The Disinformation Campaign Bank of America Considered

Wikileaks has posted the presentation three security companies–Palantir, HBGary Federal, and Berico Technologies–made to Bank of America, proposing to help it respond to Wikileaks.

In addition to the degree to which the proposal emphasizes the national security ties and military background of the employees of the company (particularly Berico), the presentation fleshes out what the companies proposed. Under potential proactive tactics, it lists:

  • Feed the fuel between the feuding groups. Disinformation. Create messages around actions to sabotage or discredit the opposing organization. Submit fake documents and then call out the error.
  • Create concern over the security of the infrastructure. Create exposure stories. If the process is believed to not be secure they are done.
  • Cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters. This would kill the project. Since the servers are now in Sweden and France putting a team together to get access is more straightforward.
  • Media campaign to push the radical and reckless nature of wikileaks activities. Sustained pressure. Does nothing for the fanatics, but creates concern and doubt amongst moderates.
  • Search for leaks. Use social media to profile and identify risky behavior of employees.

Of particularly interest, they describe HBGary Federal’s abilities to conduct INFOOPS, including “influence operations” and “social media exploitation.”

In other words, in addition to proposing to conduct cyber attacks on Wikileaks’ European-based infrastructure (complete with a picture of WL’s bomb shelter-housed servers), the proposal appears to recommend that these companies be paid to troll social media, like Twitter, to not only “identify risky behavior of employees” but also, presumably, “push the radical and reckless nature of wikileaks activities.” You know–the kind of trolling we often see targeted at Glenn (and in recent days targeted against David House, who was also listed in this presentation).

In addition, the presentation proposes to create a concern over the security of the infrastructure. Interestingly, when additional newspapers in Europe got copies of the State cables (including Aftenposten), some people speculated that the files had come from a hack of Wikileaks servers. (Note how the slide above notes the disgruntled WL volunteers.)

That doesn’t mean we’re seeing this campaign in process. After all, Glenn has a ton of enemies on Twitter. And if the intent behind leaking additional copies of the cables was to suggest WL’s infrastructure had been hacked, that perception has largely dissipated as more and more newspapers get copies.

One final note: according to Tech Herald, the law firm pitching these firms, Hunton and Williams, was itself recommended to BoA by DOJ. As the presentation makes clear, these are significant government contractors. (Remember, we’re getting these documents because Anonymous hacked HBGary Federal, which was offering what it had collected to DOJ.) To what extent is what we’re seeing just an extension of what our own government is trying to combat Wikileaks?

Security Firms Pitching Bank of America on WikiLeaks Response Proposed Targeting Glenn Greenwald

On Saturday, private security firm HBGary Federal bragged to the FT that it had discovered who key members of the hacking group Anonymous are. In response, Anonymous hacked HB Gary Federal and got 44,000 of their emails and made them publicly available.

You believe that you can sell the information you’ve found to the FBI? False. Now, why is this one false? We’ve seen your internal documents, all of them, and do you know what we did? We laughed. Most of the information you’ve “extracted” is publicly available via our IRC networks. The personal details of Anonymous “members” you think you’ve acquired are, quite simply, nonsense.

So why can’t you sell this information to the FBI like you intended? Because we’re going to give it to them for free. Your gloriously fallacious work can be a wonder for all to scour, as will all of your private emails (more than 44,000 beauties for the public to enjoy). Now as you’re probably aware, Anonymous is quite serious when it comes to things like this, and usually we can elaborate gratuitously on our reasoning behind operations, but we will give you a simple explanation, because you seem like primitive people:

You have blindly charged into the Anonymous hive, a hive from which you’ve tried to steal honey. Did you think the bees would not defend it? Well here we are. You’ve angered the hive, and now you are being stung.

As TechHerald reports, among those documents was a presentation, “The Wikileaks Threat,” put together by three data intelligence firms for Bank of America in December. As part of it, they put together what they claimed was a list of important contributors to WikiLeaks. They suggested that Glenn Greenwald’s support was key to WikiLeaks’ ongoing survival.

