December 31, 2010

Wikileaks Update 2010-12-31: Wired Hung Out, Assange Dis-Implicated, Theories of System Collapse, & What Happens When You Steal a Hacker's Computer

During the last week, there's been a furious exchange of articles and tweets in/re- the Greenwald-Wired fight over the Manning-Lamo chat logs, which at present constitute the only evidence outside of the participants' heads that might either implicate or exonerate Assange of any accusations that he actively conspired to bring about Manning's alleged leaks. The issue is seen as critical because (1) Wired has published only about 25% of the logs, and (2) Manning's been incommunicado in solitary for over seven months, while (3) Lamo's been talking rather freely to the media, with the result that The NYT reported that he said Manning said Assange was actively involved in setting up special arrangements for Wikileaks' receipt of Manning's leaks, including a dedicated FTP server, which might or might not suffice as a basis for the US to charge Assange with conspiracy, although that's a whole 'nother issue.

The dust now seems to be settling, with Wired personnel confirming that the unpublished portions of the chat logs contain no reference to any such special facilities; which means there's no such reference in any of the logs except for one reference to an FTP in the portions of the logs that Wired's already published; and the consensus seems to be that that one reference cannot fairly be construed to prove anything amounting to conspiracy on Assange's part – i.e., Lamo's been misremembering or misreported. Sean Bonner and Rob Beschizza at boingboing have the best summary of the spat I've seen to date, plus additional info; and there's more background here (worth reading for its characterization of Assange as "international man of demystery," among other things.) UPDATE: The Guardian now has its own summary.

More great work at emptywheel by Marcy Wheeler, who originated much of the research/analysis relied on by Firedoglake and Glenn Greenwald re- inconsistencies re- the Manning-Lamo internet chats. In "Lamo's Two (?!) Laptops," she highlights additional, disturbing discrepancies in Lamo's statements (worth reading for yourself), and in "Assange Alerts His Hostages!" she spotlights the fact that his "insurance file" probably contains the names of top Arab officials alleged to have close ties to the CIA – info the US is probably just as interested to keep secret as are the Arab officials named.

Floyd Abrams, an attorney who represented The NYT in its battles over the Pentagon Papers, has, to the surprise and disappointment of many, put out a piece attacking Wikileaks. There have been a number of good rebuttals, but Marcy Wheeler may have shredded him best.

Lynn Parramore at HuffPo has an informative and eloquent essay decrying the lengthy detention of Manning under inhumane conditions, "Tortured Until Proven Guilty." And Kevin Carson has defended Manning as "One Soldier Who Really Did 'Defend Our Freedom.'"

Here's another list of "How Wikileaks Enlightened Us in 2010."

Western Union has joined the effort to execute Wikileaks through financial strangulation without due process of law. Lasers_pewpewpew responded, "[s]o they are only too happy for you to send money to an African prince who will give you a cut of his fictional $20 million (ala 419 scam), but not to Wikileaks? . . . f*cking Epic!"

There's a fascinating new piece, "The Transparency Paradox," at colayer, re- what I've called Assange's theory of "the cost of tightened secrecy to organizational I.Q.," or as Volatility puts it more succinctly (see below), Assange's "secrecy tax." The author at colayer makes the point that, while greater transparency maximizes efficiency and profits for a group as a whole, individuals within the group profit most when they're not transparent while others in the group are. Just like, when you're negotiating, you have an advantage if you know what cards the other parties are holding but they're ignorant of yours. And the internet and other technologies now available have greatly reduced the cost of transparency.

Re- the big, "systems" picture, there's a great article at Volatility on "racketeering":

According to Joseph Tainter’s theory of imperial collapse, as societies become more complex, they must expend an ever greater portion of the energy they have available simply on maintaining their complexity. Although social and technological advances may achieve profitable returns for awhile, once a certain level of complexity is reached, diminishing returns set in. Eventually, at the late imperial stage, the complexity of the power structure, the military infrastructure, the bureaucracies, all the rents involved in maintaining an ever more bloated parasite class, their luxuries, the police state required to extract these rents and keep the productive people down, and the growing losses due to the response of the oppressed producers, everything from poor quality work to strikes to emigration or secession to rebellion, reaches a point where the system can only cannibalize itself and eventually collapse.

Julian Assange’s theory of the secrecy tax he’s trying to impose through Wikileaks is one example of these diminishing returns on imperial complexity. All the indications are that Wikileaks has been successful in this.

* * * * *
This is a welter of parasites battening on the same host. They’re in a zero sum game, not only against the people, but among themselves. Each has an interest in just exploiting the host, not killing it. But together they are killing it and therefore themselves. It’s clear none is capable of organizing or regulating the others. The federal government isn’t capable of doing it. If one big bank tried to do it, it would be subverted by the others. Each racket, from highest to lowest, is going to maximize its bloodsucking until there’s no blood left.

Note that, theoretically, so long as the system as a whole remains mostly transparent, it's not a zero-sum game (or at least, its productivity growth would be subject only to such physical limits as peak oil or climate change), because problem-solving and efficiency are maximized by pervasive info-sharing, and everyone's equally incentivized. In contrast, where transparency has sufficiently deteriorated, workers become less productive, both because of reduced info-sharing and because they're disincentivized – i.e., those not sharing info are still incentivized to continue to exploit the others, but once those who are being exploited figure out what's going on, they're discouraged from sharing and working hard just to enrich the exploiters. At this point, the competition devolves from who can produce the most of the best, into who can loot the most the fastest.

To this analysis, Assange adds the dimension of time and the role of foresight, in his 2006 essay for counterpunch, "Of Potholes and Foresight." To put part of his point in other words, a stitch in time often saves nine, and transparency makes that kind of foresight possible, which otherwise tends to give way to political pressures to allocate resources in more near-sighted ways.

Here's an article on governments' moves to control the internets. Not the most precise writing I've seen, but pulls together a few items of interest.

Here's a list of cables published in the Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten, and not elsewhere. It was not one of the original Wikileaks partners, and everyone's mystified as to how they got the full cable cache. One observer says there are impt. revelations in there that the original partners haven't yet published.

Here's a good discussion of the nature of the Anons and how they view the evolution of collective intelligence. Roughly speaking, they believe their non-authoritarian, open (transparent), emergent mode of collective info-processing and action should and eventually will supplant the authoritarian, top-down, constricted mode common among big corporations and governments.

The FBI has seized a server allegedly used in some of the Anons' DDoS attacks.

And here's a presentation about what happens when you steal a hacker's computer:

Happy New Year, everyone! And remember, "the truth shall make you free." – John 8:32, the Bible, King James Version.

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