March 12th, 2013 — Culture, DFW, Friends, Music, Texas
Two awesome local bands played here in Fort Worth, Texas, last Saturday at The Chat Room (Twitter).
“Shake Me” by Patriot
View/download as 1920×1080 .mp4
When I first met Jake Paleschic, the leader and songwriter of Patriot, he was reading Flannery O’Connor, whose tough short stories say life is serious. Patriot is just as real. Gritty, not unlike James McMurtry, Jake’s music makes you care. He and his band play, everyone stops to listen. With his classical-guitar right hand, Austin on bass gives each note its own personality. Tyler’s fills on lead guitar sing, thoughtful. Where so many drummers bang away mindlessly, Peter’s playing feels personal. I always want to listen to these guys.
Patriot (Bandcamp; Facebook):
- Jake Paleschic — guitar, harmonica, vocals
- Tyler Brown — lead guitar
- Austin Kroll — bass
- Peter Wiernga — drums
- Ballad of Joey Gorman
- Speak Momma
- Shake Me
- Long May I Sleep
- Day Moon
- Slow Love
- Brimstone Blues
“Seth Met a Girl” by Mailman
View/download as 1920×1080 .mp4
Mailman is really fun. Austin has free range for his talent, and Jon sings from his heart. I’m eager to get “Suburban Angst” recorded, one of their catchiest songs. Read more about Mailman on the excellent site FortLive.
- Jon Phillips — guitar, vocals
- Austin Kroll — guitar, vocals
- Reece Presson — bass
- Robby Rux — drums
- Nevermind (It’s Not So Bad)
- Suburban Angst
- Seth Met a Girl
- Black Dress
- Terrible People
- Hard Way
Ralph White also played solo that night, as did someone else — if you know this other person’s name, leave it in the comments. And if you know the name of the original artist for the song “Hard Way,” leave that in the comments.
(Thanks to Fernando Ochoa for help with some of the photos.)
Patriot and Mailman at The Chat Room, 9 March 2013 by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: email@example.com.
February 15th, 2013 — Clarion-West-2008, Seattle, Space
This post is the eighth in a series of ten about my experiences at Clarion West Writers Workshop (Wikipedia; Twitter) as a member of the 2008 class. I’ll talk about the final week of the workshop, Week 6, when Chuck Palahniuk (Wikipedia; Twitter) instructed. (It’s pronounced PAUL-uh-nick.) Here are Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 of the series. In Part 7 I talked about Sheree R. Thomas‘s week and the beach reunion my class held in October 2011 in San Diego. We’re tentatively discussing another reunion now — maybe Las Vegas or Portland.
I should note that on August 31 2009, my Clarion West comrade Pamela Rentz said as a comment to Part 3:
Cool! At this rate you’ll have the workshop covered by 2012.
It is now February 2013. Part 7 was published on January 3, 2012 — more than a year ago. At this rate I hope to have the workshop covered by the time I’m dead.
Of course, Week 6 was the last week, so this should be it, right? Except for the remaining Parts 9 and 10. I think Part 9 will be my last remarks on the ’08 workshop plus a report from our forthcoming reunion. I should also write about the surprise guests we had at the workshop who gave talks or taught for just a few hours. Part 10 will just remain open; you never know what might happen.
Famous person at bottom left
Chuck Palahniuk — or “Chuckles,” as we began calling him before he arrived, perhaps in an effort to defuse his celebrity power — was the most wildly creative of our instructors. Leading the workshop, he took the day’s stories and came out with several ideas for each, some off the top of his head, ways to make them more powerful: this scene could mirror that scene if you change this about the setting, or this object one character carries around could also be used in another instance ironically, or other more powerful uses for motifs and structure. His mind was so flexible; he could invent possibilities for the formal properties of a story so felicitously. If you’ve read Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, you probably remember Card’s “Thousand Ideas in an Hour”; Palahniuk has the same fecundity.
