Assange essay reveals motivation behind Wikileaks

Paul Raven @ 01-12-2010

Yup, still talking about Wikileaks; even if the content of the leaks is boring you, their existence is one of the biggest sociopolitical stories of the moment, and as such it’s gonna be a while before I stop thinking about them. So here’s a link for those who’ve asked “what’s this Assange character’s motivation, anyway?”, via the double-Boing; Assange wrote an essay in 2006 entitled “State and Terrorist Conspiracies” [PDF link].

It’s the sort of document I’m going to need to spend some time with before I can offer my own opinions on it, but I’m immediately getting serious harmonic chiming with a lot of my own (admittedly far less thoroughly baked) theories on the-state-as-sytem. In the meantime, it is analysed in detail at ZunguZungu, offering an insight into the philosophies that inform Assange’s projects.

[Assange’s] model for imagining the conspiracy, then, is not at all the cliché that people mean when they sneer at someone for being a “conspiracy theorist.” After all, most the “conspiracies” we’re familiar with are pure fantasies, and because the “Elders of Zion” or James Bond’s SPECTRE have never existed, their nonexistence becomes a cudgel for beating on people that would ever use the term or the concept. For Assange, by contrast, a conspiracy is something fairly banal, simply any network of associates who act in concert by hiding their concerted association from outsiders, an authority that proceeds by preventing its activities from being visible enough to provoke counter-reaction. It might be something as dramatic as a loose coalition of conspirators working to start a war with Iraq/n, or it might simply be the banal, everyday deceptions and conspiracies of normal diplomatic procedure.

[…]

He decides, instead, that the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make “leaks” a fundamental part of the conspiracy’s  information environment. Which is why the point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective. Wikileaks does not leak something like the “Collateral Murder” video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire…

[…]

Because we all basically know that the US state — like all states — is basically doing a lot of basically shady things basically all the time, simply revealing the specific ways they are doing these shady things will not be, in and of itself, a necessarily good thing. In some cases, it may be a bad thing, and in many cases, the provisional good it may do will be limited in scope. The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets. The point of Wikileaks — as Assange argues — is simply to make Wikileaks unnecessary.

And as an added bonus (not to mention yet another reason for any right-leaning pro-nation types still reading to write me off as a mad raving lefty pinko), here’s arch-academic Noam Chomsky pointing out that the most interesting thing about the Cablegate material is the subtext [via BigThink]:

… the main significance of the cables that are being released so far is what they tell us about Western leadership. So Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu surely know of the careful polls of Arab public opinion. The Brookings Institute just a few months ago released extensive polls of what Arabs think about Iran. The results are rather striking. They show the Arab opinion holds that the major threat in the region is Israel — that’s 80. The second major threat is the United States — that’s 77. Iran is listed as a threat by 10%.

With regard to nuclear weapons, rather remarkably, a majority — in fact, 57 – say that the region would have a positive effect in the region if Iran had nuclear weapons. Now, these are not small numbers. 80, 77, say the U.S. and Israel are the major threat. 10 say Iran is the major threat. This may not be reported in the newspapers here — it is in England — but it’s certainly familiar to the Israeli and U.S. governments, and to the ambassadors. But there is not a word about it anywhere. What that reveals is the profound hatred for democracy on the part of our political leadership and the Israeli political leadership. These things aren’t even to be mentioned. This seeps its way all through the diplomatic service. The cables to not have any indication of that.

When they talk about Arabs, they mean the Arab dictators, not the population, which is overwhelmingly opposed to the conclusions that the analysts here — Clinton and the media — have drawn. There’s also a minor problem; that’s the major problem. The minor problem is that we don’t know from the cables what the Arab leaders think and say. We know what was selected from the range of what they say. So there is a filtering process. We don’t know how much it distorts the information. But there is no question that what is a radical distortion is — or, not even a distortion, a reflection — of the concern that the dictators are what matter. The population does not matter, even if it’s overwhelmingly opposed to U.S. policy.

Cue lots more stuff about Israel/Palestine… you can say what you like about Chomsky, but at least the guy’s consistent, AMIRITES? 😉

But this all kind of underlines the point I’ve been trying to make about Wikileaks-as-phenomenon, which is to say that waving it off as “an attempt to embarrass the United States” is to engage in exactly the same myopic narcissism that it’s trying to destroy. Whether you think destroying that narcissism is a good thing is different question entirely, of course…


Virus purge on your laptop? That’ll be US$20m, please

Paul Raven @ 11-11-2010

OK, just to pre-empt any angry emails, I’m not posting this to gloat or mock the victim, nor to suggest that this sort of outright bilking of the ignorant is in any way acceptable behaviour. I’m posting it because it’s an astonishing story that says something simple yet profound about the gap of knowledge between technology end-users and technology adepts.

