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Resistance From a Cage: Julian Assange Speaks to Norwegian Journalist Eirik Vold

In News on March 1, 2013 at 1:50 PM

ja

03/01/2013

This is an exclusive English translation of an interview published Saturday, February 16, 2013, in the Norwegian news outlet Dagens Næringsliv.

Julian Assange is the itinerant hacker from the Australian Outback who gave the world the biggest leak of secret documents in history. Seven months into his embassy asylum, the cyber crusade for transparency goes on.

This is not the first time that WikiLeaks has come under attack, Assange tells me.

“We had been through a couple of fights. With a commander at the Guantanamo base. We were sued by a Swiss bank. One of my cryptographer friends was ambushed by intelligence agents in a parking lot in Luxembourg. They tried to make him tell them things about WikiLeaks.”

A cryptographer friend? Does that sound a bit like having a “hobbit friend” to you? Then let this be a warning: If you are not used to a modern Internet vocabulary, the story of Julian Assange is full of characters that may seem like they are out of a science fiction novel: cryptographer friends with vital secrets looking over their shoulders in order not to get caught; eccentric professors about to conjure up a quantum mechanics machine with the power to destroy all of cyberspace if it falls into the wrong hands; tiny torrent files, floating around in abstract space, unintelligible and meaningless when separated, but powerful information packages able to knock down governments if sewn together the right way and delivered to the masses. And they are all real and alive. Just as real and alive as the Swedish prosecutors and their extradition request for Assange or the CIA agents on a mission to stop WikiLeaks from leaking – as real as the heavy wooden door I just opened on my way into the Ecuadorian embassy in London and then shut carefully behind me. Aside from the will of a controversial South American president, that door is now the only barrier between Julian Assange and me on the inside, and the police officer from Scotland Yard (London Metropolitan Police) waiting patiently on the outside with handcuffs, a gun and orders to arrest and deport my interviewee.

Travelers in the Australian Outback

“I do what I do because I saw the opportunity,” Assange says. “Because I was born in a Western country, with the necessary education and material resources. And because I care about these issues.”

Don’t even bother to ask if he became the world’s most famous leaker and the West’s number-one dissident because of his special family background and childhood in the Australian Outback.

“I really don’t like that approach,” he says.

But Assange does have a special background. He was born on July 3, 1971, in the medium-sized town of Townsville on the tropical northern coast of Australia. The French-sounding surname, Assange, is said to be an Anglification of the Chinese name Ah Sang. A Taiwanese pirate, it is said, brought that surname to Australia. Assange grew up with his mother. They lived in hiding for about five years due to a conflict over the custody of Julian’s half brother and moved about 30 times before Julian was 14.

Some describe Assange as a distrustful person, at times bordering on paranoid. Is that why he started the interview by asking me questions about my Spanish, as he heard me make small talk with someone who I thought was an Ecuadorian embassy employee?

“Where did you learn your Spanish? Why do you speak with a Cuban accent?”

His voice and body language, however, reveal curiosity rather than distrust. Assange has always asked questions – and was always willing to go all the way to get the answers.

Meet Mendax

It was during his youth that Assange started to take advantage of the opportunities that come from growing up in a First World country: literacy, sufficient money to buy a computer, and access to the Internet. Meet Mendax, the online pseudonym of the 16-year-old hacker Julian Assange. Today Assange is seen by many as the world’s first great “ethical hacker.” His hacker team, called “the international subversives” had strict rules for their activities: “Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information.” Others believe the pseudonym Mendax, which is Latin for “deceitful,” is the most precise way of describing Assange’s personality. Everyone, however, seems to agree that he was an extremely talented hacker.

In 2002, Assange entered the university. With his restless nature, he went through two different universities and jumped between natural sciences, philosophy and neuroscience. The grades he obtained were rather mediocre, but one particular experience proved decisive.

“I became critical of the academy. Mathematics in the university was financed by the US government and military establishment. We had to work with mathematical models that were used to make military bulldozers, such as were deployed in Iraq and employed by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes. There were quantum mechanical models that could be used for mass espionage on the Internet.”

No academic title came out of Assange’s university studies in Canberra and Melbourne. But the typical hacker outlook – rebellious, but apolitical – went through a deep metamorphosis. Faced with what Assange calls “the ivory tower’s connections to economic power relations on the ground” and global geopolitics, Mendax merged with the political consciousness of Assange the university student.

The result was WikiLeaks.

In 2006, a year after Assange strolled out of campus for the last time, WikiLeaks was founded in the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik. During WikiLeaks’ first years, Assange traveled between international conferences with geeky names like Chaos Communications Congress. WikiLeaks arranged meetings and Assange would talk to the journalists who bothered to listen. Meanwhile, the WikiLeaks staff silently stretched its probing tentacles through cyberspace in its search for secrets. Big secrets.

The Rebel Library

January 8, 2010 – the WikiLeaks Twitter account posts a request for help in decrypting a video about a “U.S. bomb strike on civilians ” Three months later, the world witnessed a pristine video recording from 2007 of two Apache artillery helicopters attacking a group of defenseless Iraqis, among them two Reuters press photographers, with 30 millimeter anti-armor ammunition.

“The Collateral Murder video became the iconic video of the Iraq war,” says Assange proudly.

But we had seen nothing yet. During 2010, WikiLeaks released three more enormous leaks: The Afghan War Diary, in which US military servicemen provide the naked truth about NATO’s killing of Afghan civilians, lies, secrecy and support for a corrupt undemocratic Afghan regime; a similar package from Iraq, called the Iraq War Logs, and finally, Cablegate, a collection of cables sent between Washington and US embassies in 274 countries, dating from 1966 to 2010.

