We speak to Emmanuel Goldstein, a well-known figure in the hacker community and the editor of the magazine 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. He is also the organizer of the HOPE conference. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had been slated to be the keynote speaker at the most recent conference. Federal agents were there waiting for him, but Assange didn’t show. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: As Julian Assange’s roots lie in the world of computer hacking and political hactivism, and the focus on WikiLeaks is bringing new attention on the underground world of hackers, I’m joined here in New York by a well-known member of the hacking community who goes by the name Emmanuel Goldstein — yes, from the figure in 1984, George Orwell. He’s the editor of the magazine 2600: The Hacker’s Quarterly. He’s also the organizer of the HOPE, or Hackers on Planet Earth, conferences.
Julian Assange had been slated to be the keynote speaker at the most recent conference, which took place earlier this month. But he didn’t make it. Former hacker Adrian Lamo, who turned in Private Bradley Manning to the authorities, did attend the conference. Private Manning is the one who was arrested for taking documents or downloading documents and giving them over to WikiLeaks. This is some of what Adrian Lamo said and how he was challenged.
ADRIAN LAMO: I think that the government behaved themselves better than a lot of people would give them credit for. To set the record clear, I am not an informant. I’m a witness in a criminal case. It’s not that different, in my eyes, from being a witness in any other case that could involve potential loss of life.
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Adrian, I mean, you say it’s —- you know, it’s been a pleasant experience for you, you know, working with the government on this, I guess. But Bradley Manning, the alleged leaker, is currently sitting in prison in Kuwait, I believe, and he could be locked up for the rest of his life. How do you feel about that?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Tortured!
ADRIAN LAMO: I think that it’s a little bit ludicrous to say that Bradley Manning is going to be tortured. We don’t do that to our citizens.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Guantánamo!
ADRIAN LAMO: I mean, obviously it’s been much worse for him, but it’s certainly been no picnic for me. And I knew from the get-go that it was going to be a low point in my interactions with the community. And I -—
UNIDENTIFIED: Yet you could have ignored him. When he first contacted you, you were not obliged to ever answer him. You could have simply ignored him, and none of this would have ever happened.
ADRIAN LAMO: And Mr. Manning could have ignored the diplomatic cables, and he could have ignored the collateral murder video, but he followed his conscience, as I did mine.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: From my perspective, I see what you have done as treason.
AMY GOODMAN: Former hacker Adrian Lamo questioned at the Hackers on Planet Earth, or HOPE, conference last week.
Emmanuel Goldstein, organizer of the conference, welcome to Democracy Now!
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back for a minute. Before we talk about Adrian Lamo, I’d like to talk about this conference that Julian Assange was supposed to be the keynote speaker for. What happened?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Well, we originally talked to Julian a few months ago, after “Collateral Murder” was released. And —
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what “Collateral Murder” was.
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Well, that was the videotape that showed US soldiers firing on unarmed civilians and journalists, resulting in many deaths, something that the US government had suppressed.
AMY GOODMAN: This was videotape, July 12th, 2007, that WikiLeaks released. And if you want to see that video, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. But go ahead, Emmanuel.
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: And when we saw the extent with which this was gaining interest throughout the world, Julian seemed a natural fit for something like the HOPE conference, because we have controversial speakers dedicated to freedom of speech or releasing information to the public, and Julian does have roots, as you have said, in the hacker world. And we didn’t know that the hacker world would continue to play a part in this story to the extent that it would keep Julian from being able to enter this country safely, because of the ensuing controversy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what happened before the conference?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Well, before the conference, Wired published a news story, basically featuring Adrian Lamo, the former hacker that you just made reference to. That caught the attention of Bradley Manning, the Army specialist accused of leaking that video, along with other documents. Allegedly, from what I have heard, he entrusted Adrian Lamo and told him all kinds of information, and Adrian felt compelled to go to the authorities and thus turned Bradley Manning in. And that has resulted in quite a bit of consternation, in general, from the hacker community, which holds these values very dear to its heart, as far as releasing information to the public, getting to the truth of the matter, uncovering cover-ups. WikiLeaks is something that I would say most of the hacker community views as essential, as are other leak sites that focus on this kind of thing.
AMY GOODMAN: The Department of Homeland Security came to your conference or came before the conference?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: We had federal agents come the first day of the conference. They came to our registration desk, demanded access. And we told them that unless you have a search warrant, the only access you’re going to get is if you buy a badge to the conference. And they bought badges.
