Key WikiLeaks supporter bashes Assange and triggers a rift among whistleblowers
A month and a half into a stay at London’s Ecuadorian embassy, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks took credit this weekend for a Twitter hoax that captivated the world —and that’s exactly why a rift is emerging within the very community he helped create.
MIT researcher David House, a friend of accused whistleblower Bradley Manning and a witness in the federal Grand Jury convened to investigate WikiLeaks, is rethinking his support for Julian Assange following a well-received charade over the weekend that was credited to Assange’s whistleblower site. House has landed in the unique position of being associated with both the WikiLeaks founder and Private First Class Manning, the American soldier held for more than the last two years over accusations that he provided Assange with sensitive military files. On Tuesday this week, Mr. House used his own Twitter account to speak out against Assange’s recent behavior
An op-ed defending the world’s most renowned yet feared whistleblowing site published under the name of once-New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller went viral this weekend, and the reasons are almost all too numerous. In a well-crafted parody that initially fooled much of the Internet early Sunday morning, the author of the opinion piece used the voice of Keller to convey support for WikiLeaks and insist that Assange is rightfully granted First Amendment protection in the midst of a war against whistleblowing ravaging the United States as of late. Criticism came from all sides, but the majority of the responses seemed to waver between calling the column brilliantly clever and cleverly brilliant — and had even fooled the Times’ own tech writer, Nick Bilton, who initially tweeted out the link himself and said to his 100,000-plus followers that it was an “important piece” that necessitated reading.
Hours later, though, the WikiLeaks Twitter account acknowledged that, yes, “Assange and co.” were behind the guise. It wouldn’t be right to call their coming clean obvious and only a matter of time, but in an instance when his actions can impact more than his own fate, the admittance from the pale-skinned, essentially reclusive Julian Assange of his latest antics has caused even his one-time biggest proponents to rethink their stance.
House was subpoenaed to testify before the secretive WikiLeaks Grand Jury last year and says he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to protect himself from self incrimination while being questioned on the stand about Assange, his website, Manning or other associates, including noted security researcher and hacker Jacob Appelbaum.
Only weeks ago at New York’s Hackers On Planet Earth conference, HOPE, House told Forbes, “I would go to prison to protect Julian Assange, Appelbaum, WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning or anyone else who claims to be part of this movement.” On Tuesday, though, he spoke something quite the contrary.
“As long as #WikiLeaks remains icon of the Open Government movement, the antics of Assange will continue to reflect negatively on us all,” House tweeted early in the day from his account, @VoxVictoria.
In his next post, one which some quickly deciphered as eluding towards Assange’s lack of input in the Manning case, House wrote, “As long as #WikiLeaks is controlled by Assange, the shortcomings of Assange’s leadership will continue to put WikiLeaks’ supporters at risk.”
Moments later, House confirmed earlier suspicions, writing, “The alleged actions of Bradley Manning have not been edified by the missteps of #WikiLeaks under the direction of Julian Assange.”
“I have and will continue to place foremost priority on the support of Open Government whistleblowers and activists. #WikiLeaks,” he added, but not before continuing to say, “Assange deviated from these core values. Either he must be replaced at #WikiLeaks, or WikiLeaks must be displaced within OpenGov movement.”
Private First Class Manning’s life also hangs in the balance this moment, but unlike Assange — who is officially in week six of an extended stay at the Ecuadorian embassy — the young serviceman is roughly 800 days deep into imprisonment while his case has yet to go to trial. In the meantime, however, 50 members of British Parliament, the United Nations and an array of civil liberties groups and grassroots activism collectives from around the globe have opposed the United States’ treating of PFC Manning and say the solider has been subjected to conditions on par with torture; his civilian attorney, David Coombs, is looking to have the nearly two dozen charges waged against his client from the military dismissed, in part on merit of the Army’s abusive treatment. If convicted on the charge of aiding the enemy, PFC Manning is likely to spend the rest of his life in jail. Coombs, however, hopes to have that indictment dropped before his client’s hearing formally starts later this year.
