Postmortem on a specific failure to #AbolishICE…and a reboot?

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 17 of 52.

The image is a high quality photograph of protestors, primarily Hispanic, crossing a bridge above a freeway. One in front, a young boy, carries a stark sign that simply says "ICE Kills" in black and red against a white background.
From Los Angeles, July 2019, the Homeland Security Kills Rally. Photo by Ronen Tivony via Getty Images

This post is a reflection on my failed, and unfortunately short-lived, attempt to help #AbolishICE in the summer of 2018. When considering the horrifying cruelties of the camps of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency under the federal Department of Homeland Security, I think it’s important to look at the experiences of everyday activists and what we’re trying — or shrugging off trying — to do. Maybe then we can reboot our efforts and try again, better this time.

ICE camp in McAllen, Texas, I believe in 2019. Nietzsche wrote approvingly of “men without pity” in 1881: “it does not seem to them so unfair that others should suffer” In the video, the big cheese without pity is former vice president Mike Pence

For those who think calling the ICE centers concentration camps is extreme, consider the words of multiple Holocaust survivors in 2019 (Rene Lichtman, Ruth Bloch, Bernard Marks): ICE is equivalent to the Gestapo, and their current ‘detention centers’ really are concentration camps where genocidaires crush minorities. The sadistic abuse by la migra at these camps is well-documented here by Gabriela C. Romeri. Borrowing from her article, the DHS’s own oversight reports found that children imprisoned at the camps reported wide-ranging abuses: officials pointing their guns at the children, shooting them with tasers for amusement or punishment, hitting or kicking them, and threatening them with rape or death. Additional reported abuse included: agents stomping children; punching children in the head, sometimes repeatedly; kicking one child in the ribs; tasering several children; denying them food and forcing minors into stress positions. Further, children held in freezing rooms with no blankets, food, or clean water; forced to sleep on concrete floors or share overcrowded cells with adult strangers; denied necessary medical care; bullied into signing self-deportation paperwork; and subjected to physical assault and rape. Mothers of infants were denied diapers; trashcans were removed from crowded holding cells and feces and other fluids were seen along the floor. The Associated Press reported in September 2018 that federal Health and Human Services (somehow or supposedly) “lost track” of 1,488 migrant children — a number that must be no coincidence: 14 represents the Fourteen Words white supremacist slogan, and the number 88 is HH (H is the eighth letter of the alphabet), a common code for Heil Hitler. Furthermore, Nazis frequently combine 14 and 88 into 1488. Presumably many of the “lost” children were enslaved (trafficked). The pedosadist likes of Jeffrey Epstein do not obtain their slaves singlehandedly; the powerful trafficking networks are planetwide organized crime. They have to grab kids from somewhere, and ICE camps along with everything surrounding them make for perfect crime scenes.

What the IBM-Nazi collaboration says about the importance of knowledge control

The color photo shows, sitting atop a wood board or table, an IBM Hollerith tabulator, which looks like a strange combination of a telephone, computer, sewing machine, and typewriter.
An IBM Hollerith machine. (Source.)

It’s a little, but increasingly, known fact that the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), popularly recognized for products such as the Deep Blue chess-playing supercomputer and the first-rate line of Thinkpad consumer laptops (prior to Lenovo acquiring them in 2005), aided Nazi Germany in carrying out the Holocaust. The collaboration, overseen by IBM in New York City, was carried out in Germany by IBM subsidiary the Dehomag Corporation. Dehomag’s punch-card tabulating machines, called Hollerith machines, were installed at the major Nazi concentration camps, where SS personnel, following training by IBM who knew what was going on, used the tabulators to track information on prisoners. Arrivals, transfers, deaths, occupations, and slave labor details were all catalogued on IBM Hollerith machines. The SS also supplied Reich central authorities in Berlin with that data on an ongoing basis.

In addition to the outright horror, killing millions relatively quickly is a complicated logistical challenge. As explained in investigative journalist Edwin Black’s book IBM and the Holocaust: The strategic alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation, the Hollerith machines helped Nazi leadership “prioritize, schedule, and manage the seemingly impossible logistics of genocide across dozens of cities in more than twenty countries and territories. It was not just people who were counted and marshaled for deportation. Boxcars, locomotives, and intricate train timetables were scheduled across battle-scarred borders—all while a war was being fought on two fronts. The technology had enabled Nazi Germany to orchestrate the death of millions without skipping a note.”

The black-and-white image shows a punch card, an old-fashioned, gridlike paper record about the size of a dollar bill. It has a German word, Rassenamt, printed in the midle, along with the SS bolts and the number one.
Example of IBM custom punch-card for the SS Race Office. (Source.)

The Reich using Hollerith machines at their concentration camps representated a huge, profitable commercial victory for Big Blue. Further, IBM didn’t sell the machines to the Nazis, but instead, merely leased them (as in today’s corporate software ecosystem where endusers rarely own much but typically just lease ‘their’ apps, ebooks, etc). The leasing arrangment forced the Nazis into dependency on Dehomag/IBM, just as individuals and schools/universities and even governments presently are dependent on, rather than governing over, Silicon Valley. In 1934, Dehomag’s director, Willy Heidinger, bragged (in a statement that emphasizes with astonishing bluntness the role of medical control):

We are recording the individual characteristics of every single member of the nation onto a little card […] We are proud to be able to contribute to such a task, a task that makes available to the physician [i.e. Adolf Hitler] of our German body-social the material for his examination, so that our physician can determine whether, from the standpoint of the health of the nation, the results calculated in this manner stand in a harmonious, healthy relation to one another, or whether unhealthy conditions must be cured by corrective interventions […] We have firm trust in our physician and will follow his orders blindly, because we know that he will lead our nation toward a great future. Hail to our German people and their leader!

Dehomag was directed from New York City by IBM head Thomas J. Watson. Between 1933 and 1940, Watson courted Nazi business and made Hitler’s regime dependent not just on the leases of Hollerith machines, but also on the unique punch-card paper IBM sold. When the Nazis ran out of that fluid capital, they had to replenish their stock of paper by going as customers to IBM, who, at the same time as its employees even had sales quotas for working with the Reich, somehow continually managed to evade the Treasury Department in D.C., a top-echelon bureau formally tasked with stopping domestic firms from trading with official enemies. Hmm, curious, that. The business between IBM and the Nazis kept going: Dehomag serviced/repaired the Hollerith machines on site at the concentration camps regularly. Even food allocation (i.e., who would starve and who would be fed) was managed by the Nazis using an IBM proprietary database system. Unless humanity elects to establish a universal database, a global commons, owned by everyone, for organizing and sharing public data, we’ll continue to have such opaque databases of proprietary control as the Nazi’s, where injustices occur aided by secrecy. (Of course, injustices also occur in plain sight, especially since nowadays people lack shame or a sense of duty to the vulnerable, and have trouble putting the disparate puzzle pieces together to recognize that their emotional responses have been conditioned from above; it’s ‘secrecy’ through flooding everyone with distracting trivia and corporate entertainment.)

The black-and-white photo shows men in suits sitting around a table.
Hitler and IBM president Thomas J. Watson (among others) meeting in Berlin, 1937. (Source.)

Did IBM face consequences? As World War II progressed, Big Blue sold Hollerith machines to the Allies also, playing both sides. After Armistice Day, no IBM executives were charged with war crimes, and their profits from working with the Axis were shielded from reparations. Not only that, but Hollerith machines were used to handle records at the Nuremberg Trials — Big Blue playing both sides and the referees too — and IBM formally requested compensation for its Hollerith machines getting damaged during the war. Legal cases since have had mild success but nothing full, due to reasons such as statute of limitations. IBM’s business steamrolled on: not as IBM contracting with the powers that be, which is the usual phrasing, but IBM (and big tech today) as the power that is, needing to trade its products somewhere anywhere, and looking down to the lowly governments below as dependent customers. Two examples follow. Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks’ The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (1974) — an interesting instance of a U.S-published book that has been censored; my paperback copy has black ( DELETED ) marks throughout — says “The first step in the [CIA’s] evaluation process [for obtaining a spy] is to run a ‘namecheck,’ or trace, on the person, using the CIA’s extensive computerized files located at headquarters in Langley [Virginia]. This data bank was developed by International Business Machines exclusively for the CIA and contains information on hundreds of thousands of persons.” Investigative journalist Tim Shorrock’s book Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing (2008) mentions IBM’s work “as a major provider of computer systems to the Pentagon and the NSA.” Have the highest levels of warfighters ever really been defeated?

What does all this mean — is it just a random contingency that tech companies happen to be so powerful, and is interest in the Internet and technology a mere “subgenre” of anarchism or activism, less important than, say, the heart-pounding physicality of black bloc streetfighters skirmishing with cops? After all, Edwin Black, author of IBM and the Holocaust, wrote “Make no mistake — The Holocaust would still have occurred without IBM. To think otherwise is more than wrong. The Holocaust would have proceeded — and often did proceed — with simple bullets, death marches, and massacres based on pen and paper persecution.” Is the difference merely something quantitative, that the technology enabled the Nazis to automate genocide and to massively multiply the killing, murdering millions relatively quickly with cold efficiency, beginning a new era of military intelligence, two words combined that can’t make sense?

The image is a black-and-white poster showing an open eye looking upon a city. German words are written on the poster, translated in my caption.
Creepy Dehomag poster from circa 1934 reads in German: “See everything through Hollerith punch cards.” (Source.)

It’s more than quantity: the IBM-Nazi use of Hollerith tabulating machines were the contemporary beginnings of yoking genocidal domination based on knowledge together with mass data. Although you might debate the particulars, big picture wise, human behavior has always stemmed from knowledge: everything else is downstream. It might appear that the celebrity who’s the sexiest calls the most shots, but emanating like magic from the high, remote towers of the intelligentsia, the definitions of sexy and celebrity (and whatever else) are too often imposed, not from a community’s storytellers and mythmakers who must answer to their neighbors, but from above. Similarly with initial definitions and emotional responses around things like black blocs and cops. Community storytellers lack the amplification and computing power of the powerful intelligentsia-magicians. To outsmart, or route around, the force-multiplying technology wielded by the supranational powers (especially spy agencies), is like seizing a staff away from a wizard, or besting a wizard in spellcasting. If the public wins at this magical duel over abstractions (and the logic systems for organizing our abstractions and connecting them to the physical realm, i.e., software, networks, etc.), then control of mythmaking and other knowledge creation finally return to the public’s control, and hence the public regains control of all that which is downstream as well. That controlling the fount yields the most power must have been why, for instance, Winston Churchill was obsessed with, and kept close tabs on, the Bletchley Park professor types, including Alan Turing, whose organization after World War II grew into GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA; unlike many other British leaders in his orbit, prime minister Churchill intuitively understood how powerful this wizard-staff of software structuring of abstraction information was and would become. Computer software isn’t just goofy game apps on a smartphone: it’s ‘instruction tables’ (to use Turing’s phrase that later was changed into ‘software programs’) for logically processing information itself, and that can translate into knowledge itself, which not spy agencies from above, but the public from below, must control, if control over everything else is sought. Such a picture, introduced to the public from 2010 to 2012 by WikiLeaks Central (an adjacent but separate organization from WikiLeaks, including in terms of ideas and agenda), was challenging to see a decade ago, but based on offline conversations in Seattle anyway, with those roughly ages 25-30, I imagine many bright young people really into the Internet can see it more easily these days. It’s become all the more obvious, at least in broad strokes. Then again, it’s a picture that, though comprehensive and incisive, can quickly be overwritten for some when the louder, seemingly more accessible advertisements from various ideologies (e.g., Marxist groups) pop up, as they do nonstop here in Seattle, diverting people from taking on corporations and spy agencies (through mechanisms such as lawsuits, the Magnitsky Act, inventions, mutual aid infrastructure, etc.), toward smaller goals regrettably fleeting.

Now imagine refusing a defector from the IBM-Nazi collaboration

The image shows a screenshoot from the game. It's a low-tech three-dimensional shooter from the first person perspective. The player sees their gun. They're in a stone castle, where images of swastikas and Hitler decorate the walls.
Wolfenstein 3d computer game from ’92. No information technology, no propaganda, just shoot, you grunt.

Pretend it’s the early 1940s and a higher-up at IBM’s German offices, perhaps one of the lowest executives in the C suite, goes to meet with the Nazis about more Hollerith machines they want for a planned concentration camp. The Nazis give him completed paperwork describing plans for the camp and what they expect from the Dehomag tabulators. Walking back to his office, our fictional employee, sickened by his collaboration with the Reich (sickening which began a few months back), decides to defect to the public. He worries passersby can see the growing sweat stains on his suit. Hell, he worries he’s going to bang right into another pedestrian, because he can’t focus on walking correctly for all the thoughts wheeling in his head: about the opposition newspaper he sometimes bought when no one was looking (telling himself it was out of mere curiosity), about an antifa group he heard gathered sometimes in the back of a nearby art gallery, and about his family, especially his son, who though ten and unusually talented at the violin — which won him enrollment at a special music conservatory — still has trouble reading simple German, and always seems disconnected from everything around him.

The black-and-white photograph shows the Buchenwald concentration camp in the bakground, with a rally in the foreground.
Antifa rally at Bunchenwald concentration camp, 1945. (Source)

That night, the defector pretends to his wife over the dinner she cooked that he has back pain forcing him to stand and not sit nor sleep. Then he stays awake into the small hours, drafting an anonymous letter stating his severe disagreement with IBM’s Dehomag. It’s something of a rant; it doesn’t mention the plans, nor does it make any threats to his employer. But it’s powerfully worded, and it does demand Dehomag drop its relationship with the Nazis. Between the lines, the letter conveys: Or else. He isn’t quite sure or else what, but then again, he’s now not quite sure how far he wants to go with this, or if he’ll chicken out and change his mind. Maybe it’s all just crazy thoughts arising from the back pain he really does sometimes have? And his son does love the conservatory — music is the only time he’s not spaced out. But the sun comes up and, after downing some coffee and putting on a suit without sweat stains, our defector leaves home for the office of the opposition press newspaper. His conversation with the editors, filled with specific details, lead them to conclude he’s telling the truth about who he is and the planned concentration camp, and the editors print his anonymous letter as soon as possible.

Switch from our defector focal character, to the back of the art hall, where indeed an antifa collective comes together the next afternoon. There are just three of them, one woman and two men, relatively inexperienced and young, not at all the hardened crew the defecting executive imagined. Perhaps against their better judgment, they’re proudly discussing the successful sabotage another antifa group apparently carried out last week, covertly cutting signalling cables. They lament reports of human cargo packed into freight cars, of people beat with batons. Then one of the men asks if the others saw the anonymous letter in the opposition newspaper. They haven’t, so the guy fills the rest in. He’s the most ungainly in the group, bookish and a little overweight. He says, “Through our contacts, we should find the person who wrote the anonymous letter, and help him break from Dehomag. He probably knows a lot. He probably has a lot of coworkers sympathizing with him. Fucking up Dehomag could really save lives, protect the vulnerable from the Reich.”

