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Forty years ago military analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaked classified Vietnam War documents known as the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg had come to believe the U.S. was fighting a wrongful war and hoped the Pentagon Papers would help end it. Today when we think of secret documents and whistleblowers, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks come to mind. A new book traces the decades between the Pentagon Papers and WikiLeaks. The author explains how advances in cryptographic technology have helped create a new generation of digital activists and how politically motivated hackers are reshaping concepts about power and secrecy.
- Andy Greenberg Forbes staff writer focusing on technology, information security and digital civil liberties.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpt from “This Machine Kills Secrets: How Wikileakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim To Free The World’s Information” by Andy Greenberg. Copyright 2012 by Andy Greenberg. Reprinted here by permission of Dutton Adult. All rights reserved.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. It took Daniel Ellsberg months to photocopy classified Vietnam War documents dubbed the Pentagon Papers. But in today's digital age, vast amounts of government and corporate secrets can be captured and exposed in minutes. The author of a new book takes us into the hidden world of digital activists, including Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
MS. SUSAN PAGEHe explains how the ability to be anonymous online is revolutionizing the craft of disclosure. The book is titled "This Machine Kills Secrets: How Wikileakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim To Free The World's Information." Author Andy Greenberg joins me in the studio. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. ANDY GREENBERGThanks for having me on.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, that's 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, 40 years is a long time, so for people who may not remember the Pentagon Papers, explain briefly what happened there.
GREENBERGWell, in 1971 the New York Times published the first of the Pentagon Papers which were 7,000 top secret documents that described a kind of secret history of the Vietnam War. Daniel Ellsberg was an analyst at RAND, this military contractor that's -- or analysis firm that had basically done an enormous kind of recap and analysis of the Vietnam War and assessments for the military itself. And in the process of writing this, and in his own travels in Vietnam, he became convinced that the war was unjust and needed to end, and so he secreted out these 7,000 physical pages from, you know, the very innermost belly of the beast, and started giving them to papers around the country.
PAGEAnd how did he get the documents out of the RAND Corporation?
GREENBERGHe actually just walked them out with a briefcase. You know, the...
PAGEHe made copies.
GREENBERGWell, at first he took them out in a briefcase just piece by piece. He, you know, he was a very high-level analyst, so he was able to do that, but then the hard part was then he had to photocopy them to distribute them to all of these newspapers. One of the tricky parts was that the papers all had top secret markings throughout them, and he had to first photocopy them himself, and photocopying even then -- alone, just making one photocopy was tough because photocopying was this very new technology in 1971.
GREENBERGBut after that he also had to give his photocopies to a photocopying shop so that he could, you know, make multiple copies and then pass them out to eventually more than a dozen newspapers. So that meant, you know, going through and excising these tiny top secret markings. Also standing over his own photocopier that he borrowed from an advertising firm for a year on and off. A total of three months of solid photocopying. That's the age that he lived in.
PAGESo compare that with what happened with Bradley Manning who allegedly got data from military computers, distributed it in what we call Wikileaks.
GREENBERGWell, that's the aim of the first chapter of this book is to draw the contrast between Bradley Manning and Daniel Ellsberg, both in the technology they used and their motivations, and in terms of technology, I tried to model how long it would take Daniel Ellsberg using his 1971 technology to leak a collection of information as big as the one that Bradley Manning is allegedly accused of leaking to Wikileaks, and I calculated that it would take 18 years.
GREENBERGAnd that's -- I believe that was even using a modern photocopier. I wasn't able to figure out what a 1971 Xerox machine's photocopying rate was, so I used my own eight pages a minute that I modeled on a photocopier at Forbes Magazine where I work.
PAGEAnd so 18 years to have copied -- it would have taken 18 years to have photocopied this information. How long did it take Bradley Manning allegedly to download it?
GREENBERGWell, we don't know exactly, but, I mean, just judging by the size of the files and the speed of a CD drive, it would have taken just a matter of minutes. It took him some time to collect it, but I think that is, you know, he collected it in weeks and he copied it in minutes or even seconds, and then he simply walked out the door. I mean, it was -- it's a completely different story. But that's only the beginning of the contrast between these two technological -- the far more important thing I think is that there was -- when Daniel Ellsberg wanted to give the stuff to a journalist, he had to expose himself essentially.
GREENBERGHe had to trust a journalist not to, you know, to identify him. Bradley Manning, by contrast, you know, used technologies that allowed him to be anonymous, to anonymously pass the information to the recipient who he wanted to amplify his leak, in this case, Wikileaks, and that's the big contrast between the two of them is that Daniel Ellsberg actually expected to be caught and to go to prison for what he was doing because he knew that he would be identified, and Bradley Manning, although at one point in his -- in an online chat with actually the hacker who would expose him, he said that he was willing to go to prison, but he never expected to. He trusted the anonymity technologies he was using to leak this information.
