Wikileaks Roundup

Something very strange happened yesterday. Skype’s social media profiles were hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army [1] — and instead of the usual pro-Assad propaganda, they called for an end to mass surveillance. Now, we know that representatives of the Australian Wikileaks party met with Syrian dictator Assad on December 23 [2].

This begs the question, is there a connection?

As an “intelligence agency of the people” Wikileaks appears to have realized that it’s within their purview to form strategic partnerships with other intelligence services and entities. Almost by default the first such connection would seem to be Russia: Assange having all but said he would delay or withhold damaging documents on Russia in order to preserve the relationship they have there. [3]

Unfortunately the danger of any kind of contact with any intelligence service is that the other side will seek to make it as lopsided as possible, in their favor. This is an inherent hazard of life in this sphere. With Wikileaks using “anti-Russian” as their first pejorative on occaision (even before anti-Wikileaks) [4] one conclusion might be that they were sliding into this trap, and buying into their allies’ world-view to an unhealthy degree.

No doubt having at least a professional understanding with the Russkies carries numerous benefits for Assange, as it’s basically a choice between the Russians, the Iranians, and the Chinese for people who have experience fighting off the West’s spies full-time.

On the other hand, if a political visit to Assad is part of this relationship, I ask myself if things aren’t perhaps going a bit too far. (Backing Assad being a key part of Russian foreign policy.)

There is another explanation, or at least a larger one. Did the Assad visit serve to build a bridge between Wikileaks’ agenda and one of the most persistent anti-Western hacking forces around? The Syrian Electronic Army is not an official organ of the Syrian state,[5] but the Wikileaks party visit may have been “just the ticket” to forming an alliance with a motley crew of hackers that already make a profession of messing with the West.

It’s certainly not an ideal partnership, for the pro-human rights Wikileaks an alliance with the pro-dictatorship SEA is a case of strange bedfellows… at best!

Given that Wikileaks just declared war on the CIA, though, it may be case of wanting all the help they can get. (The SEA could certainly provide a lot of help.) And, it was quite a declaration of war.

The 30C3 Talk

Before I get into the politics, let me touch on something just as relevant: Julian Assange’s hair.

If you recall, in my analysis of the Hamilton-Byrne cult with which Assange was in contact for two years of his childhood, I noted that the white-dyed hair was a hallmark of cult children. I speculated that —
assuming the allegations in “The Fifth Estate” about Assange dying his hair were untrue — Assange’s white hair might have been triggered by some emotional-psychological recall of his time in the cult.

Considering the purpose of the cult’s child-rearing activities was to prepare those children to lead a “new elite” (possibly one based on math & other esoteric knowledge) in a post-apocalyptic world after the current elite had been toppled… even the hint that Assange is in that “mental space” would bode ill for Wikileaks’ democratic mission.

It is therefore interesting to note that in his latest appearance at the German 30C3 Chaos Communications Congress, Assange’s hair appears to be losing its platinum color — the man’s got dark roots.[6]

To get back to more prosaic matters, it’s evident the very idea of Assange speaking with the assembled hackers annoyed someone with considerable technical capability. Assange’s Skype connection (under the name “Bruce Willis”) cut out frequently, and even the video stream of the talk was interrupted.

These problems weren’t coincidence, but active sabotage. The CCC Network Operations Center and CCC video streaming team both confirmed that the backbone router serving the lecture hall had been tampered with to interrupt the talk.[7]

Fortunately, you can still hear the full talk. Someone at the venue was recording audio and posted the track to Soundcloud[8]. If you don’t have Flash, never fear — a Mozilla plugin will let you download the audio file directly.[9] Even better, there’s a transcript for your reading pleasure. [10]

The first really interesting thing either of the three presenters said came from Jacob Appelbaum.

Filling in for Assange during one of the long moments of Skype downtime, Appelbaum pointed out that many famous leakers and people involved in Wikileaks were united by a common ability. They’re people who’ve learned to deal with “information overload,” who could take huge amounts of information and understand what was really going on.

This is particularly fascinating to me because it’s something that came up in a discussion a little while ago (not with Appelbaum!) but with a very different focus. The general idea there was that dealing with “information overload” might force people to learn how to use “quantum mind” effects, in order to find the needle in the haystack without trying every option.

You have to ask yourself, therefore, whether or not there’s a connection between “quantum mind” stuff and leaking.

But, I don’t have any scientific studies to back that up. The second interesting point of the talk was Assange’s strangely Marxist call-to-arms:

“We are a particular class and it’s time that we recognized that we are a class and look back in history and understood that the great gains in human rights and education and so on that were gained through powerful industrial workers which formed the backbone of the economy of the 20th century…”

Again, a moment where I wondered just how close Wikileaks’ Russian connections had gotten! But even the Russians of today aren’t really about power-to-the-people, they like their ruling class. (And I would argue that Snowden was not motivated by anything near “class warfare.” He’s said he “defected to the public,” not to his fellow sysadmins.)