“What, are you joking?” says another of the men. “Those bourgeois businesspeople. They wear fancy suits, they have fancy salaries, and their kids go to fancy schools. I don’t want to do anything that benefits them.”

The ungainly guy blinks, staring startled at the other two as if they must know something he never has. Maybe the other man is simply dissing him in an effort to impress the woman (who’s turned aside to straighten a portrait hanging on the wall), but so petty a motivation is typically beyond his own rationale. He dismisses the possibility from his mind, which suddenly feels destabilized, dizzy somehow. There simply must be a logical misunderstanding somewhere. “No,” he says, “the beneficiaries of this effort would be the concentration camp prisoners, not the letter-writer.” The other man repeats himself: “I’m just not going to help those bougie business types.” Later the ungainly guy thinks, he could have added, The letter-writer is a means to an end: not palling around with him, but saving the victims. Besides, who knows what this letter-writer is really like; we have to find him first. Had he more social skill, he might also have said: You won’t try anything far riskier than trying to seduce women. The letter-writer opposing the Gestapo seems braver than you. But such conversational ability is beyond him, and his own background — his own suits and schools — hangs heavy in the silence. He stumbles away, not sure where he’s going, and realizes he could take a breather in the bathroom. As he opens the bathroom door, the other man heads for the portrait-straightening woman with a new grin stretching wider and wider across his face.

Who are your sympathies with in this admittedly thrown-together, cliche-ish story? I’d suppose people would support the defector, the irritatingly inept ungainly guy, the violin-playing child, and maybe the two women (although their stories are sadly only hinted at, if that).

The image is from the video game. It shows Hitler's face as he's being resurrected out of some sci-fi cryo chamber. According to the dialogue box, he's saying to the player:  "What, you're going to fight against me? You damn fool."
From the 1988 NES video game Bionic Commando and my childhood.

But when something loosely analogous happened in summer 2018, when Microsoft employees anonymously told their employer to drop contracts with ICE, those I imagined would be sympathetic reacted in a way I didn’t expect. After reading the news of the Microsoft employees (presumably living in and around Seattle), I suggested to Seattle activists offline that we figure out who the anonymous Microsoft employees nearby were and support/encourage them in shutting down Microsoft’s contract with ICE. Perhaps we could bring them food, or introduce them to other activists, or something? I was shocked how many Seattle activists immediately balked at the idea of helping ICE camp prisoners by locating and offering strike support to rebelling Microsoft employees. The Microsoft employees don’t need their employer’s permission to cease coding and maintaining software platforms for ICE; they could just stop. But in that case, they’d definitely need support from wider society, which our conversation unfortunately quickly depicted as a bean-counting debate over whether the programmers, unknown to us personally, likely could or couldn’t afford to purchase their meals, rather than as an issue of support overall (including legal and emotional support and connecting with others). The balking activists cited software developers’ salaries and lifestyles as justification for choosing not to help ICE camp prisoners in this way. Decent disgreement might have been, say, if Microsoft drops their contract with ICE, wouldn’t la migra simply redirect to get the vanished help from another company instead, for instance Dell or IBM? Or, couldn’t Microsoft just hire more programmers to replace any striking ones refusing to code for ICE? Those weren’t the disagreements that happened. Despite posters in Seattle bedrooms calling upon viewers to #AbolishICE, deciding how to (not) accomplish that goal was based on affinity for apparently well-off programmers or lack of affinity thereof, as if abolishing ICE should be based on personality contests or who you would or wouldn’t go to a bar with. That being said, fortitude and social/verbal skill is required from anyone (including 2018-era me, who didn’t have enough of either) who suggests face to face that people collaborate in actually planning out and following through on doing something as huge as providing strike support to employees walking out on their jobs to challenge a Gestapo-like federal agency.

As the history of the Reich using IBM’s Hollerith machines shows, information technology is crucial in multiplying and structuring mass genocide, and in gaining control over the information associated with it, information people get used to and start taking for granted. Somebody should unplug that stuff, and not everyone in the world — of seven billion people, 190-odd countries, multiple major religions — is going to see eye to eye on lifestyle topics like suits and violins, and not everyone is going to come from the same background of economic class. Perhaps instead of using those differences as excuses for pettiness, we could use them as strengths. Am I missing something?

It ain’t over till it’s over: rebooting

Unplugging the computer systems upon which ICE crucially depends would have, and still could, have a tremendous effect in fucking up la migra. I haven’t followed how the internal Microsoft rebellion has played out since the New York Times published the above-linked Microsoft anonymous employee letter in 2018, and I’m unsure what the present status of the ICE camps is. However, Reuters reported last month that the Biden administration wants to increase their funding by 22% supposedly to root out white supremacy, and I know from my day job that released children are making their way into the public school system, a system already overwhelmed for the usual reasons, plus trying to return in-person during coronavirus. I’d assume ICE camps are continuing as usual, and by default, I’d distrust messages from the blue religion saying all is well or will be shortly if we just trust the authorities, or messages from the red religion saying the White House is trying to overrun the country with terrorists by uncaging children.

As sources such as ItsGoingDown.org, Crimethinc.com, and search.twitter.com show, there are still people out there in the United States working to #AbolishICE in various ways. Focused on other concerns instead, I haven’t followed the topic as much as I should have. If anyone has any good leads on projects for abolishing ICE, or thoughts, please drop them in the comments.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Postmortem on a specific failure to #AbolishICE…and a reboot?, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/05/02/postmortem-specific-failure-abolishice-reboot. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

The battleground of names

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 12 of 52.

The image shows simple computer code that asks the user to input their name and age, then stores this data as a name dollar sign variable and an age dollar sign variable, and finally prints the information back out.
Screenshot of a tutorial for QBasic, a Microsoft programming language from the early nineties

In 2004, I began asking others to call me by my first name, Douglas. Before that, I’d been called a variant of my middle name (which I won’t share here for mundane privacy purposes). I wanted a fresh start, because I was just entering my first semester at a university, and also, I was annoyed by the various paperwork hassles seemingly everywhere when your legal name and the name you go by differ. For example, class rosters not specifying how you’re actually called encourage teachers to address you by what appears on the roster. Since many teachers labor under the unfair requirement that they educate very large class sizes, and thus face far too many students to always memorize the preferences of each successfully, try as they might, you as a student can go through months and months of unpleasantly trying to correct a teacher about your name, something that’s supposed to intimately characterize you. The indignity of being called wrongly is even more profound for those whose name changes signal giant shifts in their personhood, such as those who switch names as part of gender or religious transitions. Me, I just thought a fresh start and an end to the paperwork hassles would be nice.

The image shows Jim Carrey as Truman in the movie. He's standing atop steps and before a door. He has his arms and hands spread wide, and he's looking up, smiling.
Image from The Truman Show

It’s strange how names characterize us, isn’t it? Consider the eponymous name of the protagonist in the 1998 movie The Truman Show: unlike those around him pretending to be his neighbors, Truman is a true man. But names, at least when initially given, actually characterize the parents/caregivers, their aspirations for the infant who’s receiving some particular name in the first place. A sense of this reality is frequently missing from fiction, when authors pick a name to symbolize or allude to something about a character, rather than about that character’s parents or environment (including economic class). In other fiction, such disparities between a character’s true self and their name are portrayed, especially if the story involves a name change. While authors spend lots of time thinking over the given names characters go by among their peers, I think surnames in fiction don’t receive much scrutiny, particularly in terms of migration. If an author is writing a story set in 2030 in Nebraska, and currently in 2021 nearly all people alive with surname X live only in France, should the author provide backstory for why someone with surname X is living in Nebraska just nine years into the future? Or are surnames freebies for authors and readers alike? As long as it sounds good and plausible enough, maybe no bulletproof backstory is required. You could reduce such realism problems to absurdity by requiring an author depicting a coffeepot in a story to know how it got there, tracing it all the way back to the specific particles emerging from the Big Bang. On the other hand, books too often expect readers to assume narrators are white and show WASP-y names as the norm, presenting anything else as exceptions in need of explanations.

Since 2004, there’s been a certain discomfort with my first name, for many of those using it and me alike. I’m regularly asked the same question when meeting people: “Do you prefer Doug or Douglas?” The question stumped me for a very long time. Whenever I looked within, I discovered I legitimately don’t have a preference. Either is cool with me! So I couldn’t advise the question-askers, who as far as I could make out, wanted to be caring and accommodating. Just about every time I replied that I have no preference, the question-asker became frustrated. They said I should have a preference. But I didn’t. Maybe I hurt their feelings, as though they were going out of their way in offering to remember my preference, and my not having one stung like a rebuke, in some transactional world they exist in. Only this past month have I finally figured out something more about the question. I’ve been doing core strengthening in physical therapy to help with one of my legs (two surgeries on it in my life so far), and the physical therapist is extremely knowledgeable and competent. I like him, and I’m really grateful to have his excellent help. He told me he has a thing for trying to remember the best names to call people by. We were both a bit flummoxed by my lack of a preference between Doug or Douglas. I thought it over. I think the fact I get along well with this superb physical therapist enabled me to see something more about the question and my lack of a preference.

Here’s the answer, what’s been the answer all along: Doug and Douglas are the same name — just at different diction levels. Doug is informal; Douglas is formal. Compare “What’s up, Doug?” with “Listen, Douglas, we need to have a talk.” They’re the same name in two different forms. I don’t want to micromanage which level of formality my interlocutor picks for any particular conversation. I trust the appropriate diction level can just emerge naturally, simply from both parties’ interactions and the environment at large. Because I realized all this just a few weeks ago, I haven’t had the opportunity to test it out in real life yet. But the next time someone asks me, Do you prefer Doug or Douglas?, I’m going to tell them one’s for informal, the other’s for formal, and that they can select between the two as they think proper. I wonder what will happen. As long as they don’t call me Doogie.

The image shows a black book cover, with the title More Than Human at top, and at bottom, the author's name plus "The provocative novel of six people who became--together--a new form of humanity" and in reference to the author, "whose work is increasingly being called a classic of its kind"
Original hardback cover of Sturgeon’s best-known novel

A common thread in the above — asking others to use my first name (revealingly, sometimes frenemies from the past still don’t, pointedly refusing to honor my request); trying to justify to readers a surname’s presence in a geographic location and time period; attempting to explain to strangers that the two forms of a single name are for different diction levels — is a sense of individuals having to legitimize their names, and perhaps themselves, to others. Names are usually social, bestowed upon us and by us as we pass life down through generations. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed, each character on an anarchist moon has but one name, handed out by a central computer registry to keep things organized. In contrast to this socially-focused system, in Theodore Sturgeon’s 1953 novel More Than Human, there’s a gripping moment when the first character we encounter, a lonely outsider, finally names himself. Initially, “Men turned away from him, women would not look”; however, after roughly five years living and working with the Prodd farming family, he learns to speak, though “always he preferred not to.” Eventually the farmer Mr Prodd asks him for his name (get it? Prodd as in prodding him). Because he has come to trust Mr Prodd, he’s able to fulfill this request. He thinks that a name “is the single thing which is me and what I have done and been and learned.” Despite his growing connection with the Prodds, he picks the name Alone, which he can manage to pronounce merely as a single syllable, Lone. That seems very individualist, but he chooses a name only when someone else asks him for it, so it’s an event both personal and social. (The book later follows Lone gathering what Sturgeon calls a gestalt, kind of a chosen family, from other outlier outsiders.) Does a person living on a desert island like a castaway need a name at all? Might they forget their own name? Finally, look at the concept of true names in Le Guin’s Earthsea fiction. Characters and objects in that univese have two names, a common one that’s safely shareable, and a second, secret, true name that empowers them and gives others power over them if it’s discovered. In neither case, however, are the names chosen.

The image shows an Internet Relay Chat window, with the user having typed "Hello to all you good people!" with a smiley emoticon. To the right of the image is a vertical list of various handles for users, such as Jolo and herbie and sat.
Internet Relay Chat, what I was doing in the nineties

Online, as in certain types of radio communication, users choose handles, also known as pseudonyms or simply nyms. These lessen tendencies in conversation/debate toward the logical fallacies of personal attacks and arguments from authority, where interlocuters waste time saying “You only believe that because you are [insert identity attribute here]”, as in, because you’re tall/short/rich/poor/white/of color, etc. With nyms, individuals can choose personally meaningful ways to describe themselves, and the handles can become so meaningful that among those heavily involved in computers (or perhaps simply involved in online chatting), it’s common to go by the handles even in face-to-face conversation, rather than by legal names. Some users, in contrast, choose random characters (for example: ang) to identify themselves, not wanting to give their personal story away to strangers. And some change nyms frequently, rebooting their name over and over, trying to prevent others from assuming things based on what might have been past interactions with the person. When I play around with it, this aspect of computing (akin to writing under a psuedonym) can feel very liberating.

At top, the image has text saying "If I was the teacher, i'd give this kid an A." Below that, the image shows a schoolwork assignment, which reads: Defend your answer. Rather than follow the assignment (for whatever it was, perhaps math or English Language Arts), the student has drawn a fort around the word answer, and drawn a solider with a machine gun saying "Sarge, I don't know how much longer we can hold them!"
Must everything be so stressful?

It seems names should be a touching aspect of life, and fun to ponder, but they’re commonly just another battleground. Picking a name can feel empowering (because how could an unchosen name really represent/express who you are?), while keeping a name bestowed by others can offer connection linking the past, present, and future together. Maybe, like successful accounts of trauma that provide healing, names need to be simultaneously personally meaningful, and effective and connecting in social contexts. Really thinking names through, as opposed to dissociation from life (“it’s all a blur”), as well as good relationships for experimenting with names, seem very helpful for individuals trying to determine what might be their own best path.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, The battleground of names, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/03/26/battleground-names/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Gamestop & r/wallstreetbets: fairness just a starting point

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays. Here’s entry 4 of 52. Barely made it this time, on Saturday night!

Note: The second half of my two posts on Biden will come in February.

Note (added Sunday 31 January ’21): Motivations of the diverse r/wallstreetbets members can be found by searching the subreddit. From my readings of it, the community seems to largely share a disparagement of institutional investors, and a disdain for hedge funds shorting and destroying companies (not to mention their impact on the trade economy at large), though they sometimes admire various top dogs in the Wall Street world. To look further into the subreddit’s motivations and/or vibe, you might start by checking out the post histories of its members u/DeepFuckingValue, u/stonksflyingup, and the subreddit’s Ask Me Anything from Friday. My purpose is not to lionize these users, whose numbers are too large to permit easy generalization anyway, but to explain what’s happening and point to further texts that readers interested in the topic might consider digging into.

