by Nadim Kobeissi
October 19, 2010
Nadim Kobeissi is a computer network
security analyst based in Montreal.
release of the largest leak of classified documents
in U.S. military history has
turned the Internet into a war zone.
On one side, WikiLeaks has assembled the
brightest and most dedicated hacker-activists in an effort to turn the
Internet into a bastion of transparency and information freedom.
On the other side, the United States has combined its,
...in an attempt to clamp down on the Internet
with censorship and encryption-banning laws.
Both parties, however, have fully realized the importance of the Internet
and the outcome of their battle will change the face of the world.
The Brimming of a
Earlier this year,
WikiLeaks, then only a marginally popular
organization, released "Collateral
Murder," a YouTube video depicting U.S. soldiers in Iraq
murdering civilians, two Reuters journalists and two children.
"Come on, lets shoot," cries Crazyhorse
One-Eight, the soldier manning the helicopter machine-gun during the
video. "Come on!"
"Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards."
"A lot of my friends are in that video," said Iraq War veteran Josh Stieber to AntiWar Radio.
"I would definitely say that that is, nine
times out of 10, the way things ended up. Killing was following military
protocol. If these videos shock and revolt you, they show the reality of
what war is like."
Before the release of the video, the U.S.
military repeatedly claimed that the gunfight occurred under its Rules of
Engagement and withheld information about the incident from Reuters.
The video caused international outrage.
WikiLeaks bloomed into what the U.S. government
began to perceive as a dangerous enemy. The world furiously demanded answers
while the Federal Bureau of Investigation began an exhaustive search for the
In May, the FBI finally arrested Private First Class
Bradley Manning, a
23-year-old American soldier, under suspicion of leaking classified
Manning was betrayed hours earlier by famed hacker-turned-narc Adrian Lamo,
who turned over chat logs with Manning to Army Intelligence. Lamo stated
that his actions were due to a "crisis of conscience."
According to Lamo, Manning had admitted to leaking more than 260,000
classified diplomatic cables. WikiLeaks has repeatedly denied receiving such
Hackers On Planet Earth conference in July 2010 - a symposium of
hackers that discuss the ethics and politics of the Internet - the hacker
community mobilized in opposition against Lamo, going as far as having a
guest speaker call him a "crazy narc fuck" right after Lamo's talk.
Some state that Lamo's betrayal of Manning may have been an attempt to
lessen his own criminal status, including a $60,000 fine for hacking into
established companies such as The New York Times and Microsoft. Others
blamed his infamous love for press attention.
Manning was imprisoned without parole for weeks in Kuwait, and was later
transferred to a military base in Quantico, Virginia, where he is still
detained. He is facing a possible half-century prison sentence.
In late June, WikiLeaks founder and Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange reported
that he had assigned three civil defense lawyers for Manning, all of which
had been refused access to him.
Today, protests are held regularly around the world, hailing Manning as a
hero and clamoring for his release. Many dub him as a modern day
Ellsberg, including Ellsberg himself. Ellsberg was a U.S. military analyst
who leaked top-secret Pentagon documents about the Vietnam war to a New York
Times reporter in 1969.
WikiLeaks was also represented at the conference by Jacob Appelbaum,
a well-known computer hacker responsible for breaking Apple's FileVault
encryption system as well as managing a large part of Tor, a project that
allows almost-perfect anonymity on the web.
"When you ignore the injustices of the
world, you are part of the problem," said Appelbaum at the conference,
filling in for Assange, who was unable to attend due to his wanted
status for leaking classified military information on WikiLeaks. Federal
agents were so numerous they were "crawling up the walls," said one
"If you've read [about hackers], then you know that you just can't stop
us. The purpose here is to give you the data, so that you can make your
own analysis," said Appelbaum.
Appelbaum cited distrust of the mainstream
media, since its articles never behaved like a scientific journal, whereas
WikiLeaks worked on releasing only raw source material free for public
"When the media is gagged, we refuse to be
gagged," stated Appelbaum. "This whole idea of hunting for [Assange],
you can cut off the head - but there will be more."
After his speech, Appelbaum had to use a
doppelgänger to escape the rush of federal agents onstage, and at a later
unrelated talk was harassed by two FBI agents who asked to have a talk with
him so that they could flesh things out.
According to an article on CNet News, an attorney present in the room asked
them if they were attending the conference for business or pleasure.
"A little of both," one of them replied.
The Internet had already taken the role of a
Weeks after the WikiLeaks conference, the site released a cache of over
92,000 classified Afghanistan war documents, free for the world to browse
through, conveniently coupling the release with a leaked
Intelligence Agency document that examines the possibility of the U.S. being
perceived as an exporter of terrorism.
The Pentagon, already on a full-swing manhunt for Assange, intensified its
war against WikiLeaks. Pentagon spokesmen called for the "return" of the
leaked documents - a move that is necessary by law for the Pentagon to be
capable of later accusing WikiLeaks of espionage.