On Tuesday evening, House declined to comment any further to RT, but others — including Jacob Applebaum — were too quick to chime in on the Web. Although few were ready to rush to the aid of Assange, House’s change in stance from Wikileaks supporter number one to an opponent of its founder opened up the Web for countless critique.
Applebaum, the late-twenties computer expert that represented Wikileaks during the HOPE 2010 conference, unleashed a feverous arsenal of tweets from his @ioerror account Tuesday night that attacked the motives and merits of House. Although Applebaum fell short of taking a side regarding his own stance with Mr. Assange, he tweeted adamantly about his opposition to the comments made earlier that morning by their one-time support.
“Why do I think David House is a CI, a snitch or worse?” Applebaum asked openly, referring to the abbreviation for confidential informant. From there he continued with a barrage of micromessages questioning House’s relationship with Manning and other allegations that may link him to being a mole.
“People often ask me how I feel about David and now it’s a matter of public record. I wish him luck with his legal cases and nothing more,” Appelbaum nearly concluded, but not before weighing in with his own take on the Assange case. He tweeted, “There are valid criticisms about Julian and Wikileaks; I do not dismiss those with my statements. I have stated them directly to Julian,” and then answered input from others in the Twittersphere.
In the aftermath, a barrage of tweets, retweets and commentary came from across the Web. Jesselyn Radack, the former Justice Department ethics adviser-turned-whistleblower retweeted allegations from Applebaum that House is a snitch, adding that it could be likely that the government needed to “flip” someone in addition to Adrian Lamo, the reformed hacker who claims to have helped turning Manning into the feds after the soldier allegedly spilled his guts about the leaks in a Web chat. Thomas Drake, the ex-National Security Agency staffer that was charged under the Espionage Act over leaks, retweeted Applebaum’s message as well.
It isn’t to say this was the first time Assange’s actions have influenced other whistleblowers, though. In recent weeks a new outlet for leaked material, Par:anoia, was created by figures pledging alliance to the loose-knit Anonymous collective who say they want to allow activists to share information without the “ego” associated with WikiLeaks.
“Well, let me put it this way,” a founding member of Par:anoia tells RT. The site, the source says on condition of anonymity, is more or less “indifferent” about Wikileaks. “We do not do this because we want to be in competition. It was an idea that existed for a while and I am primarily interested in doing this to show that it can be done: A leaking platform that runs on minimal funds (less that $50 a month) and has no namefag/ego problem, cause the people are anonymous.”
When names are applied, though, some of the identities linked most strongly to WikiLeaks — among the site’s supporters and the federal government alike — are now at odds over a critique aimed at Assange that has since spawned a rift among whistleblowers. Doesn’t the situation within America ask for just the opposite though?
At this moment, legislation is being brought before lawmakers in Capitol Hill that could keep government sources from ever speaking again to the media in certain instances. Forty years after the Washington Post broke the Watergate scandal, the American government has not embraced newfound transparency but, despite President Barack Obama’s claims to the contrary, are now fighting to eliminate what’s left of First Amendment rights. Senators and congressmen alike are asking for legislation to crack down on whistleblowers, and alleged leaks out of the White House have become central talking points in recent weeks among both the incumbent and his likely challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
When asked earlier this year, GOP hopeful Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) told an audience in San Antonia, Texas that, if elected to the presidency, he’d have PFC Manning “protected under the whistleblowers act.”
“I think this issue is a very important issue because I maintain that government becomes more secret and the people’s privacy is being destroyed,” Paul told the audience. “We should protect the people’s privacy and we should make the government much more open.”
Nearly four months after Rep. Paul made those remarks in San Antonio, Texas, though, a war against whistleblowers has escalated uncontrollably and now those on the forefront of the defensive end are at odds with one another.
“It’s about getting the information out there, not who gets it out there,” a separate source close to the Par:anoia project says in an Internet chat on the topic. And while that very well might be the case, those once considered core figures in WikiLeaks are at odds over the future of the site.
House was back at HOPE this year, and manned the booth for the support network established under the name of his friend, PFC Manning. In-between three days of lectures aimed at dissecting the privacy and surveillance concerns that are being called into questions every single day, House managed to help bring in more than $7,000 for the Bradley Manning Support Network.