Tuesday, December 28, 2010

As much as the Wikileaks saga has ended up being one of the biggest stories of the latter part of 2010 - and looks likely to continue well into 2011 - I continue to be surprised at how much of the story seems to be avoiding much media scrutiny.

On the one hand, you have Wikileaks, the website which is dedicated to giving whistleblowers of all stripes a place to turn if they want to "leak" some sensitive documents or point the finger at something they think is wrong. No one seems to be entirely sure how that process works, nor did any of the major media organizations seem to pay much attention until this most recent "leak" of US government diplomatic cables.

On the other hand, there is a well-designed and straightforward campaign to discredit the Wikileaks organization and especially its founder, Julian Assange. You're likely familiar with that part of the story.

But there is a tremendous backstory developing, which is being told by some - even if its not gaining enough traction with the "traditional" media venues.

One of those doing an impressive job of exploring and detailing the entire Wikileaks saga is Glenn Greenwald, a US lawyer, columnist, blogger, and author, He writes a blog at Salon.com and he's also appeared on network TV news shows.

I've linked to a few articles, by Greenwald and others, about the Wikileaks story as it's developed. Recently, Greenwald posted "The worsening journalistic disgrace at Wired," about U.S. Army PFC Bradley Manning,  who is alleged to have leaked the Apache helicopter video and the diplomatic cables to Wikileaks.  His column explores some fascinating - and seemingly ignored - issues with  the connections between Wired Senior Editor Kevin Poulsen and Adrian Lamo -  the chief source of the charges against Manning.
For more than six months, Wired's Senior Editor Kevin Poulsen has possessed -- but refuses to publish -- the key evidence in one of the year's most significant political stories:  the arrest of U.S. Army PFC Bradley Manning for allegedly acting as WikiLeaks' source. In late May, Adrian Lamo -- at the same time he was working with the FBI as a government informant against Manning -- gave Poulsen what he purported to be the full chat logs between Manning and Lamo in which the Army Private allegedly confessed to having been the source for the various cables, documents and video that WikiLeaks released throughout this year. In interviews with me in June, both Poulsen and Lamo confirmed that Lamo placed no substantive restrictions on Poulsen with regard to the chat logs:  Wired was and remains free to publish the logs in their entirety.

Despite that, on June 10, Wired published what it said was only "about 25 percent" of those logs, excerpts that it hand-picked. For the last six months, Poulsen has not only steadfastly refused to release any further excerpts, but worse, has refused to answer questions about what those logs do and do not contain. This is easily one of the worst journalistic disgraces of the year:  it is just inconceivable that someone who claims to be a "journalist" -- or who wants to be regarded as one -- would actively conceal from the public, for months on end, the key evidence in a political story that has generated headlines around the world.
There is a lot of stuff to explore in this story. I recommend you take some time to follow the links and look into some of the issues for yourself.

And there's plenty of fodder on the other side of the issue as well, by people who think that Julian Assange is the problem. Salon, to its credit, is giving all sides of the issue the space to make their cases.

You also might want to watch this video of Glenn Greenwald on CNN on Monday, to get a taste of the kind of biased, shoddy journalism that seems to be the norm on TV these days. Watch the video, then read Greenwald's thoughts about it in his latest post, "The merger of journalists and government officials." (UPDATE - I was going to link to the video on YouTube but I can't find it anymore. Strange. However, there is a link to it at the end of Greenwald's blog post.)

As this debate (or non-debate) continues, what is galling for me is that we seem to be losing our ability to debate an issue thoroughly. We all used to laugh at those kids in the debating club in high school, but true debate is a valuable and worthwhile skill. In fact, our democratic system is built on it. But we are rapidly evolving into a polarized society - where there are only two sides on an issue. Period.

That's not a good thing.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Out on the Ice

Here's a terrific piece of reporting from Mary Rogan in GQ magazine:

Brian Burke isn't just a legend of the NHL. He's a fists-up, knock-your-teeth-out gladiator. But when his hockey-loving son came out of the closet and died soon after, he was thrust into a strange new role: advocate for gays in a macho sports culture. He's no cheerleader—he looks like he hates every minute of it—but locker-room homophobia may have finally met its match
Link to the full story.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Unevenly Distributed: Chrome, the iPad and the Crossroads of Civilization

Remember the adage - Content is King! (or Queen)?

It's a phrase I've tried to keep front and centre throughout my career as a communicator. While the vehicle of choice to deliver the content keeps evolving - it's the message that matters.

Unfortunately, that's something that many folks are losing site of again these days, as new technology brings us lots of new toys and exciting new ways to create, share and discover our content.

So it was a pleasure to discover this essay about why those who are sceptical about Google's latest toy - the Chrome OS - are missing the point.

While I still love books and my old laptops, I also have an iPad and I can easily imagine myself embracing Google's cloud vision in the future.

The content that we all seek to create and consumer should not be limited or defined by the devices we use.

Settle in for a wonderful read.

Unevenly Distributed: Chrome, the iPad and the Crossroads of Civilization

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Roz Savage - Adventurer of the Year

I've written a number of times during the past year or two about the adventures of Roz Savage, Ocean Rower.

She's been working on her latest book about her Pacific Ocean adventures and hasn't been blogging a lot lately, but she just posted an update about a great honour she's received.

Roz has been named an "Adventurer of the Year" by National Geographic.

Here's a link to her blog post about it. And here's another to the National Geographic announcement. It's a very impressive group of people!

In her post, Roz asks everyone who has followed her adventures this year to vote for her as the People's Choice winner for this current crop of adventurers. Voting runs through to Jan 15 and you can vote every day. If you want to vote, here's the link.