The proposal starts with an overview of WikiLeaks, including some history and employee statistics. From there it moves into a profile of Julian Assange and an organizational chart. The chart lists several people, including volunteers and actual staff.

One of those listed as a volunteer, Salon.com columnist, Glenn Greenwald, was singled out by the proposal. Greenwald, previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York, has been a vocal supporter of Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have given diplomatic cables and other government information to WikiLeaks. He has yet to be charged in the matter.

Greenwald became a household name in December when he reported on the “inhumane conditions” of Bradley Manning’s confinement at the Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia. Since that report, Greenwald has reported on WikiLeaks and Manning several times.

“Glenn was critical in the Amazon to OVH transition,” the proposal says, referencing the hosting switch WikiLeaks was forced to make after political pressure caused Amazon to drop their domain.

As TechHerald notes, an earlier version of the slide said support from people like Glenn needed to be “attacked.”

Now aside from the predictable, but nevertheless rather shocking detail, that these security firms believed the best way to take WikiLeaks out was to push Glenn to stop supporting them, what the fuck are they thinking by claiming that Glenn weighs “professional preservation” against “cause”? Could they be more wrong, painting Glenn as a squeamish careerist whose loud support for WikiLeaks (which dates back far longer than these security firms seem to understand) is secondary to “professional preservation”? Do they know Glenn is a journalist? Do they know he left the stuffy world of law? Have they thought about why he might have done that? Are they familiar at all with who Glenn is? Do they really believe Glenn became a household name–to the extent that he did–just in December?

I hope Bank of America did buy the work of these firms. Aside from the knowledge that the money would be–to the extent that we keep bailing out Bank of America–taxpayer money, I’d be thrilled to think of BoA pissing away its money like that. The plan these firms are pushing is absolutely ignorant rubbish. They apparently know almost nothing about what they’re pitching, and have no ability to do very basic research.

Which is precisely the approach I’d love to see BoA use to combat whatever WikiLeaks has coming its way.

Omar Suleiman Promised the 2006 Election in Gaza Wouldn’t Take Place

Back in 2008, David Rose had a fairly explosive article on Condi Rice and Elliot Abrams’ incompetent meddling in Gaza, which he compared to Iran-Contra. Here’s how I summarized its revelations at the time:

The story explains how the Administration pushed an election for the Palestinians, not seeing what every sane observer saw–that Hamas would win. Immediately after the election, Condi started pressuring Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve Parliament. When he refused, the Administration started backing the Fatah strongman, Mohammad Dahlan, in hopes that he could strengthen Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s security organizations–which had been devastated by Israel during the intifada–sufficiently to overcome Hamas. This set off a civil war between Fatah and Hamas. To end the bloodshed, Saudi’s King Abdullah brokered a national unity government, without warning the US he would do so. In response to Abdullah’s unity government plan, the State Department developed its own $1.27 billion plan, what Hamas considered “a blueprint for a U.S.-backed Fatah coup.” The US handed that plan to Abbas and had him adopt it as if it were his own. Hamas responded by taking over Gaza and capturing the Egyptian weapons intended to strengthen Fatah.

Central to the whole story is how the State Department could have been so stupid as not to see that Hamas would win a democratic election in Gaza in 2006.

Elections for the Palestinian parliament, known officially as the Legislative Council, were originally set for July 2005, but later postponed by Abbas until January 2006.Dahlan says he warned his friends in the Bush administration that Fatah still wasn’t ready for elections in January. Decades of self-preservationist rule by Arafat had turned the party into a symbol of corruption and inefficiency—a perception Hamas found it easy to exploit. Splits within Fatah weakened its position further: in many places, a single Hamas candidate ran against several from Fatah.

“Everyone was against the elections,” Dahlan says. Everyone except Bush. “Bush decided, ‘I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority.’ Everyone is following him in the American administration, and everyone is nagging Abbas, telling him, ‘The president wants elections.’ Fine. For what purpose?”