PAGEAnd at the end of your first chapter, you write about the contrast between these two men and their stories. Will you read us a short passage about that?
GREENBERGYeah. I'd be glad to. "The barriers to modern megaleakers like Bradley Manning have crumpled. They needn't spend a year photocopying like Daniel Ellsberg. They needn't be Eagle Scouts or war heroes who penetrate the government's most elite layer only to go rogue. Just one of the millions of Americans with access to secret government documents, or the many, many uncountable millions more with access to secret corporate information.
GREENBERG"And perhaps most important, they needn't risk reprisal by exposing their identities to the journalists they hope will amplify their whistle blowing. The forces that caught Manning are real and significant. The greatest vulnerability for any leaker remains his or her human connections, but the lesson of Manning's story for a generation of digital natives will be, above all else, that he nearly got away with it.
GREENBERG"Use the right cryptographic tools, keep your mouth shut and you too can anonymously, frictionlessly eviscerate an entire institution's information. There may not be many Daniel Ellsbergs in the world ready to push through the 20th Century's stubborn barriers to leaking, but the 21st Century would be wise to expect more Bradley Mannings."
PAGEThank you for reading that. And yet the irony, as you were saying, Daniel Ellsberg expected to go to jail, Bradley Manning hoped at least never to be exposed, and yet their life stories have turned out quite the reverse.
GREENBERGSo far it does seem that way, but it does seem kind of like a fluke that Ellsberg was caught, he had no protections at all, in fact, and he was immediately identified for this massive leak of top secret information. In fact, more secret even than what Manning leaked. But because of -- basically because of the Nixon's administrations incredible improprieties in tracking him and raiding his psychiatrist's office and trying to beat him up in a crowd at one point and hiring this goons to beat him up, and wiretapping him.
GREENBERGThe list goes on and on. Eventually that caused a mistrial that allowed him to go free, while Manning, you know, looks likely to spend a significant chunk of the rest of his life in prison potentially, and is already being shuttled between jails.
PAGEAnd how is -- how was Bradley Manning caught?
GREENBERGWell, that's the thing. That's where this fluke really comes in because there is no evidence in fact that Bradley Manning was caught using technological means. It seems -- this is, of course, a controversial subject and difficult to know, but there is no evidence in the public that the anonymity software that he used had any flaws that allowed him to be traced, that allowed this leak to be traced to him, which would be a very difficult task. There are millions of Americans with the same clearances that he had to access this information.
GREENBERGSo in fact, how he was caught was that he, you know, he seems to have emotional problems and was looking for a confidante, and he started to confess this crime essentially over instant messages to a hacker he had never met in person before. In fact he started to sort of pour out his confession before he'd even gotten a response from this other hacker Adrian Lamo who eventually turned him into the Army counterintelligence division.
PAGEYou've talked about how these two cases are so different in their technology. Are they similar in terms of the motivation of the person who leaked the classified information?
GREENBERGI think that they are. I mean, both of the leakers in these cases saw themselves as whistle blowers. Daniel Ellsberg is lauded as this, you know, the 20th century's great whistleblower who saw the injustice of the Vietnam War which we all can look back on now as this flawed campaign, but Bradley Manning certainly saw himself in the same terms. You know, he read certain documents that seemed to show to him that there were, you know, indiscriminate killings happening.
GREENBERGHe saw the collateral murder video that would be Wikileaks maybe most high-profile leak of 2010, this Apache helicopter killing journalists and civilians in Iraq. You know, he saw evidence that political dissidents were being rounded up by the Iraqi government and treated as insurgents, things like this. And so he was politically motivated. The question of, I mean, he -- of whether he was right to then leak hundreds of thousands of documents, you know, and there's absolutely no chance that he'd read them all, unlike Ellsberg who actually not only read the documents that he leaked, but helped to write a good portion of them.
GREENBERGYou know, that does draw a big distinction. Not in their motivations, but, you know, I think Manning's critics have a point when they say that he's no Ellsberg in that sense. That he was not as careful, he was not as measured in his leaking.
PAGEAnd you write that traits -- the essential traits of a leaker are an abundance of knowledge and a lack of power.
GREENBERGThat's right. And I think that Manning had those -- had both of those, even far more than Ellsberg in fact. I mean, he had maybe not quite as much information. Ellsberg had a top secret clearance, and Manning had only a secret clearance, but Ellsberg was a powerful person with the, you know, the military industrial complex, whereas Manning was one of these kind of intelligence foot soldiers who described in these online chats with Lamo a kind of really menial existence where he was, you know, just basically, you know, just sorting -- just sifting through these kind of anonymous documents every day without a sense of what they meant or, you know, it was a boring job.
