeaks materials betrays a belief that its power resides in a disparity of information: ever more knowledge for the empire, ever less for its subjects.

In 1969, Daniel Ellsberg—later famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers—had a top-secret security clearance. Henry Kissinger had applied for his own top-secret clearance. Ellsberg warned him of its dangers:[I]t will … become very hard for you to learn from anybody who doesn’t have these clearances. Because you’ll be thinking as you listen to them: “What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? Would he be giving me the same advice, or would it totally change his predictions and recommendations?” You will deal with a person who doesn’t have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you’ll have to lie carefully to him about what you know. In effect, you will have to manipulate him. You’ll give up trying to assess what he has to say. The danger is, you’ll become something like a moron. You’ll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours.

Freed from their classified seals, the WikiLeaks materials bridge the gulf between the “morons” with security clearances and nothing to learn, and us, their readers.

Why Won’t Julian Assange Condemn Ecuador’s Spying Software? 

Wikileaks’ most recent document dump reveals emails leaked from an Italian company called Hacking Team that sells intrusive spyware to governments, exposing myriad government agencies from Bangladesh to the US for purchasing this surveillance software. It also exposes an oily hypocrisy.

According to the leaked emails hosted on Wikileaks, Ecuador’s National Intelligence Secretariat (SENAIN) is among the Hacking Team clients. The emails chronicle how SENAIN purchased Hacking Team’s Remote Access Software, an extensive and invasive hacking tool that lets governments hijack phones, intercept messages, and record keystrokes and conversations.

Update 6/8 3:47 pm: The AP reports that the Hacking Team emails suggest that SENAIN spied on Ecuadorean opposition activist Dr. Carlos Figueroa using the spyware company’s tools.

Ecuadorean media outlets reporting on the government’s use of Hacking Team software had their websites hacked and crashed after the story broke. (There’s no hard evidence that the Ecuadorean government orchestrated those hacks.)

Meanwhile, government watchdog group Ecuador Transparente—a group nicknamed the “Ecuadorean Wikileaks”—has published a separate trove of leaked SENAIN documents this week that suggest the government is extensively spying on its political rivals.

A government using secret surveillance software is exactly the type of thing Wikileaks and its leader Julian Assange take pride in exposing and calling out. Assange has a history of publicly condemning governments for surveillance and censorship, and views himself as a man on the run from governments willing to surreptitiously monitor him for exposing their oppression.

He has spoken against China’s censorship tactics, chided his native Australia for lying about its surveillance program, and slagged the US National Security Agency for “reckless and unlawful behavior” while calling for the White House to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate its criminal activity. This year, Wikileaks harshly criticized Google for turning its emails over to US law enforcement.

Yet Assange, snug in his Ecuador-underwritten berth, has remained silent on his host country’s surveillance tactics.

I attempted to contact Assange for comment through his publishers and the lawyers, researchers, activists, and artists listed as allies on the Wikileaks site, though no one put me directly in contact with Assange. Wikileaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told me that, as far as he knew, Assange had no plan to comment.

Assange lives in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, and hasn’t stepped foot outside the complex since June 19, 2012. He’s not taking a weird, very long Spanish immersion program for agoraphobes—he’s avoiding the Swedish government. Ecuador granted Assange political asylum, but he can’t travel there without risking arrest in transit, because the UK has agreed that it will extradite Assange to Sweden so he can be questioned about allegedly sexually assaulting two women. Assange claims the Swedish questioning is a ploy to help the US extradite him for publishing the classified government documents, and remains in the Ecuadorean embassy to this day as a refugee.

The relationship between Assange and his keepers is chummy. The Ecuadorean government has treated Assange like he’s its first AirBnb customer and it’s desperate for a good review, risking political alienation to accommodate the Australian. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said that Assange can stay in its small London embassy for “centuries” if he wants. Assange has called Correa “a transformative leader” and has publicly complimented his joke-telling abilities

It’s not surprising that Assange is reluctant to attack his host and bite the hand literally feeding him. But it exposes a more cynical side of Assange and his organization, one willing to overlook clashes in principle for the sake of convenience.

CNN’s Erin Burnett questioned Assange on his decision to accept protection from Ecuador back in 2012. Assange avoided reconciling his strong condemnation of censorship with his embrace of a government known as severely restrictive for journalists, insisting that “all governments have their problems,” and claiming that Ecuador was “insignificant” and therefore not worthy of the same attention paid to global powers like the US. Now that he’s more sequestered than ever, Assange hasn’t spoken up about Ecuador’s violation of the principles he claims to uphold.

Hacking Team’s contract with Ecuador continues through October 2016. Assange is holding his tongue about an active surveillance program centered on secrecy, a surveillance program SENAIN denies despite the evidence hosted by Wikileaks.

Assange may be weighing the repercussions of speaking out against his host country. Perhaps he’ll be more forthcoming whenever he’s no longer a ward of Ecuador. But his continued silence on Ecuador’s abuses of power, censorship, and privacy violations is a stark reminder that even the so-called guardians of transparency can stay in the shadows when it’s to their benefit.

Correction 6/8 11:46 am: I’ve been unable to verify that this email described in the paragraph below is real. This paragraph originally appeared as the third graf of this post. It doesn’t appear to be in the leaked emails; I’ve contacted the outlets that originally reported on it, but have not heard back. I’m sorry for not fact-checking that more diligently before publishing. I continue to question Assange’s ready acceptance of his host country’s surveillance and censorship policies.

In one email, Hacking Team employees discuss how SENAIN is “having problems” with seven phone numbers—the phone numbers of opposition politicians, including Congressman Andrés Páez, Lourdes Tibán, and Luis Fernando Torres. Ecuador’s government has already been accused of spying on its rivals, and this email suggests that SENAIN is actively monitoring its political enemies within Ecuador.

New WikiLeaks Cache Reveals a Decade of U.S. Spying on Japan

A new series of documents released by WikiLeaks reveals a list of 35 high-profile targets in Japan that the NSA has spied on since 2006.

The slew of new documents reveals that the USA has been spying on “conglomerates, government officials, ministries and senior advisers.” Those include:

the Japanese Cabinet Office; the executive secretary to the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga; a line described as “Government VIP Line”; numerous officials within the Japanese Central Bank, including Governor Haruhiko Kuroda; the home phone number of at least one Central Bank official; numerous numbers within the Japanese Finance Ministry; the Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry Yoichi Miyazawa; the Natural Gas Division of Mitsubishi; and the Petroleum Division of Mitsui.

Elsewhere, documents made available by WikiLeaks include a series of reports that describe detailed U.S. understanding of internal Japanese deliberations. The reports touch on topics including agricultural imports, trade disputes, nuclear power and energy policy.

Speaking about the release, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief, explained that “the lesson for Japan is this: do not expect a global surveillance superpower to act with honour or respect.” It certainly won’t help U.S.-Japan relations, that’s for sure.

WikiLeaks Dumps a Million Saudi Cables and More Docs From the Sony Hack

Just a month after WikiLeaks officially started accepting documents again, it’s just unloaded two prominent troves of data.

First up, yesterday it dropped a second bucket of Sony documents!

Second, earlier today, the organization dumped a million diplomatic cables.

