American Elephants

Kings College Cambridge, ” In the Bleak Midwinter” by The Elephant's Child
December 12, 2010, 7:59 pm
Filed under: Heartwarming, Music | Tags: , ,

Bleak Midwinter would seem to describe the American Midwest suffering under Blizzards. The carol is by Harold Darke. The video was made in 2008.

WikiLeaks Is Not About “Transparency,”It’s About Assange’s Ego. by The Elephant's Child

Julian Assange. founder and head of WikiLeaks, is in British custody.   It sounds much better to say he is “the founder and head” than to say he’s a computer hacker breaking into protected systems.

He was born in Australia in 1971.  By the time he was a teenager, he could break into even well-protected networks.  Around 1987, according to  Discover the Networks, he joined with two fellow hackers to form a group known as the International Subversives,  who broke into computer systems from Europe to North America.  Some major hacks were into the U.S. Defense Department and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

There is certainly a vast array of thrillers, in books and movies, that glorify the computer hacker:  a fascinating, but slightly dangerous geek, in trouble with the  law at some point, who turns his expertise to helping the hero to save the world. The character is becoming trite.  Assange is not the first to excuse the reality of his life by adopting the persona of a film hero that he admires.  No morality, no principles.  Call it EgoLeaks.

Probably even evading the law fit nicely into his fantasy. Pursued by authorities, he developed a nomadic style, maintaining no real home, for fear that authorities had targeted him for the data leaks he had created.

In 1991 he hacked into the master terminal that Nortel, a Canadian telecom company, maintained in Melbourne, and soon after he was caught by federal investigators and charged with 31 counts of hacking and related offenses.The potential sentence was at least ten years.  Assange pled guilty to 25 charges.  Unfortunately, the judge was lenient and he escaped with a small fine, which probably enhanced his self-image as a brilliant geek.

He worked as a computer programmer and software developer and studied physics and math at the University of Melbourne.  In 2005, he began the process of creating WikiLeaks.  His inspiration was said to be Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers.  He described WikiLeaks as “an activist organization” whose “method is transparency.” and whose “goal is justice.”

L. Gordon Crovitz, Wall Street Journal columnist described him more accurately as an “information anarchist.” His intention is to break down trust between governments and restrict information flows, and eventually to bring down governments.  A major cause of the failures of intelligence about the 9/11 attacks was the shutting down of information flows between government agencies.  The Obama administration will  now tighten information accessibility, which could limit leaks, but hobble the United States. Mr. Crovitz said:

Mr. Assange is misunderstood in the media and among digirati as an advocate of transparency. Instead, this battening down of the information hatches by the U.S. is precisely his goal. The reason he launched WikiLeaks is not that he’s a whistleblower—there’s no wrongdoing inherent in diplomatic cables—but because he hopes to hobble the U.S., which according to his underreported philosophy can best be done if officials lose access to a free flow of information.

Mr. Assange seems to conceive of himself as a sort of warrior for “social justice.” Mr. Crovitz compared him more accurately to Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who sent letter bombs for nearly 20 years, killing three people and injuring many more.  The Unabomber Manifesto objected to the “industrial-technological system” that causes people to behave in ways remote from the natural pattern of human behavior. Assange regards all secrets as bad but — weapons systems, your identity, health records, your bank account?

Diplomatic cables are not designed for public consumption.  Those in government who have to make good decisions in a fog of events and circumstances need all the information about those they have to deal with they can get.That doesn’t mean it is wrong.

A moment’s thought about what you would want to know about a contractor who is going to do expensive work on your home should provide an example — does he pay his bills on time, does he always show up as promised, cheat on his estimates, fix his mistakes, is he a person of good character and so on. Our government needs to know a lot of information about other heads of state and influential officers of government — information that neither side would care to see published in the paper.  Some ambassadors are highly qualified, and some get their post as a reward for campaign support.

The free flow of information is liberating, and problematic. In October, the Secret Service arrested a Malaysian man in New York who had 400,000 bank-card numbers that he hacked out of the Cleveland federal Reserve. How do you keep out the bad guys while not hampering the creative work of everyone else?  The Obama administration is attempting to regulate the internet through the efforts of the FCC. This is the proverbial camel’s nose, and it has been a very busy camel attempting preliminary regulations over every industry that will only lead to more and more regulation.

China’s solution, Dan Henninger points out, is” to suppress the flow of information, let creativity be damned, and steal from us.  What if China had a wikileaker?  They’d execute him.”

Pfc. Bradley Manning, who downloaded all that data for Assange, is sitting in a Quantico brig.  He could get 52 years, and he should.  We need to end the fantasy about the heroic hacker. Espionage is a serious crime and needs to be treated as such.

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