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Category Archives: Assange

A Review of WikiRebels, the Wikileaks documentary

This is a review of “WikiRebels”, a documentary on Wikileaks from SVT, the Swedish national broadcaster.

First let’s get something out of the way. The title, “Wikirebels”, is an embarrassment. Here we have another example of the propensity to coin neologisms by prefixing terms from IT and online culture. It is in the same vein as “cyberactivist”, “technoanarchist”, and other such monstrosities. In their defence, I should point out that this review is based on a rough cut posted on the SVT website, and the original Swedish title seems to be something different. I do not speak Swedish, so I cannot comment on whether it is better, worse, or equally terrible.

Another problem is the voiceover. It frequently strays into cliche and populism, all breathlessly delivered. Here is an example:

What we have here is a new breed of rebel. IT guerillas without a national base. Student digs, coffee bars and server rooms: these are their command and control centres.

I appreciate the necessity of making a documentary for people who do not necessarily know anything about Wikileaks, but I can’t see why in doing that they had to assume that the viewer has never even touched a computer. Again, criticisms aimed at the rough cut may not hold for the finished product. Hopefully some of the more egregious flaws will be remedied before the documentary is broadcast.

This documentary will appeal to two kinds of people: people who know nothing about Wikileaks and hardcore supporters. That is to say that it is not very substantial. People unfamiliar with the whistle-blowing website and looking to get up to speed will be well served by the hour-long portrait, while enthusiasts may be able to look past its faults. More critical viewers, meanwhile, might be frustrated by the lack of new information or insight into the inner workings of the organization.

Here is the root of the problem. Wikileaks is a clandestine group that can only do its work in secret. Julian Assange, and later Kristinn Hrafnsson, have chosen to be the public face of the organization. They are the ones willing to speak to cameras and take the considerable risks that come with media exposure. But this is supposed to be a documentary, not an interview, and the need for other talking heads and other viewpoints is filled by people who are no longer affiliated with Wikileaks or who never really were. Some of them have their own agendas. Others, such as PRQ CEO Mikael Viborg, give us an interesting glimpse into Wikileaks’s electronic infrastructure.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, aka Daniel Schmidt, features heavily. A lot of time is given to his criticism of Assange’s leadership and his new Openleaks project. It is said that Domscheit-Berg left Wikileaks of his own accord due to ideological differences with Assange. It has been alleged elsewhere that his resignation followed his being suspended for unspecified misconduct. While it is true that his earlier involvement in Wikileaks makes him a useful source of information, the circumstances around his departure and the conflict of interest created by his current project mean that he could hardly be considered an impartial commentator.

The same goes from Birgitta Jonsdottir. She was heavily involved in editing the Collateral Murder video and creating and promoting the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative. All this makes her a valuable witness to Wikileaks’s recent history, but her vocal opposition to Assange’s leadership and remarks she has made about him in the press cast doubt on her reliability.

But it’s not all bad. The most valuable thing reporters Jesper Huor and Bosse Lindquist have done in this documentary is to give centre stage to the Collateral Murder video. Three or four minutes of the forty-minute video are shown. They have removed everything but the tough indigestible kernel. An Apache helicopter mows down a group of unarmed men, including two Reuters employees, then engages a van driven by a father bringing his children to school who has stopped to help one of the wounded. In the context of the longer video the footage was already harrowing, but here, edited, it is a stomach-churning vomit-inducing atrocity. If Huor and Lindquist’s intention was to galvanize support for Wikileaks, which I suspect it was, this part of the documentary will do the trick.

The elephant in the room was always going to be the allegations against Assange. The documentary devotes some time to them at the end, but very few details are given. The filmmakers do not pass judgement either way. Wikileaks supporters might have hoped to see some more investigative work here, but it is undoubtedly better to avoid public speculation about an ongoing criminal investigation.

Though this documentary is a worthy effort, it feels a little out of date. Assange’s arrest is mentioned, but none of the subsequent developments. There is also very little treatment of the technological developments that have taken place since the release of the State Department cables. The problems with hosting, the mass-mirroring efforts and the recent DDoS attacks are all neglected. Perhaps this is to be expected. This documentary is the result of several months’ work, and the television production cycle is not suited to such a fast-moving story. The nimbleness of blogging, Twitter, etc., makes the internet a better arena for information and discussion in this instance. “WikiRebels” left me feeling as if traditional media are merely playing catch-up.

You can watch the documentary on SVT Play until Monday, 13 December.


Operation Payback: activism or idiocy?

Recent attacks by governments and private enterprises on the expressive and economic freedoms of Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange have provoked the wrath of the Interwebs. Following the release of the first batch of 250,000 diplomatic cables, Amazon, Mastercard, Paypal, Postfinance and others have sought to distance themselves from the group.

In response, Anonymous has unleashed a massive Distributed Denial of Service attack against the online infrastructure of the offending corporations, as well as against the website of the Swedish Prosecution Authority and US Senator Joe Lieberman, he of the Kill-Switch Bill, who called Amazon to put pressure on them over their hosting of Wikileaks in their EC2 cloud.