So what’s in there? Well it’s hard to say for sure because these are tons of documents that still need to be filtered. WikiLeaks has said that they’re about to release findings from the Saudi docs. It also alleges that the Sony files contain information about alleged bribery investigations.

The timing of the release is auspicious, by the way, as it more or less marks three years since Julian Assange sought asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Good public relations never goes into hiding.

The Fake ‘Terrorist’ Conspiracy Game That Fooled People For Years

In 2009, a strange Facebook account appeared out of nowhere and friended people en-masse. The name on the account was Junko Junsui, and she had a message for anyone willing to listen.

Thus began a strange mystery that would continue for years to come, as countless people across the internet became enamored of Junsui, her story, and the shadowy organizations she claimed were hiding in plain sight. It was never real, of course. But that doesn’t make the story any less remarkable, or make it feel less real.

First: Junko Junsui, and her Facebook account.

Some people actually accepted the seemingly random request, and, upon investigating further, found that Junko was not just a friendly Russian beauty, as her profile initially made it seem. Rather, she appeared to be a part of a weird alternate reality game involving a terrorist group called ‘The Junsui,’ Russia, and private military companies—all of which were warring with one another across the internet.

Judging from early threads following the game, many found untangling Junko Junsui’s web to be a thrill, which makes sense: the confusing premise seemed as if it was lifted straight out of a Metal Gear Solid plot. Shadowy organizations, corrupt governments, overzealous groups defined by genetic modification, a huge conspiracy: Junko Junsui delivered on all fronts. But more than that, people found the entire thing disturbing, too. One of the most notable early clues in the ARG led players to discover video clips of a woman trapped inside of a room:

According to players who discovered it, there were over twenty hours of that kind of footage floating around on the internet. Meanwhile, Junko Junsui’s Facebook page—which is now deleted—seemed adamant in its defense that it was all real. She claimed that someone from the Junsui sisterhood—the person in the footage—had been kidnapped, and they really, really wanted to get her back. None of this might seem unusual now in 2015—hell, just recently, Square Enix teased the new Deus Ex by using a Twitch stream that purported to show footage of an imprisoned man. Everyone knows the Deus Ex footage is fake. But Junko Junsui happened back in 2009. Not everyone was sure that what they were toying with was just a game.

For one thing, figures from within the game would sometimes warn of upcoming attacks that seemed to come true in real life—like this one in August 2009, where various social media websites, like Facebook and Twitter, suffered outages thanks to denial of service attacks that seemed to originate in Russia—where many of the Junko Junsui organizations were supposedly located. But, more importantly, Junko Junsui didn’t seem to work like most ARG games. If there was a “puppet master” behind it all, that person seemed particularly antagonistic toward people who participated. Junko Junsui is said to have became irate in her Facebook posts whenever people posted her communications on forums, sometimes allegedly outing anonymous participants who believed they were just playing a game. I would link to these supposed Facebook posts, but the profile is gone now—the only thing left is people on other forums commenting on Junko’s behavior:

“I have NEVER seen this type of behavior in an ARG before. EVER,” says one of the commenters in the screenshot above. “Not to sound paranoid, but wouldn’t this be insane if we were dealing with real groups and real people?”

This paranoia was, in a way, my introduction to the whole mess. On Monday, I found out about an iPad game released back in 2014 called Alfa-Arkiv. Here’s the peculiar app store description for it:

GAMES” ARE THE WEAPONS OF THE FUTURE.

Since this is a “liberated” piece of psychotronic software so we are still fixing some glitches. (^_^)

Las SGG can get you through the FIRST TWO SECURITY CLEARANCE LEVELS with no problem.

To go further you will need to make a donation to Junsui Movement of $1.99 yankee dollars.

MAKE NO MISTAKE – THIS IS JUST A GAME

“Third Roman Intelligence Directorate” is just a shell, another FICTIONAL SUBSIDIARY created by LIARS who use ALIASES.

| – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – |

In this GAME there they have created there are THREE MAIN RULES:

1. YOU ARE A FREE AND INDEPENDENT INDIVIDUAL.

2. YOU MUST PURSUE WHATEVER MAKES YOU HAPPY.

3. SHOULD ANYTHING PREVENT (1) or (2), YOU MUST DESTROY IT.

| – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – |

It was made with the help of countless REAL PROFESSIONALS including:

• INTERNATIONAL FINANCIERS

• IT PATENT LAWYERS

• AGENT PROVOCATEURS

• PREDICTIVE INTELLIGENCE SPECIALISTS

• PR TECHNOLOGISTS (CONSULTANTS)

• SPONSORED POLITICIANS

• VIP HOSPITALITY HOSTESSES

• WELL-CONNECTED ARTISTS

• CELEBRITY AUTHORS

• NARCISSIST WHISTLEBLOWERS

| – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – | – |

Inside the ARKIV:

WHO was JUNKO JUNSUI and WHAT really happened to THE SISTERHOOD of “BLACK WIDOWS”?

WHAT is ROSTEC and WHY has ROSKOMNADZOR not yet built a GREAT FIREWALL of RUSSIA?

WHY does SOCIAL MEDIA not reach its TRUE POTENTIAL until your CITY SQUARE is on FIRE?

HOW can TECH STARTUPS that did not exist a few years ago now be VALUED IN THE BILLIONS?

WHEN the NEW REALITY arrives, will your HAPLOGROUP or GENDER be needed?

Here is a trailer linked in the description:

It was a continuation of 2009’s unresolved Junko Junsui incident, listed on the store as created by the “Third Roman Intelligience Directorate.” Whatever that is. As you might already know, mysterious conspiracy games are totally my jam. But something seemed amiss here. Many players seemed genuinely upset by the game and its potential implications. Here’s one of Junko Junsui’s’s biggest participants, Ad_Arcana_Tutanda, warning people on an ARG forum ‘unFiction’ to stay away from the new iPad game in 2014. He claimed that the more he looked into the game’s and the more he looked up the background of the people involved with it, the more things seemed pretty damn bad to him. “Not silly haha bad,” this user wrote. “But serious bad, like [Junko Junsui’s] messaging was orchestrated with malign intent and definitely not coming from the US.”

Ad_Arcana_Tutanda noted that if Junko Junsui were indeed just an ARG, why couldn’t anyone figure out its endgame? The game had been around for years. Surely, by 2014, someone would have figured out what the point of it all was. Instead, the game simply seemed to continue and sprawl, without really shilling for any particular product, as many ARGs tend to do.

The biggest red flag for this user was that some of the figures inside of the game were actual private military companies. This person claimed that much of the information contained within the game about these organizations—like phone numbers—were actually real. In an effort to figure the game out, some players had inadvertently been in contact with real-world shadowy figures.

“Calling them is probably the least smart thing you could do,” Ad_Arcana_Tutanda warned. “At the very least, you risk wrapping a mile of bureaucratic red tape around yourself, as well as earning lifetime observation of your digital footprint.” Ad_Arcana_Tutanda seemed worried that the app was a way for the Russian government to conduct experiments on its users, as a part of some so-called “information war.”

“I am absolutely sure of this and so I take back any previous endorsement I ever gave of JJ,” Ad_Arcana_Tutanda wrote.