Here’s an example. His week I turned in a short story about a mentally ill son and his mom. The mom wrote poetry with a favorite fountain pen, and during an author reading at a bookstore the son took the pen from her and crazily insisted on writing with it while talking aloud, becoming a social nuisance. Palahniuk pointed out that the pen could explode and cover the son’s arm with Rorschach-like inkblots. The pen is a tool for creativity; the pen, like his mind, breaks; control of the pen is contested, just as control of the son’s life is contested. This was just one of the twenty-something ways he came up with for amping up what was already in my story. Hearing him do this, you couldn’t help but learn some of the ability yourself. Afterward you read real-life stories better too, interacting with people and catching on to their recurring motifs or themes.
I notice the manipulation of formal story properties (character, setting, etc.) a lot while watching TV shows. Lost or The Twilight Zone come to mind. But writing is not contained by formalist wizardy. Sometimes writers just create mood (think of JD Salinger) or just wonder (think of Haruki Murakami) or tell you what’s what (think of Philip K Dick talking about God). And that’s all great, despite the business-like emphasis of some writing instructors on “Make everything in the story perform multiple functions, OMG, we gotta be economical here to turn a profit.” It got on my nerves the way Chuckles constrained everything as if there’s one true way to write. Art and sex are some of the only areas in life where you get to escape rules; people, especially those giving advice, just want to bring rules in because it reduces uncertainty — at the cost of quality and freedom. (Gay Saul Morson’s Narrative and Freedom: the Shadows of Time is a great critical theory book about how traditionally structured narrative clamps down on possibilities and the sense of freedom in fiction.)
He had plenty of rules for sentences, many of which are often totally helpful. Here’s a list of some. (Pam Rentz noted some others.)
- Don’t use “specific” figures like “100 degrees” or “55 mph.” That’s missing an opportunity to characterize. What do those figures mean to the character? Is 100 degrees hot for him or not bad?
- Use lyrical prose as a contrast. Don’t use it often; it gets tiring over time. Use it for effect. [Oh, poo.]
- No abstract verbs: no remembering, considering, etc. [Oh poo again. What if the narrator is an abstract thinker or you are emphasizing uncertainty?]
- No filtering. “I smelled the sour stink of sweat coming off him” should just be “The sour stink of sweat came off him.”[Same poo as above.]
- “Going on with the body”: Go visceral, flesh-and-blood. Describe palms, feet, smells, flavors. Don’t be cliché, but if you don’t do it at all, your narrator will seem disembodied.
- Never/seldom use forms of “to be” or “to have”; use more descriptive action verbs.
- Make your settings (and physical descriptions of people) move. You want a movie, not a framed picture, unless for effect. [E.g., instead of "He wore a black button-down" write "His black button-down came loose from his slacks" or whatever.]
- Don’t shortcut by saying “ugly dress.” Describe the dress and why the POV character thinks it’s ugly.
- Attributive tags for dialogue are good. Not only do they keep the reader clear on who’s talking, they serve as the natural pause in conversation.
- “Submerging the ‘I’”: Circle the pronoun “I” in your manuscript and figure out ways to reduce the use of it. Ideally, use it no more than once per page (!). It reminds the reader the story is not happening to them. Me/my/mine/we/ours do not seem to do this. You can use the word “I” a lot intentionally to create distance.
- Use a lot of dentals: d’s, t’s, p’s, k’s. They sound good.
- Be specific. Is it a maraschino cherry or a Queen Anne cherry or a … A gun is never just a gun.
Here is some other advice he gave to the workshop or to me in the one-on-one conference. Same caveat (from me) as above about “rules.”
- Set specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, timed goals. Big ones. Tell them aloud to each other and everyone else constantly. Hang them on your walls, etc. etc. [I don't go for this Tony Robbins self-improvement stuff, but here I'm noting what Chuckles said. I believe a person should set goals, but not forced ones. Something like, "I'll write fiction for two hours every morning." That's a lot more human than the bodybuilder obsessive stuff which, I think, ultimately backfires psychologically.]
