by Jacob Shiflett
Proponents of Wikileaks identify Julian Assange as an international hero and liken him to the Founding Fathers of the United States. Critics cast Wikileaks as a nefarious syndicate deserving the label of foreign terrorist organization. Some go even further by demanding Julian Assange be given the death penalty or summary execution. In either case, the situation and stakes are clear. We are living in the age of the information revolution. The invention of the personal computer and internet connected us all. It also produced participatory democracy—on an unprecedented scale—that caught the international power elite completely off guard. Now we observe these power brokers frantically scrambling to return the naïveté of the public back to the levels prior to globalization in the wake of this technological empowerment.
This should not come as a surprise. Authority figures rarely want to cede power to others. Nevertheless business leaders, government officials, and IGOs need to realize that there is no turning back. The technology is here to stay. The only question remaining is: where do we go from here? The consensus from these entities seems to be to target Wikileaks in order to cut the head off the proverbial snake. However, those who propose this measure fail to comprehend the size and scope of this lofty idea.
The cyber security giant H.B. Gary realized this when it started testing the waters in defense of Bank of America. In anticipation of a presumably embarrassing document dump by Wikileaks, Bank of America retained H.B. Gary Federal—by recommendation of the U.S. Department of Justice—as a security consultant. Everything seemed okay and out of the public eye until the CEO of H.B. Gary, Aaron Barr, began antagonizing the internet activist group known as Anonymous, which operates in tandem with Wikileaks’ transparency efforts worldwide as a guard dog. In both private correspondences and public statements, Barr boasted of having information that would cripple the infrastructure of the group and render them ineffective.
As soon as these claims hit the public domain, H.B. Gary and Aaron Barr became prime targets for Anonymous. H.B. Gary found itself wrecked and ravaged within 24 hours of Barr’s statements. The company that prided itself on cyber security had its files seized, sensitive materials publicized, and its website defaced. Adding insult to injury, immediately after the operation, Anonymous announced that a 16 year old girl compromised the security protocols of the cyber security giant.
The most fascinating outcome of this exchange, however, came by way of the sequestered files from H.B. Gary and Barr’s email account. In these files, Anonymous uncovered a comprehensive strategy concocted by Hunton & Williams, H.B. Gary, Palantir, and Berico to discredit Wikileaks. The Machiavellian plan included: disseminating misinformation, providing Wikileaks with false information and calling them out on it once they published the material, instigating feuds within Wikileaks, stalking Wikileaks employees, creating uncertainty over the security and confidentiality of Wikileaks’ sources, and conducting cyber attacks to mine information from the organization about its sources. What does this conspiracy tell us about democracy, about freedom of speech, about freedom of the press, and about the so-called transparent U.S. government?
This development provides critical insight that should realign public perceptions regarding a number of issues. First, it appears the U.S. government wants to play both sides of the fence, so to speak. U.S. officials feign outrage over “cyber crime” and “terrorism” while simultaneously conspiring with private entities and other nations behind closed doors to commit offenses that they publicly condemn. Second, cyber security firms and their clients—including U.S. government agencies—do not possess a higher degree of electronic protection than the average citizen. Third, Wikileaks should not be anyone’s central concern for the simple reason that, in the absence of Wikileaks, the leaks will continue through the independent efforts of groups like Anonymous. Lastly and most importantly, when comparing Wikileaks to significant leaks from the past, such as the Pentagon Papers’ acquitted whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, it appears that the U.S. wants to reframe social and poltical norms. The U.S., empowered by stringent counterterrorism measures in the wake of September 11, 2001, effectively conditioned the populace into believing that electronic acts of civil disobedience, protest, and crimes of conscience are equal to terrorism just because these interactions occur through the new medium of the internet.
Taking all of this into consideration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said that, “[c]onfidential communication gives our government the opportunity to do work that could not be done otherwise.” Are the arrangements made between the Department of Justice, Bank of America, and H.B. Gary, et al the type of “confidential communication” so eloquently described by Secretary Clinton? If so, how long can the U.S. government, its privileged corporate entities, and its allies operate with impunity under the guise of patriotism? More importantly, how long will the public, through its complacency and silent consent, permit the US government to target these individuals with Draconian electronic communication laws such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the USA PATRIOT Act?