The elections went forward as scheduled. On January 25, Hamas won 56 percent of the seats in the Legislative Council.

Few inside the U.S. administration had predicted the result, and there was no contingency plan to deal with it. “I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming,” Condoleezza Rice told reporters. “I don’t know anyone who wasn’t caught off guard by Hamas’s strong showing.”

“Everyone blamed everyone else,” says an official with the Department of Defense. “We sat there in the Pentagon and said, ‘Who the fuck recommended this?’”

But a Wikileaks cable released by Aftenposten may explain why State was taken by surprised.

They may have thought the election itself wouldn’t happen.

Read more

Our Diplomats Need to Spend More Time Surfing the Toobz!

As I noted in my last post, DiFi is accusing the intelligence community of having missed the potential volatility of Middle Eastern unrest because they’ve been paying too little attention to social media.

So I decided to check the WikiLeaks State cables to see whether DiFi’s complaint bears out.

Obviously, this is a totally insufficient test. Not only is State not the primary member of the intelligence community that should be tracking these things, we have no idea how representative the cables are of all State communication. (Though there are obviously intelligence community members working under official cover at the Embassy, and one would hope a good deal of our specialists on any particular country’s dialects are stationed in that country.) Nevertheless, it gives an idea of how attentively our Embassies track opposition viewpoints expressed in social media, and how they view social media as a source of information.

And DiFi may well be right.

There are just 14 WikiLeak cables in this database mentioning both Egypt and bloggers (out of 325 that mention Egypt) but just one–dated March 30, 2009–that talks in detail about the actual content of blogs rather than Mubarak’s persecution of them as a human rights issue. (This cable notes that bloggers and other journalists cover torture complaints and a few others refer to specific types of bloggers being persecuted.) The March 30 cable assesses,

KEY POINTS —

(C) Egypt’s bloggers are playing an increasingly important role in broadening the scope of acceptable political and social discourse, and self-expression. —

(C) Bloggers’ discussions of sensitive issues, such as sexual harassment, sectarian tension and the military, represent a significant change from five years ago, and have influenced society and the media. —

(C) The role of bloggers as a cohesive activist movement has largely disappeared, due to a more restrictive political climate, GOE counter-measures, and tensions among bloggers. —

(C) However, individual bloggers have continued to work to expose problems such as police brutality and corporate malfeasance.

[snip]

(C) Egypt has an estimated 160,000 bloggers who write in Arabic, and sometimes in English, about a wide variety of topics, from social life to politics to literature. One can view posts ranging from videos of alleged police brutality (ref B), to comments about the GOE’s foreign policy, to complaints about separate lines for men and women in government offices distributing drivers’ licenses. One NGO contact estimated for us that a solid majority of bloggers are between 20 and 35 years old, and that about 30 percent of blogs focus on politics. Blogs have spread throughout the population to become vehicles for a wide range of activists, students, journalists and ordinary citizens to express their views on almost any issue they choose. As such, the blogs have significantly broadened the range of topics that Egyptians are able to discuss publicly.

It’s not clear whether anyone at the Embassy made an independent assessment of the blogs themselves; the cable is heavily reliant on the viewpoints of at least three different sources, as well as the comments of “two young upper middle-class bloggers” and one female political blogger not identified demographically.

Meanwhile, just 5 cables mention both Facebook and Egypt (two cables appear in both searches). Two of these cables simply count the growing number of Mohamed el Baradei Facebook fans. One of them–an April 16, 2008 cable titled, “Mahalla Riots: Isolated Incident or Tip of an Iceberg?” and reviewing the April 6, 2008 events–probably should have alerted US authorities to track Facebook more closely.

(C) April 6 brought together disparate opposition forces together with numerous non-activist Egyptians, with the Facebook calls for a strike attracting 70,000 people on-line, and garnering widespread national attention. The nexus of the upper and middle-class Facebook users, and their poorer counterparts in the factories of Mahalla, craeated a new dynamic. One senior insider mused, “Who could have imagined that a few kids on the internet could foment a buzz that the entire country noticed? I wish we could do that in the National Democratic Party.”

