Film by Laura Poitras. A rare moment when poker-faced sober-sides Snowden smiles in the film, when asked if he had in fact planned to burrow into the NSA as a mole via his job at Booz, Hamilton Allen.
I've been a long-time critic of Tor, going back to 2009 and earlier even before I heard of WikiLeaks and its use and championing of Tor. I've criticized Tor and its government origins and its evolution in the hand of unaccountable coders (and the arrogant and ethics-free coders are both inside and outside of government, and that's why the phenomena of Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden happens).
You can read my back pieces here (on Jacob Appelbaum's assistance to WikiLeaks in shameful propagandizing); on the murky business of Tor, the Navy, the State Department, and Jacob Appelbaum (who was once a grantee of the Department of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, but who wound up being wanted for questioning by the WikiLeaks grand jury); on Appelbaum's shameless bashing of his rivals in the granting process; on Appelbaum's paranoic and rabid pursuit of the NSA even before the Snowden affair, calling for sabotage of the NSA's cables; on his shameful display at a public meeting at Open Society Institute where he heckled an FBI agent saying he could hack her phone; and recently on his strange contradictions regarding the Snowden story; and his admission that the data trail places him in Hawaii with Snowden at the same time in April 2013, earlier than he originally claimed -- and that perhaps he's the "suspected hacker" in Snowden's story of the "suspected hacker's girlfriend".
THE TROUBLE WITH TOR AND JACOB APPELBAUM
Even back in Second Life, when I first began strenuously debating Shava Nerad (whom I came to call "the Tor crone" for her vicious defense of Tor and attacks on me), I had heard from some ethical coders that Tor had a bad reputation because its people had taken advantage of its users and sniffed the packets of Chinese dissidents. That seemed pretty sleazy, but par for the course in the world of arrogant nihilist hackers with which I first became acquainted with in 1999 in the Sims Online beta, and then observed more closely later in the early days of Second Life in 2004, where I found the first versions of Anonymous harassing critics of their vigilantism like me, and planning their attacks on Scientology even before they surfaced in real life.
THE SOFTWARE AUTOCRACY
I spent a lot of time blogging about the Software Autocracy for years then because I found these people really menacing and disturbing, and the implications of how they would abrogate all our rights through our increasing dependency on their coded artifacts a real concern. I had no idea that some of these people I met in Second Life would actually end up advising the president of the United States in real life (Lawrence Lessig); that they would even be in office in the White House and have influence over Congress (Beth Noveck -- who is out of office now but continues to have deep influence). I could never have dreamed that the people like Julian Assange or Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden, of the hacker types that I encountered in Second Life all the time crashing my Sims, or trying to throw the devs in the early days of Twitter, would wind up wrecking havoc in real life; that the prototyped incidents I saw of document hacking and privacy hacking and destabilization of authority in Second Life would have their real-life counterparts in the hacks of Cablegate, Stratfor, Sony, the Pentagon, the CIA, and now the NSA (with one infamous hacker, Barrett Brown even connected both the Second Life and real life).
WIKILEAKS HAPPENED DUE TO WIKIFICATION OF GOVERNMENT
These people are all part of a movement; they are all part of a continuum; they are all in a tribe or network. WikiLeaks couldn't happen unless first, a group of arrogant hackers in government, and their academic and corporate counterparts began having Wikipedia weekend seminars and wound up wikifying the entire US government, to its doom. (And what has to be understood about this isn't just some literal wiki with some mundane useful stuff on it, but the mentality of the software autocrats). Snowden's hack could happen if it weren't for the casual arrogance and neglect and even sabotage with which most systems analysts and programmers and coders do their work in government and outside in contractors.
Some people think that the message about the ethics-free nihilist hackers inside and out of government, inside and out of corporations, is that this persona, especially its most remedy-resistant forms, is the problem -- male machismo, if you will, and the arrogance of the Anonymous hacker heckling and doxing someone is no different than the arrogant NSA analyst who spies on people and pulls their files.
And that's true enough, although not a complete description of the problem. But let's look at it in this most basic form first. DefCon is one of the places where that is on display. I remember a friend of mine went to DefCon in the year that HPGary was hacked by Anonymous and the government's efforts to try to do something to combat Anonymous, and combat the destructiveness of Glen Greenwald, the activist lawyer-blogger and ardent hacker supporter, ultimately blew up in their faces (unless it was a sting?). This friend -- with deep concerns about unethical hackers -- felt that HPGary and Anonymous were no different in their nasty methods and their dubious methods like creation of personas on line to fool the public. DefCon was always one of those conference watering holes where spooks and contractors and script kiddies in mom's basement would all mingle and exchange shop talk, because ultimately, their tribe is where their loyalties lay, and not their various affiliations -- which are fungible as they are bid out and bought by the highest bidder constantly among the Big IT firms, all of which have a revolving door into government.
Then recently, one DefCon organizer announced that NSA was not welcome this year (they had come covertly, or semi-covertly in the past, and many people found it titilating and it added to the enjoyment for some of the civilian hackers). Interestingly, at Ars Technica, one of the top nerd forums, a contributor in the forums under this piece objected to the undemocratic way in which this announcement was made, as he didn't agree that NSA should be blocked from the conference. I wonder how that will pan out.