This past week, many among the now seven million-plus members of the subreddit r/wallstreetbets pushed a hedge fund, Wall Street financier Gabe Plotkin’s Melvin Capital, to close out its short position in the video game retailer Gamestop. With a few billion dollars, Melvin had bet against the beloved yet beleaguered Texas-based store. The subredditors persuaded each other to buy Gamestop stock en masse, boosting the price dramatically and causing Melvin to hemorrhage financial value. Plotkin’s peers on Wall Street then infused Melvin Capital with massive funds to keep it afloat, but the fund still had to flee the Gamestop battle. By then, Melvin had reportedly lost a stunning third of its assets, at the hands of average (apparently mostly U.S.-based) Internet users.

Following the same rules as the hedge funds, the subredditors won this round of the capitalism board game, thanks to their large numbers. Similar situations happen with unions. Corporations band together in cartels, increasing their number and power, to control markets; paid-workers unite in trade unions to (try to) control markets as well. Each side calls the other criminal cheaters, with the illegalities of the rich far outweighing those of the middle class and poor struggling to survive. Governments attempt to intervene as their donors and blackmailers wish, aiming to keep up the ongoing exchange of goods/services without which civilization would have to change paradigm.

Some of the subredditors are expressing surprise that various Wall Streeters aren’t taking their side. r/wallstreetbets has been stanning Dr Michael Burry of Scion Asset Management for a year-plus, presumably a partial result of the investor’s name recognition from the 2015 hit movie The Big Short. They are now realizing he’s dissing them publicly. That was on Tuesday, when in a tweet he soon deleted, Burry tagged the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement arm and wrote of the market battle: “what is going on now – there should be legal and regulatory repercussions. This is unnatural, insane, and dangerous.” Burry owned 1.7 million GameStop shares last September; assuming he hadn’t changed his position, the subredditors, without aiming to benefit him, just gave him a bonanza of nearly a quarter billion dollars, almost 1400% in four months, on paper anyway, and he still called for legal repercussions against them.

It looks quite like Burry can’t abide rubbing elbows with the several million ordinary people on the subreddit, can’t let his class status slip, despite them praising him for months and months and possibly handing him a gigantic windfall. No, Burry wants the rabble hordes arbitrarily blocked from doing what hedge funds like Melvin Capital or his do.

More big names than Burry are troubled that the public beat a hedge fund at the capitalism competition. Others of the ruling class are calling for an investigation into r/wallstreetbets, treating everyday folks playing capitalism like the game it is as a potential crime. Financial apps such as Interactive Brokers abruptly blocked the users’ ability to buy Gamestop shares (and other stocks also involved) and, it appears, Robinhood Markets sold away shares of users who’d bought Gamestop on margin, something reportedly permitted by their one-sided terms of service but in opposition to userbase trust. Like The Daily Show (corporate television) smearing Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011, the fourth branch has rushed to describe the redditors condescendingly (the audience for the news media are the politicos and intelligenstia of the status quo, not the public). The Biden administration, which as rent deadlines approach has yet to deliver the promised $2000 stimulus cheques, is “monitoring the situation.” But forces as disparate as Republican senator Ted Cruz and Democratic House member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been lining up behind the subredditors.

The capitalists’ own propaganda paints them as shrewd alpha males who deserve their yachts and affluenza legal defenses as reward for their (or their parents’) trading skill, yet the moment unions or the public, following the rules, or at least the logic, of the money game, manage to exploit a weakness in the ruling class’s position on the game board, the powerful overturn that board and bring out force. Consider the disproportionate targeting that happens in meatspace. Fancy restaurants place tents and tables on nearby public grass by a sidewalk without significant hassle from the authorities, perhaps mere food safety regulation assessments; homeless people pitching a tent in the same spots will face violent sweeps from security forces. Well-to-do civic associations can shut down streets for parades, stopping vehicles, but Black Lives Matter protesters objecting to street executions by cops will be arrested or worse for doing the same thing, while reactionary legislators in multiple states strive to legalize running over traffic-blocking protestors. Thus, it’s not about who has the best knack for surviving and thriving in a trade civilization, because once the public discovers an effective tactic, the ruling class knocks them back down and then sets the board in position again, acting like everything’s back to normal business hours.

The illogic continues to the economic system as a whole. The dangerous effort of creating humanity in the first place by giving birth does not pay, but building tasers or using them to kill people, including those diagnosed with mental health problems, does pay. Less dramatic examples can be found too. Substitute teachers are paid to bone up on their subjects during certain hours of the day (planning periods) but not during other hours (evenings), and the students aren’t paid to learn. Therapists get paid to help clients overcome addictions, but aren’t paid to work to overcome their own addictions. An economic system is just a board game, often with moneytokens (or other tokens such as indulgences to buy from priests to get into heaven). If the board game doesn’t make sense, there is every reason to start playing a different one.

Fairness, but to what end?

To date, much of the conversation around r/wallstreetbets has focused on the lack of fairness in the financial system. Humans have an innate desire for fair treatment, as observed in experiments on primates, and more simply, as observed in children. Debates over whether $10/hour, $15/hour, $20/hour, or some other rate constitutes fair pay are perennial (why not an arbitrary amount like $50,000.000033785/hour?). For instance, James Joyce’s protagonist Mr Duffy tired of such predictable and myopic talk in the author’s short story “A Painful Case” published more than a century ago in 1914. People have taken for granted that a wage system is it, and got hung up on comparing who gets paid how much, for a very long time. But the understandable call for fairness is simply a starting point. Questioning and ultimately replacing the wage/trade system itself is more important.

Just because a game is fair, doesn’t mean it’s good. Bad games, neutral games, or good games can all be either fair or unfair according to whether the rules are followed, or not, by whichever sides. Like fossil fuel companies, Billionaire A and Billionaire B can compete in the capitalism game to see who can drive humanity extinct most profitably. Their capitalism competition can be played fairly, or unfairly, but either way, we all end up dead. In the hundreds of thousands of years of humanity (not just 2500 years back to ancient Greeks), we have organized the production and distribution of goods/services into multiple different economic systems across multiple different civilizations, with a variety of results. Those experiments wait outside the corporate media spotlight, so fixed as the news spotlight is on mesmerizing everyone with the vastly overemphasized war criminal politicians or those seeking to replace them with saleable identity labels. Further, the emphasis on left brain charts describing the production, circulation, and distribution of goods, from Royal Society fellows like Karl Marx (also a racist), merely scratch the surface of what’s going on with humanity. Underneath, we want not to hoard abstract money-tokens; we want to feel good, get to know each other and ourselves, explore, share, grow, and so on. It is possible to organize production and distribution in ways that respect this.

More detail would take too long for a blog post, so here are some suggested readings for people interested in this topic to pursue. As the trade system continues its slow implosion, and the oncoming effects of global warming increasingly throw lives into disarray, it’s a good time to explore alternatives. It’s not unrealistic; every day, people quit their paid-jobs to go shut down pipelines or reunite with nature or try any other number of outside-the-box ideas. Thus to conclude, the short list of texts involving economics (and the personal relationships and emotions below the surface level of existence described by economics) that readers might find helpful.

  • Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels The Dispossessed (1974) and Always Coming Home (1985)
  • Heather Marsh’s Binding Chaos books
  • To know what came before, try Robert L. Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers (1953, seventh edition 1999) and reading canonical economics texts firsthand. Those canonical economics texts can be old and written with archaic language and examples, so check sites such as OpenCulture.com to find secondary sources to help with understanding
  • Marcus Brancaglione’s Universal Basic Income (2016), translated into English by Marcio Rolim and Fabiana Cecin
  • Crimethinc.com, especially To Change Everything
  • Follow @YourAnonCentral for general world news and analysis

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Gamestop & r/wallstreetbets: fairness just a starting point by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/01/29/gamestop-wallstreetbets-fairness-starting-point/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Kamala Harris tweet meets Reality Winner truth

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so. Here’s today’s post, the one for Week 6.

Today, US senator and former Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris tweeted:

Reading Jonathan Simon’s Code Red or Bev Harris’ Black Box Voting or the Brennan Center for Justice’s “The Machinery of Democracy” impresses upon you the full knowledge that votes in the United States are typically captured (by touchscreen, optical device scanning ballots, or other) and counted (by Dominion, Command Central, or other) in pitch dark: by corporations and contractors running without transparency, with closed source. Often, not even election administrators can audit details.

Unlike Australians, Germans, the Dutch, and others around the world who vote on hand-marked paper ballots hand-counted in public, and who have successfully fought off the recent far-right electoral wave, basically nobody in the United States these days receives any hard evidence at all that their ballot scribbles/tappings mattered. If on Election Day your goal is to change electoral outcomes, rather than to merely perform a civic religion ritual, then of course informed action is required to safeguard election systems, though continuing to replace the whole current governance system itself would be wiser and here’s how that’s already underway.

Exceptions aside, securing elections means securing both vote capture (i.e., how your vote is recorded) and vote counting (i.e., how your vote is added to the totals, nowadays in secretive faraway computer systems) — so that there is hard evidence of both how your vote was captured and how it was counted. Interestingly, and unfortunately, in her tweet today Harris mentions only the vote capture part, and not the vote counting part.

With the topic of safeguarding elections likely to keep bubbling up throughout this year, it helps to keep in mind writer Jennifer Cohn’s advice that election integrity advocates diligently put the adjective “hand-marked” in front of the noun phrase “paper ballots” because:

Kamala Harris’ tweet reminded me of Russiagate whistleblower Reality Winner now behind bars, because in the past few years, public interest in the topic of elections integrity and hand-marked paper ballots (public interest partially required for a major politician to take on any subject) has certainly increased, partly a result of Winner leaking to the media intelligence revealing Russian military hackers executed cyberattacks against US election systems just days before November 2016’s voting. You can learn more about Winner’s case and supporting her clemency petition here or watch this CSPAN video to see how her deed kept Russiagate and elections integrity in the public discourse.

What most of all strikes me about today’s tweet from Kamala Harris is that the Bureau of Prisons, who currently confines Reality Winner, has denied journalists, such as CNN and me, access to interview her in person behind bars — so, who oversees the Bureau of Prisons (part of the Department of Justice) — the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, the latter of which Kamala Harris sits on!

“critical role in providing oversight of the Department of Justice…agencies under” such as the Bureau of Prisons

So with Kamala Harris’ tweet juxtaposed against Reality Winner’s story, we have:

1. US senator Kamala Harris calls for incomplete elections integrity reform

2. While the Bureau of Prisons is silencing the whistleblower who helped make that conversation possible in the first place

3. The senator in question, by virtue of sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is tasked with overseeing the Bureau of Prisons, and hasn’t done anything for Reality Winner (not that I’m aware of)

4. Even though I told the senator face to face about the Bureau of Prisons silencing Reality Winner at Harris’ September 27, 2019 event in Seattle

Underneath the glitzy world where a top senator grabs thousands of retweets by offering an incomplete solution to a problem, without assisting the whistleblower confined in silence for pointing the issue out … a public who knows better daydreaming that the thoughts and prayers of evidence-free voting will somehow victoriously sneak-attack presidential administrations tearing apart everything else, so why would they refuse to further corrupt the vote captures and vote countings …

Even though voting landslides might win elections (by overpowering whatever rigging is done), it’s still completely mandatory that we achieve public, observable vote counting, as WeCountNow offers, insofar as the failed concept of millions trying to come to consensus on topics that often don’t affect them much or at all and that they often don’t know much or anything about, is to continue. Help WeCountNow and/or join others in continuing to implement new concepts?

As for Reality Winner: open, participatory governance means none shall be silenced and all must have the right to communicate. Otherwise, not everyone is included, not everyone’s input is available. Since the Bureau of Prisons has blocked journalists from interviewing Reality Winner, preventing the public from hearing her at scale, the current within-the-system remedies remaining are: apply again for interview access (the Bureau of Prisons told me they consider each interview request separately), try the judicial branch (lawsuits etc), or pressure the federal legislature (members of the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee seem the right place to start).

I’ll post more about my efforts toward interviewing Reality Winner in a few weeks. If anyone else makes related efforts, please let me know in the comments!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Kamala Harris tweet meets Reality Winner truth, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/02/10/kamala-harris-reality-winner-tweet/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

How To Reduce the Need for Affection

What do you want?

Googling “how to reduce the need for affection” doesn’t turn up all that much, and if you ask your friends, they’re just gonna laugh at you. Until weeks later, after they’ve been ditched by whomever it was for them that month, and they come to you, tail between legs, asking “Hey…did you ever find out how to reduce the need for affection?” This has happened to me multiple times!

In researching reducing the need for affection, I’ve come across plenty of articles that try to dodge the issue by avoiding the word “affection.” They claim people are seeking “attention” or “prestige” or “approval” or some other medical-sounding reward. But I think the situation is a lot hotter than that, and by hot I mean a warm fuzzy HUG — get your mind out of the gutter.

A lot of the search results you DO get (YGMV*) are content-farm articles on how to spay or neuter your pet (…so that’s what they’re calling it now?) or y so srs/pitiful pieces in the Huffington Post about how to make your man show you more affection (…she really hasn’t figured that out yet?). I lost the very few useful links I came across. But here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • Get busy working on an idealistic project(s).
  • Get a pet (this is more of a hack: route around humans).
  • Get lost. Aloneness becomes a more comfortable habit given time.

And keep in mind this Theodore Sturgeon quote from his novel Godbody, which the character Britt Svenglund ascribes to the character Dan Currier: “any person who cannot be by himself, it’s because when he is by himself he thinks he is not in good company.”

In the last year, I’ve been in a totally unprecedented situation: I’ve had lots of friends! And I’ve conducted a lot of socializing. (Mostly at this excellent coffeehouse & computer repair shop in Fort Worth.) The whole experience startled me. “Wow, so this is what all the people I hated in high school were doing!” It gets so thoroughly, disgustingly addictive. You wake up one day, and your emotions are beseeching the universe to deliver you affection from others. Your long-lasting contributions to humanity? Yeah, screw those. WAIT NO!

You have to consciously pull yourself away if you get addicted. (Twitter, I’m looking at you.)

Now, you might not want to become a recluse. Currently you gotta interact with people to get where you want to go in life, and it turns out social skills are useful for that. Plus, a good social space generates good random. You encounter people who give you knowledge and paying gigs and culture. This happens in cyberspace, too, but it happens differently in meatspace; I’m not sure how to describe the difference, or why both are valuable.

Brain in a Vat Doesn’t Need Your Meatspace (Pic stolen from here).