Though the reference to the “senior insider” complaining that Egypt’s NDP couldn’t foment as much buzz as “a few kids on the internet” suggests the assessment of the importance of Facebook to the movement may have come from Egyptians, not from any analysis conducted in the Embassy itself.

Just as tellingly, most of the 7 cables on Egypt and April 6 are among those that discuss social media (that is, State knew or should have known that social media was an important tool for the April 6 movement).

Meanwhile, it’s even worse for Tunisia. Just one cable (out of 81) mentions Tunisia and either blogger or Facebook–and that’s a report on the Embassy’s own use of Facebook!

At least in the case of Egypt, the Embassy had both warning that Mubarak’s government considers bloggers enough of a threat to persecute, as well as some sense that social media has served an organizing function.

Yet even with that warning, Embassy staffers don’t appear to have spent much time learning from social media.

Abbe Lowell’s Leak as Governance Theory

Josh Gerstein links to this fascinating filing from Abbe Lowell, the lawyer who successfully got leak charges against AIPAC employees dismissed, and now representing a former State Department contractor, Stephen Kim, alleged to have leaked Top Secret information on North Korea to Fox. Gerstein explains:

Stephen Kim, who worked at State as an intelligence adviser before being dismissed as a result of the leak probe, was indicted last August on one count of disclosing classified information and another of lying to the FBI. The charges appear to stem from information that Fox News reporter James Rosen received in June 2009 about North Korea’s plans to conduct a nuclear test.

In motions filed earlier this week, Kim’s defense team, Abbe Lowell, Paul Thompson and James Commons, argue that the charges against Kim should be dismissed because they’re legally flawed. One argument is that the Espionage Act under which Kim was charged is too vague when it comes to situations involving verbal statements to someone outside government rather than giving classified documents to someone. (Kim was not charged with espionage.)

The defense lawyers also mount a defense of leaking as routine and vital to modern American government and note that the law gives no indication of who is “entitled to receive” closely-held defense secrets and who isn’t.

The last bit is what I find particularly interesting. Lowell is obviously doubling down on his successful defense in the AIPAC case by arguing that leaking classified information is central to our system of governance.

Government leaking is not a new phenomenon. What makes these prosecutions particularly worthy of close scrutiny is the fact that the Executive Branch leaks classified information often to forward several of its goals and then prosecutes others in the same branch for doing the same thing. In fact, this country has a long and storied history of government officials leaking information to the press. In one of the earliest leaks in this country s history, Benjamin Franklin publicly confessed to leaking letters authored by loyalist Thomas Hutchinson which were later published in the Boston Gazette. 5 Albert Henry Smyth The Writings of Benjamin Franklin 448 (1905). President George Washington was incensed upon discovering that the confidential terms of Jay’s Treaty had been leaked to a newspaper editor. Todd Estes The Art of Presidential Leadership: George Washington and the Jay Treaty, 109 Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (2001). In one of the most storied leaks in history, the New York Times published sections of the so-called “Pentagon Papers ” a top-secret Department of Defense report on America s political and military involvement in Vietnam. Neil Sheehan Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Decades of Growing U.S. Involvement, N.Y. Times June 13, 1971 , at A1. The leak revealed a deliberate pattern of government deception to mislead the country about the government’s intentions to expand the war efforts in Vietnam. Id The Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal is another example of a leak that called into question important policies the government had tried to keep secret. Seymour M. Hersh, Torture at Abu Ghraib, The New Yorker, May 10, 2004, at 42. And the disclosure of Valerie Plame as an operative for the CIA was a government leak, at the highest levels, to advance an important policy interest of the Bush Administration. David Corn Plamegate Finale: We Were Right; They Were Wrong, The Nation (Oct. 22, 2007). In this country s history, sensitive information has routinely been leaked to the press by officials at all levels of government, causing New York Times reporter James Reston to remark, “[t] ship of state is the only known vessel that leaks from the top.” David E. Rosenbaum, First a Leak, Then a Predictable Pattern, N.Y. Times, October 3 2003.

