Major Wiki-Leak Article in The New Yorker

I admit it. My favorite three publications are The Wall Street Journal, especially the Weekend Edition, the New York Times Sunday Edition, and The New Yorker. No three newspapers/magazines do it better, at least IMHO. The current New Yorker has a long story about the fruit industry, with Driscoll Farms featured. If you ever wanted to know anything and everything about strawberries, here is your chance. I ran out of energy after three or four pages (0ut of six) but still learned a lot. However the "piece de resistance" of this issue is an article on Wiki-Leaks, which of course features Julian Asssange, the founder, brainchild, L'Enfant terrible, man in charge, and "Man Without a Country," a virtual prisoner in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since his charge of rape in Sweden (recently dropped after three years) and charges of Espionage lodged by the U.S. government.

The article is loooong, pages 36-61, albeit one albino-esq full-page photograph of Assange, several small New Yorker cartoons (wonderful!), and one strange page on pigeon cartoons intercede. The author, one Raffi Khatchadourian, seems to have developed a rapport with Assange over several years, and has access from time to time. The story winds back and forth, and deals with some of the primary disclosures of massive amounts of information by Wiki-Leaks, including Edward Snowden's NSA classified data dump and Chelsea Manning's massive military files from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as diplomatic cables from the State Department. These cables comprised half a million gigabytes of secret and sensitive information belonging to a superpower. Since then, Assange has published millions of documents from corporations, public figures, international trade agreements, and foreign government records.

His whistle blowing has resulted in real harm to the owners of the documents, altered public perceptions of war and state power, and have damaged personal privacy. Some lives may have been put in danger as well. Assange was raised in Australia by his mother, who moved around very often. He is very bright, and depending on whom you talk with, a defender against state power and fearless activist. But also he is a driven, obstinate man who sees technology as a way to be a truth teller and lets the chips fall where they may; a man (to restate the author's words) with no core beliefs except for augmenting his own power.

The newest chapter of Wiki-Leaks's disclosures involves information from a "persona" called Guccifer 2.0, which involved massive hacking from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta's personal accounts. The US intelligence establishment has stated with total certainty that the information was stolen by Russian agents for the purpose of aiding Donald Trump's election campaign. Assange may or may not know the source, and of course he is not saying, however the author of this article spends many pages and BTUs of logic in confirming that conclusion. A complex chronological timeline is developed, and both the availability of information as well as then-candidate Trump's statements track the release of this information, with the additional backup of Donald Trump Junior's meeting with a representative of the Russian government, when he was offered "information damaging to Hillary Clinton." In late summer, Guccifer 2.0's releases appeared to focus on the election swing states, but by September, the leaks centered on the national campaign, including 679 megabytes of D.N.C. information online, followed one day later with emails hacked from Colin Powell and a number of Clinton's aides. All of these came from Gmail accounts including some audio clips.

The lengthy article circles around and back and forth with multiple visits to Assange in the embassy, along with various specific dates of information available to Wiki-Leaks and others from this source, called a "persona." Assange's attitude seems now to be to be denial that the source was Russian intelligence, but the author states that this is "untenable," and uses the next five or six pages of the article to stack one chronological bit of information on top of another to prove that the vast trove of information came from what is called a "cutout," which means that the Russians routed it through another "front." Assange contends that truth is what matters, that he released the truth, and as a journalist, that is what counts. He seems to think it makes less matter that people are hurt or that public beliefs are shifted, since the information is based on the truth, using the analogy that "bullets of truth everywhere" will compensate for the bodies that are cleared away.

From communications theory standpoint, there are signals and there is noise. Assange's strategy is to eliminate the difference, to make it all available, and let that be the end judgement. It makes no difference to him, apparently.

One of Wiki-Leaks' recent bursts of information was a very sensitive and critical assembly of NSA software tools designed to penetrate systems and harvest information. The code itself is of the most valuable and secret nature, and the release not only included valuable information, but rendered the tools useless as soon as they were disclosed.

One of the overriding themes of Assange's belief structure is that the Presidency of the US has become too strong. Before the election, he was a favorite of the Republicans, but now the new CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, has declared Wiki-Leaks to be a "hostile non-state intelligence agency," and revived the Espionage charges against Assange. This is an important development, since Assange always has felt sheltered by the fact that no publisher (a key word) has ever been prosecuted for publishing true information. Not all Republicans now have turned on Assange: Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity still support him along with (as the author says) a "coterie of right-wing trolls."

So how does the article end? After a long meeting in the embassy, near midnight, Assange indicates that the American empire, as he describes it, might be collapsing. The reader is left to decide whether it's from within or without. Or a combination of both. "This could be the beginning," he is quoted to say. But there appears to be no exit from the embassy for this a man without a country, or of his being one of the most hated (and to some admired) man in the world.

J.K. George


Please feel free to post a comment here on the blog, or email me directly at <> with any remarks. Also, I'll very much appreciate your recommendation of "Contact Sport" and/or "Reunion" to friends and book clubs. In addition, I'd be pleased to appear at book clubs and/or radio clubs within a two-hour drive of Austin to discuss either book.