AMY GOODMAN: And Julian Assange didn’t come?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Well, Julian Assange wanted to come. We wanted him to come, but we certainly didn’t want to put him in any danger. And up until the last moment, we were considering all kinds of possibilities, and we kept that close to our hearts. We didn’t want to reveal too much information as far as where exactly he was at the time. In the end, though, the decision that was reached was to have another representative of WikiLeaks give the talk, and Jacob Appelbaum stood in for him and gave a very compelling talk. And I think it also points out that WikiLeaks is not one person. WikiLeaks is an unknown number of people throughout the globe, and it’s a lot stronger than the media, than people think. So, I’m just worried that Julian might be seen as the threat to the US government or the military. And that’s not the case. We’re all the threat, anybody who wants the truth, anybody who wants information to get out there. We’re the threat to that kind of thinking. And it’s not going to go away. As long as the internet exists, as long as democracy exists, this kind of thing is going to happen constantly.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain how WikiLeaks.org works, Emmanuel.
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Well, not being a part of the organization myself, I can’t say exactly how it works. How I would run something like this would be to set up a whole bunch of servers throughout the world, backing up each other. In case troops storm into a colocation facility in one country, there’s another one that will take its place. On the internet, censorship is basically seen as a network problem, and we route around censorship. We get to the source in a different way. So if you take out one machine, there’s another one to take its place. And you would have to pretty much take apart the entire internet to defeat that kind of a system.
The other thing I would run in such a system is basically a lack of logs. What that means is I wouldn’t keep records of who sent me an email, of the correspondence between people, of who accessed the website. Indymedia had something similar years ago, where information was demanded of it by the government, and they didn’t have the information, because they didn’t keep logs. If you keep logs, you have a lot of information about the people who visit your site or who email you. You can get their IP, and that leads to their geographic location. You can even get things like the kind of browser they use if they go to your website. But if you don’t keep logs, you don’t have any of that. And we’re not obligated to keep logs. And I think that’s something very important in this society where we’re basically obsessed with record keeping. We don’t have to keep these records. If we run a website and we want to keep it truly anonymous, then we just let people go to it and not keep tabs on who they are or their demographics or anything like that. Information is what’s important.
AMY GOODMAN: Now I want to talk about Adrian Lamo and this questioning you did of him at your conference, you and others. He’s the one who dealt with Bradley Manning, who’s now in jail. Reading from Wired, “Manning is charged with improperly downloading more than 150,000 State Department cables from SIPRnet, where they were accessible through an information-sharing program called Net-Centric Diplomacy. He’s charged with leaking more than 50 of them. In his online chats, Manning claimed to have leaked 260,000 cables to Wikileaks, which he said documented years of secret foreign policy and 'almost-criminal political back dealings,'” he said. First of all, explain all of that. What is SIPRnet?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Well, I’m not actually an expert on the military —-
AMY GOODMAN: S-I-P-R-net.
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: —- the military networks. That is one such network that Bradley Manning allegedly had access to.
AMY GOODMAN: And the information-sharing program called Net-Centric Diplomacy?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: I imagine that’s some kind of a program similar to torrents, where you’re able to anonymously share information. Again, I’m not familiar with that, but these are tools that are used by people who want to disseminate information in a fairly secure and anonymous manner.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s interesting. Here he was — he was in Iraq, and he was downloading. Again, he was charged with only leaking fifty cables. When you see what he had access to — and these were — most of these were about Afghanistan.
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: How does he have access to this trove of hundreds of thousands of documents, sitting — an Army specialist in Iraq?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: How does anyone have access to such an enormous amount of information?
AMY GOODMAN: He said he went in with DVDs or CDs that said things like “Lady Gaga” on them. He would erase them and download them onto those CDs.
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: It was an incredibly low-tech way of doing things, if this is in fact what happened. He would go in with a CD, pretend to be to listening to it; in actuality, he’d be writing to the CD. It’s ingenious, a kind of thing that movies are made out of. But the real question here is, how is the military guarding their allegedly secret information? Not very well. If Bradley Manning did in fact have this access and did in fact make use of it, how many other people had this kind of access? Where else might this leak have gotten to, if it didn’t go to WikiLeaks first? Imagine if Bradley Manning wasn’t somebody who supported the United States and democracy? What if he was an enemy agent that leaked this information to some other regime or some terrorist organization? We wouldn’t be talking about it now, but they would have that information. The important thing is, when there’s bad security, that everybody know there’s bad security. When there are cover-ups, everybody needs to know about the cover-ups. That’s the way a democratic society works.