The practice of leaking has evolved over time and has become so widespread that it is not uncommon to open a national newspaper and find multiples articles attributing their sensitive content to anonymous government sources. During meetings with the press, government offcials and members of their staffs routinely disclose sensitive information to further a variety of legitimate policy objectives. Members of the press then publish the information for consumption by the populace. As the government has imposed ever-more stringent restrictions on information, while simultaneously broadening its definition of what constitutes classified information, leaking has become essential to provide context for messages delivered to the public through official channels. Although reliance on a “leak system” is counterintuitive for a nation that prides itself on open government and places immense value on democratic traditions, it has become a necessary practice, facilitating the exchange of information between the government and its constituency. Read more

Unlike the Guardian, the NYT Told State Precisely What WikiLeaks Cables It Would Publish

The Guardian has now posted its version of the US government’s efforts last November to learn what cables WikiLeaks would publish, so I’d like compare the three versions to show what we know.

As I noted before, these negotiations started with the NYT giving the State Department a heads up. Following that heads up, offered on November 19, some reporters met with representatives of the foreign policy and national security and law enforcement establishment on Tuesday, November 23. Following that, the NYT appears to have provided the State Department with copies of every single cable they planned to release.

Because of the range of the material and the very nature of diplomacy, the embassy cables were bound to be more explosive than the War Logs. Dean Baquet, our Washington bureau chief, gave the White House an early warning on Nov. 19. The following Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, Baquet and two colleagues were invited to a windowless room at the State Department, where they encountered an unsmiling crowd. Representatives from the White House, the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the F.B.I. and the Pentagon gathered around a conference table. Others, who never identified themselves, lined the walls. A solitary note-taker tapped away on a computer.

The meeting was off the record, but it is fair to say the mood was tense. Scott Shane, one reporter who participated in the meeting, described “an undertone of suppressed outrage and frustration.”

Subsequent meetings, which soon gave way to daily conference calls, were more businesslike. Before each discussion, our Washington bureau sent over a batch of specific cables that we intended to use in the coming days. They were circulated to regional specialists, who funneled their reactions to a small group at State, who came to our daily conversations with a list of priorities and arguments to back them up. We relayed the government’s concerns, and our own decisions regarding them, to the other news outlets. [my emphasis]

Der Spiegel suggests that after that November 23 meeting, at the same time NYT was meeting in person with the State Department, it was also making phone calls to the other partners involved.

The New York Times negotiated with the White House, and there were meetings and telephone calls with the Guardian, Le Monde, El País and SPIEGEL. The US government had mustered a remarkable armada in its effort to appeal to the journalists. In addition to Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip Crowley and Clinton’s Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, it included representatives of the CIA, the Pentagon and the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — a reflection of the combined national security expertise of the most powerful nation in the world.

In addition, Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy met with the newspaper in person on November 25.

This was also the approach taken by Philip Murphy, the American ambassador in Berlin, when we met with him at the United States Embassy. It was Thanksgiving Day, and Murphy drove from his residence in the Dahlem neighborhood to the embassy on Pariser Platz in downtown Berlin. At home, his wife Tammy and their four children were waiting for him to return for their traditional turkey dinner. Murphy, a former investment banker and national finance chair of the Democratic National Committee, wasn’t wearing a suit that day. He donned a jacket, casual trousers and loafers. In addition to all of the foreign policy turmoil Julian Assange had created, he had also ruined Thanksgiving for the ambassador and his colleagues in Washington, an offence for which Murphy would never forgive him.

“I am mad about it, and I don’t blame our brethren in the German government if they are mad, too, that someone has downloaded these documents,” Murphy said. “I’m incredibly angry. I don’t begrudge SPIEGEL and the press, who are just doing their jobs. I am criticizing those who stole this material.”

