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Wikileaks, Hactivism, and Government: An Information War


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Given the exhaustive plethora of information regarding Wikileaks, Anonymous, and the U.S. Government, this is a comparatively superficial overview of the impact of Information Warfare on the Internet and our rights.

My apologies for the somewhat informal research aesthetic.

Published in: Technology, News & Politics
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Wikileaks, Hactivism, and Government: An Information War

  1. 1. Thomas Jones | School of Information Studies | Syracuse UniversityWikileaks, Hacktivism, and Government: An Information WarIntroductionGenerally speaking, we are all aware of our civil rights as we know them - since they areexperienced, exercised, and protected in real life. However, the emergence of the Internetand evolving, advanced web technologies push the boundaries of whether these real life,or “offline” rights can be exercised to the same extent, and respective context, “online”within the Internet’s “digital domain.” Not only are the issues surrounding digital civilrights in somewhat uncharted waters, this is a relatively new and emerging area of law incomparison, and one where we are not privy to several hundred years of legal precedent.This is an area of law that must redefine, or at least reconsider, real world laws in aslightly different context - one aligned within the virtual world of the Internet. At timestraditional law has been upheld in its most absolute form, in other circumstances newlegislation has been introduced and passed into law, bridging the divide between theonline and offline environments. The results establish a new precedent for a newenvironment - our digital (civil) rights on the Internet.The issue at hand secondarily (indirectly) involves Bradley Manning, an Army soldierarrested and accused of allegedly uploading 250,000 U.S. Government classified (Secret)intelligence cables (messages), more commonly known as “diplomatic cables” toWikileaks - an international nonprofit whistleblower website founded in 2006. This eventwas dubbed “Cablegate” by the media. At the time of this writing the case is ongoing, andyet to be proven is if Private Manning was indeed the actor who released (uploaded)classified cables to Wikileaks. Without such proof, subsequent assertions or accusationsof treason or espionage, mostly from the politically conservative right wing, are largelyirrelevant. Even with such proof, subject matter experts have opined its presence may stillrender accusations irrelevant based on existing precedent.It is beyond contestation that releasing classified information without authorization isconcretely illegal. While Private Manning is an alleged direct actor in the WikileaksCablegate incident, his direct actions are not necessarily the forefront of the currentsocio-technical movement, and thus not the foundation here.This topic of discussion involves the affect and Manning’s alleged actions have had onthe Internet, journalism, digital (civil) rights, domestic and foreign policy. Because of itsunique nature, “Cablegate” has subsequently challenged the bounds of our FirstAmendment rights. Undoubtedly, the information revealed by the publication ofclassified cables has challenged the authenticity and validity of our own democracy,while simultaneously inciting political action, democratic and undemocratic, in countriesaround the world. The aforementioned issues are difficult to describe or categoricallyqualify, but is best singularly described as a momentum, a culture movement, an ideal.Wikileaks, Hacktivism, and Government: An Information War
  2. 2. Thomas Jones | School of Information Studies | Syracuse UniversityA single alleged act by Private Manning has transformed not only an entire discussion,but the medium itself in which the discussion is held; it has challenged our most sacredand coveted rights down to their core.This war on information against Wikileaks takes place against an entity that has yet to be“charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted.” Most importantly, this war oninformation is occurring within a transnational medium that connects people andgovernments across the world - the Internet.The ConflictThe conflict surrounding Wikileaks mostly encompasses First Amendment rights. On oneside are non-State actors - the users of the Internet - both content creators and informationconsumers. On the other side are State actors - the U.S. Government. Though theseparties can be extended further, neither content creation or consumption is bounded bygeographic location as the Internet is a transnational presence. This is a problematicscenario for State actors whose jurisdiction does have geographically bounded limitationsof authority.It seems vague and perhaps draconian to declare opposing parties of this war oninformation between Internet users and the U.S. Government (USG); it has eeryconnotations of Revolutionary War-esq sentiments. However, there is some truth to thematter revolving around different mechanisms to silence or prevent access to informationfor purposes of publication or consumption. The transnational nature of Wikileaks, letalone the Internet, even further compounds this issue.Wikileaks is not hosted in the United States, thus out of USG legal jurisdiction, butreaders of said website are located in the U.S., as are some of the Internet and financialintermediaries that