AMY GOODMAN: Emmanuel Goldstein, Adrian Lamo, who he is?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Adrian Lamo is an enigma. He’s somebody in the hacker community who has received a lot of attention over the years for various things. And this latest escapade is certainly the most controversial of anything he’s done in the past.
AMY GOODMAN: What was he known for in the past?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: He was known for hacking into the New York Times website, which I guess is kind of a rite of passage for hackers.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did he do there?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: I don’t think he really did anything other than change some wording on a web page. And we defended him at the time, because there was a spate of people being imprisoned for such minor crimes as simply hacking into a web page. We didn’t see anything bad about that, and I still don’t see anything wrong with that kind of expression, as long as no damage is committed. Adrian has been somebody who’s been in touch with a lot of people in the hacker community. He even runs our Facebook group, 2600 magazine’s Facebook group. Because it’s so decentralized, anybody can really run it. We never really cared.
But, unfortunately, he — by doing this, he placed himself in a situation where he was faced with what I believe is an impossible choice: do you continue to listen to somebody who is claiming to have leaked all these documents, or do you turn them in and clear your conscience and not go to prison yourself, if you’re found to be co-conspiring with him? I think Adrian put himself in that situation. It think it was a choice to continue to be in the spotlight by talking to people that were claiming all kinds of things. Keep in mind, we don’t even know if Bradley Manning ever gave 260,000 documents to WikiLeaks. We don’t know that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, he wasn’t charged with that. He’s charged with fifty cables.
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Right, which is a big difference. And fifty cables could be completely innocuous. There could be no information of any worth in there whatsoever. But by saying 260,000, we think that it’s an attack on the country, our defense is in shambles because of this. And that’s not the case at all. Bradley Manning, in my opinion, is a hero for releasing information that uncovered all kinds of scandals. And we need people to do that. That is how our society is strengthened.
AMY GOODMAN: How unusual is WikiLeaks.org, Emmanuel Goldstein?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: It’s not as unusual as you might think. There’s a site right here in New York called Cryptome.org, run by John Young, that’s been doing this kind of thing for over ten years. There are all sorts of sites —-
AMY GOODMAN: That’s C-R-Y-P-T-O-M-E?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Dot-org, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Dot-org.
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: There are all kinds of sites throughout the world dedicated to releasing information that somebody or something says is classified. At 2600 magazine, we’ve been releasing leaked information for over twenty-five years. What happens is -—
AMY GOODMAN: Like what?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Well, corporate information on computer systems, something that shows how easily vulnerable everything from phone systems to cash registers are in a corporation. And what happens when you do this, you get threatened. You get threatened with lawsuits and all kinds of government action. But the way that we have dealt with it, which has been quite successful, for the most part, is simply to tell people when you’re threatened. And if somebody sends you a threatening letter, you print the threatening letter. And generally they back off when they realize that this is bad publicity for them and that it’s not going to get anywhere, and you’re going to continue to do what you’re doing.
AMY GOODMAN: I don’t know if people realize how many hackers have been imprisoned, have been jailed.
EMMANUEL GOLDSTIEN: Far too many. Hackers are not the threat. We’ve been saying this for decades. They are the messenger. They are ones who tell people that, “Hey, this computer system, this bit of technology, it’s not what you think it is. It either has spyware capabilities, it has no security. It’s something evil that is being used against people. Or it’s something good that can be compromised in an evil way.” Whatever it is, it’s usually something that people that designed these things don’t want to hear, and they’d rather we shut up. And the best way to shut hackers up is to imprison them. Well, that’s great, if you don’t have a voice and if you don’t have the means of getting the word out that hackers are being discriminated against. And we’ve been able to do that over the years with Kevin Mitnick case, with the Bernie S. case, with the fiber optic case, so many more instances of hackers being imprisoned simply because they’re giving out information.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have fifteen seconds, but why did you adopt the nom de plume or nom de guerre, however you want to put it, Emmanuel Goldstein?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTIEN: Well, it’s interesting. Emmanuel Goldstein in George Orwell’s 1984 is seen as the enemy of the people, but I should point out that in the end of the book — I don’t want to spoil it for anybody — he is actually a fictitious creation of the government.
AMY GOODMAN: Hmm. Emmanuel Goldstein, thanks so much for being with us, well-known figure in the hacker community, editor of the magazine 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, organizer of the HOPE conferences.