The description of Anonymous in the mainstream media belies their lack of engagement with online culture. Variously designated as “online activists”, “cyber activists” and other even more ridiculous monikers, Anonymous is simply the group of people who post without usernames on the internet image board 4chan. Their past actions can be characterized by an overriding puerility, punctuated by random displays of kindness and some legitimate activism, such as when they organized Operation Chanology, a series of online and real-world actions against the Church of Scientology.

Operation Payback, the name given to the recent DDoS attack against Wikileaks’s enemies, is not a typical Anonymous operation. Firstly, it has vastly more participants. Anonymous has no leadership structure. Membership has no conditions. Anyone can join in the attack simply by installing a piece of software called LOIC (Low Orbit Ion Cannon). Although Anonymous is characterized as a decentralized collective with no leaders, in recent days a Twitter account has been transmitting orders for sites to attack.

In many countries, DDoS attacks are a legal grey area. Since 2006, the UK has had anti-DDoS laws in place. Similar laws came into force in Sweden in 2007. The USA, unsurprisingly, imposes harsh sanctions on coordinatiors of DDoS attacks. In 2009 a man was jailed in relation to Operation Chanology, the previously mentioned operation to disrupt the Church of Scientology website. Where there is legislation concerning attacks, they are generally outlawed. However, law concerning the internet is not sufficiently advanced in many jurisdictions to take the phenomenon into account.

I would like to suggest that the law should take a different view of DDoS attacks. Operation Payback is showing us that they can be a legitimate form of protest. In the classic DDoS, a horde of infected computers are commandeered unbeknownst to their owners and aimed at a website merely to cause disruption or as a form of extortion. We already have the laws to deal with this. Trespassing on someone else’s computer system is illegal. So is extortion. But in the case of the Operation Payback swarm there is no extortion and participation is voluntary. In effect, it is a form of mass gathering. Hordes of people, disgusted at the actions of the companies, public bodies and individuals targeted, have turned up at their websites to register their disapproval and prevent others from entering. By making themselves visible in this way and disrupting the targets’ business, they are conveying a message to the targets and the public at large.

This action has a real-world corrollary: the picket line. The two phenomena are remarkably similar in purpose and effect. Picketing/DDoS activism both aim to bring public attention and sympathy to an issue, to disrupt the business of the target, and to discourage others from patronizing or otherwise associating with the target. (As a form of industrial action, picketing seeks to discourage people from crossing the picket line and going to work.)

In many places, the actions of picketers are protected by labour laws. So long as the picketing takes place on public property, there is little that can be done to stop it. Likewise, the rights of people to protest and assemble peacefully are generally protected by constitutional provisions. DDoS attacks – like Operation payback – that involve no trespassing, vandalism or extortion, and are undertaken as a peaceful form of protest ought to be afforded the same protection.

Who’s who in the Assange sex case? (part two)

Marianne Ny has worked as a prosecutor with the Swedish Prosecution Authority since 1985. Since 2007 she is Deputy Directory of the Prosecution Development Centre in Gothenburg. The Gothenburg centre is one of three centres in Sweden tasked with study and innovation in different legal areas. She specializes in cases of child sex abuse and violence against women.

Erika Leijnefors is a Swedish prosecutor assisting Marianne Ny. She has had contact with Assange’s Swedish counsel, Björn Hurtig, who was trying to arrange a meeting between Assange and the police. According to Hurtig, this meeting did not take place Ny would not commit to it.

Maria Häljebo Kjellstrand was the prosecutor on duty when the Swedish Prosecution authority received a call from the police about accusations made to them by Anna Ardin and Sophia Wilen, the two women at the centre of the case. Kjellstrand’s husband, Per Kjellstrand, works in the office of the Swedish Minister for Justice Beatrice Ask. Ms Kjellstrand immediately issued an arrest warrant based on the information she received. She later received a phone call from the Swedish tabloid Expressen who had somehow got wind of the situation. It is not known at present how Expressen found out about the initial arrest warrant, but Swedish civil rights group Rättssäkerhetsorganisationen has filed a suit against Kjellstrand based on Swedish laws that confer a right to secrecy on the subject of an arrest warrant.

Eva Finne is a Chief Prosecutor with the Swedish Prosecution Authority. In late August, she reviewed and retracted the arrest warrant for Assange on the grounds that there was no evidence to back up the rape allegations. In a statement issued at the time, she said that she still intended to investigate the lesser charge of molestations. On the first of September, the case was reopened by Marianne Ny, Finne’s superior.

Anna Ardin is a a feminist and political activist. In her thirties, she is one of the women alleging sexual misconduct against Julian Assange. She previously worked as a gender equity officer at Uppsala University before taking a job as press officer with the Brotherhood, a Christian group within the Social Democratic Party. There has been speculation about her past involvement in a CIA-funded anti-Castro group.

Sophia Wilen is a photographer and an employee of the Enkoping town council. She is also associated with the “Brotherhood”, a group affiliated with the Swedish Social Democratic party, having volunteered to help out at an event at which Assange was speaking. She met Assange after this event and the events that ensued form the basis for the allegations against him.

James D. Catlin is a Melbourne barrister who represented Julian Assange in October. He has been a vocal critic of the charges against him, the Swedish laws on rape, and the irregularities in the prosecution of the case.—Broderskapsrorelsen/Var-politik-/,01.shtml,01.shtml