Ad_Arcana_Tutanda was not alone.
Here are some Reddit threads alerting people about Junko Junsui’s ‘true’ nature (expand to see in full):

(Reddit user TAPShooter, telling other that “Oksana Kareyeva,” a character within the game, was actually considered a terrorist in real life. “Not sure what anybody would want to get involved with this,” TAPShooter wrote.)

(Reddit user ObscureAllegory, telling people to exhibit caution when they didn’t know which parts of the game were actually true. “If you don’t know if something is real or not, beyond all reasonable doubt, assume that it is,” ObscureAllegory wrote. “Protect your personal info,” he advised.)

(An unknown Reddit user, warning others that people who tried to uncover the real identities of the people within the game got hit with threats—Junko Junsui allegedly told these people that the group would release player’s names, emails, and addresses.)

Proving that natural selection no longer has much effect on modern, city-dwelling humans, all of this worked toward making me MORE interested in the game, not less. I mean, sure: I felt a little bit unsettled by the idea that the game could be a front or an experiment used by a terrorist group. But, well, that’s interesting too!? So…I downloaded it. To my surprise, the game was free. I stared at its icon on my iPad for a few minutes…

…before finally working up the courage to play the damn thing:

First thing the game asked me to do was to log into a Russian military program of some sort—but in order to do that, I had to accept the terms of service. Typically, when a game asks me that, I just pretend to look at the document and click “yes” when prompted. But the internet had planted the seeds of doubt in me, so in this case I actually pored over the terms of service in search of anything suspicious. In hindsight, I don’t think there’s anything in there that is out of the ordinary. But in the moment, even innocuous things seemed a bit suspect to me:

[The terms of service, which claimed that “the experience” might “disrupt your systems or make them behave erratically.”]

Still, I agreed. That’s when I was treated to a whole mess of coding gobbledigook that made it seem like I was jacking into the Matrix, not just starting a free iPad game:

Eventually, these animations settled on the game’s main interface:

Each of those rectangles is a document, which you can peruse at your leisure simply by tapping on them. You’ll also get messages through the app about things like “unknown magical forces”:

These initial messages give you a clue about what the app actually does:

I was introduced to Raskovnik, a chatbot who told me that the app I was using was hacking into some sort of classified Russian database. “Many of the things you gonna see are real,” Raskovnik claimed. “But don’t get too scared, cuz your pal Raskovnik is here.” Raskovnik said that through this app, I’d be able to find out the truth about Rhea—who I assumed was the same woman in the videos found by people back in 2009. And finally, Raskovnik assured me that anything I did within the game was “safe.” Of course, the fact he had to assure me of that at all was not comforting.

Raskovnik then encouraged me to go back and read the documents in the app. Initially, the documents appeared blank, but when I tapped on the rectangles, I got a preview of what was contained within:

You only have access to certain documents at a time, however—tapping on anything beyond your current clearance level will give you a warning:

So, I started with the first available document. To my surprise, everything was in Russian:

See that little eye icon on the bottom right? If you tap it, the game will automatically translate any document you’re looking at into English. You can read them in full, if you’d like, but I’ve provided a summary underneath:

The documents told the story of a lady named Rhea, who got captured after a botched suicide bombing attempt. This first set of documents also included an observation video, which looks similar to the stuff floating around back in 2009:

Further documents revealed that the bombing was Rhea’s attempt at revenge: she claimed that family members had been killed, and she thought that joining a “resistance” movement would give her a way to get back at the murderers. Halfway through this forced confession, the game seemed to glitch out momentarily…

…before letting me read through the documents once more. It was startling—I was in a groove reading the logs—but I put it out of my mind. Probably just a part of the experience, right? Once I finished reading through that entry, an ominous sound started playing. I heard a lady’s voice asking me if I wanted to see her. I had no idea who the lady was, though. Not just that: the game wanted to know if I would let her see me. The game then asked me if I wanted to let my iPad use its camera:

Freaked out, I said no. Why the fuck would I want to use the camera right now, I wondered? Would it connect me to someone else? Was that someone else a real person, not a player in a game? It was a very NOPE moment, not just because I walked into the game slightly paranoid, but because it was laundry day and I felt embarrassed at the idea of letting someone see me like that. So while I didn’t get to see what would happen if I had said yes, the game still displayed something unexpected:

It’s difficult to recall what the lady was saying exactly. It seemed like vague nonsense about THE TRUTH, and I was still worried that I was meddling with something I didn’t actually understand. Once that video was finished, however, the game let me access the second tier of documents. Confession: I read each and every one of these with my finger over the iPad camera. I was worried that someone was watching me at that point, despite feeling it was probably impossible. That’s just how hooked the game had me. I didn’t know what was real, or what I could trust to be true.

These new documents let me take a closer look at Rhea’s past: supposedly, she grew up alongside sisters who were groomed to be agents that would extract information from certain suitors. Rhea told stories of seducing big oil men, doctors, and other various important men, all so that she could relay that knowledge to an organization that was in the business of having information. Getting to that point, however, required a ton of strange training inside a facility that was completely removed from actual civilization. The game suggested that Rhea and her sisters were not quite normal—many players maintain that the women were likely genetically modified somehow, which would perhaps explain details like their inability to have periods.

Much of what I was reading made it seem like this was indeed just a game. The interface seemed too clean, too deliberate, for it to be something else. And yet! When the game fed me videos like this one:

I doubted what I was looking at. Was it staged? Was the footage real? I didn’t know. What I could say with certainty is that after reaching a certain point in the game, its in-game chatbot asked me to chitchat. Here, a man in a mask once again asked me if I wanted to know the truth:

He informed that there was way more stuff I could look at, if I wanted to:

The catch? I would have to pay some money to see it.

I had to ask the obvious, if not silly question here:

But the game would not show or tell me more unless I spent money. Was this just a game that was trying to sucker me out of my cash? Why was the money going to “Raskovnik Support Fund”? That doesn’t sound like a game developer. That sounds like an organization, which so far doesn’t seem particularly legit. Would I go on some list somewhere if I donated money to this fund? Could a game like this even get past the App Store if it was ‘actually’ some front for a terrorist group? No way, right? Conflicted, I slept on it. I awoke with not with conviction, but with uncertain curiosity. I decided to take the plunge anyway. What’s the worst that could happen?

I made the purchase. The game gave me an actual login to the database time, as well as access to a number of juicy new files:

I spent hours reading through all of them. Some entries were dozens of pages long, and despite the fact I couldn’t always grok what they were about, I was fascinated. Every so often, I’d Google certain names and locations. Some were real, or at the very least had fake websites that made them look real. Yamantau, for example, was mentioned in passing—when I looked it up, it turned out to be a giant underground military complex whose purpose was unknown. According to Wikipedia, the US government has asked Russia multiple times the purpose of the facility to no avail.

Other supposed names, however, had Google coming up empty. The app also casually pointed to various websites, many of which were real and robust. The effect was that I never knew what was true and what was fake, making it easier to fall into a pit of paranoia. I wasn’t even sure how much of the game’s narrative was actually true, either. Some details didn’t quite line up with others, nor did some character’s mental state appear to be what I’d call stable. The only thing that seemed certain was that this game was really trying to fuck with me.

Eventually, the game interrupted my reading time with more stuff addressed to me, the player. The game wanted me to swear I was trustworthy—which is perhaps the most ironic thing a sketchy game like this could do.

The lady then informed me that if I wanted to continue, I would have to install a Chrome extension onto my browser.

