The Surveillance of WikiLeaks

by BINOY KAMPMARK

It was the worst kept secret in the novella of espionage delights, but the discussion in Glenn Greewald’s the Intercept was anticipated. The article suggested its imminent newsworthiness: “Top-secret documents from the National Security Agency and its British counterpart reveal for the first time how the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom targeted WikiLeaks and other activist groups with tactics ranging from covert intelligence to prosecution” (Feb 18).

If only we could say it was the first time. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have become the bread and butter of a good many staff in the National Security Agency and their British equivalent, GCQH. The outfit is also providing rich fare for a range of agencies keen to mark out WikiLeaks in some capacity as an illegal organisation. The effort has so far failed because the implications – at least for now – are simply too terrifying, especially for those with even a shade of interest in publishing and reporting. Criminalise WikiLeaks, and you criminalise us all.

In the hawkish eyes of the security establishment that keeps watch on WikiLeaks, the turn from reporter activist to perfidious criminal may be a short one. The language of the US government targeting “the human network that supports WikiLeaks” is chilling. A classified document from August 2010 outlines the Obama administration’s effort to collectivise the targeting of WikiLeaks, urging “foreign allies to file criminal charges against Assange over the group’s publication of the Afghanistan war logs.”

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation correctly observes, such an act is blatant forum shopping on the part of an administration hamstrung by the constitution. The dirty work, in short, can be done elsewhere. “Publishing classified documents is not illegal in the United States, and the US has not charged WikiLeaks with any crime for publishing the Afghanistan war logs or any other classified documents.”

Another document, from July 2011, details discussions between NSA offices as to whether WikiLeaks might be designated a “malicious foreign actor” for reasons of surveillance (the language in the document is “targeting with no defeats”). Such a designation would simply broaden the scope of activities available to the agency. “No defeats are needed when querying against a known foreign malicious actor.” The response from the agency’s general counsel on the subject of WikiLeaks’ status is tentative – “Let us get back to you.”

Anonymous also features in a question about whether it is “okay to target the foreign actors of a loosely coupled group of hackers… such as with Anonymous?” The reply from the counsel: “As long as they are foreign individuals outside of the US and do not hold dual citizenship…then you are okay”.

According to a GCHQ4 document, the British agency monitored the reader traffic to WikiLeaks in 2012, using tapping capabilities of the Internet’s fibre-optic cables. This is hardly earthshattering copy, but it is important in terms revealing scope. Importantly, it also took note of US readers as part of its ANTICRISIS GIRL initiative. Much of the document is otherwise pyscho babble, a tedious watered down attempt to “understand and shape the Human Terrain”. The interesting part, rather, lies in the “real-time monitoring of online activity”.

Greenwald’s discussion, building on Snowden’s documentation, further shapes the picture created by the Electronic Privacy Information Centre through documents obtained through Freedom of Information. In June 2011, the US Department of Justice and the FBI were the subject of claims seeking, “All records regarding any individuals targeted for surveillance for support for or interest in WikiLeaks.” Records with lists of names of individuals who had shown interest in WikiLeaks were also sought, in addition to agency communications with social media companies demonstrating an interest in WikiLeaks.

The DOJ were in no mood to divulge their trophies, and cited a mysterious, unnamed statute that prevented them from doing so. “All three units at DOJ – a reflected in declarations from FBI’s David Hardy, National Security Division’s Mark Bradley, and Criminal Division’s John Cunningham – claimed the files at issue were protected by statute.” The statute would only be named in classified declarations – to have done otherwise, in Cunningham’s terms, “would undermine interests protected by Exemption 7(A)”. To release the documentation requested by EPIC “could reasonably be expected to interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation.”

As the note at Empty Wheel (Feb 19) explains, the DOJ seemed pensive that the Court could be trusted to keep a secret declaration under lock and key. In its motion, it submitted that the, “Defendants respectfully request that the Court not identify the Exemption 3 statute(s) at issue, or reveal any of the other information provided in Defendants’ ex parte and in camera submissions.”

Obfuscation and rejection can often be a form of confession. The documents then made it clear, if only by sleight of hand, that WikiLeaks was the subject of ongoing investigations about potential criminality.

WikiLeaks associate and journalist Jacob Appelbaum was also the subject of DOJ surveillance, as is made clear in two court orders released by Alexa O’Brien (Feb 17). The department was proving hungry for intelligence on the organisation. Prosecutors obtained a court order in April 2011 directing Sonic.net, a US-based internet service provider, to turn over the Internet Protocol and email addresses of people who had been in touch with Applebaum. The attachment is detailed in terms of listing “subscriber names, user names, screen names, or other identities” including, among others, “mailing addresses, residential addresses, business addresses, e-mail addresses, and other contact information.”

This range of actions show the determination to box WikiLeaks into a category that is refuses to fit. A publishing organisation that also acts as a militant discloser of secrets – the operatic spy of the people – is a fundamentally dangerous challenge. Even as far back as 2008, the Pentagon would call WikiLeaks, in the clunky jargon of a report, “a potential force protection, counterintelligence, OPSEC and INFOSEC threat to the US Army.” One almost senses the anxiousness in the otherwise dull disclosures that WikiLeaks is on to something, and the emperor’s guards don’t like it. As the colourful Slavoj Žižek claimed in The Guardian in September last year, the Snowden disclosures showed that “whistleblowing is now an essential art. It is our means of keeping ‘public reason’ alive.”

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal