2011-07-18 The Guardian blames WikiLeaks for the arrest of Bradley Manning

ImageA new article by the Guardian's James Ball fleshes out David Leigh's allegation that Wikileaks is to blame for the arrest of Bradley Manning.

Last week's release of the unredacted Lamo-Manning chat logs contained more information on the means by which Bradley Manning is alleged to have leaked information to Wikileaks. For a year now, Julian Assange has insisted that he can neither confirm nor deny whether Bradley Manning is the source for the leaks, since - as a matter of policy - the identity of the source is not known to Wikileaks. Wikileaks protects its sources by keeping them anonymous through cryptography and a secure submission system. Even if pressured to reveal their sources by court order - so goes the reasoning - Wikileaks will be unable to do so.

The original redacted chat logs contained no information which contradicted this, but they did contain various passages which appeared to make the story less likely. In particular, Manning is said in the logs to have claimed to have "developed a relationship" with Assange. The unredacted logs, however, give a more complete picture, and appear to confirm that Assange was speaking truthfully. If they are genuine - which is not assured - the chatlogs relate how Assange, in what appear to have been anonymous communications, insisted on knowing as little as possible about Manning.

(02:56:46 PM) bradass87: he knows very little about me
(02:56:54 PM) bradass87: he takes source protection uber-seriously
(02:57:01 PM) bradass87: “lie to me” he says
(02:57:06 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: Really. Interesting.
(02:57:34 PM) bradass87: he wont work with you if you reveal too much about yourself

If the logs are true, Wikileaks has entirely honoured its promise of source protection. It has done everything by the book. And yet, for Guardian journalist James Ball, the scrupulous insistence on rigorous operation-security on the part of Julian Assange is instead grounds for suggesting that he bears responsibility for Bradley Manning's arrest. Ball has, regrettably, twisted evidence of Wikileaks' good conduct in order to reflect on Wikileaks in the worst possible light.

Ball's article is only the most recent attempt by Guardian staff at scapegoating Julian Assange for the arrest and subsequent torture of Manning at the hands of the US government. For some time now David Leigh at the Guardian has been insinuating that Julian Assange is to blame for Manning's arrest. Speculation as to Leigh's motive for so doing cannot be conclusive, but it would be a fair guess to say it has to do with the mutual animosity between Leigh and Assange, which developed after Wikileaks broke with the Guardian late last year.

Leigh's commentary on Wikileaks since then - by and large promulgated through his twitter account - has been remarkably petty, and bears the indicia more of emotional vendetta than principled disagreement. He has seized on every controversy having to do with Wikileaks that has surfaced, however vulgar or inflated, and has distorted even positive news about Wikileaks so as to find a negative angle. Clearly attempting to affect a jocular tone, Leigh tends instead to come off as hopelessly obsessed and resentful. Nearly 90% of his tweets are clumsily transparent expressions of Wikileaks-directed schadenfreude.

Oh dear. Daily Mail latches on to allegation that #Assange was on a love-child spree. Bad for #WIkileaks. http://bit.ly/eyzBy0at this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

The frustrations of a journalist would be reasonably innocuous, however, if it wasn't for the grave consequences that might result from the circulation of falsehoods in this highly-charged matter. In his baseless insinuations of fault for the arrest of Bradley Manning, Leigh oversteps the mark, and becomes the author of potentially harmful disinformation.

This particular thread in Leigh's vendetta surfaced shortly before the publication of his Wikileaks book, jointly authored by Leigh and Guardian colleague Luke Harding, in January. A Telegraph article revealed that the Guardian's tell-all Wikileaks book, in its account of the events described in the Lamo-Manning chat logs, prejudicially treated the chatlogs as reliable, and related as fact rather than allegation that Manning was Wikileaks' source. The Guardian, then, had found Manning guilty before the US government had ever put him in front of a court.

In fact, the book was even more indiscreet. As covered by WIRED magazine, Leigh and Harding's book related how, privately, Assange was concerned to hold off publication of the War Logs and Cable releases, and wanted to assert rigorous control over the schedule of those releases, so as not to prejudice Manning's case. While unaware whether Manning was actually the source - because of the anonymous nature of the submission system at Wikileaks - Assange was worried that journalistic efforts on the leaks might expose Manning to the risk of charges under the Espionage Act. While it is salutary to know of Assange's concern for the wellbeing of a possible source, the very publication of this story runs the risk of further cementing the impression in the minds of the public that Manning is guilty.

