Sunday, December 05, 2010

They say that information wants to be free

The campaign to turn Julian Assange into the new Osama bin Laden continues apace, with politicians and pundits calling him a "terrorist" who should be jailed as a "traitor" (although how an Australian can be a "traitor" to the US goes unexplained) and media describing him in terms befitting a hunted criminal gradually being brought to heel: For example, AP referred to "WikiLeaks' elusive founder, his options dwindling," and the Guardian (UK) asserted "the net was closing on Julian Assange."

One of the latest turns came in a letter from a legal advisor at the State Department addressed to both Assange and one of his attorneys, Jennifer Robinson, denouncing release of the documents in the by-now standard apocalyptic terms and demanding, essentially, that Assange shut up, go away, and otherwise be a good little boy.

What makes the letter important is the fact that it was addressed to his attorney as well as to him. Doing so, as Robinson noted,
appeared to bracket together client and lawyer as if to suggest that WikiLeaks and its lawyers were one and the same.
Basic international attorney-client protocol says that "Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions." By violating that protocol and effectively connecting her to WikiLeaks, the State Department appears to be attmpting to intimidate Robinson by suggesting she could be liable for prosecution in whatever way Assange himself might be - and thereby, potentially, also intimidating anyone else who might consider being a lawyer either for WikiLeaks or Assange himself.

Of course, it could be that the State Department legal advisor just didn't know what the hell he was doing, but it's rather hard to credit that when the intimidation (and the surveillance of Assange's attorneys) fits in so well with everything else the US and other nations - with or without US prodding - have been doing to isolate WikiLeaks, to cut it from the rest of the world and deny it support.

For example, on Friday the OMB
directed all federal agencies to bar unauthorized employees from accessing the Wikileaks web site and its leaked diplomatic cables.
In response, the State Department and the Commerce Department have warned employees to not look at the site and the Education Department has blocked access to it altogether. The DOD has blocked access to the site and some mirror sites as well. Meanwhile, the Library of Congress has blocked access to the WikiLeaks site not only on computers used by staff but on those used by visitors as well.
A spokesman for the library could not immediately comment, but expects to have a statement shortly.
That is, "We're doing this now; we'll come up with a good excuse later." That sort of bitter hilarity continued on Friday, as it developed that
U.S. soldiers in Iraq who try to read about the Wikileaks disclosures--or read coverage of them in mainstream news sites--on unclassified networks get a page warning them that they're about to break the law.
In this case - and there has got to be a name for this sort of argument, I just can't think of one - in response to complaints that Fox, CNN, MSNBC, the Huffington Post, and a bunch of other sites are blocked,
[a] spokesperson for U.S. forces in Iraq disputed that claim, saying that the web sites aren't actually blocked--it's just that attempts to access them on the unclassified network brings up a warning page saying that you're about to break the law.
Mugger to victim: "I'm not saying you have to give me your wallet, I'm just saying I'll shoot you if you don't."

The attempts at isolation were not limited to government:
The nation's biggest defense contractors, who employ thousands of people with security clearances, are taking steps to restrict their access to Wikileaks, including one company which is blocking employees from accessing any website, including news stories, with "wikileaks" in the URL.
And the office of career services at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs passed on to its students a warning from an unnamed alumnus now at the State Department that they should not link to the documents or discuss them in any public forum if they ever wanted to work for the federal government.

The feds were busy on the other end of the string, too. Just before WikiLeaks was to release the cables, the site was hit with a devastating DDoS (dedicated denial of service) attack. It is still down. (The standard line is that such attacks are normally the result of amateur hackers - in fact, the source this time is supposed to be a self-styled hacktivist known as th3j35t3r, i.e., "the Jester," but see below.) In the face of that, WikiLeaks arranged to have hosting at But Amazon got a call from the office of Senator Joe Lieberman broadly hinting he, as Chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, would be investigating Amazon's connections to WikiLeaks. Amazon quickly dropped WikiLeaks.

(The company, not surprisingly, denies Lieberman's inquiry had anything to do with the decision, nope not one little thing. No one believed it.)

In response to Lieberman's "request," Tableau Software fell in line, even though all they hosted was "data visualizations" which
contained no classified data at all, but merely described the distribution of the data according to various criteria.
Like this, and thank you Google cache. (Google is good for some things, after all.)

DNS provider EveryDNS also dropped WikiLeaks, although they claimed it was because the massive DDoS attack threatened and in the future would continue to threaten the stability of their on-line infrastructure - which, if true, indicates just how large-scale the attack was and at least in my mind raises questions about its source, about if it really was just some amateur "we don't wanna know anything" types or if it's some, let's say, "more professional" undertaking designed to cover its tracks by looking like an amateur one.

Nor were the efforts limited to the US. For example, Australia said it would cooperate with the US on WikiLeaks and that Assange is under investigation there, and
[t]he French minister for industry, energy and digital economy, Eric Besson, wrote to CGIET, the body governing internet use, to ask that hosting for WikiLeaks in France be terminated.
Going international, I expect, brings up the case in Sweden. First note that I use the word "case" because as too many people seem not to realize, no actual charges have been filed; he is wanted for questioning. I also want to emphasize that I have no idea if Assange is guilty or innocent: We all learned long ago - or should have, anyway - that even being an angel in one way does not prevent a person from being a devil in another.

Still, the whole thing is just strange. The original case was dropped for lack of evidence. After the intercession of a Swedish politician, a different prosecutor in a different part of the country picked it up with the result that an international arrest warrant was issued and Interpol sent out a so-called "red notice" - a sort of "most wanted" poster - calling for anyone who has seen him or knows where he is to report it. What's more, the prosecutor wants Assange to be held in solitary confinement and incommunicado, without access to visitors or even his lawyers. And even though he is, again, wanted for questioning, not for trial, the prosecutor has refused offers to meet via teleconference and has even failed to provide his lawyers with a copy of the warrant.

Again, none of this is proof either that he's not guilty or that it is a scheme to extradite him to the US in secret, but - well, the whole thing just seems kinda fishy, okay?

Finally for this part, there is of course the decision by PayPal to cut off WikiLeaks, thus denying it a significant source of cash flow. PayPal, like Amazon, gave the usual blah blah blather - "illegal activities," and whatnot harrumph cough and the fact that it came in the wake of Joe Lyingman crowing about Amazon's capitulation and demanding that "any other company or organization that is hosting Wikileaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them" had nothing to do with it, it said - but no seems to be able to recall an earlier occasion when the outfit was so quick to act against supposed illegalities in the absence of the not-so-subtle prompting of high officials of the US government using terms like "outrage" and "terrorist" and introducing new punitive bills specifically aimed at the supposed offender. PayPal was not WikiLeaks' only source of cash flow - there are others and you certainly could consider tossing them a few bucks - but still it surely hurt.

And, as I said towards the top, it's all part of the campaign to isolate WikiLeaks, to cut it off from the rest of the world and deny it support. To, that is, destroy it. Because while information may want to be free, governments want to keep it in thrall.

No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');