US Intelligence targets Wikileaks

WikileaksThe US gov­ern­ment has appar­ently been get­ting its knick­ers in a twist about the excel­lent Wikileaks web­site.  A report writ­ten in 2008 by US army counter-intelligence ana­lys­ing the threat posed by this haven for whis­tleblowers has been leaked to, you’ve guessed it, the very sub­ject of the report.

Wikileaks was set up three years ago to provide a secure space for prin­cipled whis­tleblowers around the world to expose cor­rup­tion and crimes com­mit­ted by our gov­ern­ments, intel­li­gence agen­cies and mega-corporations.  The site takes great care to verify the inform­a­tion it pub­lishes, adheres to the prin­ciple of expos­ing inform­a­tion very much in the pub­lic interest, and vig­or­ously pro­tects the identify of its sources.

By doing so, Wikileaks plays a vital part in inform­ing cit­izens of what is being done (often illeg­ally) in their name.  This free flow of inform­a­tion is vital in a democracy.

Well, no gov­ern­ment likes a clued-up and crit­ical cit­izenry, nor does it like to have trans­par­ency and account­ab­il­ity imposed on it.  Which led to the report in question.

As I have writ­ten before ad nauseam, whis­tleblowers provide an essen­tial func­tion to the healthy work­ing of a demo­cracy.  The simplistic approach would be to say that if gov­ern­ments, spies and big cor­por­a­tions obeyed the law, there would be no need for whis­tleblowers.  How­ever, back in the real, post-9/11 world, with its end­less, neb­u­lous “war on ter­ror”, illegal wars, tor­ture, extraordin­ary rendi­tion and Big Brother sur­veil­lance, we have never had greater need of them.

Rather than ensur­ing the highest stand­ards of leg­al­ity and prob­ity in pub­lic life, it is far sim­pler for the powers that be to demon­ise the whis­tleblower — a fig­ure who is now (accord­ing to the Exec­ut­ive Sum­mary of the report) appar­ently seen as the “insider threat”.  We are look­ing at a nas­cent McCarthy­ism here.  It echoes the increas­ing use by our gov­ern­ments of the term “domestic extrem­ists” when they are talk­ing about act­iv­ists and protesters.

There are laws to pro­tect whis­tleblowers in most areas of work now.  In the UK we have the Pub­lic Interest Dis­clos­ure Act (1998).  How­ever, gov­ern­ment, mil­it­ary, and espe­cially intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als are denied this pro­tec­tion, des­pite the fact that they are most often the very people to wit­ness the most hein­ous state abuses, crimes and cor­rup­tion.  If they try to do some­thing about this, they are also the people most likely to be pro­sec­uted and per­se­cuted for fol­low­ing their con­sciences, as I described in a talk at the CCC in Ber­lin a couple of years ago.

Ideally, such whis­tleblowers need a pro­tec­ted legal chan­nel through which to report crimes, with the con­fid­ence that these will be prop­erly invest­ig­ated and the per­pet­rat­ors held to account.  Fail­ing that, sites like Wikileaks offer an invalu­able resource.  As I said last sum­mer at the Hack­ing at Ran­dom fest­ival in NL, when I had the pleas­ure of shar­ing a stage with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, I just wish that the organ­isa­tion had exis­ted a dec­ade earlier to help with my own whis­tleblow­ing exploits.

The Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) in the UK, is draf­ted to stifle whis­tleblowers rather than pro­tect real secrets.  Such laws are routinely used to cover up the mis­takes, embar­rass­ment and crimes of spies and gov­ern­ments, rather than to pro­tect national secur­ity.  After all, even the spooks acknow­ledge that there are only three cat­egor­ies of intel­li­gence that abso­lutely require pro­tec­tion: sens­it­ive oper­a­tional tech­niques, agent iden­tit­ies and ongo­ing operations.

This US counter-intelligence report is already 2 years old, and its strategy for dis­cred­it­ing Wikileaks (by expos­ing one of their sources pour encour­ager les autres) has, to date, mani­festly failed. Credit is due to the Wikileaks team in out-thinking and tech­no­lo­gic­ally out­pa­cing the intel­li­gence com­munity, and is a ringing endorse­ment for the whole open source philosophy.

I’ve said this before, and I shall say it again: as our coun­tries evolve ever more into sur­veil­lance soci­et­ies, with big brother data­bases, CCTV, bio­met­ric data, police drones, vot­ing com­puters et al, geeks may be our best (and last?) defence against emer­ging Big Brother states.