Tuesday, December 21, 2010

WikiLeaks, A Semi-Alternative Take

To be honest, I haven't followed the Wikileaks situation very closely, but Naj, my friend over at Iran Facts, got out her 3,000 mile long cattle prod and zapped me into writing about it. No doubt she knows more about the particulars, but I'd best not let that stop me. Cattle prods hurt! (As they say, Naj, be careful what you wish for.) First off, on leaks, an old Secretary of State once said something like, "Anybody thinks they can keep a secret in this town is nuts." To which I say, "Anybody thinks they can keep a secret in this internet architecture is nuts." 

By thinking its own communications so inviolate, the US government was exposed as being both a loon and its own worst security risk. For this effrontery, the streets must now run with human blood, the open internet must be destroyed, demons are being summoned from their crypts in McLean, Virginia, and diplomacy is...well, I'll stop quoting the current Secretary of State for a minute. Seriously, it's worth noting that the US will now start actively aiding and abetting industry efforts to tame the internet as we've known it, get those peer-to-peer free song downloads done while you can, and we can expect a rapid escalation in censorship policies based around shutting down internet provider servers. Again, those steps won't work very well, but it's the best strategy they've got.

Good spycraft and reportage count on a variety of human urges to leak, particularly on lucky combinations of them. Remember the FBI agent who leaked Watergate details to Woodward and Bernstein? I don't either, but he became charmingly known as Deep Throat, and his primary motivation for leaking was that he was passed over for promotion. He was pretty pissed. His secondary motivation, however, was an offended sensibility which bordered on a good conscience, and it was probably this latter quality that tipped the scales of an embittered man towards action and risk.

There's a reason for dwelling on emotional states and revelation, and I'll preface it by unequivocally stating I'm ecstatic WikiLeaks exists, and think it's greater than Brylcreem and pre-sliced loaves of bread; we are likely entering an age when our sins will increasingly, as Jesus said, be shouted from the housetops; it's great that imitators like OpenLeaks are being spawned; it's great that the MSM has its undies in yet another twist; it's great that mere taxpaying mortals can directly view the often petty, weak-minded drivel they're funding. Also, Julian Assange is one gangsta S.O.B. and it's pathetically obvious the US is trumping up whatever charges it can to detain him. And now, unfortunately, I have some questions about the source(s) of this particular material.

Whoever leaked the Pentagon-State cables was no low-level signals intelligence officer feeling some pangs of guilt and disgust, as was apparently the case with the Iraq papers. I don't have detailed knowledge of Pentagon security procedures, only rudimentary knowledge of general security for online systems, but given the breadth and content of the material, it seems very unlikely this leak was conducted by a single low-ranking, low-cleared individual, and far less likely that it was conducted by multiple leakers acting in concert. Only a high-level administrator or bureaucrat with a lot of knowledge, free access, and time on their hands fits the profile of someone who could pull this off. The Pentagon Papers era is long gone, when one Daniel Ellsburg could simply take a microfiche copy of a classified report and drop it into the lap of The New York Times, or surely when any newspaper published such papers in full without heavy deliberation and editing. Point being, even back then very few people besides Ellsburg had a high enough security clearance to get those papers.

Yes, I'm making the dangerous assumption that the Pentagon and State Department have security procedures and follow them to some extent, but all that money they've gone through has probably been spent on something and paranoia has institutional tendencies. More importantly, any such person or group looking to leak would have to be really, really motivated. Like motivated enough to be executed for violating the State Secrets Act. Motivated enough to face the ongoing scrutiny of a withering internal investigation and polygraph tests. And this in order to merely provide proof of what we in The West already knew with excruciating, repetitive clarity, that many of our emissaries and generals are first-order twits? Sorry, something just isn't adding up for me yet.

There's no doubt the US government is conducting a cyberwar against WikiLeaks, no matter how Man of La Mancha, hypocritical, and technically ignorant that may be. It's a predictable response that will rain repercussions like canned hams down on us all in terms of constrained liberties and commerce. But maybe this really wasn't a leak at all. It lacks the classic, targeted earmarks of a leak and looks more like a well-planned intelligence operation intended to embarrass the West. This looks like the famously dreaded Fuck You Flourish. Penetration could have been gained via patient internal sleeper personnel or a back door, possibly with the former activating the latter. It may have been nothing more than a neat crime of opportunity, but along with the polygraph tests, the Pentagon might want to carefully review its list of network vendors.

So much for Obama's harping on the Chinese about greater transparency. This is like being at a formal dinner in the South, listening to your hosts happily extol the benefits of racial equality after the Civil Rights Act and how thankful they are those bad old days are finally behind them. Then a group of young kids straight out of To Kill A Mockingbird run inside yelling that Tom Robinson just raped Mayella Ewell, the Klan is rounding up to lynch him, and your host grabs a long white robe out of a closet and bolts out of the the house. You can perceive a real democracy by how it welcomes the currency of clear information. This is not that.


Vincent said...

Nice one, Marc, back to the style and passion of your best! Over at my place there is a gift for you but you’d have to write and give your email address so that I can send it to you. See my latest 2 posts.

Davoh said...

Yer, well, whatever. Whether snow, sleet, drowned; dust of drought - wishing you and yours the best of the Festive Season.

Naj said...

Thanks LordMarc, I somehow subscribe to that suspicion as well. I don't deny the little pleasure I get from the farce that is unfolding before our eyes, not those gossipy insignificants, rather the hypocrisy that the cradle of democracy is putting on display.

I think, this is the reason why this wikileaks is a big historical event for me, not for what it is going to mean and do to IT and IT security, but for what it has exposed the dirty undergarment of the democracy-spreading dandy club.