3 Responses

  1. Very interesting! Thanks Jim, for the Cliff Note version...
  2. Use of a cutout is not evidence of where the information came from. The vast majority of leaks go through at least one layer of cutouts and usually more. They are most often structured to mislead as to the origin of the information. Bulgarian and Chinese hackers, for example, often put stretches of old Russian code in their malware to make it look like it came from Russia. Many are afraid that some people within the intelligence community feel that they are above the law and are, as the article says "driven, obstinate ... with no core beliefs except for augmenting (their) own power", and that there are some things that are classified "above the presidential level" and should be known only to the intelligence community. This attitude is just as dangerous as the leaks themselves. When classification is used to hide misdeeds instead of protect the country, it is thereby misused and weakened. Recent evidence suggests that the DNC information was not an internet hack, but began when USB thumb drives were used to copy files internally. This is actually the most common route for stolen or leaked data, and many security conscious shops ban them. Also, it now appears some of the DNC IT personnel may have had other masters with their own agendas. We now have the technology to intercept and record almost all communications. If there are mechanisms in place that allow people in power to monitor, use and leak that information improperly without audit trails and fear of exposure, then abuse is inevitable. This danger exists regardless of which political party is in power or what political beliefs the individuals involved espouse.
  3. (posting this again since my other comment didn't show up correctly)... Is Assange motivated by his own desire to gain power and influence? If so, he's no different from any politician in history. But unlike most politicians, Assange is not mysteriously gathering wealth -- Paul Ryan has been a public servant all his life and has a net worth of $7 Million. The Clintons have been public servants their whole lives and have a net worth in excess of $250 Million. The same is true for any career politician whose name is familiar to the public. They are all managing to become millionaires by doing "public service". In fact they are skimming money from donors in exchange for political favors and we the people are too complacent to care about it. Criticisms of Assange stem from the accusation that some of the leaks published on Wikileaks caused collateral damage or loss of life. None of this has been demonstrated as of yet. In fact, Assange went to great trouble to team up with major newspapers around the world so that their staff could carefully vet the leaked material and publish high quality reporting and analysis without causing harm. But the US government put pressure on the papers to stop working with Assange, put pressure on banks to stop letting Wikileaks accept donations, and generally forced the Wikileaks organization to run on a faction of its former budget and staffing levels. This has forced Wikileaks to do less editing and to be more likely to publish source material that speaks for itself. In spite of these constraints Wikileaks does do a lot to prevent collateral damage, but its core mission is transparency and when America's major news organizations are afraid to participate in the journalistic endeavor, it leaves little choice but to press on and get the information into public view and expose it to democratic scrutiny. Why is democratic scrutiny important? The Iraq War Logs, published by Wikileaks, revealed that our leaders were classifying aspects of the information that would typically be available to the public simply to hide embarrassing aspects of the war from public view. Notably, they wished to hide the reality that Iran was contributing significantly to the Iraqi insurgence. Looking back on this now years later, it's obvious that Iran was involved from day one and that it had helped mobilize and arm resistance against Saddam, and subsequently against the US after Saddam fell. This is reality, and would have been predictable to anyone familiar with the culture and customs of the people of Iran and Iraq. So why did the US government try to keep this reality from public view? Simply because the war was sold to Americans as something that was easily winnable if Saddam was unseated. Telling the American people that the "enemy" included Iran and that the war was far from over might provoke the (very reasonable) conclusion that the war would become a quagmire and cost trillions of dollars without making our nation any safer. Again, in hindsight, this is all obviously true, but that does not disguise the fact that at one point it was not obvious and our leaders wanted to pull the wool tightly over our eyes so that they could carry on the desired war effort with all the benefits of propaganda and lies. The Iraq and Afghan war logs released by Wikileaks offer evidence of a broad mishandling of the PR aspects of the war effort and a deliberate effort to avoid the sort of transparency that is required by law. The US is a democracy and the rules about transparency were created for a very good reason -- our founders understood that no leader (king or otherwise) has any business claiming divine insight into what is the right thing to do. The people are supposed to decide. But as we know, power corrupts, and our leaders today are just as greedy and hungry to abuse power as any king or emperor from history. Why should governments classify information from the public in the first place? We can all imagine the scenario where up-to-the-minute military intelligence needs to be discussed by officials without revealing it to the enemy. That's perfectly find and completely uncontroversial. But how should the people in a democracy react when it is revealed that our leaders have utterly abused the privilege of being allowed to classify information? How should the public respond when it turns out that information was classified in order to help our leaders evade scrutiny for behavior that the public *would not consent to if given the chance*? In my opinion, abuse of the power to classify information, and in particular abuse of that power for propaganda purposes, is an extraordinary breach of trust and qualifies as treason. I believe that all of the officials involved in propagandizing the American people, inappropriately classifying information, or inappropriately delaying or obstructing the declassification of information should have charges brought against them and should end up serving long terms behind bars. Julian Assange, on the contrary, has simply brought these abuses to light. The leaks published on Wikileaks are analogous to someone finally blowing the whistle on Jerry Sandusky's horrible behavior. Jerry Sandusky was the problem, not the people who finally had the courage to say something about what was going on! Yet for some reason so many Americans find themselves loyally defending the corrupt officials who flushed trillions of hard-earned tax dollars down the toilet in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who had the audacity to classify information to help hide the truth about these wars from the public. Assange is a hero who is not driven by personal greed like Paul Ryan or the Clintons, he's a man who is equally content helping to reveal corruption in the US as he is to reveal it in any other nation. He has no vendetta against the US, he simply wants to help the democratic process correct for the glaring misconduct of its officials. We should all hang our heads in shame that we have not rid ourselves of the corrupt officials whose conspiracies Assange has exposed to the light of day. But alas, we get the leaders we deserve.

Leave a comment