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Thread: Internet Freedom/Filtering

All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.

Cablegate And The Legalities

Chronogical Blog Entries:

Date: Wed, 08 Dec 2010 01:22:56 +1100

It seems that Wikileaks has caused considerable embarrassment for governments and corporations ever since it commenced operations. Lately however, the anti-Wikileaks rhetoric, especially from US quarters has ramped up several notches. There are claims that the cables that Wikileaks published were "illegally obtained". More worrying are the reports of Denial Of Service attacks (DoS) against Wikileaks! -- But hang on a minute! Weren't the Pentagon Papers also obtained illegally? And while on the topic of legality -- What about those DoS attacks? -- Aren't they illegal? And if so, who is behind them?

Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?

-- King Henry II

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

-- First Amendment to the American Constitution

This isn't the first time that the US has tried to suppress leaks, and it probably won't be the last. In the previous century, the famous case of the Pentagon Papers was eventually settled by the Supreme court and the judgement went in favour of "the press" (as it often does). Nevertheless the US government demonstrated considerable willingness to pursue the New York Times, The Washington Post and other newspapers, in order to prevent them from publishing the purloined papers, despite the broad and unequivocal wording of The First Amendment, which seems to imply that the media in America usually can publish what the administration would prefer them not to publish.

After the Pentagon Papers were released, the government pursued Daniel Ellsberg and attempted to prosecute him for the "theft" of the papers ... And they employed illegal wire-tapping to try to build a case against him.

There are aspects of the Wikileaks case that seem similar. And in some ways this case may be as important a political event as the "Pentagon Papers" was ... There seems to be a campaign to "get" Julian Assange, which tonight has resulted in his arrest in London. Furthermore, it appears that someone is prepared to use dubious methods to "take out" Wikileaks. If the allegations of DoS (Denial of Service) attacks against Wikileaks' DNS provider are true, it must pose questions regarding the lengths US authorities (or rogue elements associated with them) are prepared to go to, in order to try and prevent Wikileaks from "leaking".

And in your blogger's humble opinion attacks of this nature can be considered a type of cyber "black ops" and could even fall into the category of "cyber-terrorism" ... Which is ironic, since some extremists in the USA allege that Wikileaks is run by "terrorists".

DoS attacks often originate from vigilantes or the shadowy underworld of Internet crime, and sometimes, it can be very difficult to prove who exactly is responsible for such actions ... Which is, of course, why so many countries are (supposedly) doing researching into DoS and other, even nastier activities. Earlier this year, the USA re-activated the old 10th Fleet, calling it US Cyber Command ... And rumours abound that Iran, Israel and China have research programs in cyber combat. And it is already generally accepted that the Russians, or their associates deployed tactical cyber weapons against Georgia in 2008.

If the US authorities (or rogue elements associated with them) are behind the attacks on Wikileaks, and they are willing to deploy cyber dirty tricks against anyone who annoys them ... This could become a high stakes game! Because alas dear reader, when it comes to cyber combat, it is more difficult to defend than it is to attack! In a sense this means that cyber warfare could be yet another zero sum game! Which is why the USA, in particular, should not be drawing a lot of attention to it ... Because when it comes to big fat targets ... Some of the biggest and the fattest in the cyber shooting gallery are in the USA!

On previous occasions your blogger has offered his humble opinion that politicians and bureaucrats have lost control of global information. And many of them just have not come to the realisation yet ... Or they realise it but are so frightened of the consequences that rather than deal with it, just flap around in a state of perplexed denial.

But the lessons for those in governments ... Even big and powerful governments like those in the USA are similar for those in corporations ... When you are managing a PR disaster, which the Wikileaks "Cablegate" affair seems to be ... The best strategy is to Cease and desist with the bullshit! And above all admit that you are wrong ... ... Time and time again, the most effective management strategy has proven to be that of "Taking your lumps" ... "'Fessing up!" ... Putting it on record! ... Which involves saying stuff like ... "Yes, we were lying! And we are profoundly sorry! We won't do it again! And here are the measures we will be taking to make sure that it doesn't happen again." ... etc, etc.

Often it seems that governments and oil companies consider themselves so big and fat that they are above such mundane pragmatic matters as management of PR disasters ... And so they go on the offensive.

But in the USA, there's that pesky First Amendment ... What were the founding fathers thinking when they penned that amendment?

And after all, as John Pilger said on RN, "If they read our emails, why shouldn't we read theirs?" ... (Fair comment).

It's just a pity Julian Assange is not an American. If he was, he could plead the 1st Amendment! Right now, like David Hicks before him, he must be wondering why he bothered getting an Australian passport. Our mother country, England, not only seems to be better at playing cricket (lately), but also at protecting her citizens, or at least when they run afoul of the new hairy-chested, unilateral US approach to "international law". Australia it seems will do nothing to protect her citizens from US excesses, and will even aid and abet the commission of such excesses.

And it should be remembered that our own Australian authority (ACMA) attempted to remove Wikileaks from DNS in March last year.

Your blogger would like to take this opportunity to humbly apologise for referring to this mess as "Cablegate" ... And will of course endeavour to take steps to see that it does not re-occur ... It just that ... In this case, the similarities to Watergate are eerie! This time it might even be appropriate to add the word "gate" to the scandal. Although the Cablegate (Wikigate?) incident is likely to set precedences and perhaps even establish what controls there are (if any) over what gets published on the Internet.

Update: 2010-12-08 Your blogger must eat some humble pie! The Australian government has offered consular assistance to Julian Assange! And remarkably, there is qualified support for the actions of Wikileaks from former prime ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd.

Update: 2010-12-09 Websites such as Visa and Paypal which withdrew support for Wikileaks because (they say) of violations of "terms of service", are now being subjected to distributed DoS attacks in reprisal.

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