Called ‘ALFA-CIPHER,’ this extension was hosted by none other than Wikileaks. Buying stuff in-game, that’s one thing. That seems like typical app bullshit. Installing software seemingly endorsed by an organization formed by Julian Assange, one of the most wanted men in the world? Fuck, man. I don’t know. Once again, my feeling that this was just a game wavered.

Here’s the Wikileaks page, explaining the deal with the extension.The page claimed that the extension was used by “various government and corporate intelligence services” as a means of tracking and collecting “behavioral data of opposition political and activist groups”—exactly what the unFiction user from before said.The page claimed that the extension was used to “build predictive modeling and ostensibly influence mass psychology,” and that the app provided an “effective means of gathering, communicating, and analyzing data on a chosen subject in real time.”

Apparently, Edward Snowden himself (the plot thickens!) gave WikiLeaks a “technical specification” on the extension, and members of Anonymous were said to have distributed the extension as well. The page also said that the original Junko Junsui was actually spyware, used to challenge “supporters to a complete a series of online investigations and protests.” Perhaps the most incredible claim on this page was that the app could alter “the nature, appearance, and frequency of ideological content individuals encounter online.”

Yeeeeeah. That may be the most outlandish collection of sentences I’ve seen in a long time, but I still didn’tdownload jack shit. Sure, I was probably being overly cautious, but still. I don’t want a Chrome extension I don’t understand on my computer. To my surprise, when I returned to the game, it presented me with a new option: I could pay $1 and ‘skip ahead.’ While I was not thrilled at the prospect, I ended up coughing up the dough anyway.

This allowed me to spend more hours going through more logs about the women…

To get odd transmissions from glitch lady once more:

And to hack into other people’s accounts:

Without spoiling anything, the logs are dizzying, and they often describe horrific or unsettling events. Once I started reading them, it was difficult to stop—I had to know what happened to people. I had to suss out what tales were true—because surely, some of this was true? Maybe?

When I grew tired of reading them, I dove into the dozens of older threads all around the web about people’s fruitless attempts to figure out what was actually going on, and what the purpose of Junko Junsui or ALFA-ARKIV. Nobody seemed to have an answer. It was just labyrinth after labyrinth, username after username making all sorts of connections and so-called breakthroughs on a puzzle I could barely understand. I found out, for example, what that Chrome extension actually did:

But not why anyone would want something like that in the first place. I also read hundreds of forum posts, each one presenting a new rabbit hole of links and possibilities about things mentioned in the game. I was never sure what held a real link to the game, and what was just a manifestation of my own personal internet mania. I clicked every link just the same, in the hopes that one of them could tell me what in the world was going on.

After a dozen hours of obsessing over this game, I finally came across a CNET story with the truth. I don’t know how I missed it to begin with; it was never hidden or anything like that. But I got so caught up in the original player’s obsession with the game, and the threads they were weaving while playing, that I wasn’t able to step back and really look at what I was dealing with. I would feel stupid about this, except my journey gave me a sense of what the people who originally came across the game must have felt.

“Originally, the idea was to create a sort of digital magazine,” Rob Auten, a writer on well-known games like Battlefield Hardline and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, told CNET back in December 2014. Reading that name shocked me more than anything else about this story—I actually met Auten a couple years ago at the Game Developers conference in San Francisco. We had drinks and awkwardly joked about how I had panned a game he co-wrote, Gears of War Judgment. I had casually shaken hands with the guy who would go on to create one of the most intense “games” I have ever played. It is a wonder that something as mystifying as terror can have such ordinary human origins.

In the CNET article, Auten describes a massive, secretive project helmed by himself and Patrick Marckesano that had been in the works since 2005. Originally, they hadn’t been aiming to make an ARG exactly, nor was anyone expecting it to become such an internet obsession. It just kept growing and growing into this strange art project that fascinated everyone that came across it. Even 4Chan got involved, resulting in some nastiness between players, as well as the creators of the app itself—CNET reports Marckesano got doxxed by players who were intent on finding out what the hell was going on. So the project, in its original iteration at least, was shut down—eventually leading to the new, reworked iPad app that I had been playing. The project ended up being so successful that CNET claims that one of Alfa-Arkiv’s characters, Oksana Kareyeva, got added to an actual real-life terrorist database. The game inadvertently started melting into real life in unexpected ways.

So why do all this? Why spend almost a decade creating something this bonkers; why go through the trouble of keeping it a secret for so long? Auten and Marckesano said they wanted to create something new, something that defied definition. “I don’t know that it is a game exactly, or that it’s successful as a game,” Auten said. “I don’t much care, truth be told. I do know it’s entirely unique.”

In the end, there was no grand conspiracy. There were no terrorist groups, and no shadowy government organizations. There was only a slick game that got out of hand, and players that desperately wanted to believe in something. I know this. I know the truth; I know what actually happened. But I still don’t trust my iPad camera, and I didn’t sleep that well last night.

WikiLeaks Just Started Accepting Secrets Again 

WikiLeaks is accepting submissions again, after a nearly five-year hiatus. Anyone who wants to submit a document can do so by accessing a new Tor site to anonymously upload whatever scandalous files you’ve obtained.

Submissions were paused in October 2010 after vicious infighting among staff, as Wired’s Andy Greenberg pointed out:

The site’s administrators wrestled with disgruntled staff members who had come to see WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as too irresponsible to protect the group’s sources. Defectors from the group seized control of the leak platform, along with thousands of leaked documents. Control of that leak system was never returned to WikiLeaks, and the defectors eventually destroyed the decryption keys to the leaks they’d taken, rendering them useless.

Since the WikiLeaks submission portal shut down, other media outlets have relied on programs like SecureDrop to offer whistleblowers a way to share what they know. Even with this submissions portal re-opened, leaking to other outlets may still be more appealing. WikiLeaks’ habit of publishing raw, unvetted files is one of the reasons Edward Snowden chose to contact journalists instead of WikiLeaks.

This seems like a terrific time to remind you that Gawker Media also uses SecureDrop, and Gizmodo writers are ready and willing to accept secure documents— and we don’t just dump them on the internet.

Whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s Prison Twitter Account Is a Mystery

On April 3rd, 581 days after a military court sentenced her to 35 years in prison for leaking some 750,000 classified documents, Chelsea Manning burst back into the public eye with a new Twitter account. What the hell is she trying to do? We talked to the people running her account to find out.

Manning announced herself in early April with a carefree wave of a tweet, as if she was dashing off a text from a deli, instead of dictating the words over the phone from maximum security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas:

 

Twitter users were quick to call bullshit, claiming it was more likely the words of a lonely troll than the musings of convict. Imposter accounts do pop up all the time. So in response to skeptics, Manning mailed a handwritten note from prison, which her account tweeted yesterday.

 

To recap a few more details about why Manning is locked up: While stationed in Iraq with the US military in 2010, Manning—then Private Bradley Manning—perpetrated one of the most significant public disclosures of classified information in history. The 250,000 diplomatic cables and 500,000 logs she dumped were published by Wikileaks and revealed troves of minute details about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The disclosure was hugely embarrassing for the United States military and intelligence agencies. Manning was busted and handed a 35-year term for espionage. Despite her official status as a traitor, she’s heralded as a political martyr by some, and whistleblower advocates contend the stiff punishment is excessive. There’s a movement to free her from what think is an unjustified prison sentence.