Assange explained how US foreign policy was exposed as violent and dishonest, how the revelations made the ground shake beneath corrupt and oppressive regimes and corporations all over the world and stimulated revolutions, as in Tunisia, and reformist movements in Ghana and Kenya.

WikiLeaks is “a rebel library of Alexandria,” Assange declares, making a parallel to the largest known library of classical antiquity.

“With Cablegate, we have provided the largest geopolitical encyclopedia of how the world actually works that ever existed. It’s really hard to think of anything in modern times that comes close to this.”

Assange paints in grandiose words, but insistently backs them up with numbers. All together, the three releases contain more than 700,000 documents. With its 251,276,536 words, Cablegate alone constitutes the greatest package of classified material ever released.

Has he read all the documents?

“No, but I’ve read thousands, many thousands.”

“It’s too much; it’s impossible to read it all, or get the full overview of all the revelations. But the impact all over the world is enormous. Every single one of our releases causes thousands of reactions, and they always give people more insight,” he says.

The chase begins. Assange has still not revealed how WikiLeaks got the Collateral Murder video decrypted. Presumably, one of his cryptographer friends had something to do with it. But in the Pentagon, eyes turned to a young American soldier on duty in Iraq. On May 26, 2010, Private Bradley Manning was arrested.

“We started to realize that the heat was really coming down on us,” Assange says. And it certainly was.

“We were tipped off that we were being followed. Journalists reported about US pressure on different countries – Germany and Australia – to make them prosecute us legally. There were public calls for my assassination from leading American politicians; proposals for laws that WikiLeaks be declared a terrorist organization. The Pentagon announced that it had put together a task force of 120 defense and intelligence personnel. The CIA and the FBI had theirs, too,” he says.

In the United States, WikiLeaks’ domain name in California was shut down. Bank of America announced that all transactions dealing with WikiLeaks would be blocked. Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, Western Union and Amazon followed. German tax authorities started to investigate WikiLeaks.

“Friends of mine were stopped and interrogated in airports. People who only had remote connections to WikiLeaks started to lose jobs and contracts,” he says.

But the FBI may have been closer than Assange imagined. In 2011, the Bureau sent a group of agents in a private jet to Iceland. Without the knowledge of the government of Iceland, the FBI agents hunted down suspected WikiLeaks allies and brought them to the US embassy in Reykjavik for interrogation.

They Can’t Stop Us

During the two-and-a-half hour interview, only once did Assange display his characteristic impatience when he thinks a journalist says something stupid. The occasion was my interruption of a long argument about how powerful elites trick potential opponents into passivity by giving the impression that they have a greater capacity to harm than they actually have. “But you are afraid,” I ask – or, rather, I state.

“That’s a silly statement,” Assange responds.

A short awkward silence follows.

“So you believe that those who are after you exaggerate their ability to harm you?”

“Those who want to harm WikiLeaks constantly exaggerate their ability to harm us. They are mostly incompetent people.”

Is this the cocky Mendax, talking about helpless old policemen in their clumsy hunt for an agile young hacker in cyberspace? Has Assange forgotten that he’s entering his seventh month holed up in a 50-square-meter embassy out of fear of ending up like Bradley Manning?

“This isn’t about me. What happens to me is not important, beyond the practical difficulties it might create for WikiLeaks.”

Assange goes back to a televised Pentagon press conference from 2010 to explain what he means.

“They demanded that WikiLeaks hand over all the documents, eliminate all the copies and cut off all contact with whistleblowers in the US military. Or else they would, and I quote, ‘compel us to do so.'”

But WikiLeaks didn’t obey.

“Yes, they put great pressure on us, financial and legal measures that are still ongoing. But we haven’t removed a single thing,” says Assange.

He thinks the Pentagon has lost face, that their threats are degraded after WikiLeaks ignored their demands and continued publishing.

“The first time we took it seriously, but when they repeated the same demand afterwards, we just laughed about it.

They might be able to take revenge on WikiLeaks, but they couldn’t stop us.”

The WikiLeaks Philosophy

“The left? The left is still stuck in the 1960s,” Assange states drily. Ideologically, he is closer to the free market, even though he says markets always tend to evolve into monopolies unless they are forced to work freely.

Assange might not be afraid, but he is clearly taking a huge personal risk with his disclosure activities. There must be a driving force within him, and it is definitely not a political ideology.

Assange takes a deep breath.

“I can answer long and theoretically, or short, depending on your audience.”

Assange is service-oriented now. Or just very eager to be correctly understood when he is about to answer why a world full of freely competing news media, political movements and research institutions really needs publishers of secret material like him. Assange wants to make a deeper point. WikiLeaks, he says, is about more than just scandalous revelations and splashy headlines.

“In the same way that the ability to solve physical problems is limited by our understanding of physical laws, the ability to solve societal problems depends on our insight into human institutions. All political theories on how the world is and how it should be are built on such an understanding.”

By “institutions” Assange means governments, private companies and other networks of power groups. The problem, he explains, is that while institutions constantly change as they absorb new technology and make old theories outdated, the information about how they actually work is concealed, kept secret.

“Much of what we are being presented, and upon which we build our understanding of the world, is designed to make these institutions palatable for the outside world.”

“This is why only by knowing the internal communications of these institutions can we understand how they really work. So, if we want to make the world more just, if we want humanity to reach its heights and not its lows, then the first step is to get access to that information,” he says.

“And then there’s the media.”

