There has been a major spat brewing during the Christmas-New Years lull between Glenn Greenwald and Wired magazine over some of the latter’s reporting on the Wikileaks scandal, specifically the contents of chatlogs between Bradley Manning and Wired’s source Adrian Lamo. Blake Hounshell has a breakdown of the events over at FP if you are interested. Much of the verbage, especially in the back half, is dedicated to petty factual/nomenclature disputes and name-calling, and is really only interesting to those like me who are fascinated by arguments over things like what constitutes “a regular contributor to Wired magazine.” However, there are some interesting questions suspended in the dispute that remain as of yet unaddressed.
Essentially, Lamo, a regular source/good friend (the distinction consumes an inordinate amount of lines from both sides), of one of Wired’s reporters happens to be the person Bradley Manning, the suspected Wikileak leaker, confessed to and also the person who turned Manning over to the federal government. Shortly after these events transpired, Lamo alerted his contact-cum-friend at Wired, Kevin Poulsen about the doings and handed over chatlogs between him and Manning as evidence. Poulsen preceded to break the story as well as provide a fuller piece specifically on the contents of the chatlogs, with an incomplete transcript of the same, which Wired claims are the only relevant parts, with the rest containing either personal information or sensitive information. But, Lamo leaked excerpts to other news organizations, some of which were not in the parts that Wired has published so far, and then had his computer, with the original copy of the logs, seized as evidence by the government. Since Lamo has allegedly made additional claims about the contents of the chatlogs but Wired has yet to comment further on the contents of the unpublished bits, beyond their reasons for not publishing them.
This is where Glen Greenwald, who it should be noted is at this stage fairly indistinguishable from Wikileaks itself, has gotten involved. He has demanded that Wired release the rest of the logs or at very least confirm or deny various swirling rumors and allegations about their contents. Wired insists it cannot do either without infringing unnecessarily on Manning’s privacy or the secrecy of the American government, a claim Greenwald doubts, to put it mildly.
The first question that comes to mind is how can either Manning’s personal problems or American national necessities be so intensely intertwined with the contents of the unreleased chatlogs that even a simple confirm or deny about the broad character of their contents jeopardizes one of the two? At first blush. it seems Wired is exercising undue caution with respect to the remainder of the logs, especially considering they already felt confident enough to release about 25% of them. However, as Wired and not Greenwald has access to logs, it would seem reasonable at least to defer to their discretion for the time being, especially since they seem to have no intelligible reasons to withhold the logs other than those already stated.
Thus Greenwald has sought to malign Wired’s decision by alluding to a conspiracy that is as grand as it is vague, involving Wired, Poulsen, Lamo, a former prosecutor, and a network of other ex-hackers, all colluding expressly to confound Greenwald. He further tries to muddy the waters by repeatedly returning to Lamo’s and Poulsen’s criminal hacking record (despite Assange being convicted of the same crimes contemporaneously) and the supposedly unethical nature of their relationship, with little justification for the relevance of his allegations. Hounshell and I arrive at the same question: what exactly does Greenwald think is going on at Wired which would explain their refusal to release the information he wants for other than the stated reasons? Does he think Poulsen is trying to protect/bolster possible-buddy Lamo? Or that Lamo initially deceived Wired and the magazine is now covering its butt? Greenwald never specifies the scheme he envisions transpired and, when pressured, reverts to the Andrew-on-Trig non-defense of just seeking the truth:
To answer your question, I want the logs because it’ll show if Lamo’s claims are *true* – isn’t that what journalism is? You seem confused because I don’t know whose cause will be helped by disclosure – it’ll help the cause of truth. Lamo made lots of fantastical claims about what Manning said – Wired can say if those claims are true. Why shouldn’t they???
Further, one wonders why this all matters. Wired is not the sole owner of the chatlogs. As stated earlier, the federal government is in possession of them and hopes to use them in their case against Manning. If the unpublished transcripts validate any roaming charges against Manning, Assange, or anyone else, then won’t that come out during the trial (i.e. the only time these things actually matter)? Why must there be some grand public pre-trial adjudication of all accusations, where all evidence held by all sides must be presented to the jury of the Internet for their review? If Lamo is truly spreading unsubstantiated lies, won’t we find out soon enough?
Finally, I found this Wired article on the internal turmoil over at Wikileaks to be quite awesome. This chunk especially stands out:
Domscheit-Berg learned about Assange’s agreements with a number of media outlets last month, but did not know the details or when the documents were scheduled to be released. When he quizzed Assange in an online chat, Assange responded by accusing Domscheit-Berg of leaking information about discontent within WikiLeaks to a columnist for Newsweek.
A purported transcript of the chat provided to Wired.com by a WikiLeaks insider shows the conversation grew heated.
“You are not anyone’s king or god,” wrote Domscheit-Berg in the chat. “And you’re not even fulfilling your role as a leader right now. A leader communicates and cultivates trust in himself. You are doing the exact opposite. You behave like some kind of emperor or slave trader.”
“You are suspended for one month, effective immediately,” Assange shot back. “If you wish to appeal, you will be heard on Tuesday.”
Domscheit-Berg did not provide the transcript to Wired.com, but confirmed the substance of the chat in an interview with Wired.com. The promised “appeal” was never heard, and Domscheit-Berg’s suspension was followed by his resignation last Saturday.
Transparency is a two-way street. It does raise the question, though, about the distinction between individual privacy and organizational secrecy, which Greenwald tries to invoke tangentially during the dispute. But where exactly does Julian Assange end and Wikileaks begin (or, for that matter, the writings of a State Department official with an expectation of privacy and the Department itself)?