Given the gravity of Manning’s conviction, it’s understandable that Twitter users in the cubicles and Starbucks lines of Real Life were skeptical that Manning was tweeting from behind bars. There’s a long history of political prisoners communicating from jail, but usually they’re using pen and paper. Twitter is a bit different.

Though social media is strictly forbidden, Manning isn’t the first convict to get her words onto Twitter; a few years ago, murderer Jodi Arias got tweets out through a friend. Manning’s proxy Twitter tactics are similar to Arias’ though it’s more complicated. Her account is operated pro bono by DC-based FitzGibbon Media.

FitzGibbon is a fancy liberal media firm that works for clients like MoveOn and the AFL-CIO. But they’ve also taken on clients that can’t pay, and in particular, whistleblowers: WIkileaks and the Julian Assange Defense Fund are amongst their clients.

Company reps told me how it all works under the condition that I not quote them. Manning is permitted to talk to the phone with select individuals, and the firm’s founder Trevor FitzGibbon is on the list, along with friends, family, and her legal team. Every Tweet, I’m told, comes directly from Manning’s mouth and is posted exactly as she instructs.

The proxies are simply relaying her words and reading back replies from the public. Manning has extremely limited time, and the conditions are strictly regimented. Consider for a second the interaction behind the “=P” emoticon in her first tweet. Okay, so i want to do a face smiley with the tongue sticking out. Make sure you use the equals sign for the eyes instead of a colon.

So far, Manning’s tweets are mostly personal, and surprisingly casual:

 

We learn that Manning usually goes to bed between 9:30 and 10:30, and she’s usually up by 5:20. “My life operates on a scale of weeks, months, and years, not seconds, minutes, and hours,” she said one afternoon.

Her account tweeted out a Spotify playlist of songs she likes, and the selection feels hopelessly dated by the standards of Twitter’s constantly changing conversation. The freshest jam is probably Icona Pop’s 2012 hit “I Love it.” Manning hasn’t ever used Spotify herself, by the way. When she has radio privileges, she tunes into KMVX 93.3 Kansas City.

And, of course, she’s very grateful for the support from her followers.

So, why go through the effort to dictate tweets from prison just to post about Spotify and bedtime? FitzGibbon wouldn’t hazard what Manning hopes to accomplish by tweeting, but they noted that she’s broadly interested in issues of government transparency and accountability. Maybe she’ll eventually get to the issue, but she hasn’t quite yet.

 

And after a week of reading the mundane details of Manning’s incarceration, I’m starting to get it. The tedium of the routines imposed on her are foreign to readers, but routines themselves are something any average person understands. Her tweets read like the early words of everyone who wades onto Twitter and flails their way to a voice in the concise format.

The normalcy might just be subversive in and of itself. Manning’s voice hasn’t disappeared. The everyday boringness of her tweets springs from exceptional circumstances. It’s so much trouble for her to dash off thought fragments that you or I would tap out on the toilet between sighs. The powers she offended stripped her of freedom, but they can’t shut her up.

Julian Assange To Be Questioned By Swedish Prosecutors in the UK

Since his arrest in 2010, Julian Assange has been dutifully avoiding sexual assault allegations brought against him in Sweden. Now, Swedish prosecutors have decided to question Wikileaks in London instead.

The BBC reports that prosecutors have given up on attempts to question Assange in Sweden. The U-turn has occurred because potential charges against him are set to expire in August due to quirks in Swedish law—which means time is running out for prosecutors. Assange has been living in Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012, because he fears that a journey to Sweden could see him extradited to the US. If that were to happen, he’d almost certainly face charges over leaking material online.

“My view has always been that to perform an interview with him at the Ecuadorean embassy in London would lower the quality of the interview, and that he would need to be present in Sweden in any case should there be a trial in the future,” explained prosecutor Marianne Ny in a statement. “Now that time is of the essence, I have viewed it therefore necessary to accept such deficiencies in the investigation and likewise take the risk that the interview does not move the case forward.”

Earlier this week, it was announced that Assange is getting an appeals hearingin Sweden about his 2010 arrest—where he might be able to persuade courts to have the European arrest warrant against him lifted. It’s not clear if or how the new decision to question him in London will affect that decision. [BBC]

Julian Assange Is Crowdfunding a Life-Size Statue of Himself

Julian Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London with ailing health and plenty of time on his hands. So much time, in fact, that he’s decided to… crowd-fund a life-size statue of himself, presumably so people don’t forget what he looks like?

The Independent reports that Assange is attempting to drum up funding for a full-size bronze public artwork which will feature himself, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. He refers to it as a “a monument to courage.” The statue, which will be made by Italian sculptor Davide Dormino, will be called Anything to Say?

In the sculpture, the truth seekers will be stood on chairs with an empty one behind them, so that members of the public are able to join them, “to stand shoulder to shoulder with the whistleblowers.” The project is currently being crowd-funded on Kickstarter, aiming to raise £100,000 by January 1st to complete the project. Donations currently amount to £19,747. [The Independent]

Here Is What Real Online Civil Disobedience Looks Like

Internet politics aren’t just about trolling and doxxing. In new book The Coming Swarm, internet researcher Molly Sauter takes us into the secret history of civil disobedience online, and reveals a world where people fight for justice, without hashtags or personal glory. These activists do it because they believe in something bigger than themselves.

On November 28, 2010, Wikileaks, along with the New York TimesDer SpiegelEl PaisLe Monde, and The Guardian began releasing documents from a leaked cache of 251,287 unclassified and classified US diplomatic cables, copied from the closed Department of Defense network SIPRnet.[1] The US government was furious. In the days that followed, different organizations and corporations began distancing themselves from Wikileaks. Amazon WebServices declined to continue hosting Wikileaks’ website, and on December 1, removed its content from its servers.[2]

The next day, the public could no longer reach the Wikileaks website at wikileaks.org; Wikileaks’ Domain Name System (DNS) provider, EveryDNS, had dropped the site from its entries on December 2, temporarily making the site inaccessible through its URL. Shortly thereafter, what would be known as the “Banking Blockade” began, with PayPal, PostFinance, MasterCard, Visa, and Bank of America refusing to process online donations to Wikileaks, essentially halting the flow of monetary donations to the organization.[3]

Wikileaks’ troubles attracted the attention of Anonymous, a loose group of internet denizens, and in particular, a small subgroup known as AnonOps, who had been engaged in a retaliatory distributed denial of service (DDoS) campaign called Operation Payback, targeting the Motion Picture Association of America and other pro-copyright, antipiracy groups since September 2010.[4] A DDoS action is, simply, when a large number of computers attempt to access one website over and over again in a short amount of time, in the hopes of overwhelming the server, rendering it incapable of responding to legitimate requests.