In any event, while Jacob Appelbaum goes to great lengths in his Chaos Communications Club speech in December 2012 to define a dividing line between the "unethical" hackers inside government who have "gone to the dark side," and himself and his friend whom he believes are the "ethical" ones on the "light side" (it's actually just the opposite), if you look at how WikiLeaks and Appelbaum's role in it evolved, you would have to conclude that WikiLeaks is really no different than the NSA in its philosophy of "collect 'em all".
THE ORIGINS OF WIKILEAKS IS A BIG DATA HACK
Just as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which many perceive as some bastion of free speech and online freedom actually got its start in legal defense and edgecasing and lawfaring for phreakers (phone exploiters) and hackers facing criminal charges -- i.e. originated in criminality -- so did WikiLeaks.
I've been reading the book by Luke Harding (who is also a great reporter on Russia) and David Leigh, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy. This book came out in 2012 and I meant to get it but it slipped my mind with everything else -- and now I see it's a must buy.
The authors describe Tor:
Tor introduces an uncrackable level of obfuscation. Say Appelbaum in Seattle wants to send a message to Domscheit-Berg in Berlin. Both men need to run the tor program on their machines. Appelbaum might take the precaution of encrypting it first using the free-of-charge PGP system.
They then describe the "onion-layer" mode of encryption which you can read about on Wikipedia or Tor's site or other locations -- basically, to simply if it, by splitting up packets of data and spreading them over nodes, no one person accessing the system can see the whole story and therefore obfuscation encrypts your communications. But the people with the top-level view of the system who know where the nodes are or who can access the end points can snoop on you. And of course, as ethics-free hackers with a sense that they are right and everyone else is wrong, they do so with no sense of shame and even with a sense of entitlement -- you know, just the way they claim US government agents do. And if we were ever to submit to the encryption regime that the crypto kiddies like Jacob Appelbaum and their enablers like Rebecca McKinnon envision, we'd merely have them as the coders in charge with the top-down system-wide view, with far less checks and balances than the NSA (which is why I chose the NSA over them any day).
We knew this story of the unethical origins of WikiLeaks, but Harding and Leigh in fact have pulled it all together very coherently so you can really see it starkly:
"Tor's importance to WikiLeaks cannot be overstated," Assange told Rolling Stone, when they profiled Appelbaum, his west coast US hacker associate. But Tor has an interesting weakness. If a message isn't specially encrypted from the outset, then its actual contents can sometimes be read by other people. This may sound like an obscure technical point. But there is evidence that it explains the true reason for the launch of WikiLeaks at the end of 2006 -- not as a traditional journalistic enterprise, but as a piece of opportunistic underground computer hacking. In other words: eavesdropping.
On the verge of his debut WikiLeaks publication, at the beginning of 2007, Assange excited messaged the veteran curator of the Cryptome leaking site, John Young, to explain where his trove of material was coming from:
"Hackers monitor chinese and other intel as they burrow into their targets, when they pull, so do we. Inexhaustible supply of material. Near 100,000 documents/emails a day. We're going to crack the world open and let it flower into something new... We have all of pre 2005 afghanistan. Almost all of india fed. Half a dozen foreign ministries. Dozens of political parties and consulates, worldbank, opec, UN sections, trade groups, tibet and falun dafa associations and...russian phishing mafia who pull data everywhere. We're drowning. We don't even know a tenth of what we have or who it belongs to. We stopped storing it at 1TB [one terrabyte, or 1,000 gigabytes]."
A few weeks later, in August 2007, a Swedish Tor expert, Dan Egerstand, told Wired magazine that he had confirmed it was possible to harvest documents, email contents, user names and passwords for various diplomats and organisations by operating a volunteer Tor "exit" node. This was the final server at the end of the Tor system through which documents without end-to-end encryption were bounced before emerging. The magazine reported that Egerstand "found accounts belonging to the foreign ministry of Iran, the UK's visa office in Nepal and the Defence Research and Development Organisation in India's Ministry of Defence. In addition, Egerstad was able to read correspondence belonging to the INdian ambassador to China, various politicians in Hong Kong, workers in the Dalai Lama's liaison office and several human rights groups in Hong Kong. "It kind of shocked me," he said. "I am absolutely positive that I am not the only one to figure this out."
The speculation was largely confirmed in 2010, when Assange gave Raffi Khatchadourian access to write a profile. The New Yorker staffer wrote: "One of the WikiLeaks activists owend a server that was being used as a node for the tor network. Millions of secret trnasmissions passed through it. The activist noticed that hackers form China were using the network to gather foreign governments' information, and began to record this traffic. Only a small fraction h as ever been posted on WikiLeaks, but the initial tranche served as the site's foundation, and Assange wa able to say, "We have received over one million documents from 13 countries.' In December, 2006, WikiLeaks posted its first document: a 'secret decision', signed by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Somali rebel leader for the Islamic Courts Union, that had been culled from traffic passing through the Tor network to China."
The authors then proceed to describe how WikiLeaks also grew out of the anti-capitalist radicals movements and a WikiLeaks stall was first set up at the World Social Forum in 2007 -- as I said -- must read!
Now, what can we draw from this? Yes, that WikiLeaks is just like the NSA. Or rather, just like the way they claim that NSA is.