facilitate Wikileaks’ existence. As the case in warfare nearly since itsinception, the key to defeating nearly any enemy is to cut off its supply source. While theUSG is unable to legally force such an action, and unable to attack a transnationalpresence directly, influencing opposing party’s intermediaries is initially the mosteffective, and most logical way forward. This will turn out to be the pebble in the shoe forWikileaks, but a much larger thorn in the side for the USG as they will soon discover.Enter the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit civil liberties organizationdedicated to civil rights in the digital domain. The EFF subsequently represents Wikileaksagainst many Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) of State (and non-State) actorsinflicting its power upon a digital presence. Other forms of support in defendingWikileaks (Anonymous’ various operations) are discussed later in this document.The EFF has been involved in many cases surrounding the defense of Wikileaks on thebasis that “Wikileaks has highlighted important issues about government transparency onWikileaks, Hacktivism, and Government: An Information War
  3. 3. Thomas Jones | School of Information Studies | Syracuse Universitythe free expression rights of online publishers and the unimpeded flow of information onthe Internet. While there is heated controversy about its tactics and publication choices,EFF supports the fundamental right of Wikileaks and similar websites to publish truthfulpolitical content — and the fundamental right of users to read that content.”We must remember that Wikileaks is a whistleblower website, and its function existedlong before Private Manning and the famous Cablegate issue at hand. In February 2006,Wikileaks released leaked documents of banking transactions of Bank Julius Baercustomers. The bank sued Wikileaks and its domain name registrar, Dynadot LLC, whichis located in the United States. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, a federal court issued apermanent injunction disabling the domain name - effectively removingthe website from the Internet. This isn’t usually terribly restrictive given the number ofdomain name registrars in the world, however the court also prevented that domain namefrom being transferred to any other registrar. This completely paralyzed theorganization’s ability to publish information or operate in any capacity. After EFF and theAmerican Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) engaged the court on First Amendment grounds,the judge dissolved the previous order and the Wikileaks domain was active once again.The bank subsequently moved to dismiss the case. Unfortunately this was only thebeginning of such TTPs.As the EFF lists, Wikileaks has since published much more controversial and sensitiveinformation regarding the U.S., specifically:"Collateral Murder" - a video depicting a United State Apache helicopter firing oncivilians in New Baghdad in 2007 killing several people including two employees of thenews agency Reuters.The Afghan War Diary - over 91,000 field reports from the war in Afghanistan rangingfrom 2004 to 2010.The Iraq War Logs - 391,832 field reports from the war and occupation in Iraq.United States Embassy Cables - also known as Cablegate — a collection of cablesexchanged between the State Department and U.S. diplomatic embassies worldwide.Over 250,000 cables are slated to be release in small batches over several months”In response to unofficial government pressure from the publication of Cablegate,financial intermediaries like VISA, MasterCard, and Paypal shut down electronicdonations to Wikileaks, yet oddly continued to allow donations to well known hate-groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Panther Party. Neither have they takensimilar action against professional news organizations such as the New York Times orThe Guardian which have released many more classified diplomatic cables thanWikileaks.Wikileaks, Hacktivism, and Government: An Information War
  4. 4. Thomas Jones | School of Information Studies | Syracuse UniversityThe difficulty to understand here is that our First Amendment, as surmised and titled inan autobiography of the First Amendment by Anthony Lewis - a Pulitzer Prize winnerand renowned Supreme Court journalist - is measured by “The Freedom for the ThoughtThat We Hate.” In other words a disdain for one’s speech, and even further ideals, are notgrounds for censorship or legal recourse by State or non-State actors. However, it doesnot entitle nor ensure participation of others, like the intermediaries aforementioned, fromfurthering your cause. The result, through analytical logic, is that said intermediaries havemade a cognizant and targeted effort to selectively inhibit the fiscal stability of Wikileaks.Similarly, financial services were also cut off to the legal defense team of Julian Assange,the founder of Wikileaks, by the same organizations, which as a result froze existingfunds.Introducing AnonymousIn response to the discriminatory actions of these financial intermediaries, Anonymous, aloose knit but well organized and extremely talented hacktivist organization, launchedOperation Payback - a not all inclusive dedicated denial of service attack (DDoS) onVISA, MasterCard, Amazon, and PayPal among others rendering their websites useless.As John Perry Barlow, founding member of the EFF described it, these attacks were “theshot heard round the world - this is Lexington.” It was as if the USG and financialintermediaries awakened a sleeping giant - what seems to be the representative soul andspirit of the Internet.The USG and aforementioned corporations just picked a fight with a transnational cyberorganization - a fight that remains to be seen if the USG can win. According to “ADeclaration of the Independence of CyberSpace,” Anonymous succinctly warns the USGthat:We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one; therefore we address youwith no greater authority than that with which liberty it always speaks... You have nomoral right to rule us, nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have truereason to fear... Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us,nor do you know our world. The Internet does not lie within your borders.As for any recourse against Anonymous, Evgeny Morozov, an internationally renownedscholar of the socio-political impacts of the Internet and technology, offers thiscommentary:Wikileaks, Hacktivism, and Government: An Information War
  5. 5. Thomas Jones | School of Information Studies | Syracuse University I seriously doubt that U.S. authorities would be able to effectively go after Anonymous,in part because there are too many people involved, they are scattered all over the globe,and attributing cyber-attacks to them would be impossible...As far as long-term developments are concerned, I think that much depends on whetherthe WikiLeaks saga would continue being a debate about freedom of expression,government transparency or whistle-blowing or whether it would become a nearly-paranoid debate about the risks to national security. Anonymous is playing with fire, forthey risk tipping the balance toward the latter interpretation -- and all the policy leversthat come with it.That said, I dont think that their (Anonymous) attacks are necessarily illegal or immoral.As long as they dont break into other peoples computers, launching DDoS should not betreated as a crime by default; we have to think about the particular circumstances inwhich such attacks are launched and their targets. I like to think of DDoS as equivalentsof sit-ins: both aim at briefly disrupting a service or an institution in order to make apoint. As long as we dont criminalize all sit-ins, I dont think we should aim atcriminalizing all DDoS...The danger here is obviously that if the narrative suddenly becomes dominated bynational security concerns, we can forget about DDoS as legitimate means of expressiondissent -- that possibility would be closed, as they would be criminalized.Back to the ConflictOther TTPs were also noted - a seemingly State-sponsored DDoS attack on website. A denial-of-service attack occurs when groups of computersknown as “bot-nets” comprised of hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands ofcomputers all attempt to access a website at once, ultimately suffocating the web serversability to display the website to each computer request, in effect making the websiteinaccessible. Such an act to take a website offline is clearly an attempt to silence thefreedoms of press, speech, and expression, as well as secondarily, the right to organize.This resulted in a rapid, mind-boggling mirror (copy) of the Wikileaks site onapproximately 750 domains (other websites) in just a few short days. This makes attackson the availability of the information on Wikileaks, now hosted across the world,exponentially more difficult if not impossible.Aside from Wikileaks fighting to sustain its own operations against Internet and financialintermediaries, we observed this assault on information spill over directly into the publicsphere. Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) went sofar as to warn their students not to mention, access, or link to Wikileaks if they hope tohave a chance of obtaining a job with the State Department, or other forms of governmentservice. Columbia quickly reversed its previous guidance on the back of SIPA ProfessorWikileaks, Hacktivism, and Government: An Information War
  6. 6. Thomas Jones | School of Information Studies | Syracuse UniversityGary Sick, the prominent Middle East expert who served on the National SecurityCouncil under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan. He repudiated that, “If anyone is amaster’s student in international relations and they haven’t heard of WikiLeaks and gonelooking for the documents that relate to their area of study, then they don’t deserve to be agraduate student in international relations.”Another example involves an astonishing display of what I can only describe, figurativelyand literally, as a ponzi scheme of stupid. Lawyers from the U.S. Air Force’s MaterialCommand sent a memo outlined by stating, “Airmen who read the purloinedclassified cables on their home computers — not even government owned or issueddevices — could be prosecuted for “dereliction of duty.” And that’s just for starters.WikiLeaks viewership could mean “prosecution for violation of espionage under theEspionage Act.”But as noted, it didn’t stop there. The same lawyers also said, “[I]f a familymember of an Air Force employee accesses WikiLeaks on a home computer, the familymember may be subject to prosecution for espionage under U.S. Code Title 18 Section793 ... The Air Force member would have an obligation to safeguard the informationunder the general guidance to safeguard classified information.”The Air Force then blocked web access to Wikileaks on its network after threats ofcourts-martial to prevent further information dissemination regarding