Anons, as members of the Anonymous subculture are known, were happy to extend Operation Payback’s range of targets to include the forces arrayed against Wikileaks and its public face, Julian Assange. On December 6, they launched their first DDoS action against the website of the Swiss banking service, PostFinance. Over the course of the next 4 days, Anonymous and AnonOps would launch DDoS actions against the websites of the Swedish Prosecution Authority, EveryDNS, Senator Joseph Lieberman, MasterCard, two Swedish politicians, Visa, PayPal, and Amazon.com, and others, forcing many of the sites to experience at least some amount of downtime.[5]

Here Is What Real Online Civil Disobedience Looks Like

Internet politics aren’t just about trolling and doxxing. In new book The Coming Swarm, internet researcher Molly Sauter takes us into the secret history of civil disobedience online, and reveals a world where people fight for justice, without hashtags or personal glory. These activists do it because they believe in something bigger than themselves.

Excerpt from The Coming Swarm

On November 28, 2010, Wikileaks, along with the New York TimesDer SpiegelEl PaisLe Monde, and The Guardian began releasing documents from a leaked cache of 251,287 unclassified and classified US diplomatic cables, copied from the closed Department of Defense network SIPRnet.[1] The US government was furious. In the days that followed, different organizations and corporations began distancing themselves from Wikileaks. Amazon WebServices declined to continue hosting Wikileaks’ website, and on December 1, removed its content from its servers.[2]

The next day, the public could no longer reach the Wikileaks website at wikileaks.org; Wikileaks’ Domain Name System (DNS) provider, EveryDNS, had dropped the site from its entries on December 2, temporarily making the site inaccessible through its URL. Shortly thereafter, what would be known as the “Banking Blockade” began, with PayPal, PostFinance, MasterCard, Visa, and Bank of America refusing to process online donations to Wikileaks, essentially halting the flow of monetary donations to the organization.[3]

Wikileaks’ troubles attracted the attention of Anonymous, a loose group of internet denizens, and in particular, a small subgroup known as AnonOps, who had been engaged in a retaliatory distributed denial of service (DDoS) campaign called Operation Payback, targeting the Motion Picture Association of America and other pro-copyright, antipiracy groups since September 2010.[4] A DDoS action is, simply, when a large number of computers attempt to access one website over and over again in a short amount of time, in the hopes of overwhelming the server, rendering it incapable of responding to legitimate requests.

Anons, as members of the Anonymous subculture are known, were happy to extend Operation Payback’s range of targets to include the forces arrayed against Wikileaks and its public face, Julian Assange. On December 6, they launched their first DDoS action against the website of the Swiss banking service, PostFinance. Over the course of the next 4 days, Anonymous and AnonOps would launch DDoS actions against the websites of the Swedish Prosecution Authority, EveryDNS, Senator Joseph Lieberman, MasterCard, two Swedish politicians, Visa, PayPal, and Amazon.com, and others, forcing many of the sites to experience at least some amount of downtime.[5]

For many in the media and public at large, Anonymous’ December 2010 DDoS campaign was their first exposure to the use of this tactic by activists, and the exact nature of the action was unclear. Was it an activist action, a legitimate act of protest, an act of terrorism, or a criminal act? These DDoS actions—concerted efforts by many individuals to bring down websites by making repeated requests of the websites’ servers in a short amount of time—were covered extensively by the media. This coverage was inconsistent in its characterization but was open to the idea that these actions could be legitimately political in nature. In the eyes of the media and public, Operation Payback opened the door to the potential for civil disobedience and disruptive activism on the internet. But Operation Payback was far from the first use of DDoS as a tool of activism. Rather, DDoS actions have been in use for over two decades, in support of activist campaigns ranging from pro-Zapatistas actions to protests against German immigration policy and trademark enforcement disputes.

The overwhelmingly privatized nature of the internet is a challenge to the practice of activism online, on the levels of large-scale peaceable assembly, freedom of expression, and civil disobedience. Early practitioners of DDoS actions recognized this, and staged their actions, in part, with the goal of legitimating, through practice, civil disobedience online. However, their actions did not stop continued, successful efforts by corporate, state, and regulatory powers to render the internet a privately controlled space, similar to the “privately- controlled public spaces” that pepper our physical cities today, such as Zucotti Park, the home of the original Occupy Wall Street encampment.[6] In this frame of privatization, disruptive activism is forced into conflict with the rights of private property holders, the rights and philosophies of free speech fighting with deeply engrained property rights of individuals and companies. In the physical world, activists can take their actions to the street, a culturally respected and legally protected avenue for the outpouring of civic sentiment of all kinds, be it the 1963 March on Washington or the Nationalist Socialist Party of America on the streets of Skokie. There is no “street” on the internet.

Because of this all-encompassing privatization and other reasons to be explored in this work, the theoretical and practical challenges faced by those seeking to engage in collective action, civil disobedience or disruptive activism online are different from those faced by activists organizing similarly motivated actions in the physical world. However, the two domains are often treated as though they were the same. Infringement on the property rights of private actors is often brought up as a criticism of DDoS actions, as if there was a space online that wasn’t controlled by one private entity or another. Charges of censorship are usually thrown into the mix as well, because (ironically) of the internet’s overwhelming use as an outlet for speech, by individuals, corporations, states, and everyone else. “Why,” the critique goes, “can’t you come up with a way to protest that doesn’t step on somebody else’s toes?” But the internet, as it were, is all somebody else’s toes.

Collectively, we have allowed the construction of an entire public sphere, the internet, which by accidents of evolution and design, has none of the inherent free speech guarantees we have come to expect. Dissenting voices are pushed out of the paths of potential audiences, effectively removing them from the public discourse. There is nowhere online for an activist to stand with her friends and her sign. She might set up a dedicated blog—which may or may not ever be read—but it is much harder for her to stand collectively with others against a corporate giant in the online space. Because of the densely intertwined nature of property and speech in the online space, unwelcome acts of collective protest become also acts of trespass.

While disruptive activist actions such as DDoS actions are condemned for being an unreasonable violation of others’ rights, they are also derided as being too easy. This “slacktivist” critique posits that most tools of digital activism, from disruptive tactics such as DDoS actions to changing your Facebook profile picture to proclaim your support of a cause, are lazy, simplistic modes of engagement that have little real effect on activist causes, and as such have no value. As Malcolm Gladwell articulates it in his critique of “slacktivism,” which he refers to as internet-based, “weak-ties” activism:

“In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro. [North Carolina, 1960]”[7]

Oxblood Ruffin, one of the founding members of the influential hacktivist organization Cult of the Dead Cow, made a similar critique of Anonymous’ use of DDoS:

“I’ve heard DDoSing referred to as the digital equivalent of a lunch counter sit-in, and quite frankly I find that offensive. It’s like a cat burglar comparing himself to Rosa Parks. Implicit in the notion of civil disobedience is a willful violation of the law; deliberate arrest; and having one’s day in court. There is none of that in DDoSing. By comparison to the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement DDoSing tactics are craven.”[8]

Evegeny Morozov has similarly called internet-based activism “the ideal type of activism for a lazy generation,” explicitly contrasting these actions to sit-ins and other iconic protest actions in past that involved “the risk of arrest, police brutality, or torture.”[9]

These critiques make a series of assumptions about the purpose and practice of activism and often ground themselves historically in the Civil Rights Movement and anti-Vietnam War protests. In this model, worthwhile activism is performed on the streets, where the activist puts himself in physical and legal peril to support his ideals. Activism is “hard,” not just anyone can do it. Activism has a strong, discernible effect on its target. If the activist is not placing herself in physical danger to express her views, then it is not valid activism.

