Wikileaks and War; Context and Common Cause

Barrett Brown

I am the founder of the distributed think-tank Project PM and a regular inactive to Vanity Fair and Skeptical Inquirer. My work has also appeared in The Onion, National Lampoon, New York Press, D Magazine, Skeptic, McSweeney's, American Atheist, and a couple of newspapers in the U.S. and Mexico as well as a few policy journals. I'm the author of two books and serve as a consultant to various political entities and private clients.

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27 Responses

  1. I know you like to promote your projects, but for stuff like this I think you should just make a sidebar post with a list of links behind the jump.Report

  2. Barrett Brown says:

    Sorry, I’m not sure I understand you. To which project are you referring, and what sort of stuff should I be relegating to the sidebar?Report

  3. E.C. Gach says:

    Always good to read you, but definitely in agreement with Brafford.Report

  4. Why do you have such high hopes for digital technology?Report

    • Barrett Brown in reply to Tony Comstock says:

      How could I not, in light of what’s been happening? I think that the more time one spends observing the emergent structures that have come about to fill roles that ought to have been filled earlier, the less choice one has but to expect that the fifteen or twenty years of internet evolution we’ve seen thus far is only the beginning of what is possible. Obviously, one’s views on all of this will be colored to some extent by how one feels about the status quo. I think I see the world as it is, including our own government and institutions, in a bleaker manner than does 80 or 90 percent of the population, and as such I’m far more excited about the ongoing period of tumult, not being at all wedded to anything that might be broken as a result.Report

      • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Barrett Brown says:

        I remember hearing the Shell story and thinking:
        1) Duh, of course something like that has happened.
        2)Nothing will come of this being made public.
        3)Lets see what is on reddit/starcraft.

        I am a part of the problem aren’t I?Report

        • Barrett Brown in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

          We all are, to some extent. The question everyone has to answer right now is whether or not they want to be part of the solution. You have the option; you simply have to take it.Report

      • Heidegger in reply to Barrett Brown says:

        Barrett, just a guess–did your friend with the sailboat named, “So it goes….” get that Vonnegut’s, “Breakfast of Champions”. Just curious. Good name, in any case. Brings back memories of Kilgore Trout.Report

        • Barrett Brown in reply to Heidegger says:

          Sorry, can you give me a link? I don’t think I know to whom you’re referring.Report

        • Barrett Brown in reply to Heidegger says:

          Oh, are you thinking of Tony Comstock? I believe you are. And are you referring to Kilgore Trout of Little Green Footballs? I was just arguing with him and Charles Johnson about the virtues of Wikileaks and Anonymous.Report

          • Heidegger in reply to Barrett Brown says:

            Sorry– must have gotten you and Tony mixed up. But, don’t know anything about Little Green Footballs site. Good book–love Vonnegut’s merciless black humor. And Kilgore Trout was the central character in the Kurt Vonnegut book, “Breakfast of Champions.” I seem to remember just about every page ending with the phrase, “so it goes…”

            If I may, a question for you. Forget my previous Manhattan Project scenario–let’s bring it up to date. Extremely sensitive classified intelligence is hacked into and dumped in NYTimes’ lap. Intelligence that reveals scores of our undercover contacts and informants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Irag. Besides putting the contacts/informants lives in serious danger, the intelligence would almost surely put our soldiers lives in grave danger. The harm, on so many levels, would be utterly catastrophic and likely set back our efforts to capture and kill al Qaeda significantly–not to mention making it very difficult to recruit future contacts and informants. Publish or nor publish? Let’s say the info is dumped in your lap–same question, publish or not publish? If your decision is to publish, why? Of what possible benefit could come from such an action? Why would this not be treason?Report

            • Heidegger in reply to Heidegger says:

              Egads. Just heard they want to have a rally and ceremony to “honor” Assange in…take a guess…this is tough…..okay….SAN FRANCISCO!!!

              Not that this at all relevant, but he is one of the oddest looking people I’ve ever seen. That milky, waxen skin gives him a disturbingly cadaverous look. Has anyone ever checked to see if he has a pulse? It might be worth it.Report

            • Barrett Brown in reply to Heidegger says:

              I wouldn’t do it, as it serves no purpose in informing the populace of anything helpful regarding the state of affairs in which they live and would get people killed who most likely have done nothing for which they ought to get killed. All information for which these and other ethical considerations are not true I am in favor of stealing and making public to the citizenry. And I hope you will take some time to read through the actual stories that are coming out so that you will better understand why this is my opinion and why it grows more firm as I get older rather than less.Report

  5. “[What] we’ve seen thus far is only the beginning of what is possible.

    Of what is possible for whom?

    To whit, my Winchester model 70 is a lovely rifle, far deadly than anything the Green Mountain Boys ever carried. But it’s also at the upper limit of what I’m legally allowed to possess. When I look at the tools the State has to imposed its will, I don’t feel especially empowered.

    I might be better armed if I lived in Grozny, circa 1995, but in all honesty, I don’t know that I have the stones for that, and even if I did, I don’t see how that worked out especially well for the Chechens, RPGs on their shoulders or no.

    So again, why such high hopes for digital technology? What does digital technology bring to the powerful/powerless equation that weapons technology does not?

    Also, and only barely related, what’s up with the word “emergent” and all it’s variants? I thought that was for insects?Report

    • Barrett Brown in reply to Tony Comstock says:

      Of what’s possible for people who are interested in taking responsibility for the world around them. I’ll be posting further essays soon that should answer your question.Report

    • > So again, why such high hopes for digital technology?

      One difference between weapons hardware and technology is that the barrier for change is really low.


      I can outlaw machine guns. I can make the manufacture and distribution of machine gun parts illegal in a country. In order for someone to own a weapon capable of automatic fire, they either need to import it through clandestine channels (which presumably I’m trying to interdict anyway) or manufacture it themselves, which requires a decent amount of know-how and some specialized equipment. Moreover, if they manufacture it themselves, they can’t easily distribute them; if they develop a mod kit that enables you to convert a weapon to full auto, they have to distribute it through the same clandestine channels you’d have to use to buy the weapon that’s already automatic.

      I can outlaw strong cryptography. I can make the exporting of strong cryptography illegal in a country. In order for someone to own cryptographic software, they need to be able to write it themselves, or procure it from… oh, yeah, 2 seconds and the Internet. Not only that, but redistribution of the software is critically trivial, even for an utter neophyte. Trying to interdict the behavior by embedding electronics in the hardware (clipper chip, CSS) doesn’t work, because there’s a class break: once someone engineers a bypass, everybody can get it easily (as opposed to the mod kit to convert an existing firearm to full auto).

      There’s a reason why strong cryptography is no longer on the ITAR list. It’s not only pointless to keep it on there, it’s counterproductive as there is a benefit for everyone to have access to strong cryptography anyway.

      You can’t stop digital technology advancement the same way you can stop physical engineering artifacts.Report

  6. Points taken about the distributive obstacles of conversion kits vs software, but I was thinking more along the lines of scale. If you put a Ka-bar knife on one end of the scale and a strategic nuke on the other, whether or not I have a ten shot mag or a 30 shot mag seem pretty trivial. Same for auto vs. fully auto. (Anyone else remember the now sundowned “assault weapons ban”?) So far I don’t see any reason that states, or state-sized, state-like actors won’t (don’t?) have digital guerillas similarly out-gunned. But time will tell….


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