Freesteel Blog » Wikileaks and other chaos

Wikileaks and other chaos

Monday, December 6th, 2010 at 4:52 pm Written by:

At the end of 2007 I took a trip to the Chaos Computer Congress 24c3.

There were a lot of strange people there, and some white haired dude tried to get me interested in his new WikiLeaks thing. I got his card.

I humoured him. Not another Wiki-thing, I thought. It’s all Wiki-this and Wiki-that — just like everything was Java-this and Java-that in 1995, such as Javascript which has zero to do with the Java programming language, both of which ran in a web-browser, so giving them similar names was definitely not helpful. I couldn’t see what was particularly Wiki-like about WikiLeaks, and there were too many Wiki-things going on. The prefix was not cool

So here I am 3 years later involved in a website called ScraperWiki. I can’t see any explanation on Wikipedia for the bizarre spelling of Assange’s name. I thought he was from Iceland.

In any case, he is the personality responsible for the publishing of reams of US diplomatic cables over the next few months and improving the quality of newspapers during this time period.

Newspapers normally source a lot of their materials from the wire services, such as Reuters or Associated Press, as well as each other, and these are often so stuffed with shallow dispatches and naked propaganda as to be harmful. As you would expect, the US government has been running its own internal news wire service that attempts to carry a reasonably faithful picture of reality that it can act on, having implemented IF Stone’s sage advice:

All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.

The cables are written by diligent officials who try to serve their country by performing the best news gathering job they can. Then the information gets into the hands of the political elite who use it to shape their propaganda, having carefully assessed which facts can be safely suppressed, and plan elaborate exploitations of the intellectual failings of the societies and political leaders everywhere around the world.

I saw Assange give a good talk at the Centre for Investigative Journalism summer school in London this year. Already he looked physically exhausted. He explained the modus operandi about leaking (“we will make sure your leaks get published with the maximum effect of furthering justice”), which is important, because he could have made a lot of money selling all the cables to the Government of Iran, say.

Maybe the Government of China, with their teams of shit-hot hackers, has already been tapping into this free diplomatic cable news service for decades and has been selling it to Iran. After all, if they can infect google servers and thoroughly compromise Skype, who here thinks — given the evidence — that the US data streams are going to be any more secure than those made by the best software engineering companies in the world?

It’s the many leaks you don’t know about that do the most damage.

So it’s possible the information has always been out there circulating among the enemies and organized gangs, like the countless databases of credit card details. What happens now is it becomes less easy to so efficiently deceive the public about all matters of things that are substantially at odds with their interests (such as war, corruption, misgovernance, and illegitimate centres of power).

At present, of course, no official wants to talk about the content of these cables. The power elite could publicly condemn the shoddy security within their diplomatic services and the potential damage they don’t know about, as I have done.

Or they could go after the particular perpetrator and arrange for an Interpol Red Notice to be issued from the city of Gothenberg for seedy sex crimes:

My Danish friends knew there had to be something in it, because they couldn’t believe Sweden of all places could be sufficiently complicit with the Americans to be so willing to corrupt their judicial system in public — having obviously never been informed by the case of the extraordinary rendition of Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad al-Zery from Swedish soil in 2001.

Of this particular case of bent justice, Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, said:

It is quite bizarre, because the chief prosecutor in Sweden dropped the entire case against him, saying there was absolutely nothing for him to find back in September, and then a few weeks later on – after the intervention of a Swedish politician – a new prosecutor, not in Stockholm where Julian and these women had been, but in Gothenburg, began a new case which has resulted in these warrants and the Interpol Red Notice being put out.

Meanwhile, from the You Can’t Make This Stuff Up Department, there are rumours that a Red Notice will be issued by Nigeria for former US Vice President Dick Cheney.

Now I don’t expect this to show up on this page, because if the Veep can hide his mansion from Google Earth, he can ensure that his is not one of the “tiny fraction” of notices that are put up on the web.

I wonder how they do decide what goes on and what doesn’t. Seems unnecessary to put Assange’s up there when you think about it, doesn’t it, unless you are trying to make a point? Do they really care if Interpol is seen as nothing more than a bent political tool?

Dear Interpol

According to your web-page for Red Notices, the ones you put on-line represent only a tiny fraction of the total number of red notices issued by Interpol.

Do you have any explanation for the basis for which notices are included on your website, and which are not publicly disclosed?

Is it possible to disclose a breakdown of the total number of notices you do hold, as well as the number that published?

Yours etc

And finally I wanted to go to the Chaos Computer Club this year to give a talk about ScraperWiki, so submitted the following subversive outline to their call for participation:

Scraperwiki is a website for writing webscrapers and data mining scripts with the easy of updating Wikipedia. The scripts run entirely on the server so you don’t need to install anything (or even own your own computer) to write and share these (sometimes) simple but very specialized programs.

The purpose of scraperwiki is to spread the knowledge and skills of hard-core webscraping and data-mining (the kind that cannot be attempted by expensive and user-friendly graphical tools), as well as win the arms race against website and database designers who keep changing their interfaces and breaking scrapers. The first target is government data of the kind that is in a different for every administrative district (eg planning applications, pollution event notices, legal announcements).

I have written the large-scale webscrapers behind and (presented in a lightning talk at 24C3). Scraperwiki is my answer to the problem of long-term webscraper dependability.

In the future a scraperwikis distributed around the internet could exchange their webscraper scripts and data cleaning scripts like DNA, and evolve as any developer solves any programming problem of any size transmitting the work through test-driven filters that act one way towards better and more efficient code on any processor.

And here is the response:

I was appointed as your friendly coordinator for your submission “A codewiki for webscraping” to the 27th Chaos Communication Congress.

I am sorry to inform you that the content committee did not accept your submission. We had more than twice as many submissions as time slots so we had to make some hard decisions.

Looks like I’ll be caving again for this New Year, as usual.


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