So, the headline says it all, really: a guy from one of those shady “de-virus your computer for ya, mister?” companies managed to screw something approaching US$20million out of composer Roger Davidson, who – pity him as I might – can only be described as a bit on the naive side, and not just with respect to computers [via TechDirt]:

The saga began in August 2004 when Roger Davidson, 58 years old, a pianist and jazz composer who once won a Latin Grammy, took his computer to Datalink Computer Services in Mount Kisco, saying the machine had been infested with a virus. The owners of the company, Vickram Bedi, 36, and his girlfriend, Helga Invarsdottir, 39, became aware of Mr. Davidson’s high profile and allegedly proceeded to convince him that he was the target of an assassination plot ordered by Polish priests affiliated with Opus Dei, a conservative Roman Catholic organization, authorities said.

[…]

When asked to remove the virus from the laptop, Mr. Bedi allegedly told Mr. Davidson that his computer had in fact been attacked with a virus so virulent that it also damaged Datalink’s computers, according to prosecutors.

Mr. Bedi told Mr. Davidson that he had tracked the source of the virus to a remote village in Honduras and that Mr. Bedi’s uncle, purportedly an officer in the Indian military, had traveled there in a military aircraft and retrieved the suspicious hard drive, prosecutors said.

In addition, Mr. Bedi told the victim that his uncle had uncovered an assassination plot against Mr. Davidson by Polish priests tied to Opus Dei, according to prosecutors.

Opus Dei was depicted in the popular Dan Brown novel “The Da Vinci Code” as a murderous cult. Mr. Bedi allegedly told Mr. Davidson that his company had been contracted by the Central Intelligence Agency to perform security work that would prevent any attempts by Opus Dei to infiltrate the U.S. government, authorities said.

In addition to the thousands of dollars charged to secure Mr. Davidson’s computer, Mr. Bedi and Ms. Invarsdottir allegedly charged thousands more to provide 24-hour covert protection for Mr. Davidson and his family.

Davidosn’s naiveté is only matched here by the incredible chutzpah of Bedi and Invarsdottir, who – from the sound of it – could have called it quits after the first million and retired into blissful offshore obscurity with no one any the wiser.

But as I mentioned above, this really highlights the knowledge gap between people who simply use computers and those who understand how they work – a gap regularly exploited by botnet operators and other scammy types. The unanswered (and possibly unanswerable) question is: can we ever effectively legislate or educate against this sort of exploitation of ignorance? Or is the sphere of human knowledge simply too large for these sorts of gaps not to occur?


Who are Foundation X, and why do they want to buy out the UK government?

Paul Raven @ 04-11-2010

Chances are good you’ve seen this already, but for those of you who haven’t, well, it really needs to be seen.

We can thank Charlie Stross for spotting it while trawling through Hansard, the official transcript publication of the proceedings of the UK Houses Of Parliament; depending on just how conspiracy-theory minded you are, it’s either an astonishing revelation about an unnamed and extremely wealthy organisation (such as, hypothetically speaking, The Vatican) offering to buy out debt-beleaguered Britain with a no-strings-attached cash donation of stupendous size, or an obscure back-bench peer of the House Of Lords with something of a history for rambling non sequiteurs having what we might politely and euphemistically refer to as a very public “senior moment”.

Just go read the whole thing, seriously; if it was sourced from anywhere other than Hansard, you’d have to dismiss it as a missing (and suspiciously well-written) Dan Brown chapter. It’s gonna be providing novelists with a high-grade Jonbar Point for years to come.

Additional: Justin Pickard picks out a comment from the thread on Charlie’s post which suggests mashing up textual analysis software with the government transparency project They Work For You to allow real-time assessment of the sanity of our elected and non-elected representatives. An interesting and strangely plausible project, but one whose result would probably bear more bad news than we really need at this precise moment in time…


What we know and what we assume: Schneier on Stuxnet

Paul Raven @ 08-10-2010

Bruce Schneier has a good round-up of the hard facts about the Stuxnet worm (as mentioned previously), as well as an examination of how those hard facts – combined with a few very speculative conspiracy-theory-grade interpretations of some of the more cryptic and tiny facts – have led to the current state of the story in mainstream (i.e. non-techie) media, namely “it was probably an Israeli job”.