- Externalize humanity via symbols. We’ll like a horrible character if they have a pet.
- Goal of a first novel: not so much quality as it is to write something people can’t forget. [I believe for art you should not care what other people think while you are creating. But it's hard to ignore the context you are in.]
- Sell chapters as standalones. Doing so impresses potential publishers.
- Show the reader your (and/or the character’s) authority. Establish credibility via facts, factoids, research, etc., particularly those about the subject of the story.
- You can characterize by making a character habitually notice one thing: e.g., someone’s clothes or money status or whatever.
- Never (!) forward plot through dialogue. Action is always stronger.
- Don’t start a story with thesis/topic sentences that give everything away. One workshop story opened by telling us the character scratched through to his brain. Just show the scratching and make the reader wonder if the character’s going to get to the brain or not.
- A good book: Another Day in the Cerebral Cortex.
- If you bring an object in (a “prop”), use it over and over as many ways as possible. Make story elements do multiple jobs! [Poo. Fiction is not a factory.]
- Setting can’t (!) be stationary and it should influence the character. A fan blows smoke on the character’s face, peanut shells on the bar floor add height to the character…etc.
- Scenes shouldn’t all be the same length. That’s poor pacing.
- Physical action = the strongest way to characterize.
- Putting a lie or an unfulfilled social obligation early in the plot can be useful.
- Check out Victor Turner on limnoid experiences. These are experiences where you go to be a different person, e.g., a cruise ship, a rock concert, Burning Man, etc., where you experience a lot of affection for others, there are social rules in place, etc. People like reading about limnoid experiences, especially invented ones.
- As to research, ask interview subjects to tell you stories. Share your stories so a touchy-feely atmosphere is established. Tape record. Show you’re listening by saying stuff such as: “You’re kidding, they really said _____?” Kind of manipulative but it works.
- It’s okay to write a thousand books and stories with dead fathers in them. [This was in response to a question of mine in the one-on-one conference.]
- Low subject matter in high diction can be comical.
- Check out Cold Comfort Farm and A Confederacy of Dunces.
The class gave the instructors gifts, and for Chuck Palahniuk we created something — I can’t quite remember what — that he had to dissect, a fit for his shock jock style. See picture below; here is the complete set.
For some reason during Week 6 it was important to me to question Chuckles about his insistence on rules. Not sure why I cared about doing that so much. He did tell me at one point that writers tend to come from one of two backgrounds: journalism or academia. The former are more amenable to rules, he suggested (the miniaturist, Amy Hempel style he prefers). This makes a bit more sense to me now since I’ve sold some journalism pieces and other freelance material; editors want stuff that’s easy-to-read and efficient. But the business mindset shouldn’t overtake art.
Shane Hoversten wrote an amazing story for this final week. It was a farewell story for our class. He included each of us as characters. He imagined me getting drunk at the workshop (I rarely drink), saying stuff about lyrical prose and olfactory sensory details, and passing out. :)
Since the workshop some people have asked me what Chuckles was like as a person. He was reserved compared to our other instructors, who mingled with us more. Probably that was partly because it was his first time to teach at a Clarion; he’s taught at Clarions more since 2008, so I wonder if he socializes more now. He really cared about helping us, and enjoyed teaching. I learned a lot from him.
I’ll write up concluding thoughts about the workshop in Part 9, if I ever get around to it!
Clarion West 2008 – Part 8 of 10 by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 12th, 2012 — Creative Writing, DFW, Digital Ideologies, Dreams, Friends, Personality, Philosophy, Psychology, Writing
What do you want?
Googling “how to reduce the need for affection” doesn’t turn up all that much, and if you ask your friends, they’re just gonna laugh at you. Until weeks later, after they’ve been ditched by whomever it was for them that month, and they come to you, tail between legs, asking “Hey…did you ever find out how to reduce the need for affection?” This has happened to me multiple times!
