By Elliot Adams
One week on from the Afghanistan war logs leak and the US government is putting increasing pressure on Wikileaks. Wikileaks have released a new AES-256 encrypted file to the Afghanistan War Diary page entitled “Insurance”, it wouldn’t take a huge leap to assume this may contain damaging previously unreleased material, the passkey to which could be released if anyone working for Wikileaks is killed or captured. Whether this is a bluff or not, it’s an extreme move that belies the threat the US government is posing to the transparency organisation.
The Department of Defense has called in the FBI on the search for the leak’s source, but the lack of paper-trail or people in the hacker community willing to inform on Wikileaks has led the US government to focus again on Private First Class Bradley Manning. Manning is a former specialist-class intelligence analyst in the US Army currently being held in the detention centre at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait for his involvement in the leaking of a video of a US helicopter attack that killed 11 civilians (including two Reuters journalists, their cameras being mistaken, it is claimed, for five to six AK-47 assault rifles) and wounded two children. The video released under the name of ‘Collateral Murder’ is available in it’s full original state below;
Manning was turned in for the leak of the ‘Collateral Murder’ video by Adrian Lamo, himself an interesting character who’s motivations in this are hard to read. Lamo is a fundamentalist Christian, former-hacker and a convicted felon who an ex-girlfriend alleged in a Wired magazine interview kept her under his control with a stun-gun he always carried.
Adrian Lamo has made just about as many television interviews as Julian Assange on the subject of the leaks, but his responses are often cut short because he speaks in a stilted and slurred manner, as if drunk, a side-effect of medication he takes to treat emotional problems and his rapid heartbeat.
An isolated and emotionally-confused Bradley Manning confessed involvement with wikileaks to Lamo over instant-messaging. Lamo offered him confidentiality for their discussion under California’s shield law and also the confidentiality Lamo claimed he could give as an ordained minister treating what Manning told him as a confession. These details were absent from a heavily edited and reorganised chat log released by Wired magazine – it’s important to note that a Wired staffer has been waging something of a one-man war on Wikileaks for months. Boing Boing later published a “slightly less redacted version” of the chat logs. I for one find it hard to see how so many commentators have portrayed his confession as ‘boasting’.
This all occurred back in May, a fact much of the press seem to be missing due to a widespread misrepresentation of Manning’s arrest being for the recent ‘Afghanistan War Diary’ leak. Quite possibly this is just honest confusion due to the suggestion that Manning is again being implicated by conversations he had with Adrian Lamo. The New York Times reports that the US military’s investigation is now focusing on Manning’s acquaintances at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University.
Further generalising the press response, it’s been quite predictable; the left-wing press have concentrated on what was revealed by the leak and what the implications are for the war in Afghanistan, with even the most polemic publications like The Morning-Star avoiding coming out in outright support of Wikileaks’ work. The right-wing press have been emphasising Manning’s young age and that he was just a private avoiding mentioning his previous higher rank, likewise Julian Assange and Wikileaks are belittled as attention-seeking and naive (only Fox’s Wayne Simmons going so far as to call Wikileaks a ‘Terrorist organisation’). There also seems to be much emphasis on Assange being a hacker, particularly in regurgitated US government releases, which is ironic given their latest move in their retaliation.
Many hackers attending the DefCon security conference have claimed that they were approached by representatives of the US government and offered considerable sums of money for an incursion on Wikileaks.org. CNET reports that on Thursday Jacob Appelbaum, a security researcher assosiated with the Tor Project, was stopped at US customs while visiting from the Netherlands to speak at the same conference, he was questioned by the FBI on the matter of Wikileaks and then released sans three mobile phones – he was again questioned at the conference by individuals claiming to be FBI agents.
This would seem to be a rather fruitless task as Wikileaks is, in Assange’s own words, a practically “uncensorable system”. It uses hundreds of domains and a complex network of around twenty servers, “[to] keep our sources safe, we have had to spread assets, encrypt everything, and move telecommunications and people around the world to activate protective laws in different national jurisdictions.”
So far the information in the leak does not appear to be particularly dangerous to troops on the ground or Afghan informants. Despite the Washington Post‘s claim to have found the names of hundreds of intelligence operatives now put at risk, a review by a Pentagon assessment team has not identified any documents whose release could pose a danger to national or operational security. None of the documents reviewed are classified above “secret”, which is the lowest category of intelligence material in sensitivity – the reports are mostly just from the paperwork filled in on the ground after exchanges of fire, and as such, they detail occurrences of roadside bombings, friendly fire and civilian deaths. Nor does there appear to have been any criminal wrong-doing on Wikileaks part, yet again despite The Washington Post‘s assertion that they are ‘Criminals’ who the US should kidnap from foreign soil to be arrested (I promise I’ll stop banging on about TWP’s idiocy now).
Though they said that Wikileaks may soon have ‘blood on their hands’, Defence Secretary Roberts Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen still acknowledged this in press Question & Answer session. Instead Gates said that the harm the leak poses is to the USA’s reputation and the trust it is given by other nations and intelligence services, who may now be reticent about sharing intelligence with the US. Gates avoided discussing the legal side of the leak and didn’t mention Manning, perhaps avoiding damaging command input on the investigation. Instead they emphasised that the significance is purely political.
Many publications like the Guardian have made comparisons to the Pentagon Papers as a ‘game-changer’, personally I prefer to compare it to the the Mitrokhin files uncovered nearly two decades ago. The defection of the KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin involved the leaking of thousands of top secret files to Britain. Like the Afghanistan war logs, the files weren’t current, Mitrokhin defected after the Soviet Union had disintegrated, but they exposed a culture of deception, ineptitude and callous violence in Soviet military actions in greater detail than had been seen before – in this they are as the Wikileaks logs, public opinion changers that can hopefully change internal military cultures as a result.