Wordcarpenter Books
The Leaking Hourglass

 

Chapter Thirteen

Berlin

When the hurricane hit us in the summer fall of 2010, we thought we were prepared with our hardware infrastructure, an impenetrable firewall and a safe operating system but with the unprecedented numbers of visitors coming to the site we encountered difficulties. It was due to my co-workers in Berlin that we managed to get through that high-traffic period after the war logs were uploaded. Those whom I worked with did know computer hardware. With multiple servers it was very difficult for them to take us down. Our arsenal of power was enough to withstand even an attack from the United States or China or Russia. With the simple architecture of the site and the secure submission platform, we knew we were running a tight ship with very little chance of breaking down. Constructing mirror sites proved to be the best way to avoid a shutdown of the website. The removal of content became a virtual impossibility from any of our associated sites.

Working in Berlin was a pleasure. Everything was state-of-the-art and my German co-workers were hard-working and adhered to a high standard. One of my German co-workers though never got over the Bellman-Lim thing. He could never understand why I would deceive him like that. He changed after that. To me it wasn't such a big thing. It was something I had been doing for years. I had never had such an interactive back-and-forth until I started to spend more time in Germany's capital. Of all cities in Europe, Berlin is the most tolerant place to live. I like Holland too but Berlin was the beating heart of the operation. There were so many talented people living there so working on the submission platform soon began to take shape. Once we put it online we could all sit back and think: "Let's see what fish swim into our pond. Let the dropped net do the work. And let the software endless loop obscure the real message from anyone trying to find what message was sent from where. Who sent what? That's not mine!" Plausibility. The submission platform was secure. It was one of the proudest moments of my career.

The professionalism at the newspaper was a site to witness. Adamant to redact, they insisted no lives must be endangered when the files were published. The Germans were so thorough that they insisted that not only the names in the documents be redacted but also "context." The slippery slope had begun and it made me sick. I screamed at them that the entire project was about "untouched primary sources." Document tampering of any kind wasn't allowed. They worked hard on the documents and removed names. As it turned out not redacting the documents was where I made my most serious error.

Why didn't I redact the files? This is really the crux of it all. Some of what caused this decision was from living in Berlin with those guys running the hardware. They had power over that hardware, and then exercised that power by removing content from the website without my permission. That really ticked me off, so to assert my alpha status in the group I threatened to publish without redacting. Maybe I was tired and overworked and wasn't thinking clearly, or maybe I wanted to make a point by adhering to the letter to our mission statement of not tainting the files we uploaded. I had not read through the thousands of endless documents I was about to publish. I hadn't read the names that would be online for anyone to see on the hundreds of our mirror sites. Even the state department didn't know what files had been stolen until they appeared online. Immediately they mobilized a communications army to remove agents from the field in the immediate aftermath of the publication, and by doing this they saved lives and hardship. So we can be thankful for that.

I thought of making Germany my home but the Germans set a pretty high bar. Quite a few hackers have chosen Berlin as their home base. It's easy to understand why. All the important items are cheap, like wine and rent and food. And there's world-class electronic infrastructure. Deutsche Telecom is the BMW of the telecommunications world. But despite these advantages I was still aware that Germany was part of NATO and had deep ties with the government most adversely affected by the revelation of the data pockets uploaded to my website. I preferred a country that was outside the reach of its tentacles.

 


 

Chapter Fourteen

Censorship

Can a governing body prevent the online publication of content deemed offensive? That is essentially the question in play when discussing online censorship. With so many new websites being created everyday how can anyone police the bad sites? And who makes the decision of what is good and what is bad? Will not the Internet become a true reflection of laissez-faire economics whereby any website shall appear if there is a demand or interest? If engaged in criminal activity, it should be policed according to existing laws. But this should be the only intrusion on an otherwise pristine and untouched haven for the sharing of information and data pockets. Within the Internet world there should be a spot for primary sources, left alone by opinion and partiality, a purely objective sphere of data where one can read the documents but cannot alter them in any way. That is reporting. That is the full conveyance of information sharing. Who am I to say what another can and cannot read? In an ideal world there should be nothing to hide, and with nothing to hide the infringements of freedom lose its heat. Censorship bodies therefore survey and observe peoples who operate with no need for firewalls. And in such an environment rational peoples operate fully within the law.

Needless to say without the charges from Sweden my life would be much different. The powers that feel threatened by the data on my website have trumped up these charges to censor my movements. In this task they have succeeded, especially when they leaked to my lawyer that they were gathering evidence for a case against me. That's when I was overwhelmed by images by cold brick walls. I knew then that it was from the fact that I hadn't redacted the sensitive documents I uploaded. I knew intuitively that "once snagged, forever had."

A terrible thing about breaking bail was the money that had to be sacrificed by my supporters. That hurt a lot and I felt badly for them. But at the time I could only see the safety of Quito in my sites once I stood in front of the Ecuadorian embassy. I did not foresee years of being cooped up in a small room in Highgate. I'm sorry to my friends who came to my aid but I felt the safety of diplomatic immunity was better than the cold walls of a cell.

They have tried to censor me but I am still active online, yet to a large degree they have been able to castrate me by removing the option of a bike ride or a swim in the sea, but I refuse to drop my chin in defeat. There is still a valid and winnable fight being fought, and still I have supporters in search of more truth to the things that affect us all directly. In a militant mood I might declare that we are an information army poised with deadly keystrokes to take down any force attempting to hamper our functionality to any degree. But remember Mendax and his noble side. My aim is not malicious. My aim is justice. I am fascinated like so many others to see how far the Snowden leaks will affect the international relations among nation states today.

Let us witness Germany make significant changes in its telecommunication infrastructure. I'm sure there was a thorough report suggesting upgrades that were necessary immediately for the sake of their intranet's safety and protection. Encryption experts are paid well if you can deliver a functioning system. The Germans are good at implementing necessary technologies in areas of high value. In fact I don't think I know anyone who can hack into their system now. The Germans do not lack technological depth. And what is interesting too is how there is much less censorship in Berlin than there is in New York. It's different. It's as if the war left them traumatized to discriminate in the slightest overture. The pendulum is still way to the left after enduring such a smashing at the hands of the right. But the tolerance is more like an evolution of what is morally just and what is truly free speech. There appears to be a better balance of right and wrong there than other cities in the world.

It is true that the Internet is not a good place for secrets. It might seem pretty obvious now in today's zeitgeist but I don't think everyone was aware of that during the initial years of Web development. Part of our message was this: that the future of communications should be regarded as transparent, and that if there are hidden secrets somewhere within cyberspace it won't take long for them to be exposed. We strived to communicate this through our actions.

Those within the intelligence community knew this moment was coming for years. They knew what I had done with Mendax and what my rubber hose program was so it was no surprise that websites were developing to act as a table for secrets to be plated for consumption. Michael Hayden, head of the NSA and then the CIA, admitted that they were aware that a website dedicated to exposing hidden truths was the next phase of whistle blowing.

The leaders of the global intelligence networks were too smart to be caught ill prepared, but what is interesting is how they sat and waited until our movement had evolved so there was a figurehead to attack. Some of our people had warned me not to step out from the shadows so that the organization could function as a headless snake that could remain immune from the harsh criticisms that would eventually be leveled at me - as the public face of the transparency movement. I didn't help things either when I used inflammatory language. I read some of things I said at the time and cringe - not due to what I said but at how I said it. It might be too easy to dismiss it as immaturity but that's what I have done. But was I still too immature when I stepped voluntarily into this embassy, leaving my coveted freedom behind for years? And I didn't even have a defined exit strategy.

 
 

 

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