The “slacktivist” critique achieves its rhetorical purpose by holding a developing, theoretically juvenile body of activist practices in comparison with the exceptional activist movements of the past. But it fails to consider that activism can have many divergent goals beyond direct influence on power structures. It explicitly denies that impact on individuals and personal performative identification with communities of in- terest can be valid activist outcomes. It demands a theoretical and practical maturity from a sphere of activism (i.e., online activism) that has not been around long enough to either adapt the existing body of theory and practice to the online environment or generate its own. It casts as a failure the fact that the simpler modes of digitally based activism allow more people to engage. As the cost of entry-level engagement goes down, more people will engage. Some of those people will continue to stay involved with activist causes and scale the ladder of engagement to more advanced and involved forms of activism. Others won’t. But there must be a bottom rung to step on, and so-called slacktivism can serve as that in the online activist space.

Activist DDoS actions are easy to criminalize in the eye of the public. In fact, the majority of DDoS actions reported in the news media are criminal actions. DDoS is a popular tactic of extortion, harassment, and silencing. Here is another challenge faced by practitioners of activist DDoS actions notfaced by individuals participating in other types of disruptive actions: a sit-in is perceived as activist in nature, a DDoS action is perceived as criminal. Sit-ins are overwhelmingly used in activist situations. DDoS is deployed as a tactic of criminality much more than it is as a tactic of activism. This means that each use of DDoS as an activist tactic must first prove that it is not criminal before it can be accepted as activism. This raises vexing questions about the use of multipurpose tactics in activism when they are also effective criminal tactics. Is it possible for DDoS to be taken seriously as a tool of activism when it must first overcome such a strong association with criminality?

Today’s DDoS actions are part of a history of denial of service (DoS) actions. Actions such as strikes, work slowdowns, blockades, occupations, and sit-ins all serve as ideological and theoretical antecedents to the digitally based DDoS action. Activist DDoS actions have undergone basic shifts in practice, purpose, and philosophy over the last two decades. Beginning as an exercise by experienced activists looking to stake out the internet as a new zone of action, it is now mainly practiced by transgressive, technologically mediated subcultures, often focused on internet-centered issues, who consider the online space to be a primary zone of socialization, communication, and activism. This has had implications for the basic sets of motives behind actions, the technological affordances present in the tools used, and the specific contexts of the tactics’ deployment.

For many in the media and public at large, Anonymous’ December 2010 DDoS campaign was their first exposure to the use of this tactic by activists, and the exact nature of the action was unclear. Was it an activist action, a legitimate act of protest, an act of terrorism, or a criminal act? These DDoS actions—concerted efforts by many individuals to bring down websites by making repeated requests of the websites’ servers in a short amount of time—were covered extensively by the media. This coverage was inconsistent in its characterization but was open to the idea that these actions could be legitimately political in nature. In the eyes of the media and public, Operation Payback opened the door to the potential for civil disobedience and disruptive activism on the internet. But Operation Payback was far from the first use of DDoS as a tool of activism. Rather, DDoS actions have been in use for over two decades, in support of activist campaigns ranging from pro-Zapatistas actions to protests against German immigration policy and trademark enforcement disputes.

The overwhelmingly privatized nature of the internet is a challenge to the practice of activism online, on the levels of large-scale peaceable assembly, freedom of expression, and civil disobedience. Early practitioners of DDoS actions recognized this, and staged their actions, in part, with the goal of legitimating, through practice, civil disobedience online. However, their actions did not stop continued, successful efforts by corporate, state, and regulatory powers to render the internet a privately controlled space, similar to the “privately- controlled public spaces” that pepper our physical cities today, such as Zucotti Park, the home of the original Occupy Wall Street encampment.[6] In this frame of privatization, disruptive activism is forced into conflict with the rights of private property holders, the rights and philosophies of free speech fighting with deeply engrained property rights of individuals and companies. In the physical world, activists can take their actions to the street, a culturally respected and legally protected avenue for the outpouring of civic sentiment of all kinds, be it the 1963 March on Washington or the Nationalist Socialist Party of America on the streets of Skokie. There is no “street” on the internet.

Because of this all-encompassing privatization and other reasons to be explored in this work, the theoretical and practical challenges faced by those seeking to engage in collective action, civil disobedience or disruptive activism online are different from those faced by activists organizing similarly motivated actions in the physical world. However, the two domains are often treated as though they were the same. Infringement on the property rights of private actors is often brought up as a criticism of DDoS actions, as if there was a space online that wasn’t controlled by one private entity or another. Charges of censorship are usually thrown into the mix as well, because (ironically) of the internet’s overwhelming use as an outlet for speech, by individuals, corporations, states, and everyone else. “Why,” the critique goes, “can’t you come up with a way to protest that doesn’t step on somebody else’s toes?” But the internet, as it were, is all somebody else’s toes.

Collectively, we have allowed the construction of an entire public sphere, the internet, which by accidents of evolution and design, has none of the inherent free speech guarantees we have come to expect. Dissenting voices are pushed out of the paths of potential audiences, effectively removing them from the public discourse. There is nowhere online for an activist to stand with her friends and her sign. She might set up a dedicated blog—which may or may not ever be read—but it is much harder for her to stand collectively with others against a corporate giant in the online space. Because of the densely intertwined nature of property and speech in the online space, unwelcome acts of collective protest become also acts of trespass.

While disruptive activist actions such as DDoS actions are condemned for being an unreasonable violation of others’ rights, they are also derided as being too easy. This “slacktivist” critique posits that most tools of digital activism, from disruptive tactics such as DDoS actions to changing your Facebook profile picture to proclaim your support of a cause, are lazy, simplistic modes of engagement that have little real effect on activist causes, and as such have no value. As Malcolm Gladwell articulates it in his critique of “slacktivism,” which he refers to as internet-based, “weak-ties” activism:

“In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro. [North Carolina, 1960]”[7]

Oxblood Ruffin, one of the founding members of the influential hacktivist organization Cult of the Dead Cow, made a similar critique of Anonymous’ use of DDoS:

“I’ve heard DDoSing referred to as the digital equivalent of a lunch counter sit-in, and quite frankly I find that offensive. It’s like a cat burglar comparing himself to Rosa Parks. Implicit in the notion of civil disobedience is a willful violation of the law; deliberate arrest; and having one’s day in court. There is none of that in DDoSing. By comparison to the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement DDoSing tactics are craven.”[8]

Evegeny Morozov has similarly called internet-based activism “the ideal type of activism for a lazy generation,” explicitly contrasting these actions to sit-ins and other iconic protest actions in past that involved “the risk of arrest, police brutality, or torture.”[9]

These critiques make a series of assumptions about the purpose and practice of activism and often ground themselves historically in the Civil Rights Movement and anti-Vietnam War protests. In this model, worthwhile activism is performed on the streets, where the activist puts himself in physical and legal peril to support his ideals. Activism is “hard,” not just anyone can do it. Activism has a strong, discernible effect on its target. If the activist is not placing herself in physical danger to express her views, then it is not valid activism.