In researching reducing the need for affection, I’ve come across plenty of articles that try to dodge the issue by avoiding the word “affection.” They claim people are seeking “attention” or “prestige” or “approval” or some other medical-sounding reward. But I think the situation is a lot hotter than that, and by hot I mean a warm fuzzy HUG — get your mind out of the gutter.
A lot of the search results you DO get (YGMV*) are content-farm articles on how to spay or neuter your pet (…so that’s what they’re calling it now?) or y so srs/pitiful pieces in the Huffington Post about how to make your man show you more affection (…she really hasn’t figured that out yet?). I lost the very few useful links I came across. But here’s what I’ve discovered:
- Get busy working on an idealistic project(s).
- Get a pet (this is more of a hack: route around humans).
- Get lost. Aloneness becomes a more comfortable habit given time.
And keep in mind this Theodore Sturgeon quote from his novel Godbody, which the character Britt Svenglund ascribes to the character Dan Currier: “any person who cannot be by himself, it’s because when he is by himself he thinks he is not in good company.”
In the last year, I’ve been in a totally unprecedented situation: I’ve had lots of friends! And I’ve conducted a lot of socializing. (Mostly at this excellent coffeehouse & computer repair shop in Fort Worth.) The whole experience startled me. “Wow, so this is what all the people I hated in high school were doing!” It gets so thoroughly, disgustingly addictive. You wake up one day, and your emotions are beseeching the universe to deliver you affection from others. Your long-lasting contributions to humanity? Yeah, screw those. WAIT NO!
You have to consciously pull yourself away if you get addicted. (Twitter, I’m looking at you.)
Now, you might not want to become a recluse. Currently you gotta interact with people to get where you want to go in life, and it turns out social skills are useful for that. Plus, a good social space generates good random. You encounter people who give you knowledge and paying gigs and culture. This happens in cyberspace, too, but it happens differently in meatspace; I’m not sure how to describe the difference, or why both are valuable.
Brain in a Vat Doesn’t Need Your Meatspace (Pic stolen from here).
A pickup artist is going to look at people with alleged affection-deficits and offer to teach them how to acquire more affection. Which, when you think about it, is not unlike a nicer (or at least nicer-sounding) Thrasymachus, who (according to Plato) taught that justice is nothing but “the advantage of the stronger.” (In the fifth century BCE, in ancient Greece, you could buy teachings from sophists such as Thrasymachus. Early-day Tony Robbins.) Pickup artists have a term: One-itis. Urban Dictionary as usual has the best definition:
Often confused with love, this is the feeling that a particular woman is actually special. This is just an illusion; she is the same as the other three or so billion. “Go fuck ten other women” is the most commonly prescribed treatment for this “disease” (hence the “itis”), as it tends to show quite quickly how very alike people are.
But everyone is a special snowflake, dammit (srsly, you are. And aren’t at the same time, too. Paradox WOAH!). Anyway, it is just remarkable, the difference in perspective, when faced with the question: “What do I do about my affection-deficit?” 1) Become more skilled at manipulating people into giving you affection; or 2) Reduce the need for affection. I’ll take option 2.
Not so fast, the psychiatrists are here. They describe “the self-effacing solution” of wanting too much affection, and the resignation solution of (among others) schizotypals wherein you want too little. Oh, good, the psychiatrists left. Continuing on.
Once I was chatting online with someone, importuning the person for
attention affection, and found myself rebuffed; instantly my mind generated epic narratives about how they were full of shit and one day, despite my anger and bitterness, I would triumph before all! AT THE EXACT SAME TIME in another chat window someone was importuning me for attention affection, all plaintive, and I was like, geez, this person’s annoying, won’t they go away, like srsly. Humans are up to here in this affection-acquiring attention-economy business. It’s the pits.
So you want the golden mean of affection and social interaction that suits your purposes and not the purposes your addictions or inexperience define for you. (A golden mean is not necessarily in the middle of the continuum, and not necessarily any sort of average.) On the other hand, maybe you’re such an awesome mystic that you flat-out don’t need to interact with others at all. In which case … can we meet?