Leigh defended the book vigorously on Twitter, alleging industrial jealousy as a motive:

Jealous "Telegraph" makes absurd attack on Guardian book, falsely calls Manning a source. Gordon Rayner shameful http://bit.ly/wikileaksbookat this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

I'm really amazed at how spiteful and stupid the Telegraph is being about the Guardian's new book http://bit.ly/wikileaksbook. Sour grapes?at this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

@wikileaks Why lie, Julian? You won't go to heaven if you lie about the #Guardian book. gu.com/p/2mnxe/tw You'll go somewhere elseat this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Pressed on the issue by multiple twitter users, Leigh then explicitly stated that Assange had gotten Manning arrested, while also defending the practice of treating the chat logs as if they were true, because "life is too short" to presume, in print, the innocence of a man possibly facing the death penalty.

@sunny_hundal We didn't point out Manning leaked. Wired mag did. US Army indicted him. It can't affect his plight. Assange got him arrestedat this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

@trh_humunculus @wikileaks Think about it a minute. Manning's lawyer would have instantly denied contents of published logs, if fabricated.at this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

It certainly wasn't Wired mag who got Manning arrested for #Wikileaks. They published the chatlogs later. http://bit.ly/wikileaksbookat this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

@davidleigh3 How do you know what Manning's lawyer has done?at this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

@davidmhouse You're right. I don't know what Manning's lawyer has done. But we can't ignore realities on the #Guardian. Life's too shortat this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Over the next month, Leigh took to dismissal of trenchant criticism, falsely alleging that it came only from teenagers, in a shameless deployment of an "argument from seniority."

Some fans, + a little crowd of angry teen detractors: what you get for writing a book about #Assange & #WikiLeaks. Serves us right, probablyat this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Leigh thereafter renewed his insinuations of fault on the part of Assange, eventually posting the notorious "I like to think..." tweet, where his self-regarding dishonesty was so acute as to trigger a short-lived satirical meme under the #iliketothink hashtag.

@wikileaks Pilger and Assange - always craving to be centre of attention. Less concern apparent for Bradley Manning, who has been sacrificedat this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

@BeatriceJBray I like to think that if someone like #bradleymanning had first dealt with me at the #guardian, he wouldn't now be in jailat this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

The subsequent volley of questions asking precisely how Assange was responsible for the arrest of Bradley Manning was answered with a dismissive guilt-by-association fallacy. It was, we are to understand, Julian Assange's fault that Bradley Manning was arrested, because Adrian Lamo had once donated to Wikileaks.

I see the kids are quite sensitive about the way #bradleymanning got arrested (it was thanks to his trust in #Wikileaks donor Adrian Lamo)at this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Leigh's argument here is clearly an inept attempt to admonish Wikileaks. Leigh appears to care about Manning's wellbeing only where doing so affords him grounds for an attack on Wikileaks. His ostensive concern for the plight of Manning extends, elsewhere, to endorsement of the Guardian's distasteful smear against the alleged motives of Manning:

Amazing #Guardian #bradleymanning video on #wikileaks. Fellow-soldiers say he was too sick to be sent to Iraq http://bit.ly/jx3A8Qat this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

But the attempt to lay Manning's hardship, not at the feet of those responsible for informing on him or carrying out his inhumane treatment, but at the feet of Wikileaks, does not stop at Leigh. James Ball has now committed himself to substantiating this counterintuitive conclusion. Ball - an ex-Wikileaks employee now employed at the Guardian - pubished an article on Saturday, and, from his twitter account, linked to it on these terms:

By me @commentisfree: How much responsibility does @WikiLeaks bear for Bradley Manning;s plight? http://t.co/ZOHgYy5at this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

The article cites the recently released unredacted chat logs as a stimulus for debate on how Wikileaks may actually be at fault. Of course, Ball is subtle enough to avoid an overt statement of blame, taking pains instead to advertise - falsely - that he is not blaming Wikileaks:

Would Manning still have found and trusted Lamo without the leak a year before? It's impossible to say, and certainly unfair to lay the blame for Lamo's actions at WikiLeaks' door – but what the incident does underscore is that source protection is about far more than computer security.