The ambassador looked haggard. He coughed a lot and had to interrupt the conversation to get some water. Like so many American diplomats around the world, Murphy would have to explain to his foreign counterparts why the embassy’s internal assessments of German politicians were so much harsher than its public statements. This is a challenge for diplomats, whose job requires them to preserve as perfect a façade as possible.

But Der Spiegel doesn’t reveal whether it told State precisely what cables it would publish. Nor does it reveal whether it spoke with the State Department directly.

Compare that to the Guardian’s description, which reveals that under pressure from the US Embassy in London, Alan Rusbridger agreed to a conference call, which took place on November 26 (so after the NYT had started meeting daily with State and Murphy had met with Spiegel at their offices).

A few days before the cables’ release, two senior figures from the US embassy in Grosvenor Square called in to the Guardian’s London offices for a chat. This discussion led to a surreal transatlantic telephone call on Friday 26 November – two days before launch.

Alan Rusbridger agreed to ring Washington. He made the conference call from the circular table in his office. On the line was PJ Crowley, the US assistant secretary of state for public affairs.

The conversation began: “OK, here’s PJ Crowley. I just want you to know in this phone call we’ve got Secretary of State Clinton’s private secretary, we have representatives of the DoD [department of defence], the intelligence communities, and the national security council.” All Rusbridger could offer in reply was: “We have our managing editor here.”

Note, the reference to “intelligence communities, and the national security council” might well include the FBI; “representatives of the DoD” might include military criminal investigators. Thus it’s possible — but by no means proven — that our government included those investigating the leak itself in meetings purportedly about editorial content.

The Guardian goes on to describe PJ Crowley and Hillary’s private secretary trying to pressure the Guardian into revealing precisely what cables they’d publish.

Crowley set out the view from the lofty heights of US power: “Obviously, from our perspective these are stolen documents. They reveal sensitive military secrets and addresses that expose people to security risks.”

Crowley made his pitch. He said the US government was “willing to help” the Guardian if it was prepared to “share the documents” it had – in other words, tip off the state department which cables it intended to publish. Rusbridger was noncommittal.

Clinton’s private secretary chipped in. She said: “I’ve got a very direct question for you, Mr Rusbridger. You journalists like asking direct questions and I know you expect direct answers. So I’m going to ask you a direct question. Are you going to give us the numbers of the cables or not?

“No, we’re not.”

“Thank you very much.” [my emphasis]

The contrast between the NYT and the Guardian is instructive:the NYT sent over every cable they planned to publish. Whereas the Guardian refused to specify which cables they’d publish.

Under cover of off the record meetings with top national security officials, the NYT collaborated with the government, at the least on damage control, if not their investigation of WikiLeaks. The Guardian, by contrast, was unwilling to do more than warn State what general topics they’d cover on a day to day basis.

One other point: the fact that the government was asking newspapers precisely which cables they’d publish makes me wonder whether they didn’t have — and may still not have, though given the numbers of copies floating around I suspect they now know — a clear idea of which cables were included in the document dump. Geoff Morrell’s press conference last week made it clear that they still only consider Bradley Manning a person of interest in the leak of the larger dump, meaning that if he leaked them, they haven’t identified how he did so. But is it possible that — at least in November — they didn’t even know what cables were included in the dump?

What State Wanted Withheld from WikiLeaks Publication

There are now four versions of the cooperation between WikiLeaks and its journalistic “partners:” Vanity Fair, NYT, Guardian, and Spiegel. A comparison of them is more instructive than reading any in isolation.

For example, compare how the NYT and Spiegel describe the three things the State Department asked journalistic partners not to publish during the lead-up to publication of the diplomatic cables. The NYT says State asked them not to publish individual sources, “sensitive American programs,” and candid comments about foreign leaders.

The administration’s concerns generally fell into three categories. First was the importance of protecting individuals who had spoken candidly to American diplomats in oppressive countries. We almost always agreed on those and were grateful to the government for pointing out some we overlooked.