A pickup artist is going to look at people with alleged affection-deficits and offer to teach them how to acquire more affection. Which, when you think about it, is not unlike a nicer (or at least nicer-sounding) Thrasymachus, who (according to Plato) taught that justice is nothing but “the advantage of the stronger.” (In the fifth century BCE, in ancient Greece, you could buy teachings from sophists such as Thrasymachus. Early-day Tony Robbins.) Pickup artists have a term: One-itis. Urban Dictionary as usual has the best definition:

Often confused with love, this is the feeling that a particular woman is actually special. This is just an illusion; she is the same as the other three or so billion. “Go fuck ten other women” is the most commonly prescribed treatment for this “disease” (hence the “itis”), as it tends to show quite quickly how very alike people are.

But everyone is a special snowflake, dammit (srsly, you are. And aren’t at the same time, too. Paradox WOAH!). Anyway, it is just remarkable, the difference in perspective, when faced with the question: “What do I do about my affection-deficit?” 1) Become more skilled at manipulating people into giving you affection; or 2) Reduce the need for affection. I’ll take option 2.

Not so fast, the psychiatrists are here. They describe “the self-effacing solution” of wanting too much affection, and the resignation solution of (among others) schizotypals wherein you want too little. Oh, good, the psychiatrists left. Continuing on.

Once I was chatting online with someone, importuning the person for attention affection, and found myself rebuffed; instantly my mind generated epic narratives about how they were full of shit and one day, despite my anger and bitterness, I would triumph before all! AT THE EXACT SAME TIME in another chat window someone was importuning me for attention affection, all plaintive, and I was like, geez, this person’s annoying, won’t they go away, like srsly. Humans are up to here in this affection-acquiring attention-economy business. It’s the pits.

So you want the golden mean of affection and social interaction that suits your purposes and not the purposes your addictions or inexperience define for you. (A golden mean is not necessarily in the middle of the continuum, and not necessarily any sort of average.) On the other hand, maybe you’re such an awesome mystic that you flat-out don’t need to interact with others at all. In which case … can we meet?

INTERLUDE. Let’s take a break for a second.

* YGMV: Your Google May Vary, depending of factors such as your IP address. Which is one reason why proxy networks such as Tor are fun: “Today I’m gonna Google from the point of view of someone in the Czech Republic. Podívejte!

Writing this I found out there’s a now-defunct Swedish goth metal band called Beseech.

They appear not to want my affection…but is it a reverse psychology trick?

Beseech covered ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” which is both awesome and horrible, and most fitting for this post.

Half past twelve / And I’m watching the late show in my flat all alone / How I hate to spend the evening on my own! … [Yeah I can’t take any more of this either.]

END INTERLUDE. Back to srs bizns.

I should point out that killing a social addiction is most conducive to creative thought. Which is much more useful to the world and (less important) much more happiness-producing than nightlife. What other people think really gets into you and mucks with your invention wellspring. Of course, not so good to invent something without people in it, so at least say hi to somebody today, okay? Or maybe just this week. (Even if just online ;-)

Creative Commons License

How to Reduce the Need for Affection by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

English Translation of labSurlab Press Release for Julian Assange Ecuador Asylum Request

[UPDATE: Something or other about the #AsiloAssangeEC petition.]

[UPDATE: French translation of labSurlab #AsiloAssangeEC press release in comments.]

[UPDATE: German translation of labSurlab #AsiloAssangeEC press release in comments.]

labSurlab (Twitter, Website), a network of independent initiatives including hackerspaces, published along with others a press release (PDF in Spanish) supporting Julian Assange’s request for political asylum in Ecuador. (Get up to speed: WikiLeaks Central live-blog tracking the asylum request; Glenn Greenwald article in Salon; Philip Dorling article in the Sydney Morning Herald; justice4assange.com; @wikileaks.)

The press release is dated 19 June 2012 from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and they’re using this hashtag — #AsiloAssangeEC — for their efforts. Since no translation seems readily available, a native Spanish speaker, Fernando (Website, Twitter), put together this translation with me (as a Texan I know a bit of Spanglish). (Jumping off from ours, alxgucci put together another English translation.) Nothing below in brackets is in the original Spanish, but rather has been added by me.

Corrections and help are welcome — comment on this blog post. The press release asks for signatures to their petition. For people who don’t know Spanish: the big box at the top right asks for your first and last names (“Nombre y apellidos”) and then for your email address (“Tu correo electrónico”). After clicking the blue Unirme button, you’ll receive a confirmation email. Click “Sigue este enlace” in the confirmation email for your signature to count.

English Translation:

We support asylum for Assange in Ecuador.

We want to make known our support for the petition made by Assange to Ecuador’s government.

Ecuador as a country recognizes in its constitution the right to communication and defends the freedom of speech; it can’t evade its solidarity with someone who is suffering the consequences of having exercised the right to freedom of speech and who defends the right of all citizens to access to information.

We think that granting political asylum follows from the respect of norms and principles of the international rights available. We want Ecuador to make the right decision in relation to the request of asylum and we support this decision in advance.

SIGNATURES [Some might be wrong. Most explanations are based on the signers’ self-descriptions.]:

  • LabSurLab Quito 2012. [Twitter, Website. A network of independent initiatives including hackerspaces.]

  • Differential Quito [Twitter, Website. Connection space aiming to promote projects and activities that stimulate the development of digital culture.]

  • Aller [Possibly Aler with one ‘L’; possibly this group: Twitter, Website. Latin American Information Radio Education.]

  • Isaac Hacksimov [Twitter.]

  • Mujeres en Red (Spain) / Women in Network [Website. Feminist site.]

  • Baoba Voador (Brazil) [Maybe this website?]

  • Asociación de Cabildos Suroccidente Colombiano / Southwestern Colombian Association of Councils [Translation uncertain. Can’t find anything online.]

  • Fedaeps [Twitter, Website, Facebook. Foundation for research, action, and social participation.]

  • Centro Experimental Oído Salvaje [Something like “Wild Ear Experimental Center.” Vimeo, MySpace. Radio and sound art collective.]

  • Lado B-En tiempo real / Side B – In Real Time [Maybe this music group: Website (click “lado b” section), SoundCloud, Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook.]

  • Juuntos.org [Twitter, Website. Latin American Web community.]

  • Red Anillo Sur / South Ring Network [Likely this group: Website, Media Website. Distributed Federation of Free Lorea Social Networks.]

  • Chimbalab (Chile) [Twitter, Website. Art laboratory focused on research and production of DIY and open hardware.]

  • Minipimer (Chile) [Twitter, Website. Experimental lab for real-time Internet video. But maybe they’re based in Barcelona.]

  • Translab (Chile) [Likely this group: Twitter, Website. Platform for practice and research on contemporary art, technology, cyberculture, transmedia labs and processes.]

  • Artek (Chile) [Likely this group: Website. The Cultural Arts and Technology Corporation (Artek), created to promote the development of cultural and creative projects which link art, science, and technology.]

  • Cultura Senda (Venezuela-Argentina) [Something like “Culture Trail”? Likely this group: Twitter, Website. Organization specializing in research, development, and training in network technologies to facilitate the work of groups, networks and institutions.]

  • Hipermédula (Argentina) [Twitter, Website. Platform for Latin American art and contemporary culture. Thought, discussion, information.]

  • FM La Tribu (Argentina) [Twitter, Website. Free internet radio FM 88.7.]

  • Centro de Comunicación Mapuche KONA / the Center for Mapuche Kona Communication Productions [An indigenous advocacy group? Can’t find anything for it proper.]

  • Sat (Canadá) [Apparently this group: Twitter, Website, Facebook. Society for Arts and Technology in Montreal.]

  • Sayad (Mexico) [Can’t find anything.]

We have launched this campaign on oiga.me in support, sign this petition:

http://oiga.me/campaigns/pide-al-gobierno-de-ecuador-que-acepte-el-asilo-de-julian-assange

Again: sign the petition.

Original Spanish:

RESPALDAMOS EL ASILO PARA ASSANGE EN ECUADOR

Queremos manifestar nuestro apoyo a la petición de asilo realizada por Julian Assange al Gobierno de Ecuador.

Ecuador como país que reconoce en su constitución el derecho a la comunicación y que defiende la libertad de expresión, no puede eludir su solidaridad con alguien que está sufriendo las consecuencias de su compromiso con el ejercicio de esta libertad de expresión, y que defiende el derecho de la ciudadanía al acceso a información verdadera.

Consideramos que otorgar el asilo político está en consecuencia con el respeto a las normas y principios del derecho internacional vigentes.

Animamos al gobierno del Ecuador a tomar una decisión positiva en relación a la solicitud de asilo y respaldamos de antemano esta decisión.

FIRMAS:

LabSurLab Quito 2012. Diferencial Quito, Aller, Isaac Hacksimov, Mujeres en Red (España), Baoba Voador (Brasil), Asociación de Cabildos Suroccidente Colombiano, Fedaeps, Centro Experimental Oído Salvaje, Lado B-En tiempo real, Juuntos.org, Red Anillo Sur, Chimbalab (Chile), Minipimer (Chile), Translab (Chile), Artek (Chile), Cultura Senda (Venezuela-Argentina), Hipermédula (Argentina) FM La tribu (Argentina) Centro de Comunicación Mapuche KONA, Sat (Canadá), Sayad (Mexico),

Hemos lanzado esta campaña en oiga.me apóyanos y fima esta petición.

http://oiga.me/campaigns/pide-al-gobierno-de-ecuador-que-acepte-el-asilo-de-julian-assange

Sign the petition. The Spanish PDF seems to have originated from here, by the way.

Creative Commons License

Rough English Translation of labSurlab Press Release for Julian Assange Ecuador Asylum Request by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@douglaslucas.com.

Bradley Manning Support Rally in Dallas April 24

Bradley Manning supporter in Gitmo suit and cage

On Tuesday 24 April 2012, about 13 people (including me) rallied in Dallas, Texas, in support of Private First Class Bradley Manning as similar rallies took place worldwide on the dates of his Article 39 pre-trial hearing. Manning, a 24-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is, after nine months of pre-trial humiliations and solitary confinement, currently undergoing court martial for allegedly leaking the following material to WikiLeaks:

  • The Collateral Murder video, which shows a U.S. helicopter firing on several Iraqis, killing, among others, two Reuters journalists and a van driver who tried to rescue one of the pair.

  • The classified reports of the Afghan War Diary and the Iraq War Logs, which detail several years of military action.

  • Cablegate, over a quarter-million secret State Department cables, which among other revelations show that U.S. Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and others promised Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi military hardware; that Hillary Clinton instructed diplomats to swipe biometric data, passwords, and credit card numbers from foreign dignitaries at the United Nations; and that Canada covertly promised aid for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

  • The Gitmo Files, memoranda describing prisoners held by the U.S. Joint Task Force at Guantanamo.

Manning is charged with multiple violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including aiding the enemy, a capital offense, though prosecutors have said they will not seek his execution. For two years and counting, no one has been demonstrably harmed by the leaks. Manning’s nine months of extreme pre-trial punishment, the Bradley Manning support website points out,

sparked a probe by the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez. Mr. Mendez stated that he has been “frustrated by the prevarication of the US government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr. Manning.” After having his requests to visit Bradley repeatedly blocked, and after completing a fourteen month investigation, Mr. Mendez issued a statement saying that PFC Bradley Manning’s treatment has been “cruel and inhuman.”

The Dallas rally started at 4:30pm. I took the photos on this page (click ’em for larger versions), and the videos of the rally embedded here are from bucky3phase’s YouTube channel, which has more, similar clips from the rally.

On Mockingbird Lane

(In the above video, the guy in the black WikiLeaks T-shirt messing with his phone is me. I was spreading information about the rally on Twitter.)

Bradley Manning supporter in Gitmo suit w/ Assange Viva La Información T-shirt under it (iPhone pic from my tweet)

As I wrote for Salon, Geoffrey Robertson, one of Assange’s lawyers, says the nine months of humiliation and solitary confinement imposed on Manning were an attempt to make him “falsely confess to being groomed by Assange.” Right now, in northern Virginia, the U.S. is pursuing a grand jury investigation against WikiLeaks and its founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange. A plea bargain from Manning might mean information or “information” prosecutors can use against WikiLeaks. Though WikiLeaks works with many big media outlets worldwide, the U.S. has prioritized WikiLeaks as an enemy (in addition to pursuing whistleblowers and journalists not connected with WikiLeaks), probably in large part because the Internet and the organization’s design means many more leaks against powerful wrongdoers than otherwise. Prosecution of WikiLeaks is a gigantic threat to the freedom of the press, and it isn’t helping anything that the New York Times, which has worked closely with WikiLeaks, is siding more with the U.S. government than with Assange.

Problem, Officer?

We had a mild incident with two police officers and a plainclothes guy with a gun (see video above) — he is, I’m told, a Dallas Police Department detective. I didn’t hear exactly what happened, but apparently we were in violation of Dallas City Code 28-158.1, which is titled PROHIBITING THE CARRYING OF SIGNS ON, OVER, OR NEAR FREEWAYS and says among other things:

In this section, SIGN means any device, flag, light, figure, picture, letter, word, message, symbol, plaque, poster, or other thing that is designed, used, or intended to advertise or inform.

(b) A person commits an offense if he carries or otherwise displays a sign on, over, or within 75 feet of the roadway of any of the following streets or highways in a manner intended to attract the attention of vehicle occupants on those streets or highways

The ordinance lists the highway we were over, Central Expressway. Essentially they wanted us to scoot our free speech activity 75 feet away from the Central Expressway access roads. What the detective reads out — about access roads — when he’s apparently quoting the ordinance is different than the ordinance as written online (linked above), but maybe the detective is accessing an updated version; the Dallas City Hall website says the online version may not be up to date. (As a Fort Worth resident, it might be hard for me to get a copy of the up-to-date, printed Dallas City Code; does anyone have it?) Anyway, as written online, the ordinance doesn’t specify access roads, and I think the overpass is more than 75 feet above the Central Expressway roadway proper. It is not clear to me that this (online version of the) ordinance is constitutional since generally the First Amendment guarantees the right to assembly and free speech activity on public sidewalks without permits, but I guess the overpass bridge might not be a “sidewalk” or something. Presumably there is relevant case law somewhere on this. (Please comment if you know more.)

Our conversation with the detective strikes me as particularly Southern somehow. I can’t articulate how I feel about all this very well. A city government has a legitimate interest in keeping people from dangerously distracting drivers, but that’s not what we were doing.

Excuse Me, Coming Through

Attending this rally made me think quite a bit about the challenges and payoffs of getting people involved with political, humanitarian, or other activist causes. (Nonprofits talk about encouraging people to climb a “ladder of engagement.”) Jon Stewart’s humorous Daily Show makes people feel good while they learn more about politics and possibly contribute to causes that, while sometimes centered primarily around dialogue and tolerance, more or less sync with establishment progressive Democrat goals and methods. Plenty of evidence shows nothing kills a cause like negativity (and this applies in other areas as well, such as trying to win someone over while flirting). For example:

Dr Gloor has found that, in Western countries at least, non-violent protest movements begin to burn out when the upbeat tweets turn negative, with “not”, “never”, “lame”, “I hate”, “idiot” and so on becoming more frequent. Abundant complaints about idiots in the government or in an ideologically opposed group are a good signal of a movement’s decline. Complaints about idiots in one’s own movement or such infelicities as the theft of beer by a fellow demonstrator suggest the whole thing is almost over.