Having agonized at length about the dubious complexities of the issue, however, Ball proceeds to strongly suggest that Wikileaks is culpable for the fact that Manning apparently trusted in a treacherous confidante. The crux of the argument is that by implementing faultless source-protection measures - by keeping its source at arm's length - Wikileaks failed to offer moral support to Manning, and that, unable to look to Assange for validation, Manning instead turned to Lamo. The crucial passages of Ball's article are the following:

Assange was keen to keep this relationship remote, likely believing this best protects both him and his sources. "He knows very little about me," Manning wrote. "He takes source protection uber-seriously. 'Lie to me,' he says."

Assange may never have known Manning's name, his motivations, or other details. The extent of the relationship would matter little for the source's (virtually non-existent) legal protection, certainly under US law. It is difficult to see who is protected by an arm's-length relationship with regular sources, other than WikiLeaks itself.

Sources are often vulnerable. By passing secrets or documents from the organisations they are committed to – especially in all-encompassing environments like the military – they further isolate themselves from those around them. Forging a human relationship is often necessary for both source protection and often human decency.

WikiLeaks' submissions page – which still cannot accept electronic submissions – makes a series of boasts: "WikiLeaks has never revealed a source," it says. "We cannot comply with requests for information on sources because we simply do not have the information to begin with. Similarly we cannot see your real identity in any anonymised chat sessions with us."

Such statements are technically true. But what matters is not who reveals a source, but whether a source is found. Solving just one technical problem is not enough. WikiLeaks has also boasted of legal protections offered to sources. "Submitting documents to our journalists is protected by law in better democracies," it claims, reassuringly.


WikiLeaks' greatest source is currently in prison. Instead of stressing no one has been caught through WikiLeaks actions, or boasting of security, WikiLeaks – and everyone else working in that world – should take a long look at what they can do better, and put the results into action.

If not, Manning may not be the last whistleblower to face the consequences.

Ball hereby contends that Wikileaks' greatest success is the kernel of a greater failure. Wikileaks' policy of total anonymization was expressly formulated as a solution to an otherwise inherent weakness in the infrastructure of public interest whistleblowing. When a whistleblower leaks to a newspaper, they will often have to entrust that newspaper with information that could possibly identify them. Their security is therefore only as strong as the ability of that newspaper to conceal the information from parties seeking to punish the whistleblower.

To give an example, in 1983, The Guardian complied with a UK court order, relinquishing leaked documents to the UK government which were used to discern the identity of the whistleblower Sarah Tisdall, who was thereafter sentenced to six months in prison under the Official Secrets Act. Betrayals of confidence along this line contribute to a chilling effect, discouraging whistleblowers from braving the risks of leaking to a press which often appears incapable of protecting them. In the Tisdall case, the penalties facing The Guardian for noncompliance with the court order were so adverse as to make the disclosure of its source the lesser of two evils. But Assange's strategy for anonymization of leaks is a means of ensuring that such pressure is effectively fruitless. If a newspaper cannot disclose its source, it is no longer a target for such oppressive measures. It is the most effective means of ensuring that the source is protected.

Ball, however, would have Wikileaks endanger the confidentiality of its sources by having less stringent source protection. Wikileaks, for Ball, is responsible not just for looking after its own end of the bargain, but also in part for decisions that the source might subsequently make to compromise his/her own security. Ball looks adversely on assurances that Wikileaks' operations-security is state-of-the-art, on the basis that this constitues a 'false assurance.' This is alleged to give rise to a false sense of security on the part of sources.

@x7o Stressing the security of an encrypted dropbox, given that's one tiny risk out of hundreds, perhaps gives false assurance.at this time (click) via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Wikileaks, then, is to be faulted for being unable to honour promises it cannot - and did not - make. The only assurance Wikileaks makes is the only assurance Wikileaks is in a position to give. That a source who exposes him/herself is beyond Wikileaks' abilities to protect is deceitfully cast as a problem with Wikileaks, and not one outside of its control. But Wikileaks had taken efforts even to make this elementary fact plain to its sources. Even at the time Bradley Manning is alleged to have leaked to Wikileaks, Wikileaks website made quite clear that its source protection promises extended only to the information security end of the transaction. Onus clearly remained with the sources to ensure that they did not voluntarily disclose evidence of their conduct to a third party:

Is anonymity completely protected by the site?

It is hard for WikiLeaks to protect against "means, motive and opportunity" which are unrelated to WikiLeaks, but to date, as far as we can ascertain, none of the thousands of WikiLeaks sources have been exposed, via WikiLeaks or any other method.

