WikiLeaks

Julian Assange on 60 Minutes

Julian Assange, left, talks to Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes.” Photo credit: CBS News
In an interview with 60 Minutes that aired Sunday night, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange likened the values of his whistle-blowing website to those of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. and said the backlash by the American government is out of embarrassment.“Our founding values are those of the U.S. revolution,” Assange told interviewer Steve Kroft. “They are those of people like [Thomas] Jefferson and [James] Madison.

The white-haired secret-spiller also maintained the website has played within the rules, saying his organization is comparable to any other publisher and should be protected under the First Amendment.

“We operated just like any U.S. publisher operates … and there has been no precedent that I’m aware of, in the past 50 years, of prosecuting a publisher for espionage,” Assange said. “It is just not done.”

He called the disparity a “flagrant disregard for U.S. traditions.”

Assange also shared a story from his childhood, back when his mother worked as a political activist who helped scientists gather information about nuclear tests conducted by the British in the Australian outback.

The two were out late one night when authorities stopped them. According to Assange, one official said, “Look, lady, you’re out at 2 a.m. in the morning with this child. It could be suggested you’re an unfit mother. I suggest you stay out of politics.”

“Which she did, for the next 10 years,” said Assange, “in order to make sure nothing happened to me. That’s a very early abuse of power and of secrecy that I saw in my life.”

Kroft spent two days interviewing Assange at his Britain home, where he fighting extradition to Sweden for questioning in two sexual assault cases.

To watch the interview in its entirety, click here.

It’s not a Twitter/WikiLeaks revolution

Demonstrators climbed the walls of the Interior Ministry in Tunis on Friday. (Holly Pickett for The New York Times)The capital remained under a curfew Friday night.

As everyone — myself included — heralds the role that social media has played in Tunisia’s revolution, it’s worth examining exactly what it is we’re crediting it for.

It’s not a Twitter/WikiLeaks revolution, people, and to say that these websites might have caused these unprecedented events is an insult to the people who have lived in the autocrat for generations, who got fed up, who organized, who lost their lives, or lost loved ones, fighting for change when it seemed next to impossible. What social media can be credited for is playing a very big (and VERY effective) role in the dissemination of information, of letting people know they had support, that others felt the same, and showing the rest of the world as it all unfolded, in real time.

As Steffani Cameron succinctly put it: “Twitter does not create revolutions. Yet. But it makes revolutions harder for governments to deny.”

Meanwhile, the WikiLeaks cable on Tunisia helped spur the uprising by exposing, in considerable detail, the first family’s conspicuous riches. That Tunisia’s leader and his wife were corrupt was no secret, but having details come from an official document of U.S. opinion served as a more potent catalyst. It was tangible proof of what everyone had known all along.

Whoever wrote this blog post, titled “Arab Activism: Brought to you by a White Man,” summed it up best:

According to Elizabeth Dickinson over at Foreign Policy and referenced as one of the top stories on the Huffington Post, one Julian Assange practically ousted the President of Tunisia himself. Oh sure, there was that whole self-immolation thing that started it. There are the myriad of fathers, sons, brothers, daughters, husbands and mothers risking, and loosing, their lives for a change in government. But we can’t bask in the revolution of a Muslim Arab nation for too long. No. Better to credit that white guy. Via Huff Po:

A cable released by WikiLeaks called Tunisia a “police state” and criticized Ben Ali for being out of touch with the people. This has fueled references to the current protests as a “WikiLeaks Revolution.”

Right. Because the college graduate forced to sell fruit and vegetables illegally until the government stopped him from even doing that was probably all over those fucking Wikileak cables. Gee, it wasn’t until it was uncovered that Tunisia was a “police state” that any well educated Tunisian lawyers had even fathomed it. Corruption? Here? Surely you jest! Never mind the blocked internet sites. Never mind having the same ‘President’ voted in with 80-99% of the vote every single time. Or the obvious censorship and dissapearing of fellow citizens. Why, until those cables everybody was just going about happily, minding their own business.

Certainly it is not possible that organized Arab activism has been on the rise across the Middle East. That it’s getting harder and harder to quell protests or stop news from invading once impenetrable police states. We cannot accept this possibility because this will cast Arabs, the majority of them being Muslims, in the role that Americans simply cannot abide them in: The Freedom Fighter.