The video above captures one of the ralliers calling out “Wake up, people!” while banging on a cowbell, which he did quite a bit during the event. I’m supportive of this, as well as — clearly, from my Twitter feed — more in-your-face measures; hacktivists and Occupy activists, for example, having chosen intense tactics ranging from the legal to the civilly disobedient. (And many with effective, feel-good humor as well.) I’m glad when people raise a ruckus that makes people think, even when I don’t support their cause; democracy is supposed to be noisy, and like the Manning rallier was saying, people need to wake up. But is the crying out (or, to put it less positively, the yelling) effective? Does the audience hear it and wake up some as a result, or do they just get turned off? And how much does that matter, since part of the point of a rally is to reinforce the base and therapeutically vent?

That the crying out makes me cringe a bit reflects my intrinsic personality, my discomfort with intruding on others (see this on the INFP personality interaction style; this issue goes a long way toward explaining why creative writing suits me as opposed to a performance art form such as live music) — my internal cringing has no necessary connection with how in-your-face rally tactics empirically affect audiences. It’s also interesting that I don’t really cringe dealing with in-your-face tactics when they are expressed in sheer text or static imagery, but I do when they are live or on video. Attending one of these events in person is very different from watching it on Twitter. And the cringing isn’t just needless embarrassment at the intrusion on others; it’s also a reflection of my emotional upset about the injustice that the intrusion is protesting.

Much of Occupy Wall Street’s critique of contemporary America accurately concerns the middle class or suburban or establishment tendency to act politely — or, submissively — when working for political change. When Manning is being abused, or when banksters crash the economy and don’t go to jail since they run so much of the political process, and that destroys people’s lives, or when immoral wars kill innocents and governments cover up the causalty numbers, why be meek at a rally? (See this blog post about the progressive middle class wanting change without conflict, the Phil Ochs song “Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” or the Jello Biafra cover of the same song with updated lyrics.) Well, because it might not be effective (or maybe it is?). Plus, I think there are real and legitimate reasons for some people not to stick their necks out. If you have dependent kids, for example, you’re morally obliged to take care of them, and so you have an interest in security and safety; some people take their kids to protests (which is great and teaches them values), but that’s not feasible for everyone’s financial situations or personalities. But they might be able to support causes in other ways (emotionally supporting more active individuals, for example). I guess this all goes to show that it’s good for causes to have a variety of techniques and ways to participate.

Now Showing at the Angelika

Daniel Ellsberg, whose famous leak of the Pentagon Papers exposed U.S. government lies about the Vietnam War — and got him charged with espionage — has been very supportive of Manning, Assange, and WikiLeaks.

When Manning supporters brilliantly bought tickets to an Obama fundraiser and confronted him about the whistleblower’s prosecution, they recorded Obama on video saying Manning “broke the law”, which, as Obama is the Commander-in-Chief, could be unlawful command influence prejudicing Manning’s trial; people are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and as a law scholar, Obama knows better. (See also.) There is also Manning’s 700+ days of confinement in violation of the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. Though his defense’s efforts to have charges dropped have failed so far, some miracle could still happen. After all, Ellsberg’s charges were dropped due to crimes against him by the Nixon Administration:

After many months of legal maneuvers–and illegal government maneuvers, the trial of Ellsberg and Russo finally opened in January 1973. This was the same month that the United States officially ended its war in Vietnam (a fact that escapes Wells’ notice). By this time, the Plumbers had burglarized the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, tried to physically attack Ellsberg at a demonstration, developed plans to firebomb the Brookings Institute (because Nixon thought Ellsberg had hidden documents in its vault), and burglarized the Democratic national party office in the Watergate Hotel during the 1972 election campaign. During the trial, Nixon’s aide John Ehrlichman twice tried to bribe the presiding judge with the possibility of being chosen to head the FBI. These facts were brought into the trial, which was now taking place during the Watergate hearings. Finally, when evidence of previously undisclosed White House wiretaps of Ellsberg was introduced, the judge was forced to dismiss all charges.

Unlikely things happen.

Group Photo/Social Graph!

The point is to do what you think is right, even if it’s uncomfortable or dangerous at times. I think that’s more important than measuring whether your action is the most effective one; but, as an artsy/emotional/creative person, that’s how I tend to relate to the world, and I’m glad there are more logical, practical-oriented people who focus on increasing efforts’ impact, since you don’t want wasted effort.

The leaks certainly weren’t wasted effort. To take just one example, when the U.S. wanted to keep its troops in Iraq past the 2011 deadline, the Iraqi government’s decision to say no was at least in part influenced by a WikiLeaks cable that showed Iraqi civilians, including children, were killed in a 2006 raid by American troops rather than in an airstrike as the U.S. military initially reported. (More.)

Quotes from an online chat attributed to Manning:

If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?

God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

Creative Commons License

Bradley Manning Support Rally in Dallas April 24 by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@douglaslucas.com.

Houston Law and Media Seminar on WikiLeaks (January) #WLTex

Geoffrey Robertson addresses seminar via Skype

In January I attended a Law and the Media seminar in Houston that focused on WikiLeaks. The Houston Bar Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Houston Press Club sponsored this 26th annual Law and the Media event. I wrote “Julian Assange Prepares His Next Move” for Salon.com using material from the seminar, but I also took photos, detailed notes, and a pretty good transcript, items which I’ll reproduce in part with this blog post.

(Big thanks to my friend Kristyn for hosting me at her apartment.)

Just a little more than a hundred people attended the seminar. This was the agenda:

  • 8:00-8:55: Registration and Continental Breakfast

  • 8:55-9:00: Welcome and Introductions

  • 9:00-10:00: Inside the WikiLeaks Legal Team: Geoffrey Robertson, QC, Doughty Street Chambers, via Skype from London

  • 10:00–10:15: Break

  • 10:15-11:15: WikiLeaks and America’s Campaign Against Al-Qaeda: Eric Schmitt, New York Times

  • 11:15-11:30: Break

  • 11:30-12:30: The WikiLeaks Debate: Panelists: Lucy Dalglish [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Executive Director], Don DeGabrielle [private international governmental investigations attorney, former U.S. Attorney, and former FBI Special Agent], David Adler [federal criminal defense attorney and former CIA officer] and Tom Forestier [Moderator; law firm managing shareholder].

Transcript of most of the seminar below. Quotations indicate exact speech. Brackets indicate my clarifications. Brackets with my “– DAL” signature indicate my comments. Everything else is paraphrase. Mistakes mine. This transcript assumes you have some familiarity with the material.

Geoffrey Robertson

Robertson began with three quotes: James Madison on the importance of a free press for governing knowledgeably, Theodore Roosevelt “calling on muckrackers to destroy what he called ‘the invisible government,'” and a Supreme Court opinion in New York Times Co. v. United States saying the only protection for the public lies in an enlightened citizenry. “Assange takes this philosophy seriously.”

Assange uses electronic methods to keep sources anonymous. “You could waterboard him for weeks, and he couldn’t name his source, because he wouldn’t know.”

WikiLeaks published exposes on “the malpractice of the church of Scientology” and “tax evasion in the Cayman Islands” and “banking fraud in Iceland”; “all these releases were of obvious media interest. Assange is often seen as being left-wing, but WikiLeaks published the so-called Climategate” wherein “Essex University seemed to be rigging the data.”

“In quick succession in 2010” WikiLeaks published “the material that is alleged to be posted by Bradley Manning. There was Collateral Murder, which was manslaughter. An extraordinary revelation. I thought it should have been called Collateral Manslaughter because it was a tape that showed the killing of two Reuters reporters, children, and several civilians.” It was “a war crime.”

Skype call interrupted by a Windows automatic update on the Texas side. Call resumed.

“Iraq-gate included 400,000 raw field reports that showed many thousand more civilian causalities than had been estimated. A treasure trove for future historians writing about that war, showing exactly how it was fought on the ground.”

“Obvious stories of public interest.” A “very interesting fact: in 2010, as these revelations were coming out, a number of countries were so disturbed by what WikiLeaks was doing that they dropped all WikiLeaks-related websites and threatened to jail any of their citizens who were caught sending material to WikiLeaks. Which countries were these? […] China, Syria, Russia, North Korea, Russia, Thailand, Zimbabe.”

“It was with Cablegate in 2010 that we did get a burst of hysteria from the United States. It was the release of diplomatic cables […] published jointly by the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel, with fact-checking, removal of names, and so on done together by all the organizations. Criticism from the government came not against the New York Times but singled out Assange,” casting him as “this peripatetic Australian with this supernatural power.”

When there was criticism of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp invading privacy with cell phone hacks there was “no real protest about” Murdoch from governments.

Vice President “Joe Biden accused” Assange “of being a hi-tech terrorist; “Huckabee called for his assassination”; Sarah Palin said “he should be hunted down like bin Laden.”

When going to visit Assange in Norfolk, Robertson keeps “an eye out for Navy SEALs.”

Robertson has received “death threats from middle America by email.”

Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense, said Cablegate resulted in “no long-term damage.”

The pragmatic United States diplomats were “so insightful that when all this was published, President Clinton suggested Assange was a secret CIA agent.”

“America was upset; its pride was wounded by this pesky Australian. It couldn’t — I guess because of the First Amendment and Democratic Party politics — attack the New York Times.” The attack on WikiLeaks is “a betrayal of the founding fathers who claimed belief in freedom.”

People keep saying “Assange has blood on his hands”; “let’s examine this”: “2.5 years and not a single causalty.” So “that’s the first point. No blood on WikiLeaks’ hands. Those who said there was were talking nonsense. We wouldn’t expect there to be casualties because these cables were not classified Top Secret” as the “Pentagon Papers” were. “Top Secret is a classification where there are likely reprisals from publication.” [Reviewing US government information on classification levels, I found nothing to support this claim. — DAL] “So obviously” the writers of “these cables didn’t expect reprisals.” That “two and a half million people had access to these particular cables” makes it “so entirely false to suggest lives would be at stake.”

“It’s the responsibility of a government that puts sources at risk to guard them; to encrypt their names, [to encrypt] cables, [and] to have a proper classification policy.”

It comes back to the Pentagon Papers and the principle that “the duty of government is to protect its sources.”

“Proper classification should” adhere to “four principles”: “Firstly, citizens have a right to know what the government does in their name”; “Secondly,” a “government has the responsibility to protect” sources”; “Thirdly, outsiders who have obtained it [classified information] should not be punished unless they got it by fraud” or “bribery”; and fourth, classification “should not stop whistleblowers from” revealing “war crimes.”

“It is not clear what communication there has been between Manning and Assange.”

“Look at the Espionage Act.” There are “three positions between journalists and sources. First is that the journalist receives the information unknowingly such as through the traditional brown paper envelope or through the Internet in various ways. It seems in that situation no one would suggest the publisher should be liable […] If it’s in the public interest, there should be no criticism in publishing [it].” 2. Intermediaries. With an “intermediary there is contact. The source says ‘I’ve got information of importance, how can I get it to you?’ […] The journalist says ‘drop it in a certain place at midnight’ […] arranging to receive information […] should not be criminal.” 3. “Where the journalist contacts the source and persuades him or her to breach confidentiality of government or bribes him, then that is soliciting and that should fall under the scope of the Espionage Act.”

Electronic leaks are “here to stay.” The “Wall Street Journal has something called Safe House that guarantees safety of information, if you trust Rupert Murdoch.” And there are “other sites outside the constraints of traditional publishers. So we’ve got to accept — governments and corporations have got to accept — that confidentiality is going to be limited where it deals with information of public interest. Information will not only leak; it will go viral on the Net. You remember, perhaps, that YouTube film set in Domino’s Pizza; a secret camera depicted photographs of one of the Domino’s Pizza cooks stuffing the pizza in his nose before” finishing with it, and “Domino’s stock went down 10%.”

“Corporations have to face up to the fact that this is the new power of ordinary people. Ordinary people — that [wrongly] condescending phrase.” We must “remember that WikiLeaks stands there […] at a time when Google is blocked by 25 countries in the world. You can’t get YouTube in Turkey.” Now there are “two billion people” connected online. “For better or worse, this prospect of breaches in confidentiality is here to stay.”

With “unredacted” material published “directly on to the Net there will be more danger, but perhaps more benefit. We must live with this” and “we should welcome” it.

“Some analysts say” that “the Arab Spring began with the revelation of the corruption in the Tunisian government […] through the revelation of the WikiLeaks cables […] The most virulent attack on WikiLeaks was made on January 14, 2011” when “it was accused of leading the protesters in Tunisia astray by false claims against their incorruptible president [… this] violent attack on Assange was made by one Colonel Gaddafi.”

(In response to a question:) “At the end of the day you have the community standard that provides that ultimate judgment on the whistleblower” and “that is ultimately for a jury to decide”; “Governments make offers to” mediate “whistleblowers, telling its agents, ‘You can approach Congressmen with complete confidence if you’ve got anything to reveal’; that hasn’t been found to be effective. There is just not the trust that is necessary. The journalists by themselves are more trusted […] It is a principle of journalistic ethics that they do not betray a source.”

“Who judges the whistleblower? The answer is: the whistleblower begins” with a “moral imperative to make the disclosure” and “so long as there is a public interest defense, it would be a jury that would provide the ultimate decision.”

Question from the audience [me]: “Has the Swedish prosecution given reasons why they cannot ask Assange the questions over the phone or some other medium?”

Robertson: “No they have not. There is no doubt that Mr. Assange is willing to answer questions. He waited in Sweden for six weeks waiting to be interrogated […] He offered to talk to them from Britain by telephone or Skype or by any number of means and the Swedish prosecutor refused […] The Swedish prosecutor takes the view that when [and if] he returns to Sweden […] he should not get bail […] and [that] he should be tried in secret, because in Sweden these cases are tried in secret.” [Gasps from the audience.] “There will be a whole host of other issues, but it’s not particularly germane to the WikiLeaks issues themselves.”

Question from the audience: “You talked about corporations and governments needing to understand that confidentiality is really limited by the need of the public’s interest and that there’s a balance there. I was wondering [if you can] define what would be the public interest that would [override] legitimate confidentiality needs.”