Mainstream Media Disappoints

From high theoretical spheres, Assange brings the discussion down to earth again. Or rather down into the mud, to what was to become a dirty conflict between WikiLeaks and the mainstream media.

But it started as a sweet tango. WikiLeaks did the initial work; The New York Times, Der Spiegel and other leading news publications provided their best writers and huge readerships, maximizing the global impact of the revelations.

“I was quite impressed by their work and what we achieved together in the beginning,” Assange admits.

Then it all went downhill.

Assange speaks with indignation about Western news media turning an American document about an Iranian missile purchase into “fear propaganda” by censoring the expert assessment in the same document which showed that the purchase did not constitute any threat, about Der Spiegel choosing not to publish information that shed some unfortunate light on Angela Merkel, about the terrible accounts of Task Force 373 and their killing of innocent Afghans – which The New York Times refused to publish – and about what Assange considers an intentional personal smear that reached its low point in August last year, when The New York Times wrote that he refused to flush the toilet.

“Media organizations start off small. But when they grow, they are invited to sit down with the powerful. Then they become part of the same powerful elite that they are supposed to be critically monitoring,” he explains.

“It’s shameful,” Assange says, “that a handful of activists in WikiLeaks have published more secret documents than the entire establishment press, with all its billion-dollar budgets, technical competence and human resources, all together.”

A South American Savior

June 19, 2012: Ecuador’s government announced that Assange had sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and requested political asylum in Ecuador. Swedish prosecutors want him extradited to Sweden to question him about sexual assault allegations from two Swedish women. Both said they had voluntary sex with Assange in August 2010, but one claim, among other things, is that Assange ripped off a condom and continued intercourse without consent. So far, the closest prosecutors have come to presenting evidence in the cases is a torn-up condom that later turned out not to have any trace DNA from Assange.[1] Assange has offered to answer questions by telephone, or to go to Sweden, provided that that country guarantees that he will not be extradited to the United States, where alleged whistleblower Manning has been held under conditions that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture deemed “cruel and inhuman.” The Swedes rejected the offer.

So, why did Assange choose to apply for political asylum in a country popularly known as the “banana republic” par excellence of South America?

“Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa is really a special person,” Assange says, his voice filled with admiration.

“He belongs to a new generation of leaders. People like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela have also achieved impressive things, but he is still a military leader. Correa is a US-educated PhD economist. A nationalist in the good sense of the word and a social reformer. This is a very interesting combination.”

On August 15 last year, however, a lot of people doubted that this lifeline would be enough to save Assange. In response to Ecuador’s granting political asylum to Assange the day before, the British government sent a letter wherein it threatened to revoke the diplomatic immunity of the embassy and go in to arrest Assange. International media described warnings about economic sanctions with catastrophic consequences for Ecuador if Assange was not sacrificed. Most analysts seemed to believe Ecuador would give in. Correa reacted by gathering the entire South American continent behind a declaration that unanimously condemned the threat and scared the British government into a humiliating retreat.

Assange smiles when asked what happened to the pale, hunched up and morally defeated refugee that I had read about in the British press lately. Life as a persecuted person may be rough, but Assange also has a lot of friends. The British movie director Ken Loach donated a running machine, and a former British intelligence agent gives Assange martial arts training at the embassy.

“I’m improving my boxing too, now,” Assange says.

The mysterious boxing trainer – Assange does not provide his name – is not the only former intelligence agent who has sided with the Australian “rebel librarian.” A recent letter to the British newspaper The Guardian in support of Assange was signed by an impressive list of former CIA agents and former colleagues from other agencies. On January 25, the CIA officer John Kiriakou was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for blowing the whistle on waterboarding torture by the US military, while the torturers continue to go free. These are hard times for talkative military and intelligence personnel in the US, and many see Assange and WikiLeaks as their voice.

In addition, a broad spectrum of intellectuals, musicians, politicians from the left and right, hackers and even celebrity feminist Naomi Klein have thrown their support behind Assange and demand that he get free passage to Ecuador. The EU parliament voted against the US-imposed banking blockade against WikiLeaks. Last week, Iceland’s interior minister Ogmundur Jonasson revealed that he told the FBI agents to get out of Iceland when he found out about the illegal interrogations in the US embassy.

“We have support from all over the world. But the level of support is found in countries that have toppled bad governments in the past, and where the internal archives of the fallen regimes have been central elements in the public debate afterward,” Assange explains, pointing to countries like the former apartheid regime of South Africa and former East Germany.

But the rape allegations, whether rooted in reality or not, have stuck to Assange’s name now, it seems, and have undermined his support in some parts of Europe.

“You are not very popular in Sweden, are you?”

“Not in the media, but polls show that I have the support of about 55 percent of the Swedish people. That is right in the middle compared to other countries, and better than in the US and Great Britain,” he says.

A Way Out

A lady whom I had first thought was an Ecuadorian embassy employee turns out to be part of the team of the world’s possibly most famous judge, Baltazar Garzón, who has taken on the task of leading Assange’s legal defense.

Garzón has already confronted Great Britain in another high-profile extradition case in the past. In 1998, the former military dictator of Chile, Augusto Pinochet, was arrested in London on the orders of Interpol. Garzón wanted him extradited to Spain to have him prosecuted for murder, torture and kidnappings committed during his 17-year dictatorship. TheBritish government, however, released Pinochet and let him return to Chile as a free man. Now Garzón is trying to convince the British government that Assange is innocent and does not deserve a harsher treatment – so far, in vain.

Nevertheless, Assange is still optimistic.