“We were all aware of dire stakes for some of the people named in the cables if we failed to obscure their identities,” Shane wrote to me later, recalling the nature of the meetings. Like many of us, Shane has worked in countries where dissent can mean prison or worse. “That sometimes meant not just removing the name but also references to institutions that might give a clue to an identity and sometimes even the dates of conversations, which might be compared with surveillance tapes of an American Embassy to reveal who was visiting the diplomats that day.”

The second category included sensitive American programs, usually related to intelligence. We agreed to withhold some of this information, like a cable describing an intelligence-sharing program that took years to arrange and might be lost if exposed. In other cases, we went away convinced that publication would cause some embarrassment but no real harm.

The third category consisted of cables that disclosed candid comments by and about foreign officials, including heads of state. The State Department feared publication would strain relations with those countries. We were mostly unconvinced.

Spiegel describes those three things slightly differently. It says State asked them to withhold government sources, cables with security implications, and “cables relating to counterterrorism.”

At first, less than a week before the upcoming publication of the leaked documents, Clinton’s diplomats wanted three things from the participating media organizations. First, they wanted the names of US government sources to be protected if leaks posed a danger to life and limb. This was a policy that all five media organizations involved already pursued. Second, they asked the journalists to exercise restraint when it came to cables with security implications. Third, they asked them to be aware that cables relating to counterterrorism are extremely sensitive.

Now the discrepancy may mean nothing. Both agree State had three categories of information they wanted withheld. Both agree State asked the newspapers to withhold both the names of sources and details on intelligence programs. But since the NYT notes the journalistic partners didn’t take the third category–candid comments–very seriously, perhaps Spiegel just misremembered what that third category was, or just remembered a particular focus on counterterrorism. Presumably, after all, the counterterrorism programs would be included in category two.

But whatever the cause of the discrepancy, I am intrigued that Spiegel emphasizes counterterrorism programs rather than candid comments about foreign officials, not least because the Spiegel article describes working with US Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy directly. Consider the two most sensitive revelations pertaining to Germany and counterterrorism. First, there was the news of Philip Murphy personally bad-mouthing the Free Democratic Party’s opposition to US vacuuming up European data, particularly as it relates to the SWIFT database. Then there are negotiations about whether Germany would prosecute Americans involved in the rendition of Khalid El-Masri. As I showed, it appears that Condi was telling German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier one thing about a subpoena for those Americans, followed quickly by the American Deputy Chief of Mission “correcting” the US position on it.

That is, on both major disclosures about US counterterrorism cooperation with the Germans, the US has reason to be embarrassed about its two-faced dealing with German officials.

In other words, there may be no discrepancy. It is possible that the third category of information State wanted suppressed has to do not with the substance of our counterterrorism program (after all, both the details of SWIFT and of our rendition program have been widely publicized), but with the degree to which our private diplomacy belies all the public claims we make about counterterrorism.

DOD Press Office Scrambling to Explain Bradley Manning’s Treatment

Something is badly amiss in DOD’s efforts to tell its side of how it is treating Bradley Manning.

It started on Monday when NBC’s Chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski (that is, not a hippie) published an article with two big scoops. First, that investigators have been unable to tie Manning directly to Julian Assange.

U.S. military officials tell NBC News that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between a jailed army private suspected with leaking secret documents and Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The officials say that while investigators have determined that Manning had allegedly unlawfully downloaded tens of thousands of documents onto his own computer and passed them to an unauthorized person, there is apparently no evidence he passed the files directly to Assange, or had any direct contact with the controversial WikiLeaks figure.

In the same article, Miklaszewski reports what appears to be limited hangout push-back against allegations that Manning was “tortured” (but not “abused”). While Manning was not tortured, Miklaszewski’s sources say, he was improperly put on suicide watch for two days last week.

On Monday, U.S. military officials also strongly denied allegations that Manning, being held in connection with the WikiLeaks’ release of classified documents, has been “tortured” and held in “solitary confinement” without due process.The officials told NBC News, however, that a U.S. Marine commander did violate procedure when he placed Manning on “suicide watch” last week.