Robertson: “This” type of publication is “power for the powerless to affect the way corporations behave […] It’s one way in which Internet technology can democratize corporate activity, make corporations accountable for human rights violations. I suppose there’s a failure — a black area — in international law saying corporations are not subject to international criminal law.” But this new Internet technology is a way “of making corporations liable for human rights abuses.” When “corporate insiders are offered by WikiLeaks-type organizations or even by the newspapers, which as I’ve explained are trying to set up WikiLeaks-style electronic letterboxes — where they’re offering that kind of anonymity as a guarantee — that may tip the balance and make [the insiders] more inclined to take the risk to expose” abuses.

Question from the audience: “So far we’ve been talking about the legality of WikiLeaks.” Can you say “how many of your resources you are using against the extradition & sexual assault issues versus [how many resources you are using to defend] the legality of WikiLeaks?”

Robertson: “These battles have been going on for a while. There’s nothing much, in fact, in the Swedish allegations; I won’t go into it because to do so would take some time. But it’s not been the Swedish allegations themselves that cause any worry; they may have to be faced down eventually, and I think Mr. Assange would deal with them willingly if the prospects for extradition to the United States” weren’t so likely. Sweden has a “regrettable record of supporting extradition to the United States” and it “has been exposed by the UN criminal court for doing that.” [Murmurs of surprise.] “The real problem is the grand jury proceedings which are of course cloaked in secrecy and have been going on a while, and the United States government hasn’t announced any position; it seems content to play a cat-and-mouse game; Alan Dershowitz and I are advising Mr. Assange on that.” Grand juries “can be open-ended”; they “haven’t been used in Europe”; they’re “unique to the United States. It may well be that the focus of concern will shift to Mr. Manning’s trial; that will come up shortly. It would be helpful, as I say, if the US Justice Department would say one way or another, if the United States government would say if they propose to bring a case against Mr. Assange.”

Loud applause.

Eric Schmitt of the New York Times

Eric Schmitt

“The Assange I met was not the hi-tech terrorist as Biden described him nor the crusader as his lawyer described him. The Guardian had set up an awful Excel spreadsheet” for us to look through the documents in London. “Julian Assange was supposed to arrive and help us clarify the muck. There was this mystique about this guy.” The “Guardian was unclear about” where he was coming from [to London]; “it was Scandinavia.” Assange is “a striking figure: tall, lanky guy, about 6’2″ or 6’3″ with a shock of white hair.” He arrived “that night alert and disheveled in this kind of dingy coat, cargo pants, dirty white socks that sort of collapsed around his sneakers […] It was almost like Oz showing up to show you what’s going on behind the scenes. All he had with him was this huge backpack which he kind of sloughed off and from which were disgorged cables and” all sorts of computer equipment. And he had this “plastic box and he said, ‘In here are the crown jewels.'”

We needed to “figure out an arrangement for how we could get access for these documents back to New York.” It was “too long, too difficult” to go through the documents in the condition they were in. Once we achieved “access back to New York,” then “my colleagues using special technical means could essentially bundle these documents; we could give them search terms […] whether it was civilian causalities” or “relations with Pakistan.” And “over the next coming weeks as we did work out this arrangement with Assange and WikiLeaks […] we as a team at the New York Times in our own bunker […] were able to divide up the content of these documents and write up over the course of several weeks some five or six stories that ran in a package that day […] Assange had not placed restrictions on the material we used, he certainly didn’t” give us money or anything like that. He did ask for an “embargo”; he wanted it all to come out at the same time; “we had to settle on a common time and date.”

“With Assange, though, it was always a struggle figuring out who this guy was. He is a brilliant man to be sure, he’s very well-schooled in American history and American law,” and a “computer hacker, though he doesn’t like that term. He’s also incredibly paranoid, sees conspiracies everywhere, [and has] this kind of Peter Pan quality about him.” When “walking out with a Der Spiegel reporter, he started skipping ahead and humming this kind of tune” and then “continued the conversation.”

“The most difficult thing we had to deal with Assange” was what to do “about the names.” We at the New York Times “were very concerned about the safety of these individuals who had spoken to the Americans or the allied coalition […] it was very clear to us […] the Taliban would take a list, and they would remember and there would be a retaliation because that’s exactly what they had done [previously …] they had killed and intimidated [families …] so we took out names of individuals that we felt could be in danger […] we went to Assange and hoped” we could work together on redactions. Assange said, ‘That’s not what we’re going to do, we are an anti-secrecy organization. Sometimes there have to be casualties in this fight for transparency.'” That “wasn’t [our] position or that of” the Guardian or Der Spiegel. “We [at the New York Times] can’t be as certain as Geoffrey Robertson was now in claiming there was no harm, no injury [from these publications].”

“I participated in the workings of the Iraq War Logs which Assange had given us access to […] the diplomatic cables we did not get from Assange or WikiLeaks […] He was very angry with the New York Times […] throughout our collaboration our whatever you want to call it […] We consider WikiLeaks today a source, a very different source to be sure, but a source” [This position from the NYT puts all digital journalism, which is to say basically all journalism, at risk — DAL] “Julian Assange saw the four organizations in that room, that bunker in London, as journalistic collaborators. It depended on what day it was. On a certain day, Assange would say, ‘I’m a journalist today,’ and the second day, ‘I think I’m going to be a publisher today,’ and the third day, ‘I’m back to being an advocate’ […] Even he was conflicted about the role he played […] We [the New York Times] were not part of a crusade or the Musketeers or anything like that” [Why not? — DAL] He “was very angry we did not link to the WikiLeaks site.” Assange “was angry […] we did not stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him.”

“The impact of WikiLeaks has really set new standards, I think. This remains a gold mine not only for journalists but academic researchers. Any kind of story that comes up now, my editors say, ‘What’s in WikiLeaks about this story?’ If there’s a prominent new diplomat, ‘Go and search the WikiLeaks documents’; so, this is a rich trove of information […] It remains a very important source of information not only for understanding our foreign policy but to understand those we trust with our foreign policy […] Government has gone a long way to [ensure] this never [happens] again.” [Some government figure] “said it could take five more years to make sure our system is not vulnerable to another WikiLeaks-type attack […] Another effort of this kind is very unlikely. This was a perfect storm type of event […] The access that [Manning] had, the restrictions that were in place […] makes it very difficult to [redo] that.”

Assange “has contracted for a couple of books; those seem underway.” What takes the cake is that “a couple of weeks the RT Kremlin-sponsored news station” has agreed to host his television program. [RT bought the show; hosting is the wrong way to describe the licensing. –DAL]

“Bradley Manning is facing court martial now […] Obviously” Manning is “some disturbed young man.” But “it’s much less certain what’s going to happen with Julian Assange and what’s going to happen with WikiLeaks. This panel that’s in northern Virginia could very well issue some indictments, but it’s very unclear what path they may take.”

“We do have access at the New York Times of classified documents [as a general matter], but nothing like this; to get 90,000 electronic documents was overwhelming. There was nothing in those documents you could pull out and say, ‘Oh my God, that’s an incredible revelation’ — that’s not there. [There is however] a fine-textured, round-eye view of what’s going on with this war.” For example, “the number of IED attacks” or “the war is heating up again by 2007, and there’s no [help from the US government] despite the cries from the commanders.”

“The other thing [WikiLeaks] did was fill in gaps of stories we have written about [such as] the double-game Pakistan was playing with the United States […] While playing a very productive role helping the CIA round up Taliban, but at the very same time help the Taliban […] because Pakistan was taking a longer-term look […] because Pakistan wanted to make sure it had influence against its arch-rival India. So there’s this double-game that goes on to this day where Pakistan will cooperate in some areas but not in others […] Even if you discount half of these reports as biased by the Afghan intelligence service, it was still much more detailed than we ever had before […] Same thing with the Iraq documents.”

“WikiLeaks was severely chastened by the names released in the Afghan documents, so what did they do in these Iraq logs? They went the other way, using a computer program that took out almost every proper name […] if you get copies of the documents today, they’re virtually unusable. We had to redact, very carefully, a certain portion of the documents we put online. Robertson’s right in laying out the key stories that came out from these cables; these were finished diplomatic cables. What they’re saying in public is pretty much what they’re saying in private, but without so much detail.” [WTF. I list some of the cables indicative of lies here. — DAL]

“In my book with Thom Shanker, we talked a lot about the financing of terrorism.” The topic is “not as sexy as a SEAL team” blasting people. But the “funneling [of] a lot of money to terrorist groups” is important to understand; we talk about how individually these cables single out key allies in the Persian Gulf such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait […] This [Cablegate] was just a stunner to diplomats who have to deal with their counterparts every day […] You can imagine being a diplomat and having to face [the people you talk with] after this […] But it was also quite revealing in many ways […] as I think Robertson accurately pointed out, you had these cables talk about corruption […] I do believe this contributed to the Arab Spring. It wasn’t the sole cause, but it told people what they had all along suspected — but here are the nitty-gritty details. It did spark that [Arab Spring] outrage to a certain extent.”

“This is the latest issue of Rolling Stone with Michael Hastings interviewing Assange [Schmitt raises it in the air]. This is fascinating because Assange today, as he did then, criticizes the New York Times for this collusion with the United State government, [saying] that we’re in collusion with the CIA.” [In the article Assange does not mention the CIA in relation to the NYT, but rather says the NYT was “sucking up to the White House.” — DAL]. “But we believe our moral and ethical responsibility in dealing with very sensitive classified information” is to run it by the government. “We are going to write a story no matter what; that’s our going-in position with the government no matter what. [We ask the government] is there any reason” to treat this material differently. [The NYT says to the government:] “We’re going to give you a space to push back against this […] Are there any individuals we have missed that you think we should redact for their own personal safety […] Is there any sensitive information about intelligence [methods]” that we might jeopardize by publishing the story as-is. “We would have phone conversations telling [the government] ‘Here’s what’s going on with this classified information; we’re not giving you” prior restraint “here. Is there a legitimate national security interest in holding back material? This is responsible journalism. Respectable news organizations have always dealt with classified material like this.” [Questionable — DAL]

“This Administration didn’t come after us. In London we went through all these goofy rituals […] We couldn’t use our cell phones […] and we all kind of got into this.” We used a “secret code” to describe the information. “Package one was the Afghanistan documents; package two was Iraq; package three was the diplomatic cables. Because we didn’t know if the NSA was listening to our conversations.” [Contrast “goofy” with panelist statements below. — DAL]

“We have heated [internal] debates about sources: ‘Why is the New York Times doing this?’ Today I asked [a colleague], ‘Do you still have these concerns? It’s a year after these cables have come out. [My colleague said] ‘We still have these concerns, some day something’s going to happen to them [the informants]. But there’s been a chilling effect on our ability to acquire new contacts because WikiLeaks is out there. Everyone knows what it’s like to be WikiLeak’ed.” [I don’t understand how leak publications decrease the number of leaks. Perhaps Schmitt meant non-leak contacts are more afraid of the press now? — DAL]

“It’s a rare diplomatic meeting that doesn’t begin with a semi-serious joke: ‘What I’m about to say is not for WikiLeaks.'”

[People ask] “‘How could the American government be so incompetent to let this happen?’ It’s completely true we [as in the United States] classify too much. The State Department points their finger at the Defense Department, rightly so. The Pentagon came clean, embarrassingly so, about how little they had done to restrict this kind of thing. You had the ability to put a memory stick in a classified machine” and pretend to be copying Lady GaGa songs. It’s still an issue, “how little supervision there was over these classified machines.”

“The impact on journalists continues today.” Though “we have [already] gone through the big publicity burst of these documents, we continue to go back into the documents. The [Gitmo Files] did add more fidelity to our understanding of who’s being held in Guantanamo Bay. We dip back into WikiLeaks.”

“The State Department felt burned [by WikiLeaks] like no other agency did. [That’s] something that I think is really unfortunate for the transparency issue. After 9/11, the State Department lowered some of its walls” to help interagency communications “and that’s some of what Bradley Manning tapped into [and now] the walls have gone back up again.”

“Just some final thoughts on where this is going on the legal front. Lawyers are the guys trying to keep us out of jail.” One NYT lawyer, David McCraw, “offered some interesting observations here. David talked about how our Espionage Act […] has been written […] but so far it hasn’t been applied to publishers, it’s been applied to leakers. What McCraw later drilled into our editors and some of us were some of the things that makes it unlikely prosecutors will go after us. [That is] to redact sensitive information, giving the government the chance to have a space to push back, [discussing] what the public interest is in these stories […] What made it easier with the New York Times is that there were other, foreign publications that were going to go ahead with these publications, that wouldn’t have to answer to the US Government. The Obama Administration said let’s not go ahead with this at all, but if you have to do this at all, let’s do it in a responsible way. It really would have been pointless” to try to stop the global publishing.

“We didn’t want to appear to be collaborating with the Guardian in any way that [would have] made us” liable to UK laws. “We also wanted to maintain that distinction between journalist/source relationship with Julian Assange […] It was impossible to know just what he had done […] I asked Assange what he knew about Bradley Manning, and he would smile and say ‘We don’t know.'” But “these court proceeding seems to show otherwise.” And “could we at the New York Times be seen as aiding or abetting what Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks did? No one in the government has come after us. David [McCraw] also suggested to me that there are only three open-ended legal questions. The first is: ‘Should leakers have more protection?’ The Obama Administration has been very aggressive in going after leakers.” For example, a “former CIA operative named John Kiriakou has been gone after by the Justice Department for sharing information with reporters including one of my New York Times colleagues Scott Shane.” The mainstream news organizations have historically taken the position that it’s “illegal to leak” in exchange for the freedom for publishers to publish.” [Make an exchange in order to receive First Amendment protection? — DAL] “Courts have rarely recognized the right to retain and collect information. Are we” liable “if the government asked for the documents back? The Espionage Act could be read to allow such prosecution.”

“Would we sign on to an amicus brief to [defend] Julian Assange? Would we be reluctant at the New York Times to the lock arms with him?” [Questions posited as hypotheticals. His tone of voice and other remarks seemed to indicate the answers would be ‘No.’] “It’s always going to come back to the ‘Why we did this'” and “‘Why is it important to have to sources like this?’ We may never have WikiLeaks”-style “documents come this way to us again.”

“What did our most seasoned diplomats think of what we’re doing? Individuals who had nothing but casual contact with individuals might be captured or killed.” The questions “forced us to try to come to grips with what these different kinds of sources mean when we’re coming to this increasingly cyber-world. And finally I think it also underscores our obligation to verify this kind of material.” We’re back “where we started this conversation when I was sent to London. Are these documents forgeries or are they real? The ability to supply context is so important for journalists. And finally, ultimately, it’s to make sense of what’s complicated in a fast-paced world.”

Question from the audience [me]: “How much of the New York Times going to the government to give them a space to push back is really about maintaining access with the government to receive information, to receive authorized leaks and the like for domestic news and other information?”