“We are many people working hard to make the US drop persecution of WikiLeaks,” he says, and seems to believe that the accusations from Sweden will also disappear if the US gives up its goal of crushing WikiLeaks.

“But right now, it does not really seem that the cases against you and WikiLeaks are about to disappear. Don’t you have another plan to get out of here?”

I ask the question while peeking out from the tiny gap between the old-fashioned curtains in the room. It is no more than two meters from the window to the ground beneath, and it looks dark and abandoned. Earlier speculations had it that the Ecuadorians would attempt to smuggle Assange out in a diplomatic bag and into a speed boat waiting in the river Thames a good kilometer south of the embassy, and then into international waters.

Assange has a different escape route planned. It goes via the upcoming parliamentary elections in Australia. He will be a candidate for the newly founded WikiLeaks party.

“25 percent of the electorate says it will vote for me. I have supporters from the social democrats, the conservatives and the Green Party. And the support is uniform all over the country,” says Assange.

And the election campaign has not even started. The Australian police has said Assange’s legal problems abroad do not impede him from being a candidate in Australia.

Still, escape “in a British police car” is the option with the lowest odds, only 1.38, at the Irish bookmaker site Paddy Power, which takes bets on how the celebrity refugee will leave the embassy in the end. A seat in the Australian senate stands at 3.5.

As the bets keep rolling in, Assange makes the best out of life on 50 square meters. Meanwhile, WikiLeaks continues pumping out secret documents. In spite of mutual distrust, smearing and accusations of censorship, WikiLeaks and the establishment media hold on tight to each other. It still takes two to tango. WikiLeaks needs access to the public and newspapers need splashy headlines. According to Assange’s most recent numbers, there is a WikiLeaks-based article in almost every second issue of The New York Times. The tones might have soured, but neither can afford to stop dancing.

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Via Truthout

US Government Conflates Media Outlet Wikileaks with Cyber-Criminals and ‘Hacktivists’

In News on February 25, 2013 at 2:13 PM

02/25/2013

In what transparency advocates and defenders of free speech see as a troubling development, the Obama administration on Wednesday released a multi-agency “strategy”—designed to combat cyber-crime and foreign espionage—which makes unsettling comparisons to the work of the government and corporate whistleblower media outlet Wikileaks to criminal hacking syndicates.

“Disgruntled insiders [may leak] information about corporate trade secrets or critical U.S. technology to ‘hacktivist’ groups like WikiLeaks,” the White House document warns, belying the well established fact that Wikileaks does not operate as a ‘hacking’ site but as a clearing house for leaked documents that acts as a media outlet more than anything else.

According to Wikileaks’ own website, it describes itself as is “a not-for-profit media organization.”

Its goal, the group states, “is to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists. One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.”

But, as CNET’s Declan McCullagh points out, Wikileak’s inclusion in the new strategy document (PDF)—one expected to be focused on “state-sponsored intrusions”—had not been anticipated.

“Especially,” writes McCullagh, “in the wake of disclosures this week about the Chinese military’s involvement in penetrating the networks of U.S.-headquartered companies.”

McCullagh says that by mentioning Wikileaks—whose founder Julian Assange remains holed up the Ecuadorean Embassy in London due to his fears that the US would like to prosecute him for releasing embarrassing US government and military documents—the Justice Department “signals that the government’s interest in WikiLeaks has not abated.”

McCullagh notes that vice president Joe Biden has called Assange a “high-tech terrorist,” and that “a grand jury has been empaneled in Alexandria, Va., as part of a criminal investigation of the group.”

And Kevin Gosztgola, writing at FireDogLake, adds:

The strategy makes clear that the White House does not consider WikiLeaks a media organization. It characterizes it as a “self-styling whistleblowing” organization, but the word “self-styled” indicates they are not a “whistleblowing organization” to White House officials.

The organization is listed under a description of hacktivists and even described as an example of a “hacktivist” organization. This is blatantly false and malicious because staffers of WikiLeaks are not known to have hacked into any businesses or organizations to obtain information. They are not even known to have solicited information from insiders. All information released has been the result of submissions from sources they are unable to identify because their submission system was setup to protect the identity of sources or the information has been personally handed over by a whistleblower, who publicly wanted to be identified as the source [as in the case of Elmer].

Regardless of the US government’s prejudice, it is a media organization and a publisher, not some “hacktivist” collective. WikiLeaks has a right to publish just like other news outlets, including those in the United States that are sometimes incredibly subservient to corporate interests or the US government.

By including WikiLeaks in this strategy, the Obama administration is seeking to characterize WikiLeaks as an organization that poses a potential threat to the US economy. Such a characterization is advantageous to military prosecutors in the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who allegedly provided classified information to WikiLeaks. Manning is charged with “aiding the enemy” by indirectly providing intelligence to al Qaeda through WikiLeaks. His defense maintains WikiLeaks is a media organization that should enjoy the same legal protections the New York Times or Washington Post would enjoy, but if the White House is going to cast WikiLeaks as an actor that might engage in economic espionage, it is much easier to convince the judge that WikiLeaks is some type of info-terrorist organization and that Manning should have known the information could be used to injure the United States.

There is no reasonable justification for including “hacktivists” in this strategy other than the fact that the White House intends to further support the targeting of “hacktivists” by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. ”Hacktivists” do not pose any threat to trade secrets and never will. If they truly are political or social “hacktivists” and not thiefs, they will not take anything from any businesses or organizations and they will not destroy any of the business or organization’s website by accessing it through the internet.