INTERLUDE. Let’s take a break for a second.
* YGMV: Your Google May Vary, depending of factors such as your IP address. Which is one reason why proxy networks such as Tor are fun: “Today I’m gonna Google from the point of view of someone in the Czech Republic. Podívejte!“
Writing this I found out there’s a now-defunct Swedish goth metal band called Beseech.
They appear not to want my affection…but is it a reverse psychology trick?
Beseech covered ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” which is both awesome and horrible, and most fitting for this post.
Half past twelve / And I’m watching the late show in my flat all alone / How I hate to spend the evening on my own! … [Yeah I can't take any more of this either.]
END INTERLUDE. Back to srs bizns.
I should point out that killing a social addiction is most conducive to creative thought. Which is much more useful to the world and (less important) much more happiness-producing than nightlife. What other people think really gets into you and mucks with your invention wellspring. Of course, not so good to invent something without people in it, so at least say hi to somebody today, okay? Or maybe just this week. (Even if just online ;-)
How to Reduce the Need for Affection by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: email@example.com.
September 4th, 2012 — Activism, Creative Writing, Culture, Fiction, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Religion, Writing
A lot of people I’ve recently met center their lives around winning games, with scoring casual sex encounters as one of the main ones. In this Interview with Pickup Artist Chaser Clarisse Thorn, the interviewer, whom the answer-ready Clarisse just barrels over, splashing her slang about One-itis and strategic ambiguity and outcome independence, asks: “Must everything be framed in terms of a game? What if [...] You want to opt-out of that worldview?”
Clarisse answers by saying everyone’s playing games regardless of whatever nobility they affect.
Protester nobly not playing a game; opting-out or super-rational opting in?
One guy I know who regards himself as a skilled pick-up artist (or, as their lingo has it, a PUA) denigrated a certain other person who likes to read books in public by saying the person reads books in public for the sake of appearing broody to women. Maybe the reader just likes to read books. Anyway, the guy writes off men who do not optimize for the degree of social success he regards as advisable by saying these broody idealists have lost so many social games that now they’re just bitter. (As if bitterness alone is damning.) That’s often partly true, I believe, but by not thinking further he’s foreclosing himself from understanding a dimension of human experience that for him just isn’t salient.
I think practicing idealists — let’s say good artists and whistleblowers for specificity — share something: they intentionally lose games in order to create new realities. Think about whistleblower and soldier Joe Darby who exposed the abuses at Abu Ghraib — which included the gruesome CIA-assisted murder of “ghost prisoner” Manadel al-Jamdi. As recounted in Phil Zimbardo’s excellent book The Lucifer Effect (p.476-77), Darby said the abuse he witnessed
“just didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. After about three days, I made a decision to turn the pictures in. You have to understand: I’m not the kind of guy to rat somebody out….But this crossed the line to me. I had the choice between what I knew was morally right and my loyalty to other soldiers. I couldn’t have it both ways.”
After retaliation by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Darby “was whisked away, and eventually concealed in military protective custody for the next several years.”
“But I don’t regret any of it,” Darby said recently. “I made my peace with the decision before I turned the pictures in. I knew that if people found out that it was me, I wouldn’t be liked.”
“For many,” Zimbardo writes, “Darby’s calling attention to the abuses was unpatriotic, un-American, and even faintly treasonous. ‘Hero a Two-Timing Rat,’ ran a headline in the New York Post. [... Darby] was unable to accept [a Presidential Citation honor from the American Psychological Association] because he, his wife, and his mother had to remain in military protective custody for several years in the wake of the many retaliation threats they received.”
The game, the incentives lined up for Darby did not offer him victory for whistleblowing. He decided it was more important to create a new reality wherein injustice at Abu Ghraib had a better chance of being righted. These are the kind of people, I think, that pickup artists write off as merely being bitter. (Note the mainstream media’s dogged efforts to reduce idealist Bradley Manning’s motives to social frustration.)