Continue reading here.

Julian Assange’s creepy love letters

This Gawker post on Julian Assange’s “creepy,” “lovesick” and “stalkery” emails is almost a month old, but its awesomeness is timeless.

From Gawker:

Julian Assange, the founder of the world’s most notorious secret-sharing operation, has some embarrassing documents in his own past. We’ve obtained a series of emails detailing his stalkery courtship of a teenager in his pre-Wikileaks days.

Elizabeth (not her real name) met Assange one night in April 2004, about two years before Assange started his now-infamous whistle-blowing website Wikileaks. She was 19 at the time; Assange was 33 and a student at the University of Melbourne studying physics and mathematics. Elizabeth spotted Assange at a bar near Melbourne and approached the older man with the long white hair because he seemed different than other guys she’d met.

“I started talking to him and he just seemed kind of quiet and nerdy,” she told us in a phone interview. “I didn’t think he was sexy or anything. Just strangely alluring for a 19-year-old girl.” Assange flirted with her, showing off by explaining complex equations and joking about her mathematical ignorance.

They chatted until the bar closed, and Assange walked Elizabeth back to the small town where she lived with her parents. Walking down a small country road, Assange kissed Elizabeth. She wasn’t particularly thrilled by this development, but it didn’t put her off too much either. “It was like, fine, whatever,” Elizabeth said. “He wasn’t creepy about it, and he didn’t try anything weird.”

Before parting ways, Assange gave her a card with his name, email address, and an image of a lighthouse—possibly an early symbol of his quest for radical transparency. Elizabeth gave Assange her email address in return, and he took the train back to Melbourne.

Soon after, Elizabeth received this email inviting her on a date.

Below are two of my favourites. Go to Gawker to read them all.

The revolution will be tweeted

Chaos spread in the Tunisian capital on Friday as protesters clashed with government forces. (Holly Pickett for The New York Times)

After a month of tireless street protests and dozens of deaths, the citizens of Tunisia toppled the government today: President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali stepped down and fled the country after 23 years in power, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has taken over as interim president and Arab nations are waiting with bated breath to see just what will come of today’s unprecedented events.

How did I first find out about today’s developments? Twitter. The first major news event I ever followed almost entirely through Twitter was the G8/G20 protests in Toronto. While reporters and citizens were wandering through the madness on the streets, live-tweeting photos and observations, a scan of news channels yielded talking heads and the same clips of a flaming cop car, or some douchebag smashing a Tim Hortons window. It was amazing how much better the coverage via Twitter was.

Today, it was amazing to read tweets — in real-time — from people living in Arab nations, sharing their hopes and feelings as developments unfolded:

Many were also as frustrated by the lack of mainstream media coverage as I was:

This is a REALLY BIG DEAL — and I feel extremely fortunate to be living in an era when people have the power to organize and distribute information as quickly as everything unfolded today. Other young colleagues and I often joke about having missed the golden age of journalism — when you might show up at work to find a plane ticket in your mail box, when you left an overnight bag at your desk just in case — but if I missed that, I’m pretty happy to be working as a journalist in this very exciting, rapidly-developing digital age.

UPDATE: Here is the WikiLeaks document that helped trigger protests in Tunisia.

So much to be said on this topic… Will blog on it again later.

WikiLeaks calls for Sarah Palin’s arrest

Considering WikiLeaks, politics and the Arizona shooting are all topics I am interested in, you’d think I would find a combination of the three interesting. Instead, the result is a sad and pathetic smash-up, an inappropriate attempt by WikiLeaks to draw attention to the organization by exploiting a high-profile tragedy.

The whistle-blowing website’s official Twitter account released a statement Monday night calling for authorities to “treat incitement seriously or expect more Gabrielle Gifford (sic) killing sprees.” (I find the mere reference to Giffords in this title appalling and shameful.) The call comes after a media shit-storm surrounding Palin’s “crosshairs graphic” that has arguably (and sadly) generated as much, if not more, attention than the shooting itself.

An exerpt from the press release:

Tucson Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, leading the investigation into the Gifford shooting, said that “vitriolic rhetoric” intended to “inflame the public on a daily basis … has [an] impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.” Dupnik also observed that officials and media personalities engaging in violent rhetoric “have to consider that they have some responsibility when incidents like this occur and may occur in the future.”

