Archive for December 1st, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Why Wikileaks can’t Work

My main reservation about Wikileaks is that it looks self-contradictory to me. It has explained itself in the past, but what I’ve read doesn’t convince me.

Wikileaks about Wikileaks (from its cached webpage, as its website itself is apparently on and off again):

Publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people. Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society’s institutions, including government, corporations and other organisations. A healthy, vibrant and inquisitive journalistic media plays a vital role in achieving these goals. We are part of that media.

Scrutiny requires information. Historically, information has been costly in terms of human life, human rights and economics. As a result of technical advances particularly the internet and cryptography – the risks of conveying important information can be lowered. In its landmark ruling on the Pentagon Papers, the US Supreme Court ruled that “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” We agree.

Wikileaks surely has its merits. They apparently published a secret blacklist of banned websites in 2009, for example. There is no reason as to why such a list should be secret – if there is a need to ban websites at all.  That Julian Assange, sometimes said to be the founder of Wikileaks, is elusive is nothing condemnable either. Given the nature of his business, some personal elusiveness may actually be in order. And as for accountability within the organization, there is a statement by Wikileaks’ former spokesman on the one hand, and – apparently – silence from Julian Assange on the other. You can believe either side, or neither.

But one thing that strikes me is Wikileaks’ – or some of its activists’ – apparent indifference as to who profits from their work. The New Yorker described the system for submission of documents as an encrypted pipeline with encrypted submissions, kept anonymous by a modified version of the Tor network which sends Internet traffic through extremely private virtual tunnels. Hundreds of thousands of fake submissions are sent, too, to obscure the relevant documents. The author, Raffi Khatchadourian, quoted Assange as saying that there were still vulnerabilities, but that the system was “more secure than any banking network”:

Before launching the site, Assange needed to show potential contributors that it was viable. One of the WikiLeaks activists owned a server that was being used as a node for the Tor network. Millions of secret transmissions passed through it. The activist noticed that hackers from China were using the network to gather foreign governments’ information, and began to record this traffic. Only a small fraction has ever been posted on WikiLeaks, but the initial tranche served as the site’s foundation, and Assange was able to say, “We have received over one million documents from thirteen countries.”

I know hardly anything about such networks. Once I’m barred from watching a Bugs Bunny movie on youtube by German censorship (apparently because something in its details suggests that it could be nazi content), I’m basically at my wits’ end.

But I seem to understand that the activist mentioned in the above New-Yorker article didn’t care about Chinese spying activities, so long as he could skim the contents himself. All the same, Wikileaks did save the Dalai Lama‘s computer.

The Register (also in June, but strangely dated five days prior to the New Yorker article it refers to):

Assange responded to our inquiries by saying the New Yorker and Wired had each presented a misleading picture, without shedding much light on WikiLeaks use of Tor exit node interception.

The imputation is incorrect. The facts concern a 2006 investigation into Chinese espionage one of our contacts were involved in. Somewhere between none and handful of those documents were ever released on WikiLeaks. Non-government targets of the Chinese espionage, such as Tibetan associations were informed (by us).

Cool. That will have made a helluva difference.

Issues coming in through the mainstream media news, from German chancellor Angela Merkel being risk-averse (too true, especially when it comes to politics at home, but that’s no big secret anyway) to her foreign minister Westerwelle being short on substance (too true, too, but no secret either), to the note that some Arab leaders want to see Iran’s nuclear facilities bombed (an information which was conjecturable anyway), and the remarks by Chinese diplomats that one could abandon North Korea under certain circumstances may lead to some useless embarassments or unnecessary risks for a mideastern royal family, but little else.

A Californian blogger named Zunguzungu describes Assanges “philosophy”. If I get him (and Assange himself) right, Wikileaks doesn’t want to aim at specific secret projects by the conspirators (i. e. bureaucrats and big business). It wants to make confidential information impossible – and every leak may help to this end, although some of the conflict between Assange and his former spokesman seemed to stem from differences about what to publish.

But  if this would disable any confidentiality (which is doubtworthy – and it’s doubtworthy if one should wish for such a scenario), I think one of the Assange quotes (if genuinely Assange, or misquoted) defeats itself:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

Wow. The Chinese Communist Party must be trembling with fear by now.