Whistleblowers can face a great many risks, depending on their position, the nature of the information and other circumstances. Powerful institutions may use whatever methods are available to them to withhold damaging information, whether by legal means, political pressure or physical violence. The risk cannot be entirely removed (for instance, a government may know who had access to a document in the first place) but it can be lessened. Posting CD's in the mail combined with advanced cryptographic technology can help to make communications on and off the internet effectively anonymous and untraceable. WikiLeaks applauds the courage of those who blow the whistle on injustice, and seeks to reduce the risks they face.

Our servers are distributed over multiple international jurisdictions and do not keep logs. Hence these logs cannot be seized. Anonymization occurs early in the WikiLeaks network, long before information passes to our web servers. Without specialized global internet traffic analysis, multiple parts of our organization and volunteers must conspire with each other to strip submitters of their anonymity.

However, we also provide instructions on how to submit material to us, by post and from netcafés and wireless hotspots, so even if WikiLeaks is infiltrated by a government intelligence agency submitters cannot be traced.

It is only by a process of highly creative reasoning that - in these circumstances - Wikileaks could be considered even partially to blame for the arrest of Bradley Manning - even assuming that he was indeed the whistleblower. Listless prevarication over the many intricacies of the issue does not in any way abrogate the fact that Wikileaks has - on the evidence - behaved exactly as it always promised to. Neither does it fault the logic of complete anonymization as a means of source protection. Had the unredacted chat logs alleged that Assange had not been so scrupulous as to preserve anonymity, instead consoling and encouraging Manning, we would doubtless now be able to read anguished expressions of reproach for this, too, in the pages of the Guardian. By faulting Wikileaks for its flawless performance, The Guardian confirms that - for its purposes - Wikileaks can do no right.

Whether or not he is the source of the documents that have come to us through Wikileaks, the hardships Bradley Manning faces are grave. The exploitation of his plight by professional journalists, having the effect of discrediting one of the only organizations that has consistently acted with his best interests at heart, is an unfortunate slur on the name of journalism. The wrong is exacerbated by the fact that it is cloaked in the rhetoric of high-minded ethical concern and disinterested criticism. The greatest hazard is that these efforts might falsely erode public trust in Wikileaks, contributing to a new chilling effect, and thereby deprive our societies of one of the most significant victories for the cause of justice the world has seen in recent history. Staff at the Guardian - and elsewhere - would be best advised to dwell on serious questions about their priorities in the weeks ahead.

His Problem Is Palestine

I think Leigh has a right wing view of the Jewish Palestinian issues.

I remember watching him get worked up in a debate over this issue.

Alan Rusbridger Joins The Club

In a Newseek article boasting (deservedly) about the Guardian's role in bringing down Murdoch, the Guardian's editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger casually says:

"Everyone knows how WikiLeaks ended..."


"im obviously violating it"

There is this also, from whoever was behind the "bradass87" nick (my emphasis):

"(1:53:13 PM) bradass87: they [Wikileaks] have decent opsec... im obviously violating it"

Ball chose to not notice this important quote.

Also, he chose to not notice the track record of Wikileaks since its inception re. sources. As per its track record, Wikileaks is without question the best place to leak information which is of widespread interest.

Pentagon must be very pleased with Ball's nonsense, to brand Wikileaks as untrustworthy re. sources was exactly one of their bullet point as to how to make the Wikileaks "problem" go away.

Edit: Just to be clear, my point was just to highlight that ultimately, Wikileaks has no control over the action of the source itself. Wikileaks guarantees anonymity, but obviously can't guarantee anonymity if the source itself chooses to become less anonymous, so to blame Wikileaks is ridiculous. Ball's nonsensical arguments are just speculations on top of more speculations, which amount to nothing, except to embarrass himself.

I didn't know he was a former staff member of WL, knowing this now, I find it quite amazing that he doesn't grasp that the highest feasible level of anonymity is of utmost importance. It's actually comforting to know he is a former staff, he obviously wasn't fit for WL .

Also, he seemed to be annoyed by criticism leveled at the WSJ's "SafeHouse" by Wikileaks (and countless others): For me the ultimate problem with "SafeHouse" (and OpenLeaks) is that, directly or indirectly, the power to decide whether the material will be leaked or not is back in the hands of private or otherwise narrow interests. Do not want.

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