Congratulations Roz! We're all looking forward to the next adventure.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Wikileaks and the Long Haul

Clay Shirky has a very nicely packaged piece on the Wikileaks saga, called Wikileaks and the Long Haul.

While there's been a lot of stuff written about the massive dump of secret cables, Shirky's piece is worth reading if you're looking for a more nuanced view of the issue.

His discussion captures much of what I've been thinking about the way this story is playing out. There's a profound lesson to be learned, but I don't know what it is - yet.

What I do know is that I'm really confused about the fact that newly-elected Congressman Rand Paul is the only US politician who's willing to step up and support Wikileaks. His reasoning, as told to Fox Business last week, is rock-solid and should be supported by all political sides:
In a free society we're supposed to know the truth,” Paul said. “In a society where truth becomes treason, then we're in big trouble. And now, people who are revealing the truth are getting into trouble for it." (quoted here.)

Today, this story continues to take new and interesting turns, as governments around the world appear to be ratcheting up the pressure to haul Assange into custody. But of course, that won't stop what's happening. If anything, it could turn him into a martyr - which is not an effective way to silence your critics - as the Burmese government understands.

Here's the opening of Clay Shirky's article, Wikileaks and the Long Haul:"

Like a lot of people, I am conflicted about Wikileaks.

Citizens of a functioning democracy must be able to know what the state is saying and doing in our name, to engage in what Pierre Rosanvallon calls ‘counter-democracy’*, the democracy of citizens distrusting rather than legitimizing the actions of the state. Wikileaks plainly improves those abilities.

On the other hand, human systems can’t stand pure transparency. For negotiation to work, people’s stated positions have to change, but change is seen, almost universally, as weakness. People trying to come to consensus must be able to privately voice opinions they would publicly abjure, and may later abandon. Wikileaks plainly damages those abilities. (If Aaron Bady’s analysis is correct, it is the damage and not the oversight that Wikileaks is designed to create.*)

And so we have a tension between two requirements for democratic statecraft, one that can’t be resolved, but can be brought to an acceptable equilibrium. Indeed, like the virtues of equality vs. liberty, or popular will vs. fundamental rights, it has to be brought into such an equilibrium for democratic statecraft not to be wrecked either by too much secrecy or too much transparency.

As Tom Slee puts it, ‘Your answer to ‘what data should the government make public?’ depends not so much on what you think about data, but what you think about the government.’* My personal view is that there is too much secrecy in the current system, and that a corrective towards transparency is a good idea. I don’t, however, believe in pure transparency, and even more importantly, I don’t think that independent actors who are subject to no checks or balances is a good idea in the long haul.

If the long haul were all there was, Wikileaks would be an obviously bad thing. The practical history of politics, however, suggests that the periodic appearance of such unconstrained actors in the short haul is essential to increased democratization, not just of politics but of thought.

We celebrate the printers of 16th century Amsterdam for making it impossible for the Catholic Church to constrain the output of the printing press to Church-approved books*, a challenge that helped usher in, among other things, the decentralization of scientific inquiry and the spread of politically seditious writings advocating democracy.

This intellectual and political victory didn’t, however, mean that the printing press was then free of all constraints. Over time, a set of legal limitations around printing rose up, including restrictions on libel, the publication of trade secrets, and sedition. I don’t agree with all of these laws, but they were at least produced by some legal process.

Unlike the United States’ current pursuit of Wikileaks.

I am conflicted about the right balance between the visibility required for counter-democracy and the need for private speech among international actors. Here’s what I’m not conflicted about: When authorities can’t get what they want by working within the law, the right answer is not to work outside the law. The right answer is that they can’t get what they want.

Link to the full post.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Mystery Surrounds Cyber Missile That Crippled Iran's Nuclear Weapons Ambitions

Watching an action movie or a TV show that uses technology usually makes me laugh at some of the stuff they pull off with their computers. You know that it really isn't that easy to do things in the real world.

And in a similar vein, there are those who like to read conspiracy elements into almost everything that happens that seems a bit out of the ordinary. The rapid rise of the intelligence of the Internet has given a legitimacy to many of those claims, even if they usually are ridiculous.

But now we have Stuxnet. This is an amazing and fascinating (and worrying) story about how someone created a virus specifically designed to infiltrate and disrupt Iran's nuclear program. It worked amazingly well, and it's only a fluke that the world ever found out about it.

We're entering a whole new era - for better or worse. Just what's ahead is anybody's guess.
In the 20th century, this would have been a job for James Bond.

The mission: Infiltrate the highly advanced, securely guarded enemy headquarters where scientists in the clutches of an evil master are secretly building a weapon that can destroy the world. Then render that weapon harmless and escape undetected.

But in the 21st century, Bond doesn't get the call. Instead, the job is handled by a suave and very sophisticated secret computer worm, a jumble of code called Stuxnet, which in the last year has not only crippled Iran's nuclear program but has caused a major rethinking of computer security around the globe.

Intelligence agencies, computer security companies and the nuclear industry have been trying to analyze the worm since it was discovered in June by a Belarus-based company that was doing business in Iran. And what they've all found, says Sean McGurk, the Homeland Security Department's acting director of national cyber security and communications integration, is a “game changer.”

The construction of the worm was so advanced, it was “like the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield,” says Ralph Langner, the computer expert who was the first to sound the alarm about Stuxnet. Others have called it the first “weaponized” computer virus.

Simply put, Stuxnet is an incredibly advanced, undetectable computer worm that took years to construct and was designed to jump from computer to computer until it found the specific, protected control system that it aimed to destroy: Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
Link to the original story