Wikileaks orCablegate. Confusingly enough, it has also blocked web access to the New York Timeswhich has published [sanitized] classified cables from Wikileaks. But ironically, the AirForce has not banned the sale of the New York Times newspapers on its bases, norconfiscated the papers from Airmen in possession of the paper at work or home. Perhapswhat makes the least sense is the general position of the Pentagon - our enemies can readWikileaks, but our troops cannot.Experts weighed in specifically on guidance released by the Air Force MaterialCommand lawyers, most notably William K. Bosanko, Director of the InformationSecurity Oversight Office saying, “That has to be one of the worst policy/legalinterpretations I have seen in my entire career.” Other legal experts vigorously reject thepremise and legitimacy of Assange, Wikileaks, or any reader of publications thereofbeing charged under the Espionage Act given the legal precedent set by the “PentagonPapers,” defending the freedom of press and the right to publish truthful political content.In a shocking (and thankful) return to reality, the U.S. Air Force Material Commandsubsequently reversed its position on the Wikileaks matter, even conceding that militarycomputers won’t get wiped due to accessing the site - a fairly ludicrous reaction in thefirst place.Wikileaks, Hacktivism, and Government: An Information War
  7. 7. Thomas Jones | School of Information Studies | Syracuse UniversityIn a similar circumstance, Daniel Ellsberg, the source of the “Pentagon Papers” - thelargest disclosure of U.S. Government classified documents prior to Wikileaks - alsobegan republishing documents from the Iraq and Afghan wars, originally published byWikileaks. After direct pressure from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), cloudhosting services began censoring Mr. Ellsberg’s website, which garnered further publicsupport for Mr. Ellsberg, and ultimately backfired against Amazon. Senator Liebermanhas since introduced Anti-Wikileaks legislation into Congress.We have observed various disproportional aggressions toward civil rights protections andhow they apply, in any extent, to the Internet. At a minimum, there are governmentalparties that want to challenge how these protections apply to the Internet. We must askourselves “what makes websites on the Internet any different than print news or mediaorganizations?” “Why censor the web, but not print when the web is an extension ofprint, and an extension of a voice, let alone a collective voice?”Ultimately, the fact remains that it is not the job of the press to protect corporations orgovernment from embarrassment. The press, by virtue and vehicle of the Internet,balances the distribution of power by way of access to information. For hundreds of yearsthese rights have been vigorously protected offline, what remains to be seen is if they willbe protected as equally online.Laws and PrecedentA noninclusive list of legal precedent relative to Wikileaks publication of Cablegate,revolves around the “Pentagon Papers,” the United Nations Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights, and the Espionage Act of 1917.We must realize that our First Amendment rights not only protect the freedom of the press- the freedom to write, to speak, to exercise expression - but inversely protects the right toread, thus the complication with removing a website by any method from the Internet.The protection of a free press and other first amendment rights were concretelyestablished in the “Pentagon Papers” case, a lawsuit between the New York Times and theU.S. Government. The U.S. Government sued the New York Times for publishingclassified documents relating to the U.S. political-military involvement in Vietnam from1945-1967. The papers revealed that the Johnson Administration had lied to the publicand Congress on a subject of national interest. The Supreme Court stood by right of thepress to publish the information in a 6-3 majority vote.Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights addresses thetransnational nature of the issue at hand. It declares the right to information as aninalienable right stating, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression;Wikileaks, Hacktivism, and Government: An Information War
  8. 8. Thomas Jones | School of Information Studies | Syracuse Universitythis right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, andimpart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”The Espionage Act has become a rather sharp thorn for most opponents of Wikileaks. TheEFF was able to post a memo by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The CRS’role is to provide policy and legal analysis to committees and members of both the Houseand Senate, regardless of party affiliation. Within the topic at hand, CRS’ role was to“provide comprehensive discussion of the laws under which the Wikileaks publishers —or anyone else who obtains or publishes the documents, be it you or the New York Times— might be prosecuted and the First Amendment problems that such a prosecution wouldlikely raise.” The summary of the memo states:“This report identifies some criminal statutes that may apply [to dissemination ofclassified documents], but notes that these have been used almost exclusively to prosecuteindividuals with access to classified information (and a corresponding obligation toprotect it) who make it available to foreign agents, or to foreign agents who obtainclassified information unlawfully while present