Schmitt: We’re “not going to give the government the right of censorship, but [the right] to say, ‘You’re missing something here; you’re missing something about our operations and methods that you might be jeopardizing.’ They make their case; but, the decision to publish is up to us. Almost always we publish. There are small things we can do [such as] taking out a name that we think might not undercut the” overall story. “We don’t take things out because we think it will hurt our relationships with the government. It’s very rare that we get an authorized leak. It’s very rare to get the traditional brown envelope with documents. It’s more like a lawyer building a story by getting information from a variety of sources. The idea that [by giving the government a space to push back prior to publication] you’re somehow jeopardizing your relationship with the government to get freebie classified docs? It just doesn’t work that way.” [I’m not sold — DAL]

Question from the audience: “Do you think Assange has an ideology beyond transparency?”

Schmitt: “I don’t know. He clearly has an anti-war philosophy; that came through quite clear. There were some estimates coming from the Guardian of higher numbers … clearly this is something we went through very closely.” [This might have been a reference to Special Task Force 373 numbers, discrepancies noted by Jason Leopold — DAL]

Question from the audience: “You talked about bloggers; I wanted to see if you had any comment about Glenn Greenwald …”

Schmitt: “That’s probably a better question to ask to my colleagues such as Scott Shane.” Greenwald’s “voice is valuable. Like most bloggers, he has a point of view; you have to be careful with that.”

Question from the audience: “Had those documents not been acquired from WikiLeaks […] would have reported on it […] differently?” [I didn’t quite hear the question — DAL]

Schmitt: “We got the final tranche of cables from the Guardian; that’s public knowledge. We had a falling out with WikiLeaks. He felt we weren’t being fair to him. He was particularly upset about a profile we wrote about Bradley Manning and a profile we wrote about him. I don’t think we would have written it any differently. The source is giving you documents; then you have to look at the documents themselves. Julian Assange needed these news organizations and their technical skills as partnership, collaboration, whatever — he thought it was more of a journalistic collaboration. He just felt he didn’t have the technical skills” to analyze them journalistically. “He was savvy enough to know that and pick the new organizations that he did to have that impact. WikiLeaks is an unusual organization. It was, before it started imploding. Its main branch was in Germany; that was where a lot of its funding and volunteers came from. But it had branches in Scandanavia and this branch in Iceland. He knew he had a more sensitive liberal audience in Europe. He had El Pais in Spain and Le Monde in Paris for the diplomatic cables. Is his organization starting to fracture from internal fighting? People took the documents with them, virtually, and they started popping up. He started losing control of his organization.”

Concluded by moderator due to time.

Panel

Lucy Dalglish [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Executive Director], Don DeGabrielle [private international governmental investigations attorney, former U.S. Attorney, and former FBI Special Agent], David Adler [federal criminal defense attorney and former CIA officer] and Tom Forestier [Moderator; law firm managing shareholder].

L to R: DeGabrielle, Dalglish, Adler, Forestier

Dalglish: “WikiLeaks is an inevitable thing; it’s the collision of technology and national security; if WikiLeaks didn’t do it, someone else would have invented it.”

Dalglish: “What makes WikiLeaks different than the Pentagon Papers is the speed and volume of the information. I understand why this makes various people in the government very anxious and very angry. I think they’re responding not so much to WikiLeaks and what it did, but what will happen next time.” These documents “were not the ‘crown jewels’ […] What happened in the WikiLeaks case was good journalism.”

Dalglish: “The question, wherever I go, is, ‘Is Julian Assange a journalist?’ Under the Espionage Act, that really doesn’t matter. Whom it really matters to are the journalists who have been out there year after year because they want the public to understand the process of what they are doing, the fairness. They really, really care. Under the law it doesn’t really make that much difference, except the US government has shown the more you are acting like a journalist the more they leave you alone.”

Dalglish: “The first group of documents was really dumped out there. Julian Assange started as identifying himself as an advocate, but more and more as a journalist; I think that was something his lawyers advised. And as time went on [WikiLeaks] started paying more and more attention to people on the ground. That’s just what I’m surmising they did.”

Dalglish: Assange “putting himself in the position of a journalist puts him in a better position if he were to be charged in the United States.”

Dalglish: “I was at a meeting at the Wye River Plantation, which is owned by the Aspen Institute. It had been a long time since there had been a meeting between intelligence chiefs from the CIA, the Justice Department, the military” and more. “I was flattered to be invited. The ground rules were, we could report on what was said, but we could not report who said. It became very clear — because they point-blank said it — that they do not believe there is even the slightest possibility of there being a whistleblower in the national security arena. There are whistleblowers in government, but not in national security. If you leak national security info, you are not a whistleblower — you are a felon. Period. That is the attitude this Administration takes. At a meeting this was verified by the president himself; he said to us” there are whistleblowers “but that doesn’t apply in the national security arena.”

Dalglish: James Risen has been “fighting a subpoena for many, many years.” I was told at that [Wye River Plantation] meeting that “by the way, this Risen subpoena is the last one you guys are going to see. We don’t need you anymore; we already know who you’re talking to.” And then Jane Mayer’s “article came out about Thomas Drake, about how the government is capable of tracking everything you do. Reporters, if you have a source to protect, stay off cell phones, stay off email; do what Bob Woodward did: use flowerpots, balconies, and parking garages. Look how long he was able to protect those sources using tried-and-true methods.”

DeGabrielle made a joke that Robertson’s Skype call interruption might have been shut down by the US Government.

DeGabrielle: “We believe firmly […] that indictments have a lot of power — they can ruin lives, families […] don’t just do it because you can.”

DeGabrielle: Quick point about Robertson’s remark on rendition and extradition. “They’re not the same thing. Rendition happens like with our neighbor to the south, Mexico. They’ll show up in the middle of the night with someone we in the United States want. They’ll meet us on a bridge and” hand them over “and we’ll say thank you and adios. Renditions, they’re not” chock-full “of due process.”

DeGabrielle: “If the United States wants to prosecute Julian Assange, I rather suspect there will be an extradition hearing, and it will get done.”

Adler joked that with a criminal defense attorney background and a TV photographer background, he [Adler himself] must be very conflicted about WikiLeaks.

Adler: “I can tell you with the contact I maintain with my friends who are intelligence officers that people have been affected by this. Careers have been destroyed in the foreign ministries. You can imagine what your boss would do if he found out what you really think about him. Lives have been devastated by this. I’m not aware of anyone having been killed, but to say that no one has been hurt — I don’t agree with that. It comes down to your responsibility to your fellow human being. I understand the concept of leaking, and frankly, I’m in favor of it; the government makes a lot of mistakes […] but people are at the heart of the” issue. “My problem with Mr. Assange is, I think Mr. Assange wants the story to be about Mr. Assange. For whatever reason Assange chose not to” redact sufficiently “but being anti-war and still being willing to risk their safety [i.e. safety of informants] — it seems to be a contradiction to me. Even Mr. Robertson said” about Sierra Leone “he was very concerned about sources coming forward with information and being killed.” [I didn’t hear clearly the part where Robertsont brought up Sierra Leone; that’s why it’s not included above. — DAL]

Adler: “There are tremendous parallels between being an intelligence officer and being a journalist. Mr. Assange’s method does more to endanger journalists. I think you go to the government and say, ‘We’re going to do this, but what do you have to say?’ It is the moral thing to do, but it also has a practical effect: [it makes it] less likely that the government is going to come after you. So just to willy-nilly throw yourself out there with these documents, I think, was a very unfortunate difference.”

Adler: “There is some value” in the WikiLeaks documents. “And I think there’s some deterrence value in having government employees concerned someone’s going to leak their misdeeds. Mr. Schmitt mentioned this CIA officer Kiriakou who was indicted just this past week. The similarity between his case and Mr. Assange’s case is he also wanted to be the center of the story.” Kiriakou “was clearly enjoying the publicity. By the same token, he could have done it the way that got the information out” without getting his name all in the press. “As a CIA officer we were very wary of sources who wanted to be the story. Number one, the information may be suspect. But number two, you may end up being clients of Don and myself. Look for the good information, publicize it when you think it’s appropriate, but do it in the appropriate manner. I don’t think disclosing the names in many of the instances is” the right way to do it.

Forestier: “One of the comments that Mr. Robertson made that I found to be very intriguing is whether or not the government needs to do a better job of keeping its secrets secret.”

DeGabrielle: There was the “Vanessa Leggett matter where a subpoena ‘was issued to someone who called herself a journalist. She was writing a book; she recorded a conversation in secret.” [DeGabrielle said more about this Leggett matter, but I couldn’t transcribe it quickly enough since I wasn’t familiar with the case. — DAL]

DeGabrielle: “Don’t think if you’re using a cell phone that the government doesn’t know what is going on.”

DeGabrielle: “I agree it’s a responsibility of the government to maintain the confidentiality it is swearing people into” [I missed the rest of this –DAL]

Forestier: “Lucy, can you share with us about the Valerie Plame affair?”

Dalglish: “Okay, that’s like my least favorite case of all time. You know, the parallels, I can’t draw too many parallels to that case because the Plame case was a situation where there was a lot of debate over whether yellow cake uranium, I think, was being gathered by Iranians. A columnist by the name of Robert Novak wrote a column” in which “he identified, in a kind of offhand way, that the former ambassador they sent to Niger was married to a CIA employee named Valerie Plame. The mention was almost gratuitous. In that particular case, I would distinguish them by saying the WikiLeaks case is a matter of the national intelligence agencies sitting down and being very, very concerned and having a kind of meltdown over the damage that could be done with the government. With the Plame case there is far more politics […] there was Scooter Libby, Karl Rove […] and multiple reporters involved in all of it; there were political columnists involved in all of it […] There just weren’t all that many similarities. Did the release of Valerie Plame’s name do incredible damage to her career? Yeah, it did. To this day I don’t understand why publishing her name was necessary.”

Adler: “From my years in the” intelligence community / CIA … When “someone in the family breaches that trust,” the family is “beyond furious. It’s like your wife or husband cheating on you; you’re that angry. With someone who’s made a member of ‘the Brotherhood,’ let’s say, would turn it around to get their name out there and risk people out there […] I think Obama has prosecuted six of these cases […] I don’t think it’s a decision made in the White House, I think it’s people in the national security agencies saying shut this down, it’s getting out of hand.” [Dalglish nodding her head.] “Manning and Drake will be the subject of CIA training videos. Although I agree the Plame thing was politically motivated because Joe Wilson, the ambassador who was sent over there, was a Clinton appointee.”

Dalglish: “Reporters were calling me and saying, ‘Doesn’t this Plame affair have a chilling effect on reporters?’ And I’d say, ‘Don’t you think that’s the point? Yeah.'”

Dalglish: “Mostly” protection for sources “involves staying off the phones, acting more like a CIA operative.” Your airline tickets and more are being tracked. “They are trying to track people who are leakers.” The government “will kind of ‘go back’ and look for the connections with the reporters who did the stories. It is kind of a lesson from the Plame-Cooper-Liddy-Rove case, and this is, when you’re communicating on your employer-owned communication devices, your employer is going to take the position that that information and that product belongs to them. And under the law that is probably true. So as Matt Cooper found out, after he fought the subpoena” TIME Magazine lost, and someone at TIME “thought he had the duty to turn it over. So TIME Magazine turned it over. So that’s another thing you guys have to pay very careful attention to. So Eric I’m sure knows all of this, and the NYT and David McCraw know all of this, and they’ve probably told everybody these things. Basically, stay off technology if you have somebody you seriously need to protect, particularly if they are in the national security world.”

DeGabrielle: “In the U.S. Attorney’s office, email is referred to as ‘evidence mail.’ We hear about horror stories of people who’ve said certain things in email, and they still don’t think about it, the confidentiality of the employees at a company, or even among the government. Electronic information is just cascading […] I think we’re going to have to redo some of the laws. This generation thinks there’s instant access to anything, so what’s the harm in reading something WikiLeaks has divulged? I would like to see” the matter raised: “does the public really need to know? Or are these salacious details that people would just like to hear about? Frankly, the people who are the decision-makers now are a bunch of dinosaurs who didn’t grow up with this, so they’re basing information on outdated information about what’s out there […] Everything is going to be available to everybody. I think David pointed out, and I think Lucy has said it as well, that the government probably classifies too much, and you get” agencies “that protect their turf. In a perfect world we’d have a super classification agency, one kind of ‘pinnacle’ that’d understand what it takes to get something classified. However, that’s impractical. No single group […] is going to be able to make that call.” The government “needs to think more in a sober fashion before they put that stamp on their confidential or their top secret or whatever it happens to be and think about it before the stamp goes down and why.”

Adler: “I gave a talk a while back to some civil lawyers titled ‘Delete Doesn’t.’ So not only should you not communicate” via technology, “but you shouldn’t think deleting” is sufficient. “Forensic people” who work for the intelligence agencies “are spectacular.”

Adler: “A quick story that illustrates how bizarre the government is with classifying things. When I was with the [CIA] agency, you have to put everything in your desk at night, [your] safe, lock it up. I had this friend who just had a blank piece of paper there and was stamping SECRET all over it [for fun]. When I got back the next day, there was the equivalent of a CIA speeding ticket on my desk! And the paper was blank!”

Forestier: “About post-9/11 integration of intelligence agencies to help one another … Do you want to comment on that, anyone?”

Adler: “The government bureaucracy does not — They’re not very good at the appropriate response to the problem. It’s all or nothing. After WikiLeaks they don’t want anyone to share. They swing back and forth between these extremes, and it takes a long time to work out the mechanics. I’m not surprised this Assange thing — and let’s be honest, there’s still rivalry between the FBI and the CIA, between the CIA and the State Department. ‘Those weanies over there don’t know what they’re doing, so we need not send something over there for fear it’ll make it over there to Assange.'”

Dalglish: “I can tell you that just being in Washington and talking to various people that the rage over this particular [WikiLeaks] incident, the folks I’ve spoken to, the rage seems to be mostly focused on the Pentagon. So honest to God, as an outsider who doesn’t know much about this […] it blows my mind that a twenty-two-year-old Army private with known psychological issues has access to information that two and a half million people.”

Adler: “I think that two and a half million figure is inaccurate. It’s more like 300,000 to 400,000.”

Dalglish: These groups “trying to co-ordinate publishing –” [Something I didn’t catch — DAL] “In most other parts of the world, reporters have a right to protect confidential sources, but they are subject to censorship” including in the UK. “But in the United States, they’re not going to block you from publishing unless it’s something extreme or imminent, but they do have the right under the law to come after your sources. So I would think that the publishing partners in the UK must have been apoplectic when the folks at the New York Times went to the government and said, ‘We’re about to publish it, what do you think?’ The Guardian must have been thinking, ‘Oh my God, the White House might call Downing Street” and tell them.