GREENBERGHe was just another kind of slave of this machine as he saw it, and you could imagine the frustration that he felt as he saw things that bothered him, and he had absolutely no influence other than, you know, taking this course, this course that backfired on his life.
PAGEWe're talking to Andy Greenberg about his new book. It's entitled ""This Machine Kills Secrets: How Wikileakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim To Free The World's Information." We're going to take a short break. We'll go to the phones. Give us a call, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, Andy Greenberg. He's a staff writer for Forbes Magazine, who covers technology, information security and digital civil liberties. He's written a new book, it's called "This Machine Kills Secrets." What does that title refer to?
GREENBERGIt actually refers to the saying that Woody Guthrie had written on his guitar, which was, this machine kills fascists. And what I kind of thought about when I saw a guy in my neighborhood in Brooklyn strumming his guitar with that slogan written on it--and I thought oh, you know, that's actually what this ideal of WikiLeaks is. Not just WikiLeaks, but an entire movement has been trying to create something like WikiLeaks for decades. This machine, where you just kind of turn a crank and secrets just come pouring out of it, like a, you know, you don't have to steal the information. You kind of just set up this apparatus and it levels the defenses of institutional secrecy almost automatically.
PAGEBut you do steal the information, right? It's information to which you're not supposed to have access.
GREENBERGWell, I don't know how you would define stealing, but I would say that you're actually just sort of opening your arms and waiting for insiders to leak it to you. That's the idea. This is not, you know, the traditional hacking is about going in and taking it, but Julian Assange says insiders know where the bodies are, you know. He transitioned in his own life from being a hacker who went in and took it to a guy who realized that you could just set up this kind of cryptographic inbox that hides the source of the leak. And then just kind of say I'm open for business and allow any insider, conscientious whistle-blower or vindictive, you know, revenge leaker to dump the stuff in his inbox themselves. And thereby actually make sure that what he was getting was going to have some kind of interest.
GREENBERGYou know that's the difference. You know instead of just like taking troves of stuff, that's actually a way of filtering it out, of getting the really interesting stuff that you know is going to be explosive.
PAGEAnd so the key is to develop the program that allows whistle-blowers or people with a grudge to give you the information and stay anonymous themselves.
GREENBERGThat's right. And Assange didn't actually invent this technology. You know I think the central tool that I highlighted in the book is a piece of software called Tor, which at one point stood for the onion router. It encrypts data in layers of encryption, like an onion. And then the data is passed through these three hops. And each hop takes away one of the layers of encryption, but none of those three hops, these servers around the internet can trace the entire path of information because each one of them can only access one layer of the encryption.
GREENBERGSo what that does is it separates the leaker from the recipients. And in fact, that means that WikiLeaks was able to illicit leaks without actually knowing the source. You know, be able to prove to the source in fact that they couldn't know who they were.
PAGEAnd Julian Assange has become such a familiar figure to so many Americans. You've interviewed him. You did an early story about him for Forbes. What's he like?
GREENBERGWell, he's, I mean, I have to say that at the time that I met him, you know, he struck me as both incredibly charming and also incredibly nerdy. He was both polite and arrogant, but he's a fascinating character. He's just a really complex person, but, you know, one thing that really struck me was just how completely he believed in this vision of, you know, releasing information as a tool for justice. So I talked to Assange in 2010, just before the release of the quarter million State Department cables that were kind of the height of his achievements. And he was riding high on the power that he had, you know, discovered in these tools.
PAGEDid you know that these diplomatic leaks were coming?
GREENBERGHe hinted to me that there was going to be a leak. The Iraq files had already come out, about 400,000 secret files about the Iraq war. And he hinted to me there was going to be a leak that was seven times that size, which at the time, you know, made me sweat a little bit. He wouldn't tell me what it was exactly, but he said that it was going to be the biggest leak they had ever had and that it was going to affect the private sector and the governments. And that was all that he would say.
GREENBERGAnd then three weeks later those documents appeared, which were probably the most world-shaking thing that WikiLeaks has released.
PAGEAnd let's talk about two other figures involved with WikiLeaks and its beginning. One is someone who's called only the architect. Who is that?
GREENBERGWell, at some point WikiLeaks was, you know, WikiLeaks was always this kind of hackerish project. It wasn't designed from the beginning, you know, in a way that was very rigorous. It was just a couple of people. Although Assange, you know, made it out to be this very large organization with Chinese dissidents involved and various brilliant engineers. It was mostly him and, you know, a couple of other people.