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Via CommonDreams

Hacker Jeremy Hammond attacks US cyberwars from behind bars

In Anonymous, Archive, Hacking, Jeremy Hammond on February 22, 2013 at 2:11 PM

02/22/2013

Only hours before a federal judge dismissed concerns over a possible conflict of interest and refused to step down in the case against hacker Jeremy Hammond, the defendant issued a strong-worded assault critiquing the government that’s prosecuting him.

On Thursday, US Federal Judge Loretta Preska denied a motion for disqualification entered in the court two months earlier by attorneys for Hammond, a 27-year-old political activist awaiting trial for his alleged role in a high-profile series of hacks. And although the judge acknowledged this week that her husband of over 30 years was victimized in one of those hacks, Preska said the defense’s request for recuse was based off of insubstantial and insufficient speculation.

“Upon review of the record, Defendant has fail to carry his substantial burden of showing that a reasonable observer, with knowledge and understanding of the relevant facts, would ‘entertain significant doubt that justice would be done absent recusal,’” Judge Preska told the court.

The federal government has accused Hammond of participating with the shadowy hacktivist movement Anonymous and two offshoots — LulzSec and AntiSec — in a laundry list of cyber escapades that have targeted, among others, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, security firm HBGary Federal and Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor — a private intelligence company that has been called a “Shadow CIA” by some. With regards to the Stratfor hack, Hammond and others are attributed with swiping data from the company’s servers in December 2011 and then publically releasing internal emails, client lists and subscriber credit card information. Two months ago, it was discovered that the name and email address of Judge Preska’s husband, attorney Thomas Kavaler, were included in the files pilfered from Stratfor and then circulated by members of Anonymous and the media. The internal correspondence, some of which has led to significant news breaks in their own right, has also been continuously published by the WikiLeaks whistleblower site.

Mr. Kavaler’s information was indeed released through the hack, the judge admitted, but no other sensitive information of his had been compromised. Further, Judge Preska dismissed concerns that both she and her husband maintained professional relationships with others who were victimized, vaguely or otherwise, in the hack.

“The reasonable observer would conclude that any appearance of this court’s interest in Mr. Kavaler as a victim of the crime is too insubstantial to require disqualification,” the judge wrote.

In regards to other possible connections between the court and the Stratfor victims, Judge Preska wrote, “[the] Defendant’s attempt to draw such a link is futile.”

With Judge Preska’s latest ruling, the case will remain stagnant until the next hearing on April 10. At that point, however, Hammond will have been imprisoned for over 13 months without trial. This ongoing detention has earned Hammond the unique title of being “The Other Bradley Manning” by some members of the press, drawing comparisons to the Army Private and fellow alleged WikiLeaks source who has so-far spent over 1,000 days in confinement without going to trial. But unlike Private Manning, who has maintained little public correspondence with those outside prison, Hammond penned an open letter critiquing multiple prongs of the government that was published this week just before Judge Preska’s ruling. And while Preska may have the last word for now, Hammond’s opining offers a sharply-worded assessment of the Justice Department and Washington in general that all but predicts the ongoing persecution he is expected to endure in a court of law. Also, though, it attacks the escalating rhetoric from Washington about the emerging threat of cyberwar, a warning made as the United States’ own sophisticated attacks on foreign nations are waged.

In his letter, obtained and published this week by Sparrow Media, Hammond assaults the government’s relentless attack on alleged computer dissidents, condemning Washington’s willingness to let an abuse of power put information activists in prison for so-called crimes of conspiracy and thievery. In particular, Hammond implored for justice in wake of the recent death of info activist Aaron Swartz, who passed away of an apparent suicide last month while awaiting trial for a controversial computer crime case.

“The tragic death of Internet freedom fighter Aaron Swartz reveals the government’s flawed ‘cyber security strategy’ as well as its systematic corruption involving computer crime investigations, intellectual property law, and government/corporate transparency,” Hammond writes. “The United States Attorney’s aggressive prosecution, riddled with abuse and misconduct, is what led to the death of this hero. This sad and angering chapter should serve as a wake-up call for all of us to acknowledge the danger inherent in our criminal justice system.”

Hammond goes on to call the prosecution of Swartz just another installment in the “recent aggressive, politically-motivated expansion of computer crime law where hackers and activists are increasingly criminalized because of alleged ‘cyber-terrorist’ threats.” Elsewhere, he accuses the government of unimaginable hypocrisy by waging a war on politically-minded hacktivists while training America’s future military elite to engage in war over the Internet, not on the battlefield.

“The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting me and my co-defendants in the LulzSec indictment, has used alarmist rhetoric such as the threat of an imminent ‘Pearl Harbor like cyber-attack’ to justify these prosecutions. At the same time the government routinely trains and deploys their own hackers to launch sophisticated cyber-attacks against the infrastructure of foreign countries, such as the Stuxnet and Flame viruses, without public knowledge, oversight, declarations of war, or consent from international authorities. DARPA, US Cyber Command, the NSA, and numerous federally-contracted private corporations openly recruit hackers to develop defensive and offensive capabilities and build Orwellian digital surveillance networks, designed not to enhance national security but to advance U.S. imperialism. They even attend and speak at hacker conferences, such as DEFCON, offer to bribe hackerspaces for their research, and created the insulting “National Civic Hacker Day” – efforts which should be boycotted or confronted every step of the way,” says Hammond.