Schmitt (from the audience): “It did come up. The way it worked was, the lawyers got together and talked about it, and as long as the New York Times got together and talked about it, and as long as the New York Times published before the Guardian or before Der Spiegel, even if it was just a minute or two more, they were released from that obligation. By the time we got to that point, the Guardian was less concerned about the impact because the UK had realized this stuff is going to come out — it’s futile to block it.”

Adler: “That middle-ground […] It can be revealed to a journalist, but it can be done in a way that makes it difficult for Don’s old colleauges to come after you. Maybe I’ll make my fortune teaching spy tradecraft to journalists […] It may need to be journalist-source-lawyer more than it has been in the past; lawyers can’t go over the line and tell people how to break the law.” But “some of you who are at smaller outlets need to, maybe, contact Lucy’s organization and say, ‘Hey there’s this situation I’m facing; I don’t want to step on a landmine.'”

Dalglish: “There are several bills that are in Congress trying to adapt the Espionage Act. There are some significant efforts to rewrite it. I don’t think it will happen in the next few months because Congress is not doing anything at the moment.” But “they are spending a considerable amount of time on the Hill with media trying to make sure people in the media understand the government’s point of view on this particular issue.”

Conclusion.

Super Security Bros. (L to R: DeGabrielle, Schmitt, Adler)

I asked Dalglish after the panel what she thought of the argument that WikiLeaks is accountable since it depends on donations from the public. She thought the notion ridiculous and said legal accountability and financial accountability are distinct. After all, “people will buy anything.”

I asked Adler about the nascent US prosecution against Assange after the panel and he said to me one of the major issues surrounding the Assange case is whether “we [the United States] can drag his ass over here.” Obviously I don’t support that.

Creative Commons License

Houston Law and Media Seminar on WikiLeaks (January) #WLTex by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@douglaslucas.com.

WikiLeaks STRATFOR Leak — Are you in Austin? Contact me!

STRATFOR Emails Leak

WikiLeaks just released The Global Intelligence Files, five million-plus emails from global intelligence company Stratfor headquartered in Austin, Texas. OVER 9000 Over 25 media outlets working together.

I just wrote a piece on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange for Salon. Please contact me at once (dal@douglaslucas.com) if you’re in Austin and doing anything related to Stratfor and/or this leak. If there’s sufficient reason, I’m coming down there!

Hashtags for the leak: #giFiles and #giFind.

Creative Commons License

WikiLeaks STRATFOR Leak — Are you in Austin? Contact Me! by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@douglaslucas.com.

Literary Cablegate, Number 2 of Many

Clark Stoeckly‘s Wikileaks Truck on Flickr, Twitter

Second in a series of posts where I’m picking through WikiLeaks Cablegate for literary topics. See my first post in the series for an important introduction, and view the entire series here. At the time of my first Literary Cablegate post (then called Literary WikiLeaks), not all of Cablegate had been published; CablegateSearch.net showed 665 hits for the search term “literature” and 334 for the term “literary”. Now that all of Cablegate has been released (a.k.a. “Cablegate2”; see my remarks on the controversy surrounding the comprehensive Cablegate publication), CablegateSearch.net shows 1,214 hits for “literature” and 403 for “literary.”

I’m going through all of them.

I’m focusing only on cables where “literature” or “literary” is used in the sense of short stories, essays, the humanities, etc. So I’m mostly ignoring cables mentioning literature as in, say, campaign literature, or the medical literature for a malady (unless the cable mentions one of Oliver Sacks‘s highly literary case studies, you see?). Given the importance of intellectual property (or lack thereof) to free speech and the Internet, copyright and copyleft issues will be included as well. Literary Cablegate blog posts will feature about 8 cables each, starting from the most recently written cable. I’ll take on the 403 cable hits for “literary” first.

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Here we go!

  • The United States maintains an annual “Special 301 Report” that, in the words of the United States Trade Representative, reviews “the global state of intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement” and “reflects the Administration’s resolve to encourage and maintain effective IPR protection and enforcement worldwide.” The Report lists nations perceived as threats to copyright interests. Some nations wind up on the Watch List, and others on the more severe Priority Watch List. In a cable dated February 2010, the US Embassy in La Paz said Bolivia’s laws granted powerful intellectual property rights:

    the existing copyright law does protect literary, artistic, and scientific works for the lifetime of the author plus 50 years. Bolivian copyright protection includes the exclusive right to copy or reproduce works; to revise, adapt, or prepare derivative works; to distribute copies of works; and to publicly communicate works. Although the exclusive right to translate works is not explicitly granted, the law does prevent unauthorized adaptation, transformation, modification, and editing. The law also provides protection for software and databases.

    Compare the Bolivian law’s extreme length of copyright (50 years) to the US Pirate Party’s intent to reduce the length of copyright to 14 years and legalize all noncommercial sharing, and to the efforts of Creative Commons.

    Regardless of Bolivian law, the US Embassy noted, copyright was so laxly enforced in Bolivia that their

    Video, music, and software piracy rates are among the highest in Latin America, with the International Intellectual Property Alliance estimating that piracy levels have reached 100% for motion pictures and over 90% for recorded music. There are no legal sources of audio-visual materials in most of the country, since it would be impossible to compete with pirated products prices: in the capital of La Paz there is only one store that sells legal CDs. Bootleg CDs, DVDs, computer software, pharmaceutical products, and other goods are sold on street corners and in stores across the country.

    The Embassy blames the rampant piracy on Bolivia’s lack of human and financial resources to enforce copyright, and says pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to file patents in Bolivia due to fears of trade secret theft and counterfeiting. Despite all the piracy, the US Embassy suggests keeping Bolivia only on the Special 301 Report’s Watch List and not its Priority Watch List just so as not to frustrate Bolivia and thereby damage the copyright interests’ outreach efforts. In 2010 and 2011 Bolivia did remain on the ordinary Special 301 Watch List.

    (Original Cable “Special 301 La Paz Input” 10LAPAZ368.)

  • A February 2010 cable from Baghdad discusses the membership of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s State of Law Alliance (SLA), formed in October 2009 as, according to the cable, “a nationalist, non-sectarian political” group. The cable identifies Hassan Sunayd as one “key figure” of SLA, describing him as

    SLA candidate 4 in Dhi Qar. A well-known poet and literary figure in Iraq, Sunayd has been in Da’wa’s political bureau since the late 1980’s. A member of the previous COR’s Security and Defense Committee, he is Maliki’s closest friend, one of his security advisors and liaison to the KRG leadership. Having survived physical torture during the Saddam regime, he has used his position as spokesman for the SLA to rail against the threat of resurgent Ba’athism and was critical of purported U.S. efforts to interfere in the de-Ba’athification process.

    A somewhat substantial search of Google’s various resources as well as academic journals and US newspaper archives turned up no discussion of Hassan Sunayd’s literary background, with one minor exception. (Sometimes his first name is transliterated as Hasan, sometimes his last name as al-Sunayd.) According to an April 14, 2008 BBC transcript, Sunayd recited a poem at a ceremony held in Baghdad to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the martyrdom of Islamic scholar Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr. Sunayd is mentioned with some frequency as a spokesperson for the Iraqi government.

    Professor Hanan Hammad at the TCU History Department told me Sunayd used the pen name “Jawad Jamil (could be Jawwad Gamil). he lived in Iran in early eights along with members of al-Da’wa Islamist Party. his sister Balqis is also a poet, but with the Communist party. nothing indicate that he’s a great poet/ intellectual.” My searches for his pen name turn up nothing.

    (Original Cable “Coalition Profile: Pm Maliki’s State Of Law Alliance” 10BAGHDAD499)

  • The US State Department maintains an annual Trafficking in Persons Report to “engage foreign governments on human trafficking” and as a resource for “governmental anti-human trafficking efforts.” In a February 2010 cable, the first of three parts (part 2, part 3), the US Embassy in Paris gave its input for the tenth annual report. The cable notes “France prosecutes French nationals who travel abroad to engage in child sexual tourism” and goes on to say

    Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand faced criticism during the reporting period related to his 2005 literary work, which included depictions of sexual tourism in Asia. In “The Bad Life,” Mitterrand details the experiences of an unnamed protagonist with so-called “boys” in the brothels of Thailand. Facing pressure to resign for engaging in sexual tourism before he joined the government, Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand stated during an October 8, 2009 television interview that he had never had sex with a minor. “Each time I was with people who were my age, or were five years younger,” the 62 year-old Mitterrand said, adding: “I condemn sexual tourism, which is a disgrace. I condemn pedophilia in which I have never participated in any way.”

    The Guardian extends Miterrand’s quote a sentence: “The book is in no way an apology for sex tourism, even if one chapter is a journey through that hell, with all the fascination that hell can inspire.” The BBC termed Mitterrand’s book an “autobiographical novel” and said the scandal would have brought him down in other countries, “not because he is gay, but because there is an inconsistency between a government committed to fighting sex tourism and a minister who has been a sex tourist. But in France, where a belief in the right to privacy and a liberal view on sex are both near sacrosanct, many believe it would be hypocritical to hound Frederic Mitterrand from office.”

    The cable says France prosecutes child sex tourism, and Mitterand claims he was involved with people basically his age. More importantly, the book is, autobiographically based or not, a work of fiction. How much of it is true to Mitterrand’s life is therefore hard to evaluate beyond educated guessing. Mother Jones, reviewing the book, says the French right wing targetted Mitterand by quoting the book out of context. The Mother Jones reviewer makes the book sound pretty good:

    The Bad Life is a stunningly candid and beautiful book. Described by its author as an “autobiography which is half real and half dreamed,” it recounts his life as a child of privilege born into Paris’s haut bourgeois sixteenth arrondissement, his experience of homosexuality, and a number of deeply felt personal relationships. Much of this is set in a social milieu of movie stars, politicians, renowned artists, and other public figures. […]

    The Bad Life is an intimate, courageous memoir in which Mitterrand is brutally honest not only about himself, but with himself. If it includes a few sordid accounts of a homosexual underworld that some would rather not be asked to consider, it does so within a larger portrait of one man’s life and desires, a nuanced collection of affecting incidents examined with an unsparing eye.

    The entire scandal was complicated by Mitterrand’s defending Roman Polanski shortly beforehand, demanding the director be released after arrest in Switzerland over his US conviction for sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Yet again, the publisher calls The Bad Life a “novel inspired by autobiography.” You don’t take Philip K. Dick’s autobiographical novel VALIS as definitive proof of anything, do you? Or Dostoevsky’s The House of the Dead. Writers build off their own experience, but don’t exactly replicate it in fiction. No crime was shown here. Mitterrand is still in office.

    (Original Cable “France: Input For The 2010 Trafficking In Persons Report (part 1 Of 3)” 10PARIS196)

  • A February 2010 cable from the Consulate Shenyang US Embassy in China noted traffic across the border between China and North Korea. “For all the talk about frozen trade between the DPRK [North Korea] and China,” the cable says, the Consulate General Office noted people crossing the border talking business and culture. For example,

    At the train station many different groups of North Koreans were seen waiting to take the train up to Shenyang [China]. On board, a middle-aged North Korean female trader was reading a Sino-Korean literary journal and a Dandong business weekly.

    The apparent significance for the Office is the interest North Koreans show in the Chinese, as evidenced in part by the Sino-Korean literary journal. One wonders which journal the woman was reading. In the United States, “literary journal” tends to mean a venue for highbrow literary work, as opposed to a “magazine,” which can run the gamut of literary taste classifications.

    (Original Cable “Prc-dprk Border: Amcit Crossers, Trade Push, Border Smuggling, Regional Growth” 10SHENYANG21)

  • A February 2010 cable from Berlin discusses German copyright law in the context of foreign investment in Germany.

    Germany is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Germany is also a party to the major international intellectual property protection agreements: the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Universal Copyright Convention, the Geneva Phonograms Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Brussels Satellite Convention, and the Treaty of Rome on Neighboring Rights. […]

    Germany has signed the WIPO Internet treaties and ratified them in 2003. Foreign and German rights holders, however, remain critical of provisions in the German Copyright Act that allow exceptions for private copies of copyrighted works. Most rights holder organizations regard German authorities’ enforcement of intellectual property protections as sufficient, although problems persist due to lenient court rulings in some cases and the difficulty of combating piracy of copyrighted works on the Internet.

    The Berne Convention — spelled Bern or Berne — was instigated by the writer Victor Hugo in the late 19th century. It says copyright is established when the creator puts the work into fixed form, bypassing the need for registration. The Berne Convention also establishes a minimum term of 50 years after the author’s death for written works. Cory Doctorow talks a bit about the Berne Convention in this Guardian article.

    (Original Cable “Germany – Revised Investment Climate Statement 2010” 10BERLIN166)

  • A February 2010 cable from Geneva and the US Trade Representative discusses January 2010’s 7th Working Party meeting on Yemen’s Accession to the World Trade Organization, the in-progress effort to enter Yemen into the WTO. In a section about trading rights, the cable noted

    The US and EU had additional concerns about certain requirements that only Yemeni nationals could be granted the technical clearance needed to import medicines, medical equipment, fertilizers, pesticides, books, newspapers, audiovisual and other artistic literary works, and requested that the Trading Rights Action Plan be updated to include information on these technical clearance requirements.

    I suspect the technical clearance for Yemeni nationals who regulate the import of “artistic literary works” involves Yemen’s prohibition against the import of “Any item offensive to Muslim culture.” (Yemen’s population is 98% Muslim.) Reporters Without Borders ranks Yemen within the bottom 10 of all nations for press freedom. This might or might not be relevant: a May 25, 2009 piece in the Yemen Times by Dr. A. K. Sharma said if “a nation has to import and export not only goods and commodities but also knowledge and skills, it has got to have an army of well-equipped and professionally competent translators.” Currently Yemen isn’t a member of the WTO.

    (Original Cable “7th Working Party Meeting On Yemen’s Accession To The Wto Held January 26, 2010” 10USTRGENEVA12)

  • A February 2010 cable from Beijing discussing the climate for foreign investment into China notes the country is a member of the Berne Convention (discussed above).

    (Original Cable “2010 Investment Climate Statement – China” 10BEIJING303)

  • Another February cable discussing the climate for foreign investment, this time from the Colombo embassy, notes Sri Lanka is a party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (discussed above). Original literary works are protected under a 2003 Sri Lanka copyright law that was “intended to meet both U.S.-Sri Lanka bilateral IPR agreement and TRIPS obligations to a great extent.” In a January 2003 article for Daily Variety, an entertainment-industry trade magazine, Bryan Pearson said the new law aimed to crack down on piracy; pirating software was “not illegal in Sri Lanka,” Pearson wrote, and the island was a “paradise for fraudulent imports.”

    (Original Cable “Investment Climate Statement, 2010 – Sri Lanka” 10COLOMBO72)

  • Creative Commons License

    Literary Cablegate, Number 2 of Many by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@douglaslucas.com.