GREENBERGSo at some point this other guy, who has remained very, very secretive about his identity and his full role in the story, was brought in by WikiLeaks' German associate, Daniel Domscheit-Berg. And this guy, who is only known as the architect, redesigned WikiLeaks' submission system from scratch. Basically, you know, took it apart and built it in a way that was far more rigorous. This guy has been described by several ex-WikiLeakers as being a genius, as being the most talented engineer they'd ever met who did brilliant things, you know, to secure the system.
GREENBERGAnd in the end, this architect also was the first or one of the first to find fault with Assange's leadership and kind of lead a mutiny that caused a rift within WikiLeaks, turned into a spin-off group called OpenLeaks and paralyzed WikiLeaks, at least for a time. And WikiLeaks has never really gotten back to the healthy state that it was at before the architect left.
PAGEAnd what's the crux of the dispute between WikiLeaks and OpenLeaks, this group that's been formed by people who had previously played key roles?
GREENBERGWell, there were a number of things. One was that it seemed that Assange was a kind of tyrannical leader, you know. I mean he's a guy who's extremely smart and had been the smartest guy in the room his entire life and he sort of acted that way even. WikiLeaks, when there were, you know, there were also other strong, you know, you could say egotistical personalities involved. And that his managerial style didn't suit a couple of other people, including Daniel Domscheit-Berg and the architect.
GREENBERGBut I think more important was that Assange, you know, these critics say, was more interested at some point in just breaking records, you know, dumping as much information as possible, instead of actually focusing on the stuff that's, you know, that they believe was most important or, you know. For instance, at one point there were these 91,000 Afghanistan war files and 15,000 of them were deemed to be too sensitive to release at first. They needed a second look before they could be released by the (word?) and then the New York Times.
GREENBERGYou know, even WikiLeaks agreed that they needed to be filtered more carefully. So the 76,000 were released, but then the 15,000 were passed onto volunteers for another analysis, but while the architect and Daniel Domscheit-Berg were working to redact those 15,000 documents and get them ready to go, Assange just pressed ahead and wanted to release the 400,000 Iraq documents. So those 15,000 documents, which might have contained really explosive, really important stuff, were never actually released.
GREENBERGAnd that, for the architect and Domscheit-Berg, was a kind of irresponsible oversight, you know, just that Assange was just more interested in these record-breaking leaks, the act of leaking, than even the content of the information.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let our listeners join our conversation, pose questions of their own. We'll go first to Daniel. He's calling us from Harrisburg, Pa. Daniel, thanks for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
DANIELHello. Yes. Briefly, I was formally a federal employee and I'm going back 40 years to the war on poverty, OEO, the Office of Economic Opportunity. And a lot of the staff that I worked with, we were suspicious of the administration. And I am talking about the Kennedy administration who, you know, were very much in touch with what we were doing in the war on poverty. And what we found out is that the administration, OEO, was going to transfer the authority for many of its programs to the Department of Labor.
DANIELAnd we knew that the Department of Labor around the country, but especially in southern states, was continuing to discriminate against black workers, not give them the kind of upgrading and training that they would need in the marketplace. And we had friends--I did and others did--in the Washington Post and The New York Times and we told them about it. It made a big splash back then, charges made that the war on poverty program discriminated against black people.
DANIELAnd Robert Kennedy was a person, but he was Attorney General, but nevertheless he was sort of the guiding light out of the White House for the war on poverty. Anyway, all the employment programs that we ran were suspended all over the country while the administration would look into these charges, which they did. And a number of people in the OEO and the U.S. Department of Labor and in the education industry around the country were in fact suspended, contracts and grants were stopped and black activists around the country suddenly had a leg to stand on in saying that it's not good enough, what the Kennedys were doing.
GREENBERGIn any event, let me just throw in one other thing. There was another leak in my agency, the Office of Economic Opportunity. And the wrong person was accused by Sergeant Shriver, who ran it, of being the leaker. And a bunch of us got together. We wrote a confession and each of us signed it, about 70 or 80 of us on the staff. And we brought it into Sergeant Shriver and we said you're beating up the wrong person, all of us leaked that material that you're unhappy about. And with that the pressure on this other employee, who had nothing to do with the leak, stopped. And life went on.
PAGEAnd, Daniel, were you and the other people who signed this confession, were you disciplined or affected in any way?
DANIELNo. No, we were not.
PAGEYou may have been protected by numbers. What do you--what an interesting story, Daniel. Thank you for calling and sharing it with us. Andy, what do you think?
