openSecurity

Ex-hacker exposes suspected "Collateral Murder" wiki-leaker

Ex-hacker exposes suspected wiki-leaker. Iran announces plans for aid convoy to Gaza. Somalis flee clashes in central provinces. US considers sanctions in response to Cheonan crisis. All this and more in today's security briefing
Andrea Glioti
8 June 2010

US Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning has been exposed by former hacker, Adrian Lamo, following a chat conversation in which he reportedly admitted having leaked classified information to the website Wikileaks. Last week, the Department of Defense announced that Manning would be detained for investigations. In late May, Manning is said to have revealed to Lamo his dissatisfaction with the army’s practices in Iraq, which led him to consider disclosing the video of a helicopter attack carried on in Baghdad on 12 July 2007. Twelve people were killed during the raid, including two Reuters reporters. The video was uploaded in April under the title ‘Collateral Murder’ by Wikileaks, a web platform specialized in publishing secret material from undisclosed sources. Additionally, the technology magazine Wired claimed on its website that Wikileaks had received from Manning 260,000 secret US diplomatic cables and video of another aerial incursion, which left dead 97 Afghani civilians last year. This last footage has not been posted on the website so far. Wikileaks' chief editor, Julian Assang, categorically denied being in possession of that amount of classified cables; however, he emphasized that ‘if [Manning was the] whistleblower then, without doubt, he’s a national hero’.

Senior officials at the Pentagon have expressed their concern of the threat of new media to national security. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates criticized the Baghdad video for representing war ‘through a soda straw’.  It is not the first time Wikileaks has been subject to fierce reproach, having being responsible for publishing documents about toxic waste in Africa, protocols from Guantanamo Bay and the private emails of former US vice-president candidate Sarah Palin. The web platform was created three years ago by Assange, an Australian activist and journalist, who guarantees the project is entirely funded by ‘human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists and the general public’.             

Some consider Wikileaks the future of investigative journalism, but the US intelligence services clearly uphold different views on the matter: in mid March 2010, the website disclosed a US counter-intellingence report that labelled Wikileaks a ‘threat to the US Army’. The document, dated 18 March 2008, suggested that ‘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’. It is also argued that experienced cyber technicians could gain access to Wikileaks website, information systems and networks to help identify concealed sources. In support of its proposals, the report quotes the blockade enforced on the website in countries like Zimbabwe, China, Russia, North Korea, Vietnam and Israel. The US cabinet subsequently confirmed the authenticity of the document to the BBC.

Anyone is allowed to pass material to Wikileaks anonymously, but a team of editors, composed of volunteers and journalists, determines what is published in the end. The US counter-intelligence report identifies the lack of fact-checked accuracy and editorial policies as the main risk of manipulation and disinformation. These critiques are rebutted by Assange, affirming that Wikileaks wants to act as ‘a natural intermediary’ between sources and the press, whereas verification remains a duty of the journalists contacted for spreading classified material.

The openSecurity verdict: The right to censor ‘sensitive or classified government information’ and the belief that stolen information should be excluded from ethical journalism, as expressed in the aforementioned counter-intelligence report, appear to be mere attempts to curb freedom of expression. No security threat is supposed to legitimise covering up proof of an intentional massacre of civilians. Moreover, quoting as examples countries like Zimbabwe and North Korea, when advocating the repression of Wikileaks, is not likely to convince a wide public of the democratic values embedded in American society.

The Pentagon should give greater consideration to the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Its reasoning resembles the Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memoranda, using the War on Terror to justify a freeze on freedom of speech. As pointed out during a congressional committee in 1960, ‘secrecy - the first refuge of incompetents - must be a bare minimum in a democratic society, for a fully informed public is the basis of self-government’. In the same meeting, a young Donald Rumsfield, in complete contradiction to the path down which his future career would lead him, stressed how ‘public records, which are the evidence of official government action, are public property, and there should be a positive obligation to disclose this information upon request’.

The disclosed ‘Collateral Murder’ footage clearly infringes the Rules of Engagement of March 2007 , which stresses the necessity to ‘ensure that actions are necessary and collateral damage is minimized to the extent possible’. It is consequential that the government must disclose such a video upon request and, considering the fact that it was kept secret, avoid clamping down on investigative campaigns.

Wikileaks is part of a project for greater freedom of expression in need of support: the website inspired the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), proposed in February 2010 by Icelandic MPs to legislate protecting laws for investigative journalism and its sources. The recent arrest of Bradley Manning should speed up this plan to legally safeguard whistleblower media.

Iran announces decision to send aid-ships to Gaza

The Iranian Red Crecent Society declared its intention to send two aid-boats to Gaza this week. This would be clearly understood by Israel as a provocation and follows yesterday’s statement by a senior Iranian official that Iran planned to deploy Revolutionary Guards as escorts for humanitarian convoys. The head of the Red Crescent in Iran, Abdolrauf Adibzadeh, affirmed that one boat will be carrying donated goods and the other relief workers. Both will be sent in coordination with Turkish authorities.

The last aid convoy sent by Iran to Gaza was seized by Israeli authorities in December 2008, without any clashes. However, after the slaughter of eight Turkish civilians onboard the Mavi Marmara, Israel is increasingly worried about an alignment of Ankara with the Islamic Republic in order to break the Gaza blockade.

Floods and clashes force Somalis to flee

Thousands of civilians have left their villages in Somalia’s central regions of Hiiraan and Galgadud due to torrential rains and militia clashes. The pro-government Ahl-l-Sunna-wa-l-Jama’a and the rebels of al-Shabab have been engaged in fighting from 3-5 June. Ali Sheikh Yassin of the Elman Human Rights Organization (EHRO) reported that, due to the prevailing insecurity, there is still no aid agency providing the displaced communities who have fled to avoid being killed by the militias.

Sporadic clashes  between the African Union-backed, pro-government Islamist group Ahl-l-Sunna-wa-l-Jama’a and the allegedly al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab have not ceased since Ethiopian troops withdrew in December 2008. At the same time, in Beletweyne, the regional capital of Hiraan, around 4,000 families have been forced to flee, due to flooding and further clashes, in this case between government forces and Hisbul Islam, another Islamist group controlling the town.

Relief workers believe that at least 3.2 million Somalis are still in need of aid countrywide and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that more than a million civilians have been displaced.

US to consider more options on the Cheonan crisis

While delivering a speech on Saturday at the Ninth Asian Security Conference, US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced new provisions to hold North Korea more accountable for its ‘provocative and reckless behavior’. These further actions against Pyongyang are believed to comprise a package of economic sanctions depending on the UN Security Council’s approval. The White House could also specifically target North Korea with the Proliferation Security Initiative, a US-sponsored campaign aimed at inspecting all ships and aircrafts suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction.

 

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