Military officials said Brig Commander James Averhart did not have the authority to place Manning on suicide watch for two days last week, and that only medical personnel are allowed to make that call.

Note that both of these scoops were attributed to “US military officials,” though a later reference refers to “official,” singular. Later in the article, he cites, “U.S. Marine and Army officials” stating that Manning “is being treated like any other maximum security prisoner.” If I had to guess, I’d say Miklaszewski was protecting whatever officials gave him the scoop, while more clearly identifying those who pushed back on it.

The following day, CNN’s Chris Lawrence wrote a piece reporting that Brig Commander Averhart was being investigated.

The U.S. military is investigating why the commander of the military jail put Pfc. Bradley Manning, suspected of leaking documents to WikiLeaks, on suicide watch for a few days last week, according to Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan.

[snip]

An investigation has been launched into whether Brig Commander James Averhart had the authority to place Manning on suicide watch, which is usually ordered by the medical staff.

That report was sourced to David Lapan, by name. Within three hours after that story appeared, CNN pulled the story, first explaining,

The CNN Wire has killed the story slugged US-WikiLeaks-Manning-1 that moved at 2:47 p.m. due to new information. The military spokesman identified in the story says there is no investigation into the decision to put Bradley Manning on suicide watch.

That retraction now names Lapan, again by name. Lawrence was among the first to report, the following day, that Averhart (who a day before was maybe or maybe not under investigation) was being replaced–pursuant to a decision made back in October.

But the really interesting thing came before that, in yesterday’s press briefing by David Lapan’s boss, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell (whose resemblance to the Matrix’ Agent Smith is uncanny, and who notes this was his first press briefing since November; here’s a video of the presser). Read more

The NYT’s “Heads Up” Meeting with the FBI on Wikileaks

The NYT has a very long profile on their interactions with Wikileaks, about which I will have more to say.

But I wanted to point to this meeting, which Bill Keller describes as the NYT’s effort to give the government a “heads up” on the diplomatic cables.

Because of the range of the material and the very nature of diplomacy, the embassy cables were bound to be more explosive than the War Logs. Dean Baquet, our Washington bureau chief, gave the White House an early warning on Nov. 19. The following Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, Baquet and two colleagues were invited to a windowless room at the State Department, where they encountered an unsmiling crowd. Representatives from the White House, the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the F.B.I. and the Pentagon gathered around a conference table. Others, who never identified themselves, lined the walls. A solitary note-taker tapped away on a computer. [my emphasis]

It’s bad enough that–as Keller also reports–the NYT has no secure communications.

But is it also the habit of the NYT to meet with the government–including the FBI–on upcoming stories? For all the NYT’s insistence, with Judy Miller, that they would not be an accomplice to a government investigation, what the hell were they doing meeting with the FBI before they published a story?

Visa: WikiLeaks Guilty until Proven (Twice) Innocent

The AP reports that a Swedish company Visa Europe hired to study whether WikiLeaks was breaking the law or Visa’s own rules has “found no proof the group’s fundraising arm is breaking the law in its home base of Iceland.” But, the AP goes on, Visa will not accept WikiLeaks donations until it completes its own investigation, which has thus far lasted eight weeks.

Shorter Visa: “we’re going to keep investigating this until we find some justification to explain why we’ll accept donations to the Ku Klux Klan but not WikiLeaks.”

Now, this says one of two things about Visa.

Either, Visa is saying it arbitrarily will decide to stop doing business with any customer it chooses until such time as it proves that customer is innocent. Imagine the absurdity of standing at a check-out counter while Visa not only does a criminal background check, but scrambles with its lawyers to invent new legal theories by which you might be breaking the law.

Or, Visa has stopped processing Wikieaks donations at the behest of the U.S. government based on lies. And even after the government admitted that it had told lies to shut down WikiLeaks, Visa continues to stall for time to come up with an adequate explanation for why it’s doing so.

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