GREENBERGWell, I'm not familiar with all the details, that was long before my time, but I admire what you've described. I mean I think whistle-blowing is a courageous act. And I think that what you're, you know, this confession letter that you described, that everybody signed, collectively, to sort of disperse the blame for the leaker, that's kind of the mantra today of Bradley Manning supporters when they say I am Bradley Manning. You know, that's the idea, is that I think, you know, we all would have done what he did. And, you know, I just wish that in his case he, you know, I'm not sure I support exactly what he did, but his treatment has been tragic. And, you know, I'd like to see him come to justice in a way that is fair.
PAGEWhistle-blowing can be a courageous act, as you say, as the story Daniel told. Is it always a courageous act?
GREENBERGWell, you know, I think it is. If whistle-blowing--if you define it as leaking documents that you see as secret injustice, than yeah, I would say that whistle-blowing, you know, is defined as a courageous act. You know, some would argue that these anonymity tools have reduced the courage necessary, but the fact is that the tools aren't perfect and there are always other ways, non-technological means to be caught. So yeah I would say that whistle-blowing--I'm not sure that I would say leaking is always a courageous act, you know. There are very political leaks that are not about justice by any means, but rather serving your interests. But whistle-blowing I think is by definition a courageous act.
PAGEBut looking at WikiLeaks in particular, names of sources of information who have been promised secrecy were revealed, sometimes to catastrophic affect. Is that of concern? Does that affect the assessment of this as being a courageous act?
GREENBERGWell, I don't think that it changes the fact that it was a courageous act. But whether it was an entirely wise thing to do, you know, I do believe that Manning erred in releasing this kind of unfiltered, just massive mega leak of information. I believe he should have done more what Ellsberg did, which is to read it all himself, to filter himself and not put these innocent sources in danger.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, let's go back to the incident that prompted Bradley Manning to decide that he wanted to become a whistle-blower. That he wanted to leak this information. It was a particular episode.
GREENBERGRight. It was a group of Iraqi dissidents. This is all described in his chat logs with Adrian Lamo. He says that he read this document that -- well, he was asked to dig up information about this group of insurgents. And in fact what he read about them and looked into the case, he saw that in fact they just published a kind of pamphlet criticizing the Iraqi presidents. And he saw them as actual political dissidents and therefore, political prisoners, rather than insurgents. So that, he says, was the moment when it all started to fall apart for him. I think that might be even exactly what he said in these chat logs.
GREENBERGAnd he started to see everything he was doing in a different light, that he was part of a, you know, a machine of injustice that he wanted to help take apart. And then he started to, I think, work almost full time, you know, just reading documents and thinking about what he wanted to leak. And he describes other things that he found to be disturbing. He did, for instance, see that the Collateral Murder video, which is perhaps the most disturbing thing that WikiLeaks ever released, which shows journalists and civilians being killed by, you know, these massive gauge bullets from an American helicopter.
PAGEAnd in an instant that was described in an inaccurate way…
PAGE…prior to the release of the leaked material.
GREENBERGExactly. It wasn't known until WikiLeaks released it that these victims were not insurgents. One of them was carrying a, I believe, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, but he was--or I'm sorry. He was carrying a--I'm sorry--he was carrying an AK47 or some sort of gun, but he was not an insurgent. He was a journalist.
PAGESo that was what prompted Bradley Manning to--we believe--to go down this course. Has the release of all this information had the effect, the impact that he hoped it would have?
GREENBERGI think it's incredibly difficult to figure out what the full impact of all this has been. I mean, this is, you know, there's so many cause and affects of not just the Iraq and Afghanistan documents, but a quarter million State Department cables, affecting every government in the world. But I think that there have been very clear, I mean, Manning wanted there to be, you know, worldwide global scrutiny of these documents. He talked about global anarchy. Oh, what did he say?
GREENBERGI think it was global anarchy in CSV format, which is the data base format of the files that he leaked. You know and that has happened to some degree. I think that the documents regarding Tunisia helped to fuel the revolution there. You know CNN reported at one point that the WikiLeaks documents regarding Iraq had helped to end the war there because they showed evidence of the killing of civilians being covered by the military and the Iraqi government was so displeased with this that they kind of helped to push the U.S. military out faster than they would have otherwise.
GREENBERGSo, you know, there are absolutely consequences of what Manning did that align with what he wanted. Although, there are also innocent sources exposed. And it's difficult to know if any of them have faced threats or intimidation that, you know, might have caused those sort of tragic, unintended consequences.
PAGEWe're talking to Andy Greenberg. His new book is called, "This Machine Kills Secrets: How Wikileakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim To Free The World's Information." We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll go back to the phones and take some of your calls and read your emails. Stay with us.