Maybe Wikileaks is a brave try to create a shortcut. It’s no convenient one – not for those who are running it. But even if successful in a way, it isn’t going to exact the biggest toll on the bureaucracies that are most secretive. On the contrary, it will hit those governments hardest which are least secretive, and the political systems of those countries where rule of law is most effective.

There is no effective shortcut. Only individual judgment and the preparedness to organize to accurately defined ends can be effective – but they require patience. It takes education, year after year. It takes preparedness to learn – not just of one organization, but by countless individuals. And – and that’s something the existence of Wikileaks should help us to understand – it will take media and journalists who take their tasks seriously, and who decide responsibly and who account to their readers.

It will take media and journalists who help the public to perform.

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Related
Malware Networks: Cooperation Appreciated, April 6, 2010

Update/Related
“Medvedev has sent Scouts to learn Wikileaks”, December 15, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Obituary: Huang Hua, 1913 – 2010

Huang Hua (黄华), born as Wang Rumei (王汝梅), the son of a teacher in Hebei Province, and China’s foreign minister during the 1970s and early 1980s, died in Beijing on November 24, aged 97.

In his diplomatic career, informal at first, he made his first contribution to branding communist China abroad in 1936, by acting as an interpreter for Edgar Snow, and stayed in the region afterwards to support the revolution, the New York Times wrote on November 24. More information about Huang’s role in moving China back into world politics can be found there.

As a diplomat, he spent much of the time during the “Great Leap Forward” and the Cultural Revolution abroad. Summoned back in 1970, he spent a year in the countryside. But he was then needed for secret talks with Washington.

Huang was quite the diplomat – and probably, in the view of other leading communists, too much the diplomat. In charge of negotiating Hong Kong’s future with Britain in the early 1980s, he was criticized by Deng Xiaoping for “nonsense and false utterances”. Huang had said that China would not deploy the “People’s Liberation Army” (PLA) in Hong Kong after the handover in 1997 1).

Aged 19, he had passed academic entrance examinations – comparable to today’s gaokao – and became a student of economics at Yenching University, a symbol of American influence in the years before 1949.

Huang wouldn’t apply the sciences learned from the class-enemy anyway: “His major was economics, but actually, he never did economics at any time afterwards” (学的是经济专业,但实际上,他以后一天经济也没有搞过), Heilongjiang Daily quotes his wife He Li-liang (何理良). Instruction language at the university was English – Huang kept the language in use.

His pen name Huang Hua became his permanent one after he had reached the communist-controlled area, and decided to stay there. He feared that by keeping his old name, he could put relatives into trouble, Heilongjiang Daily quotes He Li-liang. Their sons [Huang Bin and Huang Zheng, according to the Global Times] and grandsons also kept the family name Huang.

He met his later wife in the “soviet” territories during the civil and Japanese war. According to Heilongjiang Daily, Wang Aiying (王艾英), He Li-liang’s mother, had taken her and her elder sister and younger brother from Hong Kong to Yan’an in 1939, when He Li-liang was only fourteen years old 2).

A cremation ceremony was held at Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery (八宝山革命公墓) on Wednesday, attended by Hu Jintao and other party leaders.

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Notes

1) Ming C. Chan, The Challenge of Hong Kong’s Reintegration with China, HK University Press, 1997

2) The Heilongjiang Daily apparently carried the article on Huang’s and He’s marriage in its supplement for elderly readers. Describing Huang’s meetings with Kissinger in a lodging house or apartment building in 1972 and 1973 to avoid the media, the article suggests that the Chinese UN delegation’s life in New York had been dangerous, and cites the case of Wang Xichang (王锡昌) as an example, a member of the  Chinese delegation to the PRC’s introduction to the United Nations who the Chinese suspected was murdered by the “Chiang Kaishek gang” (蒋帮) – China had unseated the Republic of China (Taiwan), i. e. Chiang Kai-shek’s government, as a UN member in 1971.

The article ends with the remark that

in October 1971, the 26th session of the UN General Assembly restored the People’s Republic of China’s lawful seat at the United Nations (1971年10月,第26届联大恢复了中华人民共和国在联合国的合法席位),

describing a photo showing the Chinese delegation.

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Related

Funeral held in Beijing, Xinhua Net, December 1, 2010

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