Later, Hammond offers words of support for other victims of the government’s witch-hunt that have so far managed to escape punishment like what he has been forced to endure. In regards to the so-called PayPal 14, hacktivists that will soon go in court over a 2010 protest against the online payment site in retaliation for their blacklisting of WikiLeaks, Hammond says, “these digital activists face prison time of more [than] 10 years, $250,000 in fines and felony convictions because the government wants to criminalize this form of internet protest and send a warning to would be WikiLeaks supporters.”

Also name-checked is Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, who is currently appealing a recent conviction obtained through an odd interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA.

“The sheer number of everyday computer users who could be considered criminals under these broad and ambiguous definitions enables the politically motivated prosecution of anyone who voices dissent. The CFAA should be found unconstitutional under the void-for-vagueness doctrine of the due process clause. Instead, Congress proposed bills last year which would double the statutory maximum sentences and introduce mandatory minimum sentences, similar to the excessive sentences imposed in drug cases which have been widely opposed by many federal and state judges,” writes Hammond. Auernheimer, writes Hammond, simply exposed a security-flaw that was quickly patched by AT&T.

“Instead of acknowledging their own mistake in violating customer privacy, AT&T sought prison time for Andrew,” Hammond writes.

According to the Jeremy Hammond Solidarity Network, Judge Preska will have a chance to recuse herself from the trial once again when hearings resume on April 10. Meanwhile, though, the government’s highly-critiqued assessment of the CFAA could lead to other jail cells to soon be full of so-called computer criminals.

“What is needed is not reform but total transformation; not amendments but abolition,” writes Hammond.

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Via RT

White House targets WikiLeaks and LulzSec in cyber-espionage report

In Anonymous, Archive, Hacking, LulzSec, WikiLeaks on February 21, 2013 at 2:50 PM

gov't

02/21/2013

Amid a growing call for new cybersecurity protections in the United States, the US government has issued a report that reconfirms Washington’s interest in shutting down WikiLeaks and other underground information-sharing organizations.

In Washington, DC on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a new White House report that is meant to address further the growing threats malicious hackers are posing on America’s computer networks and the information stored therein.

The presentation, made just days after a security firm released an in-depth analysis of a covert cyberbattle waged at the US by Chinese hackers, is only the latest in a series of actions from the White House being rolled out to target computer criminals scouring the Web for privileged information to pilfer and exploit. As with an onslaught of other recent administrative actions, though, the latest release out of Washington also serves as yet another example of the White House’s escalating war on information sharing: In addition to singling out the dangerous actors abroad that are attempting to uncover state secrets and private intelligence, the report put out on Wednesday also points the finger at the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks and the group LulzSec — a now-defunctoffshoot of the hacktivist movement Anonymous who wreaked havoc on the Web for a span of several months in 2011.

US President Barack Obama has made numerous statements in recent months in which he addresses emerging cyberthreats from foreign competitors, specifically China, but the report released by the White House on Wednesday doesn’t stop with states abroad. Within the 141 pages of the publication, ‘Administration Strategy on Mitigating the Theft of US Trade Secrets,’ the Obama administration includes portions of a 2011 report that discusses the dangers posed by alleged hacktivists groups, including WikiLeaks and LulzSec.

That sub-report, a product of the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, was put together 16 months ago to warn Congress of the growing threats facing American companies holding onto crucial trade secrets and sensitive technologies that could be harvested from bad actors on the Internet. But in addition to the Chinese hackers who have managed to make international headlines this week on the heels of a highly-cited report, the publication warns that domestic parties could be acting as proxies for foreign intelligence.

“Cyberspace provides relatively small-scale actors an opportunity to become players in economic espionage,” the report claims in part. “Under-resourced governments or corporations could build relationships with hackers to develop customized malware or remote-access exploits to steal sensitive US economic or technology information, just as certain FIS have already done.”

“Similarly, political or social activists may use the tools of economic espionage against US companies, agencies, or other entities, with disgruntled insiders leaking information about corporate trade secrets or critical US technology to ‘hacktivist’ groups like WikiLeaks,” it continues.

Further down, the authors of the whitepaper attempt to broadly explain the hacktivism phenomena, citing WikiLeaks and the Anonymous-offshoot as examples of hacktivist groups orchestrated to harm the United States.

In the section ‘Possible Game Changers,’ the report reads:

“Political or social activists also may use the tools of economic espionage against US companies, agencies or other entities. The self-styled whistleblowing group WikiLeaks has already published computer files provided by corporate insiders indicating allegedly illegal or unethical behavior at a Swiss bank, a Netherlands-based commodities company, and an international pharmaceutical trade association. LulzSec — another hacktivist group —has exfiltrated data from several businesses that it posted for public viewing on its website.”

Exposing “allegedly illegal or unethical behavior” seems unworthy of administrative action on the surface, but when WikiLeaks or other groups are unearthing damaging facts about the United States, the White House is ready to respond. While unveiling the report this week, Mr. Holder said attacks targeting United States entities are posing a “steadily increasing threat to America’s economy and national security interests.”

The attorney general’s comments mirror a remark made by Pres. Obama earlier this month during his annual State of the Union address when he said, “We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.” Holder’s quip, however, comes at a crucial moment as it comes the same week that two accused LulzSec members have hearing in federal court week for matters related to WikiLeaks.

On Thursday morning, District Judge Loretta Preska told 27-year-old Jeremy Hammond and a courtroom full of supporters that she will not be stepping down at this time from the federal case against the young political activist, who’s accused by the government of hacking private intelligence firm Stratfor during a highly-publicized security breach in late 2011. Prosecutors say Hammond, an alleged member of LulzSec, hacked into Stratfor and obtained a trove of personal information, including personal correspondence between executives and thousands of credit card credentials belonging to subscribers of a paid service offered by the company. In recent weeks, though, it’s been discovered that Judge Preska’s husband, attorney Thomas J. Kavaler, was victimized in that very hack. Mr. Kavaler’s personal information, including his credit card numbers, were leaked in the hack attributed to Hammond. Despite this knowledge, though, Judge Preska said Thursday that she is reserving judgment in recusing herself from the case.

