www.nettime.org
Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Nick Davies: The story behind the Wikileaks Afghanistan War Lo
Patrice Riemens on Tue, 27 Jul 2010 13:58:49 +0200 (CEST)


[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Nick Davies: The story behind the Wikileaks Afghanistan War Logs (Guardian)


original to:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/25/wikileaks-war-logs-back-story

Afghanistan war logs: Story behind biggest leak in intelligence history

>From US military computers to a cafe in Brussels, how thousands of
classified papers found their way to online activists

July 25, 2010
by Nick Davies (The Guardian)


US authorities have known for weeks that they have suffered a
haemorrhage of secret information on a scale which makes even the
leaking of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam war look limited by
comparison.

The Afghan war logs, from which the Guardian reports today, consist of
92,201 internal records of actions by the US military in Afghanistan
between January 2004 and December 2009 ? threat reports from
intelligence agencies, plans and accounts of coalition operations,
descriptions of enemy attacks and roadside bombs, records of meetings
with local politicians, most of them classified secret.

The Guardian's source for these is Wikileaks, the website which
specialises in publishing untraceable material from whistleblowers,
which is simultaneously publishing raw material from the logs.

Washington fears it may have lost even more highly sensitive material
including an archive of tens of thousands of cable messages sent by US
embassies around the world, reflecting arms deals, trade talks, secret
meetings and uncensored opinion of other governments.

Wikileaks' founder, Julian Assange, says that in the last two months
they have received yet another huge batch of "high-quality material"
from military sources and that officers from the Pentagon's criminal
investigations department have asked him to meet them on neutral
territory to help them plug the sequence of leaks. He has not agreed
to do so.

Behind today's revelations lie two distinct stories: first, of the
Pentagon's attempts to trace the leaks with painful results for
one young soldier; and second, a unique collaboration between the
Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel magazine in Germany to
sift the huge trove of data for material of public interest and to
distribute globally this secret record of the world's most powerful
nation at war.

The Pentagon was slow to engage. The evidence they have now collected
suggests it was last November that somebody working in a high-security
facility inside a US military base in Iraq started to copy secret
material. On 18 February Wikileaks posted a single document ? a
classified cable from the US embassy in Reykjavik to Washington,
recording the complaints of Icelandic politicians that they were being
bullied by the British and Dutch over the collapse of the Icesave
bank; and the tart remark of an Icelandic diplomat who described his
own president as "unpredictable". Some Wikileaks workers in Iceland
claimed they saw signs that they were being followed after this
disclosure.

But the Americans evidently were nowhere nearer to discovering the
source when, on 5 April, Assange held a press conference in Washington
to reveal US military video of a group of civilians in Baghdad,
including two Reuters staff, being shot down in the street in 2007
by Apache helicopters: their crew could be heard crowing about their
"good shooting" before destroying a van which had come to rescue a
wounded man and which turned out to be carrying two children on its
front seat.

It was not until late May that the Pentagon finally closed in on a
suspect, and that was only after a very strange sequence of events. On
21 May, a Californian computer hacker called Adrian Lamo was contacted
by somebody with the online name Bradass87 who started to swap instant
messages with him. He was immediately extraordinarily open: "hi... how
are you?? im an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern bagdad
? if you had unprecedented access to classified networks, 14 hours a
day, 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?"

For five days, Bradass87 opened his heart to Lamo. He described how
his job gave him access to two secret networks: the Secret Internet
Protocol Router Network, SIPRNET, which carries US diplomatic and
military intelligence classified "secret"; and the Joint Worldwide
Intelligence Communications System which uses a different security
system to carry similar material classified up to "top secret". He
said this had allowed him to see "incredible things, awful things ?
that belong in the public domain and not on some server stored in a
dark room in Washington DC ? almost criminal political backdealings ?
the non-PR version of world events and crises."

Bradass87 suggested that "someone I know intimately" had been
downloading and compressing and encrypting all this data and uploading
it to someone he identified as Julian Assange. At times, he claimed
he himself had leaked the material, suggesting that he had taken
in blank CDs, labelled as Lady Gaga's music, slotted them into his
high-security laptop and lip-synched to nonexistent music to cover his
downloading: "i want people to see the truth," he said.

He dwelled on the abundance of the disclosure: "its open diplomacy
? its Climategate with a global scope and breathtaking depth ? its
beautiful and horrifying ? It's public data, it belongs in the public
domain." At one point, Bradass87 caught himself and said: "i can't
believe what im confessing to you." It was too late. Unknown to him,
two days into their exchange, on 23 May, Lamo had contacted the US
military. On 25 May he met officers from the Pentagon's criminal
investigations department in a Starbucks and gave them a printout of
Bradass87's online chat.

On 26 May, at US Forward Operating Base Hammer, 25 miles outside
Baghdad, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst named Bradley Manning
was arrested, shipped across the border to Kuwait and locked up in a
military prison.

News of the arrest leaked out slowly, primarily through Wired News,
whose senior editor, Kevin Poulsen, is a friend of Lamo's and who
published edited extracts from Bradass87's chatlogs. Pressure started
to build on Assange: the Pentagon said formally that it would like
to find him; Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, said
he thought Assange could be in some physical danger; Ellsberg and
two other former whistleblowers warned that US agencies would "do
all possible to make an example" of the Wikileaks founder. Assange
cancelled a planned trip to Las Vegas and went to ground.

After several days trying to make contact through intermediaries, the
Guardian finally caught up with Assange in a café in Brussels where he
had surfaced to speak at the European parliament.

Assange volunteered that Wikileaks was in possession of several
million files, which amounted to an untold history of American
government activity around the world, disclosing numerous important
and controversial activities. They were putting the finishing touches
to an accessible version of the data which they were preparing to post
immediately on the internet in order to pre-empt any attempt to censor
it.

But he also feared that the significance of the logs and some of
the important stories buried in them might be missed if they were
simply dumped raw on to the web. Instead he agreed that a small team
of specialist reporters from the Guardian could have access to the
logs for a few weeks before Wikileaks published, to decode them and
establish what they revealed about the conduct of the war.

To reduce the risk of gagging by the authorities, the database
would also be made available to the New York Times and the German
weekly, Der Spiegel which, along with the Guardian, would publish
simultaneously in three different jurisdictions. Under the
arrangement, Assange would have no influence on the stories we wrote,
but would have a voice in the timing of publication.

He would place the first tranche of data in encrypted form on a secret
website and the Guardian would access it with a user name and password
constructed from the commercial logo on the cafe's napkin.

Today's stories are based on that batch of logs. Wikileaks has
simultaneously published much of the raw data. It says it has been
careful to weed out material which could jeopardise human sources.

Since the release of the Apache helicopter video, there has been some
evidence of low-level attempts to smear Wikileaks. Online stories
accuse Assange of spending Wikileaks money on expensive hotels (at
a follow-up meeting in Stockholm, he slept on an office floor); of
selling data to mainstream media (the subject of money was never
mentioned); or charging for media interviews (also never mentioned).

Earlier this year, Wikileaks published a US military document which
disclosed a plan to "destroy the centre of gravity" of Wikileaks by
attacking its trustworthiness.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Kuwait, Manning has been charged under US
miitary law with improperly downloading and releasing information,
including the Icelandic cable and the video of Apache helicopters
shooting civilians in Baghdad. He faces trial by court martial with
the promise of a heavy jail sentence.

Ellsberg has described Manning as "a new hero of mine". In his online
chat, Bradass87 looked into the future: "god knows what happens now ?
hopefully, worldwide discussion, debates and reforms. if not ? we're
doomed."








#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mail.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org