In any case, it’s nevertheless amusing to point out some historical context to his next remarkable remark. The one series of words probably nobody ever expected to hear come out of Julian Assange’s mouth were “Go and join the CIA,” but they did.

Yet when it comes to Marxism, the CIA has a funny history. Everyone knows who Senator McCarthy was, right? Reds under the bed, a list of Communists in the State Department, and all that. Well, most people who look at McCarthyism see his downfall marked by the Senator’s attack on the Army as a hotbed of pinko subversion. That’s only half true.

Around that time, McCarthy also started going off on the newly-formed CIA. As an organization populated by the hoity-toity university-educated Washington elite, the CIA had plenty of its own “leftists” with politically questionable leanings — and when McCarthy started pointing this out, his career sank like a rock.

I don’t think that’s what Assange meant, though. What he actually meant was that hackers should infiltrate the “Company,” and carry out the no doubt plentiful technical security knowledge and evidence of horrifying wrongdoing to be found there. With this “romantic attachment to absolute transparency at all costs” being an ideology spread through the Internet, it ought to be hard for them to find competent people who aren’t at least a little in favor of leaks.

I would suggest that following his words directly is probably a very poor idea. The CIA is no stranger to infiltration attempts and has plenty of people working 40 hours a week to find and turn them to the CIA’s advantage, with the full complement of MKULTRA and who-knows-what on their side. Whether it could be done by someone who did a “DIY Estabrooks split-personality” is unclear, but I’d advise against it.

Anyway, the second to last thing I want to point out from the Wikileaks 30C3 talk is perhaps the scariest quote of all. “We are all becoming part of the state, whether we like it or not.” Again, very old school Left (and old school Right), but I’m not at all sure he intended it as a goal rather than a fear. With any luck he’s wrong, and this will not at all be “the last free generation.” Though he may be right that Bitcoin “may end up as a quite totalitarian system one day,” it certainly has that ideology baked into it, with the open ledger and all.

Finally, just as the talk was ending, someone on IRC asked an amusingly loaded question: “what was the most difficult part on getting Snowden out of the US?”

Talking his way out of the obvious trap, Assange’s last words to the audience were “And the only reason we were able to succeed is because of extemely dilligent…” before the video feed cut out again. (Both the Skype and 30C3 video feeds — evidently the “unknown adversary” hit the panic button and severed the network connection to the hall.)

I suspect he was about to say “…encryption”, but who knows.

BBC Thought For The Day

One thing I never expected to see was an Assange appearance on the notoriously leak-unfriendly BBC, but it happened. Courtesy a “guest editor” who was assured their choice of guests would not be censored by upper management.[11]

It’s a very short piece, uncharacteristically so for Assange, and worth listening to. [12] In it he makes a very similar point to one CCC spokesman Frank Rieger made in the German-language press some time ago [13], that it seems like these spy agencies see themselves as the new Catholic Church. Or, the new God(s).

Tellingly, the power of the Catholic Church waned with the rise of Protestant disintermediation, as the people started understanding the system in which they ostensibly believed. Assange observed that “The powerful – if they want to keep their power – will try to know as much about us as they can, and they will try to make sure that we know as little about them as is possible.”

There’s a similar principle in security. When you look at really exotic attacks, you start wondering if perhaps we don’t live in a world where anyone can do anything — limited only by energy and their beliefs in what they can and can’t do — and therefore in which the most effective defense is to keep the adversary from realizing “wait, I can do that?!”

[1] http://thenextweb.com/microsoft/2014/01/01/skypes-twitter-account-blog-get-hacked-sea-demanding-end-spying/?_escaped_fragment_=q5ONs#!q5O [2] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-31/wikileaks-meets-assad-in-syria/5180036
[3] http://m.delo.si/zgodbe/sobotnapriloga/exclusive-interview-julian-assange-a-spy-for-the-people.html [4] https://twitter.com/wikileaks/status/411279810174783488
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_Electronic_Army
[6] https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bcrsu3ACQAAVcmv.jpg
[7]
https://twitter.com/c3noc/status/417414389785186304
https://twitter.com/c3streaming/status/417422665801293825
[8] https://soundcloud.com/dlf-wissenschaft/sysadmins-of-the-world-unite
[9] https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/soundcloud-downloader-techn/?src=search
[10] http://wikileaksetc.blogspot.nl/2014/01/transcript-30c3-sysadmins-of-world.html
[11]


[13] http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/debatten/ueberwachung/ueberwachungsaffaere-halten-sich-die-geheimdienste-fuer-gott-12564894.html

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