Best I can tell, this rumor was started by Ralph Langner, a security researcher from Germany. He labeled his theory “highly speculative,” and based it primarily on the facts that Iran had an usually high number of infections (the rumor that it had the most infections of any country seems not to be true), that the Bushehr nuclear plant is a juicy target, and that some of the other countries with high infection rates–India, Indonesia, and Pakistan–are countries where the same Russian contractor involved in Bushehr is also involved. This rumor moved into the computer press and then into the mainstream press, where it became the accepted story, without any of the original caveats.

Once a theory takes hold, though, it’s easy to find more evidence. The word “myrtus” appears in the worm: an artifact that the compiler left, possibly by accident. That’s the myrtle plant. Of course, that doesn’t mean that druids wrote Stuxnet. According to the story, it refers to Queen Esther, also known as Hadassah; she saved the Persian Jews from genocide in the 4th century B.C. “Hadassah” means “myrtle” in Hebrew.

Stuxnet also sets a registry value of “19790509” to alert new copies of Stuxnet that the computer has already been infected. It’s rather obviously a date, but instead of looking at the gazillion things–large and small–that happened on that the date, the story insists it refers to the date Persian Jew Habib Elghanain was executed in Tehran for spying for Israel.

Sure, these markers could point to Israel as the author. On the other hand, Stuxnet’s authors were uncommonly thorough about not leaving clues in their code; the markers could have been deliberately planted by someone who wanted to frame Israel. Or they could have been deliberately planted by Israel, who wanted us to think they were planted by someone who wanted to frame Israel. Once you start walking down this road, it’s impossible to know when to stop.

Are those mysterious little comments in the code the flourished signatures of master cyberwar artistes? Or a frame-job packed with credible deniability? Or an elaborate double (or triple) bluff? Truth of the matter is, we’re all just guessing. They say that life sometimes imitates art; this is a case of life imitating The Illuminatus! Trilogy, only without so many puns or sex scenes. We all have a story we want to map on to the world, and it only takes a few pins to tack it down in a way that seems to explain everything…

[ * For the record, my instinct tells me – with admittedly very little professional knowledge to back it up – that Stuxnet stinks of nation-state vs. nation-state, and I get the impression Schneier thinks so too. His point is about how we treat speculative interpretations as givens when they match up with the way we already think things work… confirmation bias, in other words. ]


Has the UFO myth been fostered deliberately?

Paul Raven @ 05-06-2009

alien or human?OK: as that headline should make clear, you’re going to struggle with this one if you’re an Agent Mulder type, but run with me for a moment. While there are ample stories suggesting that alien spacecraft have visited (or crashed into) our planet, solid evidence thereof is very much lacking in proportion. The usual response to that is “well, of course, the government/military/Illuminati/lizard-people have covered up the evidence!”

It’s a conspiracy theory classic. But consider for a moment the old aphorism that the most effective lies are the ones that include substantial elements of truth. Then apply the cui bono test – who benefits from people believing in UFO cover-ups?

Nick Redfern has been thinking along these lines, and has gathered a bunch of clues to support his own hypothesis – namely that the majority of the big UFO conspiracy stories have been quite deliberately encouraged by the more secretive echelons of the  world’s military and governmental organisations. After all, if you’ve got something worth hiding, flat-out denial is never going to be quite as effective as pretending to let something slip that is actually a smokescreen for the real story. Says Redfern:

… it seems to me that – for years – the crashed UFO community has been well and truly played, manipulated, and even controlled.

The trick to overcoming this is to throw out your belief systems and start fresh, with no preconceived ideas about crashed UFOs, and no emotion-driven need to believe in wrecked saucers, dead aliens, underground cryogenic chambers filled with ET body-parts, and all the rest.

Do that, be totally unbiased, and you may find some surprising facts about the origins of certain crashed UFO events.

If you’ve ever been into UFOlogy, I heartily recommend reading the whole piece for interest’s sake. What I will note here is that, much like the original conspiracy theories, Redfern’s re-readings of the classic UFO stories are based on interpretations of old classified documents, which means they’re based on the same suppositional logic as the stories they aim to replace; their appeal is that there’s less of a cognitive leap involved in assuming that the whole business is an elaborate smokescreen than in assuming that the aliums r comin OMGZ.

I used to be mad-fixated with conspiracy theories, but as time has passed they’ve been eroded by the same cynicism that initially nurtured them. And much as the military red-herring theory as presented above is more plausible than actual alien visitations being covered up, recent events suggest to me that the governments of the West aren’t anywhere near as capable of keeping secrets as that story demands I believe.

But then again, what if all the recent bungling and slip-ups in government secrecy are just another layer of the smokescreen, eh? Maybe best not to throw out all the tinfoil just yet… 😉 [via PosthumanBlues; image by Simczuk]


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