The Dark Side

Marla Singer's picture

In February of this year, Cryptome.org, a site run for the last fifteen years by Architect John Young had its PayPal account closed and in the process over $5,000 in donations confiscated.  Cryptome has made a name for itself over the years by publishing "documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance -- open, secret and classified documents -- but not limited to those."

Explaining the closure PayPal indicated:

We have reviewed your PayPal Account, and due to the excessive risk involved, we would like to begin parting ways in a manner that is least disruptive to your business.

And what constituted excess risk to PayPal?  That's not abundantly clear.  Cryptome maintains it has broken no laws and that payments to it are donations used to (partially) defray operating expenses, which are in any event fully covered by John Young.  Given that Cryptome has been around for over fifteen years in essentially its present form, publishing documents that irritate the authorities of a number of countries, it is odd that it should suddenly become a "threat."

You might recognize Cryptome.org as something of an inspiration for another internet renegade, WikiLeaks.  On March 18, 2010, WikiLeaks released a document described thus:

This document is a classifed (SECRET/NOFORN) 32 page U.S. counterintelligence investigation into WikiLeaks. ``The possibility that current employees or moles within DoD or elsewhere in the U.S. government are providing sensitive or classified information to Wikileaks.org cannot be ruled out''. It concocts a plan to fatally marginalize the organization. Since WikiLeaks uses ``trust as a center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the insiders, leakers or whisteblowers'', the report recommends ``The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistlblowers could potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the Wikileaks.org Web site''. [As two years have passed since the date of the report, with no WikiLeaks' source exposed, it appears that this plan was ineffective]. As an odd justificaton for the plan, the report claims that ``Several foreign countries including China, Israel, North Korea, Russia, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe have denounced or blocked access to the Wikileaks.org website''. The report provides further justification by enumerating embarrassing stories broken by WikiLeaks---U.S. equipment expenditure in Iraq, probable U.S. violations of the Chemical Warfare Convention Treaty in Iraq, the battle over the Iraqi town of Fallujah and human rights violations at Guantanamo Bay.

WikiLeaks makes much of being the subject of a U.S. Army counterintelligence report, claiming "U.S. Intelligence Planned to Destroy WikiLeaks."  We think that overstated, and though we cannot vouch for the legitimacy of the report itself, several elements of the document are cause for real concern.

A major concern of the report seems to be:

Anyone can post information to the Wikileaks.org Web site, and there is no editorial review or oversight to verify the accuracy of any information posted to the Web site. Persons accessing the Web site can form their own opinions regarding the accuracy of the information posted, and they are allowed to post comments. This raises the possibility that the Wikileaks.org Web site could be used to post fabricated information; to post misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda; or to conduct perception management and influence operations designed to convey a negative message to those who view or retrieve information from the Web site.

Or, more simply, propaganda.  It isn't clear why a political propaganda program is a direct threat to the United States Army, unless we include the political threat to ongoing operations presented by an anti-war movement.  It is difficult to imagine that this sort of threat is a legitimate concern to the counterintelligence apparatus of the United States Army.  If it is, then may we suggest that the Army Counterintelligence Center might wish to focus HUMINT assets on Senator Daniel Inouye, Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations.

Note to Michael D. Horvath1 the document's author: It's "Bank Julius Bär" or, in a pinch, "Bank Julius Baer," not "Julius Bare Bank."

And the key elements:

Wikileaks.org allows anonymous publication of information and records without oversight or accountability; anyone can post information to the Web site, and there is no editorial review, fact checking, or oversight of the posted information. Persons accessing the Web site are encouraged to form their own opinions regarding the accuracy of the information and are allowed to post their own comments. This open policy of posting information and providing commentary could create multiple legal issues for Wikileaks.org that could subject members to legal prosecution or civil issues by foreign governments, businesses, and individual complainants. In addition, some governments may contend that accessing the Web site itself is a crime, and that shutting down or blocking access to the Web site is a reasonable countermeasure to prevent viewing or downloading of objectionable content. This situation raises the possibility that the Wikileaks.org Web site could be deliberately used to post fabricated information; to post misinformation, disinformation, or propaganda; or to conduct perception management and influence operations designed to convey a negative message to specific audiences.

[...]

Web sites such as Wikileaks.org use trust as a center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers. The identification,  exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the Wikileaks.org Web site.

Obviously, Zero Hedge is not in the habit of disclosing equipment lists of deployed military units, or taking positions on the wisdom or legitimacy of foreign wars.  Equally obviously, the report's author is correct when he identifies trust as the key foundation on which WikiLeaks (or other sites) are built.  The between-the-lines suggestion is that exposing the identity of WikiLeaks contributors will deter future submissions and marginalize the site.  None of this is news.  What should alarm readers is the ease with which an analyst advocates active censorship and control of information channels to the public.  This particular passage:

Wikileaks.org allows anonymous publication of information and records without oversight or accountability; anyone can post information to the Web site, and there is no editorial review, fact checking, or oversight of the posted information.

...should make the blood run cold.  WikiLeaks scares this intelligence professional because there is no editor to lean on.  No pinch point to choke off a story from (regardless of its truth or falsehood).  Falsehood is not, in fact, what frightens the report's author.  Quote the contrary, it is the accuracy of WikiLeaks' documents that alarms him.  The disclosure of accurate data is what stirs the Army Counterintelligence Center to action.  We aren't quite sure what can legally be done to WikiLeaks in the United States, but that hasn't seemed to be an impediment in past.  It is also worth noting that the change in executive administrations in the United States was supposed to end this sort of quasi-intelligence gathering on protest groups and journalists or quasi-journalists.  One can see from the dates on the document in question that this administration seems content to enjoy its predecessor's shabby record when it comes to statist power.

Stepping back for a moment, PayPal did not seize Cryptome's funds because it was spreading propaganda.  Well, it's not clear why PayPay seized Cryptome's funds, actually.  Someone didn't like what they had to say, apparently.  What will become of Zero Hedge when we irritate someone sufficiently?

Obviously, Zero Hedge has addressed this topic before. We remain convinced that the epic battle of our age will be between knowledge and ignorance.  Moreover, we have lately become convinced that the United States is engaged in a mortal struggle with itself, split between the placating, patriarch content to obfuscate and conceal everything from M3, to accounting rules, to the state of its financial institutions, to the provisions of the largest slab of legislation to pass in decades, to the very balance sheet of its central bank.  A country that attacks truth tellers when they have bad news ("Shorts") and is prone to utter obvious falsehood platitudes like "We can never run out of money."  And, contrary, a country that loves discourse, debate and, by extension, markets.  A country that punishes falsehoods, concealment and that revels in projecting a bright beam of sunshine to the dark corners of... well... everything.  Which country do you think you live in?  Next time you hear some elected or appointed official talking, ask yourself: "Is he/she working to create or suppress knowledge."  The lines draw themselves after that.