PAGEWe're talking with Andy Greenberg this hour about his new book "This Machine Kills Secrets." Let's go to the phones and take questions and comments from some of our listeners. We'll go to Jeff. He's calling us from Rolla, Mo. Jeff, hi. You're on the air.
JEFFHi. What Mr. Greenberg said about Bradley Manning is really preposterous. I mean, there's a distinct difference between whistle blowing and treason. I'm a recent Army retiree. Bradley Manning signed a classified nondisclosure agreement. He swore an oath to the constitution. What he did was against the law and he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. And that's basically all I've got to say about it.
GREENBERGAll right, Jeff. Thanks so much for your call and thank you for your service. Andy Greenberg.
GREENBERGWell, I would say this. It's true, of course, Bradley Manning broke the law. That's part of what whistleblowers do on a regular basis and sometimes -- and that's what political descendants do as well and that's often something that we admire. I think also soldiers do break the oath that they give to their superiors when they feel that the chain of command is demanding that they do something that is fully immoral, you know. And I'm not sure that I would support a soldier who says, well I was simply following orders when he's asked to do something that's clearly wrong.
GREENBERGAnd so to say that Bradley Manning, you know, wasn't a conscientious whistleblower I think, you know, overlooks his own motivations. And the fact that sometimes, you know, we do have to violate the chain of commands or we have to break the law to do what's right. You know, that's what civil disobedience is all about.
PAGEWe've got emailers who are defending Bradley Manning and also some who are criticizing him. Here's one, an email from Mike who writes us from Fairfax, Va. "The harm to the country of leaking classified material, in the WikiLeaks case, the undermining of diplomatic effort to crucial national security must be measured against the value of the leaked material to the public. In this case what did we learn? A bunch of embarrassing things about foreign officials told to our diplomats in confidence who will now be far less inclined to trust us with important information."
PAGE"With the possible exception of the video of a group of civilians being killed by a U.S. helicopter, what of essential value to the goal of government transparency was learned?" So how would you respond to Mike?
GREENBERGWell, I think that that is actually just a very shallow reading of these documents. The New York Times and the Guardian -- of course the first thing that they wanted to highlight and that probably got the most headlines was, you know, the embarrassing things that Hillary Clinton or whoever else in the State Department said about world leaders because that's juicy and it, you know, makes for some interesting gossip fodder.
GREENBERGBut, as I said earlier, I think that the cablegate documents helped to fuel a revolution in Tunisia that, you know, in turn sparked the Arab Spring. It helped to speed the end of the Iraq War. There were -- you know, there was a -- I believe that there was one document that indicated that Pfizer had actually bribed Nigerian officials so that they wouldn't have to pay the full settlements of the outcome of a botched medical experiment.
GREENBERGI mean, there were things that, you know, were actually very, you know, important disclosures that weren't necessarily the front page stories in the New York Times. But these things trickled out over a year. And it's actually very difficult to catalog all the positive effects that this had, as well as, of course, putting people in danger. You know, I'm not going to say that indiscriminate leak of a quarter million cables is always -- is a good idea but it's impossible also to say that it didn't have positive effects as well. It's just too large of a collection of data to make such simple judgments.
PAGEHere's one email that says, "I just want to bring attention to the documented fact that the correct name for Bradley Manning is Brianna Manning. She has identified as a transgender woman for some time now." And Bill in Athens, Ohio also emails us. He says, "I've heard bits and pieces about Bradley Manning being transgendered but I don't recall the media openly acknowledging this. Does your guest know if this is true and what bearing might that have on the lack of power aspect that he was speaking of as a characteristic of whistleblowers?"
GREENBERGI think it has a lot of bearing and it is true that Bradley Manning had written in this chat log with Adrian Lamo that he planned to transition to becoming Brianna Manning. That wasn't initially reported when these chat logs leaked because there was a sense that it violated Bradley Manning's privacy. But I do think that it's an important part of this story that should be told because he actually -- Bradley Manning participated in protests against "Don't ask, don't tell."
GREENBERGHe believes that gay officers should be able to serve in the military. And that absolutely was a sense -- was part of his sense of alienation and powerlessness that he wasn't able to be himself, you know, and that he was treated as an outsider by his colleagues. Because he wasn't very good at hiding the fact that he was gay, as far as I can tell. He seems to have posted things on Facebook about his sexual orientation. So it's likely that he was ostracized for this and I'm absolutely sure that that helps him to be an outsider, looking at things from the outside and thinking about what's right and not simply, you know, going along with the culture of the military.
PAGELet's go to St. Louis, Mo. and talk to Cliff. Cliff, hi. You're on the air.
