Aftershocks from the Afghan War Diary release.

12 August 2010

If you haven't been paying attention to the news for a week or so, Wikileaks dropped a major bomb last week by releasing approximately 75,000 classified mission reports from the ongoing yet formally undeclared war in Afghanistan. The staff of Wikileaks has made it known that there is so much data there that anyone and everyone out there with programming skills should at least consider downloading the archived documents and writing software to analyze their contents to find patterns in the information. However, nothing ever happens in a vacuum and blowback is being felt across the Net, and I don't mean the talking heads downplaying the significance of the data or calling for Bradley Manning to be executed and demanding that all guns to be brought to bear on the secretive, distributed organization. There are even some voices out there calling for Julian Assange to be kidnapped by the military and tortured for information.. excuse me, undergo extraordinary rendition wherever he may be to be taken into custody and undergo enhanced interrogation techniques to find out exactly what he knows.

I must confess, I'm not sure why Jacob Appelbaum vanished without a puff off smoke a few weekends ago. My hypothesis is that, as a known and admitted associate of Julian Assange the powers that be would want to question him to ascertain whether or not Appelbaum knew of Assange's wherabouts. It is also possible that they wanted to gather intelligence about the website's back end, seeing as how their attempts to get people to infiltrate the staff failed. They missed their shot at the Next HOPE but unfortunately detained Appelbaum at Newark International Airport last week as he flew back into the States to speak at Defcon. You don't need to be a psychic to know that their "random search" really wasn't random at all, they knew he'd be flying into Newark because they have access to passenger rosters by way of the TSA. Appelbaum's three cellular phones (don't be that surprised, it's not uncommon for international travelers to carry multiple phones due to the vagaries of telephone companies abroad) were confiscated, which makes sense when you take into account the fact that people keep their entire lives in their smartphones. If you take someone's phone you can not only find out everyone they've been talking to through the records kept in the phone but you can then start mapping the connections between everybody they know.

It's also worth noting that they demanded that he decrypt his laptop computer's hard drive so that they could make a forensic disk image for analysis. By all accounts it took them a while to understand that he was unable to do so because there did not appear to be a hard drive at all. This could mean a couple of things: first, the hard drive had been wiped clean prior to Appelbaum catching his flight. No data, nothing to decrypt. Second, he might have shipped his laptop's hard drive via airmail and gone analog for the trip home. Third, he may have been following a protocol developed by Bruce Schneier, in which you have a trusted third party encrypt your hard drive for you but not tell you the passphrase until you get to wherever you were going and then contact them in in a pre-arranged manner; however, it seems to me that under such circumstances they would have confiscated his laptop as well, and the reports I've managed to track down do not say that this was done. Or fourth, and this seems the most plausible scenario, he could have been running his laptop without a hard drive of any kind and booting from a live CD.

I shouldn't forget to mention that after his presentation at Defcon he was approached by three agents of the FBI in plainclothes who wanted to ask him questions (subtly different from 'wanted to question him').

When talking about Wikileaks in general and the Afghan War Diaries in particular, there are a few things it would be wise to remember: First and foremost, contrary to belief and slightly misleading news articles these documents are probably not part of the 250,000 diplomatic cables PFC Bradley Manning is accused of pilfering. If you poke around on the Wikileaks website you will find a couple of diplomatic cables and if you compare them to the Afghanistan US military reports they don't look anything alike. The Afghanistan documents are mission reports, sitreps, and memos sent up and down the chain of command. There is no evidence that Bradley Manning had anything to do with these documents, either officially or in any of the leaked instant messenger conversations he'd had with Adrian Lamo so I advise everyone to not jump to conclusions just because the news reports make the implication. There is also a non-zero probability that some of the reports in the Afghan War Diaries are fakes written by Army counter-intelligence officers. Military CI is long reputed to "salt the mines" as it were with false, traceable information to assist them in determining who leaked information and how it likely got out. I don't know how long these rumors have been circulating but it fits the general strategy of a group charged with, among other things, running mole hunts.

The reaction of the US government and spin control operations that have been enacted are starting to reveal the true state of things behind the curtain and nobody's willing to risk their clearance and career to say that the emperor is walking around showing off his lack of a tan. The powers that be are afraid of what would happen if word got out that the situation in Afghanistan was worse than we'd been told because confidence in the government would tank. Well, word got out and confidence in the people we'd elected to represent us is somewhere on the sea bed along with the Titanic. Remember that people have authority only so long as people are willing to recognize that authority. If people stop listening to someone in authority and openly no longer care about or believe what they have to say, that authority no longer has power or control. Orders are no longer followed and demands are ignored. A famous quote long attributed to feudal Japan, "Power perceived is power achieved," is no less true today. The fear is that people will ignore their leaders, and they cannot fathom what might happen afterward if that happened. For any power structure, any chain of command, that's a frightening thought indeed.

Keep your wits about you, everyone. Things are getting interesting.