The “slacktivist” critique achieves its rhetorical purpose by holding a developing, theoretically juvenile body of activist practices in comparison with the exceptional activist movements of the past. But it fails to consider that activism can have many divergent goals beyond direct influence on power structures. It explicitly denies that impact on individuals and personal performative identification with communities of in- terest can be valid activist outcomes. It demands a theoretical and practical maturity from a sphere of activism (i.e., online activism) that has not been around long enough to either adapt the existing body of theory and practice to the online environment or generate its own. It casts as a failure the fact that the simpler modes of digitally based activism allow more people to engage. As the cost of entry-level engagement goes down, more people will engage. Some of those people will continue to stay involved with activist causes and scale the ladder of engagement to more advanced and involved forms of activism. Others won’t. But there must be a bottom rung to step on, and so-called slacktivism can serve as that in the online activist space.

Activist DDoS actions are easy to criminalize in the eye of the public. In fact, the majority of DDoS actions reported in the news media are criminal actions. DDoS is a popular tactic of extortion, harassment, and silencing. Here is another challenge faced by practitioners of activist DDoS actions notfaced by individuals participating in other types of disruptive actions: a sit-in is perceived as activist in nature, a DDoS action is perceived as criminal. Sit-ins are overwhelmingly used in activist situations. DDoS is deployed as a tactic of criminality much more than it is as a tactic of activism. This means that each use of DDoS as an activist tactic must first prove that it is not criminal before it can be accepted as activism. This raises vexing questions about the use of multipurpose tactics in activism when they are also effective criminal tactics. Is it possible for DDoS to be taken seriously as a tool of activism when it must first overcome such a strong association with criminality?

Today’s DDoS actions are part of a history of denial of service (DoS) actions. Actions such as strikes, work slowdowns, blockades, occupations, and sit-ins all serve as ideological and theoretical antecedents to the digitally based DDoS action. Activist DDoS actions have undergone basic shifts in practice, purpose, and philosophy over the last two decades. Beginning as an exercise by experienced activists looking to stake out the internet as a new zone of action, it is now mainly practiced by transgressive, technologically mediated subcultures, often focused on internet-centered issues, who consider the online space to be a primary zone of socialization, communication, and activism. This has had implications for the basic sets of motives behind actions, the technological affordances present in the tools used, and the specific contexts of the tactics’ deployment.

Julian Assange Says “Apolitical Futurism of Star Trek” Fits Google

Julian Assange is currently answering questions in a live chat over at Gawker, promoting his new book, When Google Met Wikileaks. One of the most interesting exchanges for readers of Paleofuture actually comes from a question by Matthew Phelan who writes the Gawker subdomain Black Bag.

Phelan asks about the culture of Google and whether its vision of the future aligns with more retro notions of technology, information and politics seen in cultural artifacts like Star Trek.

Question from Matthew Phelan of the Gawker subdomain Black Bag:

There was a piece in Slate last year about Google, that I kept thinking about with respect to this book, about how Google’s internal culture and goals are bound up in Star Trek. For example: Amit Singhal, the head of Google’s search rankings team, told the South by Southwest Interactive Festival that “The destiny of [Google’s search engine] is to become that Star Trek computer, and that’s what we are building.”

It makes sense to me in that there’s a real Camelot-era liberal pro-statist ideal underlying Star Trek‘s vision of the future, and I’m curious what your sense was as to whether or not Eric Schmidt really buys into that. AND/OR I am curious to know how your idealized vision of the future differs from that Google Star Trek model.

From Julian Assange:

I hadn’t seen that piece. At a glance, it reminds me of the discovery that the NSA had had the bridge of the Enterprise recreated. In my experience it is more reliable and fairer to look at peoples interests and expenditure rather than try to diagnose their inner mental state, as the latter often lets people project their own biases. As I say in the book, I found Eric Schmidt to be, as you would expect, a very sharp operator. If you read “The New Digital Age”, the apolitical futurism of Star Trek seems to fit what Schmidt writes quite well. I also quite liked this summary of Google’s vision for the future: “Google’s vision of the future is pure atom-age 1960s Jetsons fantasy, bubble-dwelling spiritless sexists above a ruined earth.”

It’s interesting to see Assange describe Star Trek futurism as apolitical, especially because from Phelan’s question (and any critical reading of Star Trek’s quasi-utopian, post-scarcity values) Star Trek is presented as far from apolitical. Even “atom-age 1960s Jetsons fantasy” doesn’t seem to quite nail it.

If anything, this exchange shows that we’re grasping at imperfect utopian analogies for the future dredged up from the past — when what we really should be looking at are the dystopias.

So Much to Dislike About Julian Assange, Starting With His Hair

“A not very fetching leopard-spot effect.” Video screen shot via City University London.

Kate Reardon’s admittedly superficial assessment hints at the WikiLeaks spokesman’s deeper faults.

On Thursday, September 30—a month before WikiLeaks released its “Afghanistan War Logs” and two months before it roiled international relations with its “Cablegate” disclosures—I attended a debate at City University London between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and David Aaronvitch, a columnist for The Times of London. The proposition under discussion: “Too much information? Security and censorship in the age of Wikileaks.”

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The conversation, moderated by Radio 4’s Jonathan Dimbleby, offered a fascinating primer on the dysfunctional relationship between safety and transparency, but I confess that I was really there to take the measure of Assange, 39, the Australian-born muckraker whose exploits have earned him legions of fans—and a growing number of very determined detractors.

I wanted to like him but didn’t. It may have been because of his hair. Here are my notes from the evening.

Assange’s hair is dyed blonde with dark splodges (did he dye it himself?). It may have been a disastrous attempt at highlights, but the result is a not very fetching leopard-spot effect—a flamboyant and attention-seeking hairdo for a man who seeks to present himself as unassuming.

He’s wearing a fawn turtleneck and a tight brown leather jacket that he never takes off; it remains zipped right up to the top. He must be tremendously hot. Does he not notice? Perhaps he has decided that this is his look for the night and he’s sticking with it.

Although he isn’t quite as unattractive, pallid, and sweaty as he appears in newspaper pictures, he clearly doesn’t see much daylight.

He has pale hands, with fingers that are long, elegant, and slightly creepy.

He carries a TED-branded satchel for his papers and laptop—patently pleased and proud to be part of the TED gang. You can be certain that he wouldn’t wear any branded product without very careful consideration.

He is certainly passionate, and much admired by the female students in attendance. He is King of the Geeks—serious but awkward. Over and over again, he fumbles with his microphone.

The poor quality of the sound system only magnifies his patently bad diction—it’s as though his mouth were stuffed with cotton wool or has been paralyzed by dentists’ novocaine. Or as if his tongue has swollen to three times its natural size.

Aaronovitch is by far the better communicator. He makes himself easily understood and therefore more sympathetic, despite the strong bias against him in the room. Assange’s sentences are slow, long, and rambling. The long pauses between them show that he isn’t a people pleaser, and that he’s very happy to be the center of attention while everyone waits with bated breath for his next utterance.

He repeatedly dodges the question of accountability (which is why we are all here) and generally refuses to answer direct questions. At times he appears a bit sulky.

Amusingly, this champion of free information bans all recording devices, cameras, and photographs of the debate—allowing only one video camera to record the event.

Throughout the evening he remains almost freakishly still. Is there a raging furnace of mayhem in there that he is rigorously controlling, or is he really that calm?

Someone asks, “What do you think of Sweden [where authorities are investigating rape and sexual-harassment charges against Assange]?” He replies, “An extremely complex and interesting society.”

And that is when he finally smiles

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