in the United States. Leaks of classifiedinformation to the press have only rarely been punished as crimes, and we are aware ofno case in which a publisher of information obtained through unauthorized disclosure bya government employee has been prosecuted for publishing it. There may be FirstAmendment implications that would make such a prosecution difficult, not to mentionpolitical ramifications based on concerns about government censorship.”The Political CompassIt is difficult to identify whether the conflict is based on different ideological ornormative views. The publication of truthful political content is unquestionably critical tothe success and longevity of a diplomatic and democratic government. But mostopposition to Wikileaks has come from the conservative right wing as it sees publicationof national secrets a threat to national security - economically, diplomatically, andmilitarily - rightly so in many ways.However, the Cablegate messages didn’t just exploit our intelligence operations, it alsodid so of other countries which include our allies and enemies. This can be advantageousto the conservative right wing if accepted as a military advantage, yet one cannot take asingular position both for and against this issue - the duplexity conflicts with logicalconsistency. In other words we, cannot have our cake and ice cream, too. At this point wesee the paradox created when our diplomatic stability is made vulnerable byconstitutional protection. A tangled web we weave indeed.The concept of rights, specifically the Utilitarian view of rights, is the fundamentalbackbone of why this case is so central to every American. The right to information asconsidered by the United Nations are deemed inalienable, and are applicable to everyoneWikileaks, Hacktivism, and Government: An Information War
  9. 9. Thomas Jones | School of Information Studies | Syracuse Universityin the world. These “negative” or “forbearance” rights can only be ensured by placing arestriction on other actors. This ensures your ability to live and exercise your rightswithout encroachment from other actors.Manipulating the ability to access information is clearly an encroachment on anindividual’s rights, and depending on the type of government, it can extend to a nation’srights. Our First Amendment guarantees public access to information, and thus enablesthe public to leverage the reach, and severity of any encroachment of Governmentactions. This not only enables, but supports the concept of a limited government.Food for ThoughtHow does one resolve a war on civil liberties that extends transnationally through amedium such as the Internet? We as a Government and as a people must begin byaccepting that we cannot control persons determined to release information. Technology,its security, and lifecycle are always evolving in a never-ending game. We cannot rely ontechnology alone, and we cannot rely on people alone. We must in turn rely on a balancedframework that defines and protects digital rights under existing constitutionalprotections. We must find a way to balance the framework of government with that ofgovernance - certainly a difficult task.We must begin with education and access to the content that educates. The people of amature, civil, and democratic society cannot afford for senior judiciaries, senators, orelected representatives to make decisions based on subject matter they clearly do notunderstand, comprehend, or have the desire to do so. The future talent of this countrymust be cultivated with an understanding of how central and immersive the Internet is tothe daily operation of government, governance, and lives of its constituents.We must recognize that information warfare by way of “leaks” are tacticallyadvantageous, and help leverage a distribution of power between polar opposites, evenwithin the balance of our own government. This is one of the underlying premises of theWhistleblower Protection Act of 2007.We must accept that minimizing our sensitive information footprint, while not disclosingState secrets or reducing our information standards, reduces both the risk of a leak andthe diplomatic effects of its impact. We must rethink how we classify our information,and how our information helps to balance our diplomatic, political, economic, andmilitary posture around the world.We must rethink how we approach information and redefine how information contributesto governmental transparency; this is a critical underpinning and fundamental obligationof a responsible democratic society. We must accept that transparency in informationWikileaks, Hacktivism, and Government: An Information War
  10. 10. Thomas Jones | School of Information Studies | Syracuse Universityenables checks and balances, the spirit upon which our governmental structure wasfounded and work diligently to protect it.The Internet is a medium that allows for the right of a free people to communicate,organize, speak, listen, and read. Failure to protect this institution and the rights of thosewho access it suppresses the voice of a free people, and the more wars waged oninformation - whether to create or consume - will suppress these people, and if we havelearned anything from the history of our country, our people will rise and rise again untillambs become lions, this is our spirit, it is who we are.There is nothing more powerful for any government than the strength and conviction ofits people, and it begins by protecting the Internet.Wikileaks, Hacktivism, and Government: An Information War