CLIFFHi. It's a great discussion. You know, where Bradley Manning's concerned a previous caller said something, which I thought was interesting and it was palpable which was that he had signed a classified nondisclosure agreement. But in so doing I don't believe that as a citizen he has an obligation to abrogate his rights as a patriot or a duty to the citizens of our country or the world as a humanitarian. The bigger question for me is, is he as a patriot supposed to allow the knowing conveyance and archiving of information which is treasonous.
CLIFFThe next question I have is where the American public are concerned. If we are to seize control of our government and begin to do away with the process that the oligarchs and Plutarchs have in place with our banks, with the Federal Reserve and with the military industrial complex, why are we not taking the information that people like Manning or Mr. Assange offered to us. Sift through it intensely and then find legal means by which to go back and actually sue and bring to justice people in the Pentagon and our leaders and any of the individuals that they consort with or through business or through any other form, and actually sue them?
CLIFFDonald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, George Bush, Carl Rogue, individuals who actually were the architects of these acts of treason and who engage with corporations to defraud the American public of their rights and our jobs. And when people talk about the collateral damage, yes, there are individuals, and I've read many of these documents on WikiLeaks. There are people who were named and whose careers are over or whose lives are in danger or who have actually been killed.
CLIFFBut our country is more important and our citizenry and their jobs are more important than the ability of our leaders who throw us in the dirt like this to continue to do that with impunity.
PAGECliff, thanks so much for your call. Andy, what do you think?
GREENBERGWell, one thing I just want to correct as far as I know, to my knowledge there has never been a death associated with this information being leaked -- or not a confirmed one at least. There have certainly been -- there have been threats, there have been intimidation to State Department sources but no known actual casualties of this leak. But everything else you said I agree with.
GREENBERGI believe that Bradley Manning was a conscientious whistleblower who perhaps went too far, you know, in his massive disclosure. And I believe that he wanted to see what he described as worldwide reforms, a kind of new way of thinking about the military and the American police in the world. And it's a shame that the result of this has been, you know, as much just a question of who is this guy Bradley Manning and what's wrong with him and who is this kind of crazy white-haired Australian guy, Assange, as has been, well, what is the actual meaning of this -- of the country and the military describes in this collection of information.
GREENBERGYou know, I think that Manning would be in many ways disappointed with the outcome of his leak, although there are certainly things that he would see as, you know, incredible achievements as well.
PAGEYou write about Cypherpunks and Hacktivists, a series of really some extraordinary characters in your book. Tell us about, say, Tim May, one of them.
GREENBERGRight. Well, the idea of the book is to trace the ideas behind WikiLeaks, you know, as far back as they go. And one of the characters I think who inspired Assange very early on was a guy named Tim May who was an Intel physicist who then retired very early in his life. He made an enormous amount of money, retired and just devoted himself to sort of thinking about cryptography and anarchy.
GREENBERGAnd he was a very radical libertarian and experimented with lots of different encryption techniques. And was -- and founded this group called the Cypherpunks that wanted to use encryption, use the -- you know, these secrecy tools to take power away from the governments and give them to individuals. And when I say secrecy I mean the ability to hide for instance the source of a payment or hide the source of a leak.
GREENBERGAnd one thing that Tim May experimented with was this system call BlackNet that he created, which was very much a proto of WikiLeaks. It was basically a thought experiment. It didn't exist but he sent this email to thousands of people that said, this is BlackNet. Welcome to BlackNet. We are seeking the following kinds of information, which you should send to us through anonymous remailers, these sort of like systems that similarly would allow him to hide the source of the data.
GREENBERGAnd he imagined that BlackNet could be a kind of online marketplace for anonymous leaks, just like WikiLeaks became, you know, 20 years later.
PAGEAnd you've been covering this area of technology information security for how long for Forbes?
GREENBERGAbout five years now.
PAGEAnd these are not people who hire PR firms and seek you out wanting to tell their stories, right. This is a pretty secretive group of people as a rule.
GREENBERGWell, I never expected to be able to speak to Tim May and I went to Santa Cruz where Tim May lives nearby. I went to Santa Cruz to speak with Phil Zimmerman who invented another very early and important encryption tool called PGP. And it just happened that I was...
PAGEPGP meaning Pretty Good Privacy.
GREENBERGIt stands for Pretty Good Privacy, right. It was the first strong encryption tool that not even the government could break that was in the hands of anybody who wanted it in the world. That was another revolutionary moment in this history of cryptography that I believe let to WikiLeaks. Anyway, I was talking to Phil Zimmerman and I was saying, do you know this guy Tim May? You know, he seems like a really important character in this history. And Phil said, oh actually, let me just call him up. And it turned out that he was literally just maybe five or six blocks away in Santa Cruz.