The FBI and the U.S. government joined forces, declaring its $9-million
"Going Dark" program combined with an Obama-backed bill that would outlaw
all encryption that the government can't obtain backdoor access to, thus
outlawing all encryption WikiLeaks depends on to provide security for its
The U.S. Government aimed to garner an "Eye of Sauron" of the
In late September, the U.S. government furthered its war against WikiLeaks
with a new bill - the
Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act -
which seems like an anti-piracy bill, if one doesn't bother to closely
examine the fine print.
"The list is for domains ‘dedicated to
infringing activity', which is defined very broadly," said Aaron Swartz
on his anti-web-censorship site
"Any site where counterfeit goods or
copyrighted material are ‘central to the activity of the Internet site'
would be blocked."
It doesn't seem far-removed for a government
that already plans to accuse WikiLeaks of espionage to accuse it of
harboring "counterfeit goods."
The United States has launched a full-scale
attack on the rights, privacy and freedom of its own people in a
scrambling attempt to deal with WikiLeaks's truth-speaking.
An Ideal Held at
In March, WikiLeaks published a classified
CIA document that discussed in detail various means the U.S. government
could employ to destroy WikiLeaks.
"Websites such as WikiLeaks.org have trust as their most important
centre of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the
insider, leaker, or whistleblower," the report stated.
"Successful identification, prosecution,
termination of employment, and exposure of persons leaking the
information by the governments and businesses affected by information
posted to WikiLeaks.org would damage and potentially destroy this centre
of gravity and deter others from taking similar actions."
Many have realized the chilling similarity
between the report's suggested strategy for dismantling WikiLeaks and
Manning's recent arrest.
"It looks like we're about to be attacked by
everything the U.S has," said WikiLeaks via Twitter in June.
Those words were prophetic.
Uniting towards their ideal, the world's most talented hackers have
gravitated towards WikiLeaks and what it represents, forming the largest
political hacktivist group in history. The U.S. found itself facing an enemy
it had never prepared for.
The Internet has become a nation, a state, a perfect meritocracy - one that
is currently in a state of war.
It has its culture,
those who entertain
those who are heroes
those who report
those who play
those who work
built a net of mental inhabitants and it has become the first metropolis of
its kind, of which a past example is inconceivable.
That lack of a prior
example is what makes the real world so wary of it.
By architecture, the design of the Internet is fundamentally different from
the design of the real world. There cannot possibly be rulers, or any figure
of authority in a world of information, but there can be power.
In the meritocracy of the Internet, the capable, astute, intelligent can
rise to a position of fame or fortune. Ever since the early days of the
Internet, that elite group has been comprised of hackers, because hackers
gain knowledge through the usage of systems - meaning power through the
inner workings of the Internet.
They rise over the Internet with knowledge of how their environment is
built, and the skill to bend it to their own ends.
Thus did Appelbaum work on the
Tor project, summoning out of the Internet's
architectural infinity a way for anonymous web access. Assange changed the
face of classified political information with his ability to will the
Internet's design into releasing, into the real world, tens of thousands of
Hackers On Planet Earth conference - where both fallen heroes such as
Adrian Lamo and digital superpowers such as WikiLeaks presented talks - was
a conference of national power figures meeting to discuss the future of
Their homeland, where they built and were built, had entered a state of war
with another nation whose realm of existence was completely different - and
in ways superior thanks to its dominance on physical reality.
The U.S. has recently been feeling attacked by the Internet in the only way
the Internet could ever wage a war: with information. In a leaderless
universe, Assange, a hacker himself in his earlier years, achieved what
catapulted him into a position of dominance and respect in his homeland, and
controversy and revulsion in the country he concerns himself with.
Unlike the Internet, the U.S. has rulers, and those rulers aren't yet
accustomed to how the people of the Internet see knowledge as free. In fact,
they are threatened by it.
The behavior of both parties concerned with this issue has indicated that
they are currently in a state of war. The U.S. government attempts to
antagonize the enemy, arouse public hatred and fear of it, uproot it,
dissolve it, and even give its leaders the kill switch to completely
annihilate all presence of the Internet from its country.
The United States seeks to use its dominance of space as an advantage over
the Internet. The Internet, on the other hand, is seeking to use a complete
opposite: the lack of space, the lack of time, in order to have complete
control over what matters: information.
As WikiLeaks releases more information, they have received more threats from
the U.S. government.
The U.S is responding to a war that it, in its opinion,
did not initiate - WikiLeaks sees itself as on a mission to provide to the
entire Internet the truth about the real world, in a spirit of justice.
Those concerned in the real world see their constructs as being threatened
by an independent, self-sufficient third party no one had ever imagined.
The resulting aggression we see today is a sign of a shock at the dimensions
of the fight. No nation has ever fought, or even imagined, a war with a
nation that has no homeland and a people with no identity.
And thus does the
U.S. finds both its rulers and its laws punishing the truth-speaking and
fighting those who stick by their own motto of truth and bravery.
The only way this war will end is if both sides realize that this is the
closest we have come to a war-of-the-worlds:
the Internet and the real world
are that far apart.
This is a battle of applied ethics:
transparency versus the ideal that some are more fit to know than others.
There is no question that the side that will win this ethical battle will be
the one to define, at least for the coming decade, if information
transparency is nurturing or destructive.