“The conflict of interest here is clear cut,” National Lawyers Guild Executive Director Heidi Boghosian said in a statement earlier this week. “Judge Preska is required to avoid the appearance of bias so that, even if she owned one share of Stratfor stock, she would be obligated to recuse herself. How can she be impartial when the case directly affects the man she wakes up to every morning?”

Supporters of Hammond say any conviction might be grounds for an appeal if Judge Preska stays on board, but given the current state of affairs — especially Thursday’s decision — a happy ending for the alleged hacktivist seems improbable. Moments before Thursday’s hearing began, attorney Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights told a crowd outside of the courthouse that Mr. Holder’s report from one day earlier suggests the Obama administration will go to great lengths to return a guilty verdict against Mr. Hammond and any other hacktivists.

“Just yesterday, our wonderful attorney general announced a new policy, a tougher policy, one in which he said we are going to make truth tellers — getting them — a priority,” he said.

According to Ratner, the latest maneuver out of Washington exemplifies the Obama administration’s ongoing witch-hunt for political activists who have engaged in activity critical of the US government.

“They already killed Aaron Swartz; Jeremy Hammond is facing 39 years-to-life; Bradley Manning, life imprisonment; and Julian Assange, if they ever get him out of that embassy and into a prison here, will face the same,” said Mr. Ratner, who works as an American attorney for the whistleblower site.

Last month, 26-year-old Demand Progress founder and Reddit co-creator Aaron Swartz was found dead in his New York City apartment from an apparent suicide. He was weeks away from standing trial in a controversial court case regarding his alleged theft of free academic papers published on the website JSTOR. After his death, Aaron Swartz’ father blamed the government in part for his loss.

“Aaron did not commit suicide but was killed by the government,” Robert Swartz said during his son’s funeral earlier this month outside of Chicago, Illinois. “Someone who made the world a better place was pushed to his death by the government.”

Interestingly, all parties mentioned by Mr. Ratner share one common bond in particular: they’ve all been linked in some regards to the WikiLeaks website. After his passing, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said with little explanation that Swartz had a relationship with his organization. As for Hammond, the Stratfor data he is believed to have compromised was later published by WikiLeaks, a group which has been in the sights of American prosecutors since even before the 2010 release of materials attributed to Army Private first class Bradley Manning — a 25-year-old soldier who has been detained for roughly 1,000 days now without trial. Assange, an Australian citizen residing in England, has been inside of London’s Ecuadorian Embassy for over six months awaiting safe passage to South America.

“What do they want to do? Put them up against the wall and just shoot the guys?” Mr. Ratner asked outside of the courthouse.

On Friday, Mr. Ratner might very well get his answer. Hector Xavier Monsegur, a hacker who famously operated on the Web as LulzSec ringleader “Sabu,” will be sentenced in federal court for crimes that preceded the Stratfor hack. But although Sabu’s rap sheet is long and his crimes arguably heinous, he is expected to be let off easy: according to court documents, he pleaded guilty back in August 2011 but has had his sentencing delayed because of his ongoing cooperation with federal investigators. In fact, FBI agents provided him with the very computer used by Hammond to upload the hacked Stratfor files just two months later.

“A travesty of justice,” Mr. Ratner said of the ordeal on Thursday, accusing the government of entrapping other LulzSec members by using Sabu as a confidential informant. That on its own is being considered enough reason by soon to shut-down the case against Hammond.

Since the start of 2013, Washington’s elite have relentlessly rolled out new attempts at prosecuting and persecuting alleged cybercriminals. On the day of his State of the Union address, Pres. Obama signed an executive order that will lay out the framework for a system of information-sharing about the government and private businesses. One day later, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Sen. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA — an attempt at formally creating those government-to-business links through federal legislation. Both lawmakers attempted to have CISPA be approved by Congress last year, but the bill failed to advance to the Senate before the end of the session.

In light of recent events, though, CISPA may have a new fate. This week’s report on emerging cyberthreats from China has garnered so much attention that the White House and Justice Department responded with their new strategies to protect trade secrets and intellectual property on the Web. Meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the president himself are advocating new cybersecurity laws almost to the same extent of the fear-mongering being spewed at the same time.

“This is clearly not a theoretical threat – the recent spike in advanced cyberattacks against the banks and newspapers makes that crystal clear: American businesses are under siege,” Rep. Rogers said when he unveiled his proposal. Rep. Ruppersberger added that all it will take is one national cyber-emergency and Congress “will get all the bills passed we want.”

Until then, though, it will be the courts that come down on hacktivists — not Congress. Meanwhile, those making enemies with the White House say they won’t stop. In a letter published by his attorney on Wednesday, Jeremy Hammond writes, “We the people demand free and equal access to information and technology. We demand transparency and accountability from governments and big corporations, and privacy for the masses from invasive surveillance networks.

“The government will never be forgiven. Aaron Swartz will never be forgotten.”

wiki2

Via RT

Jeremy Hammond speaks out from solitary confinement

In Anonymous, Archive, Hacking, Jeremy Hammond, LulzSec on February 21, 2013 at 1:31 PM

jhammond

02/21/2013

The accused hacker condemns persecution of Aaron Swartz and others, while justice system flaws dog his own case.