GREENBERGSo this guy who had been described to me as a kind of recluse in the mountains of California with -- in this kind of fortress with explosives in the trees and a stash of guns, some of which is actually true -- he does probably have a big stash of guns -- but, you know, that I would never be able to speak to him, and that he was this kind of bearded hermit. I ended up talking to him just a few minutes later and he told me his whole story of his conversion to this kind of crypto anarchist philosophy and the ideas that, you know, I believe and he believes helped to spark WikiLeaks.
PAGEAnd Phil Zimmerman who devised this PGP, Pretty Good Privacy program, investigated for years by the U.S. Justice Department. What happened there?
GREENBERGWell, that's right. Phil was investigated for potentially exporting strong encryption, which at the time was a crime. These -- encryption was seen as ammunition, just as you can't export -- you can't sell missiles to another country or a nuclear -- or a bomb or something. Encryption was seen as this military equipment at the time. And he -- and of course you can't control information. You can't control a program like this.
GREENBERGSo PGP, this program that Phil invented, was the first example of strong encryptions in the hands of the masses and he put it on the internet. So of course it crossed the U.S. borders into the rest of the world immediately. And so he was investigated by the Justice Department. That became kind of the first crypto war as everyone rallied, you know, as the Cypherpunks, essentially this group that Tim May created rallied around Phil Zimmerman. And, you know, really it's actually strengthened the idea that encryption was this important thing that individuals need to have to oppose wrongdoing by the governments.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Kevin calling us from Cincinnati, Ohio. Hi, Kevin.
KEVINGreat show today, guys. Really appreciate this. A thought from me is, you know, this idea of whether Manning should or shouldn't have leaked information that he signed something pre, I just feel like, you know, if we as a society -- if it was our child, let's say one of our sons or daughters that was murdered and there was a cover-up, you know, we would want somebody to be a whistleblower. But yet in other situations we don't want that.
KEVINI just think that we can't really have it both ways. I think it's a healthy thing, it's a checkpoint. And I totally agree with the author that, you know, I think whistle blowing can really be a positive and it can, you know, maybe really touch home if it's somebody within our family.
PAGEKevin, thanks so much for your call. You know, we also have an email from Guy writing us from Indian Trail, N.C. who says, "Does a nation have a right to have secrets?" What would you think the answer to that is, Andy?
GREENBERGI believe so. I believe this idea that there should be no secrets is ridiculous. And I don't even believe that Julian Assange believe there should be no secrets. He wanted to protect, for instance, the secret that was the identity of his sources. So if -- you know, of course there should be secrets. And cablegates -- in fact, the quarter million State Department cables included lots of innocent sources, journalists. You know, people who Assange ought to have seen as his friends and allies who were giving information to the State Department.
GREENBERGAnd their names were eventually exposed, not on purpose but in this accidental leak that happened at the end of last year -- or last summer rather of the un-redacted State Department cables, which was really the biggest disaster of this entire saga.
PAGEAnd how did that happen?
GREENBERGIt's a complicated story but essentially there was -- when Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the German spokesperson for WikiLeaks, and the architects left WikiLeaks they took with them -- they didn't trust WikiLeaks' security so they took with them a huge collection of WikiLeaks leaks and as well as the archive of previous leaks. So there was this kind of hostage negotiation situation where Assange was trying to get that information back.
GREENBERGWhen they did finally give it back, somebody at WikiLeaks, and nobody knows who, put the information online, put it on BitTorrent, this kind of -- it's a sort of protocol on the web where you basically can't get rid of it. The information disperses into hundreds of thousands of locations and is pieced together when somebody downloads it. So this was simply the archive of information. But what Assange didn't know, or we think he didn't know was that this archive also included the entire un-redacted State Department cablegate database.
GREENBERGIt was encrypted, but just months later, it turned out that the Guardian who wrote their own book about the WikiLeaks saga, included in the book just as a kind of cloak and dagger detail the password to this encrypted file. So it's just a really kind of sad mishap that can often happen when you're dealing with these very complex encryption technologies with -- you know, and involving journalists who don't necessarily live and breathe the stuff the way that Julian Assange does.
GREENBERGSo the results anyway was that the un-redacted State Department cables were leaks -- were -- actually you could sway they were meta-leaked. They were leaked from their leaks database and spilled into the public and endangering, you know, who knows how many State Department protected sources.
PAGEAndy Greenberg. He's the author of "This Machine Kills Secrets: How Wikileakers, Cypherpunks and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World's Information." Thank you so much for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
GREENBERGThank you so much.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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