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Re: <nettime> Ten Theses on the Panama Papers
t byfield on Wed, 6 Apr 2016 17:15:38 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Ten Theses on the Panama Papers


On 5 Apr 2016, at 9:17, Patrice Riemens wrote:

7. Leaks have become unquestionable.

With earlier disclosures, the authenticity of documents leaked could
always be credibly disputed. Nowadays the authenticity of materials
obtained thru electronic leaks, due to its sheer magnitude and the one
to one nature of a digital reproduction, is much more difficult to
question.

For now, maybe, but that won't last long. On the contrary, I think they'll quickly become *precisely* questionable, plagued with questions about agendas within agendas, the provenance and 'curation' of documents, and so on. It may sound strange to use language associated with connoisseurship in this context, but it isn't; on the contrary, this increasingly leaky world will be defined more and more deeply in aesthetic ways -- because leaks involve *media*.

I'll start with one example, an argument I first heard Florian Schneider make, although aspects of it connect to a wider range of work -- for example, Eyal Weizman's forensis initiative and Rabih Mroue's meditations on visuality of confrontation. The basic idea involves a drastic change in the aesthetics of 'authority.' High resolution, precision, stability, and controlled framing used to be the dominant meta qualities of visual 'truths,' but they've given way to a counter-aesthetic: pixelated, chaotic, fragmentary, indeterminate. The more fucked-up a video, the more authentic it seems; and, conversely, the more 'produced' a video, the more artificial it seems. This isn't entirely new (but nothing ever is entirely new): we can find prehistories in the enigmatic blurring in photos of disappeared kommissars, the umpteenth-generation photocopies that of cultural arcana that circulated with punk and experimental music, older films like Coppola's _The Conversation_ and Antonioni's _Blow-up_, and newer ones like _The Blair Witch Project_. But some of it is new: the way that blocky pixelation and portrait framing suggest a phone camera and precious video uploaded against al odds, buffers of audio without video, the sounds of hardware being jostled and scraped. But those very qualities are easy -- maybe the easiest -- to forge.

The other extreme is a very different aesthetic, but one that will be much harder to identify as such because it'll be scattered across seemingly disparate artifacts in many media -- 'declassified' documents with their distinctive blackouts, phone-size screenshots of text messages and supposed deleted social-media profiles and posts, and soon enough voice and video recordings. Again, these techniques have lots of precedents, real and imaginary -- in books (say, novels by people like Le Carre but going back to volume 2 of _Don Quixote_), in film (F for Fake, The Prisoner, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Truman Show). But these won't just be forged documents or even dossiers, they'll be 'distributed' in ways that are really boggling. Many of the constituent technics needed t generate and drive projects like this are already commodified: botnets and troll armies planting Markov-generated noise, hardware and networks subverted to perform ever-more subtle man-in-the-middle and replay attacks, and digital signal processing technologies (the most recent that I've seen involves real-time facial motion capture mapped onto archival video -- i.e., using a live actor to control 'old' footage). The pieces of this puzzle have been coming together for decades: transmedia 419 scams, social engineering > phishing > catfishing and spearphishing, 'overidentification' activist projects like the Yes Men. Call it 'just-in-time conspiratorialism.'

But beneath all that detail, my point is simple: leaks will be precisely questionable -- and much of the questioning will shift from away from the supposed substance (who? what? when? where? etc) and toward a sort of forensic appreciation. and the scale of material won't be a bug, it'll be a feature.

On 5 Apr 2016, at 14:42, Florian Cramer forwarded:

   Panama Papers â not the Scoop but the Flop of the CenturyÂ

Florian, I'm pretty confident that Jens Berger's eruption won't age hold up very well, and I really wonder why you bothered to forward such a load of bollocks. And to follow that up with intimations that most of the major foundations are behind the fact that no US citizens have been named in the first 36 hours? I'm under no illusions about the many roles that the upper echelons of US civil society have played in shaping (some would say distorting) the world for decades, but Berger's tantrum and your follow-up would be very much at home on Fox News.

And...

On 5 Apr 2016, at 19:11, morlockelloi {AT} yahoo.com wrote:

Maybe I'm missing something, but the mere notion that something that 3-400 people have access to (more likely thousands, with associates, managers, etc.) is a tight secret is ... mind boggling. And then when the logistics of distributing all these terabytes to hundreds of recipients, months ago, without a single accident, is considered, this becomes a virtually impossible proposition.

Yes, there's more to this than meets the eye. We're starting to see much more collaboration and co-sponsorship between media outlets, but it's still very new and tricky terrain: deep and in some cases irreconcilable cultural divides separate the cultures of 'magazines,' 'newspapers,' and 'books.' Just one example: James Risen's conflicts with the NYT over his work on warrantless wiretapping and what became his (excellent) book _Pay Any Price_. But if we add to that even greater differences -- say, different national norms in whether or how newspapers cooperate with the state -- it's inconceivable that there wasn't a growing buzz about this yearlong development. Oh, and the investigative journalist Ken Silverstein published a piece about Mossack Fonseca in late 2014, which I'd guess he'd been working on for several months:

	https://www.vice.com/read/evil-llc-0000524-v21n12

Maybe it's just a coincidence that he was nosing around the same law firm in the months before this leak sprang, or maybe his works suggests a bit of backstory, I don't know. But the way the _Sueddeutsche Zeitung_ tells the story is a bit too beep-beep Matrix-y for my taste:

	"Hello. This is John Doe. Interested in data?"
	"We're very interested."
	"There are a couple of conditions. My life is in danger..."

I suppose that conversation must have really taken place because falsifying something so basic for no good reason would (or at least should) violate the most basic tenets of journalism. But, that said, if this is how it works, we're in for a golden age of trolling.

On top of this, it appears that each entity got a custom subset - a major editing task.

And none of these thousands - not a single one - sent a copy to Wikileaks? Give me a break.

What we have here is a totally unrealistic interpretation of the reality. But then it was only a matter of time when the 'anonymous leaks' strategy will get weaponized and incorporated into media business model.

See above.

Cheers,
Ted

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