On Thursday morning, the judge overseeing Jeremy Hammond’s trial for his alleged involvement in the famed LulzSec Stratfor hack refused to step down from presiding over the case, despite a reported conflict of interest. Hammond’s attorneys had filed a motion to have Judge Loretta Preska recuse herself from the case after it emerged that her husband had been a Stratfor client with data released by the hack.

The legal system is such that it was up to Preska herself as to whether or not to step down — she opted against it, and Hammond will appear in court in April with the judge presiding. The same judge denied the activist bail (he has been held in a Manhattan federal prison for over a year, regularly placed in solitary confinement) and told the defendant that he could face life in jail for his alleged involvement in the hack.

On the same morning Judge Preska announced that she would not be stepping down from the case, Hammond released a statement of his own through his lawyers. The tract decries the criminal justice system’s treatment of cyber activists, condemns government’s persecution of dissent and above all celebrates the work of the late Aaron Swartz.

In the statement, posted in full by SparrowMedia.net, Hammond writes:

The tragic death of internet freedom fighter Aaron Swartz reveals the government’s flawed “cyber security strategy” as well as its systematic corruption involving computer crime investigations, intellectual property law, and government/corporate transparency…

It is not the “crimes” Aaron may have committed that made him a target of federal prosecution, but his ideas – elaborated in his “Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto” – that the government has found so dangerous. The United States Attorney’s aggressive prosecution, riddled with abuse and misconduct, is what led to the death of this hero. This sad and angering chapter should serve as a wake up call for all of us to acknowledge the danger inherent in our criminal justice system.

Hammond’s words echo those of, among others, Swartz’s family and partner who blamed overzealous prosecutors and a flawed criminal justice system for driving the online activist to suicide over charges relating to downloading academic articles. Hammond sees Swartz’s case in the context of growing persecution of online activism and dissent under the dangerously broad Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA):

The rise in effectiveness of, and public support for, movements like Anonymous and Wikileaks has led to an expansion of computer crime investigations – most importantly enhancements to 18 U.S.C § 1030, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Over the years the CFAA has been amended five times and has gone through a number of important court rulings that have greatly expanded what the act covers concerning “accessing a protected computer without authorization.” It is now difficult to determine exactly what conduct would be considered legal.

… The sheer number of everyday computer users who could be considered criminals under these broad and ambiguous definitions enables the politically motivated prosecution of anyone who voices dissent.

The 27-year-old alleged hacker then frames his own case in terms of a “fundamentally flawed and corrupt” legal system:

I am currently facing multiple computer hacking conspiracy charges due to my alleged involvement with Anonymous, LulzSec, and AntiSec, groups which have targeted and exposed corruption in government institutions and corporations such as Stratfor, The Arizona Department of Public Safety, and HB Gary Federal. My potential sentence is dramatically increased because the Patriot Act expanded the CFAA’s definition of “loss.” This allowed Stratfor to claim over 5 million dollars in damages, including the exorbitant cost of hiring outside credit protection agencies and “infosec” corporations, purchasing new servers, 1.6 million dollars in “lost potential revenue” for the time their website was down, and even the cost of a 1.3 million dollar settlement for a class action lawsuit filed against them. Coupled with use of “sophisticated means” and “affecting critical infrastructure” sentence enhancements, if convicted at trial I am facing a sentence of 30-years-to-life.

Dirty trial tactics and lengthy sentences are not anomalies but are part of a fundamentally flawed and corrupt two-tiered system of “justice” which seeks to reap profits from the mass incarceration of millions, especially people of color and the impoverished. The use of informants who cooperate in exchange for lighter sentences is not just utilized in the repressive prosecutions of protest movements and manufactured “terrorist” Islamophobic witch-hunts, but also in most drug cases, where defendants face some of the harshest sentences in the world.

For Aaron Swartz, himself facing 13 felony CFAA charges, it is likely that it was this intense pressure from relentless and uncompromising prosecutors, who, while being aware of Aaron’s psychological fragility, continued to demand prison time, that led to his untimely death.

Following Swartz’s death, efforts have arisen to reform the CFAA. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) has proposed legislation, titled “Aaron’s law,” which aims to stop the government bringing disproportionate charges in cases like Swartz’s. However, as I noted at the time, “the structural problems plaguing federal justice go far beyond Swartz’s prosecutors and cyber crime law.” Hammond expresses similar skepticism about the effectiveness of such reforms when it comes to ending government persecution under the CFAA, which he argues must be “found unconstitutional under the void-for-vagueness doctrine of the due process clause”:

Due to widespread public outrage, there is talk of congressional investigations into the CFAA. But since the same Congress had proposed increased penalties not even one year ago, any efforts at reform are unlikely to be more than symbolic. What is needed is not reform but total transformation; not amendments but abolition. Aaron is a hero to me because he did not wait for those in power to realize his vision and change their game, he sought to change the game himself, and he did so without fear of being labeled a criminal and imprisoned by a backwards system of justice.

Meanwhile, following Judge Preska’s decision not to recuse herself Thursday morning, anger at the government’s treatment of Hammond is set to foment. In advance of Preska’s decision, Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild (which is representing Hammond) said, “The conflict of interest here is clear cut… Judge Preska is required to avoid the appearance of bias so that, even if she owned one share of Stratfor stock, she would be obligated to recuse herself. How can she be impartial when the case directly affects the man she wakes up to every morning?”

Hammond’s twin Jason said of Preska overseeing his brother’s case, “There’s no way he can get a fair trial in
her courtroom.”

Via Salon

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