WikiLeaks staff and contributors have also been the target of unprecedented violent rhetoric by US prominent media personalities, including Sarah Palin, who urged the US administration to “Hunt down the WikiLeaks chief like the Taliban”. Prominent US politician Mike Huckabee called for the execution of WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange on his Fox News program last November, and Fox News commentator Bob Beckel, referring to Assange, publicly called for people to “illegally shoot the son of a bitch.” US radio personality Rush Limbaugh has called for pressure to “Give [Fox News President Roger] Ailes the order and [then] there is no Assange, I’ll guarantee you, and there will be no fingerprints on it.”, while the Washington Times columnist Jeffery T. Kuhner titled his column “Assassinate Assange” captioned with a picture Julian Assange overlayed with a gun site, blood spatters, and “WANTED DEAD or ALIVE” with the alive crossed out.

Before I proceed, a few things I think:

  • WikiLeaks is an important site that has made a definitive impact on the way we gather news and disseminate information and its impact and influence will continue to have an effect into the forseeable future. (The release of sensitive information, however, DOES need regulation.)
  • Julian Assange should not be killed or harshly prosecuted for a crime an average Joe wouldn’t receive the same punishment for.
  • Sarah Palin’s graphic is wholly inappropriate, especially for someone who has talked of one day running for president of the U.S.
  • Palin’s graphic didn’t CAUSE gunman Jared Lee Loughner to do what he did in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday. There is no proof of this.
  • It is absolutely appalling for WikiLeaks — an organization I thought would have been a little better equipped to deal with mass media by now — to piggy-back off the tragedy and call attention to itself.

Here is the WikiLeaks press release in its entirety. To me, it reads like this:

“We offer our condolences to the victims of the Tucson shooting. It was probably caused by violent rhetoric. We at WikiLeaks have also been victims of that. In fact, Sarah Palin wants WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange killed. Mike Huckabee, Rush Limbaugh and all these other people want Assange killed too. WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks, Wikileaks. Arrest all these people. Long live WikiLeaks.”

They then link to a website succinctly titled People OK with Murdering Assange.

This is not the time for this. I like you a lot, WikiLeaks. But you lost on this one.

B.C. link traced to WikiLeaks avengers: Smoking Gun website

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is pictured through the heavily tinted windows of a police vehicle as he arrived at Westminster magistrates court in London, on December 14, 2010. Assange blasted Visa, MasterCard and PayPal for blocking donations to his website, in a defiant statement from behind bars ahead of the court appearance. Photograph by: Carl Court, AFP/Getty Images

Despite getting assigned this story on New Year’s Eve, it made the nerd in me explode into a cloud of multi-coloured confetti.

From my story in Saturday’s Vancouver Sun:

BY ANDREA WOO, VANCOUVER SUN

A global network accused of Internet attacks against perceived WikiLeaks opponents has a link to B.C.

One of the eight Internet Protocol (IP) addresses — the unique identifiers assigned to computers — hosting a website used to dispense instructions on how to electronically attack perceived opponents has been traced back to Frantech Solutions, based in Greater Victoria, according to five pages of an FBI affidavit obtained by The Smoking Gun website (thesmokinggun.com.

Following WikiLeaks’ highly publicized release of diplomatic cables in late November, U.S. companies including PayPal, Visa and MasterCard decided to suspend the whistle-blowing website’s accounts, citing the continuing investigation against the organization.

In response, groups of WikiLeaks avengers — collectively working under the name “Anonymous” — organized Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against the companies.

DDoS attacks typically involve overwhelming a company’s server with external requests, thereby rendering it unable to respond to legitimate requests.

The attackers, who described themselves as “average Internet citizens,” organized and recruited via several Twitter accounts — such as @operation_anon, @anon_operation and @op_payback — until several of those accounts were suspended as well.

Participants recruited on Twitter were directed to a server at irc.anonops.net, hosted by the eight IP addresses, then instructed to download software designed as a network stress-testing application to take part in the DDoS attacks.

According to the affidavit, members from the RCMP and Saanich police department spoke with Frantech Solutions representative Francisco Dias, who confirmed the company ran a virtual server assigned the IP address in question, but said the server itself was housed at Hurricane Electric in Fremont, Calif.

Continue reading here.