Another guy I know defended Joe Paterno for not doing enough about the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. This guy said Paterno was being paid well, and when you are being paid well, you can’t be expected to risk things; he also said it with a wink wink, nudge nudge attitude that conveyed “Mature people in the know agree with me.” He is a popular, cheerful young man who is solidly liberal, solidly Democrat. His attitude that maturity consists in surrendering ideals belongs to the feel-good pickup artistry of political and social marketing: Romney’s RNC speech, Obama’s speeches, The Daily Show, TED Talks. The content is irrelevant here; the truth or falsehood or the value of a particular Daily Show joke or Romney claim is irrelevant here. What I am saying is that the way marketers prioritize making the audience feel good higher than the content is most dangerous. We have a world where marketing and appearance trump reality and truth-telling to such an extent that anyone who prefers the latter over the former is cast off as immature and bitter before they are even listened to. But how are you supposed to report CIA torture? With a laughtrack?
Good artists work the same way, though not in the conscious decision-making manner of whistleblowers. By a sort of instinct, good artists wind up rejecting the incentives the main of the art market offers them and create not ossified things but new and therefore real things. New realities. Creative writing is good to the extent that writers allow themselves to live fully while writing; that reality pays off in the voice or tone of the piece, which reminds readers not to trust in appearance but rather in reality. Somebody might be reading a book in public to remind himself of that.
You could ask, though — what is the difference between perception-management (a negative term for a component of marketing: managing consumer or voter perceptions) and putting your best foot forward? After all, many of the techniques pickup artists teach are useful social skills to learn, just amped up and repurposed for sexual conquest. And though the horizon for contributing to humanity anonymously (see these to learn more) is improving, people pretty much still need to interact with others to get where they want to go.
When you put your best foot forward, you are primarily allowing people to perceive you of their own accord, rather than emphasizing your manipulation of consumer and voter perceptions. I say emphasize because of course people are always managing perceptions by picking out what outfit they want to look good in today, etc. But it is when appearance overtakes reality that you have a problem. Especially if you can no longer tell the difference between the two. The phenomenological difference between them in first-person experience is real, I think. I’m not entirely sure. More than one slightly ashamed person in a private moment has asked me how they can make themselves more authentic. Maybe I am bitter, but I never know how to answer that question, because it is a problem I’ve never really had.
I Hate Game Theory by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 4th, 2012 — Culture, Denton, Music
Opening song: “Bayou Tortous”
James McMurtry (Website, Twitter, Facebook) played at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton, Texas, last Friday, June 29. I’d been looking forward to hearing him play for long enough that when news of his nearby show came across my screen I bought a ticket straightaway. His music sounds like hard work feels. Often its realism is nostalgic, and sometimes it’s touched by a dreaminess you might be surprised to hear out of this rough-looking guy. From “Levelland“:
Mama used to roll her hair
Back before the central air
We’d sit outside and watch the stars at night
She’d tell me to make a wish
I’d wish we both could fly
I found out about McMurtry by reading about his father, writer Larry McMurtry, of Lonesome Dove and Brokeback Mountain fame (I’m fond of the his novel All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers). That led to me finding one of his son’s best-known songs, “We Can’t Make It Here”:
At the Denton show his bassist Cornbread played with a classic Ampeg tone, a good heartbeat beneath McMurtry’s razor-sharp chords. Drummer Daren Hess kept the framework strong throughout. If my memory’s correct, guitarist Tim Holt joined the stage for the ninth song, “We Can’t Make it Here.” He stayed on for the remainder of the show (except when McMurtry played a solo song or two). Holt had a guitar teacher’s facility for putting in the right licks at the right times to top things off. As the show continued the band grew louder, the two guitars howling, and they closed the night by jamming out at such volume (for a small venue) that the speakers’ lack of distortion surprised me; the mix of the instruments and the gear’s performance was perfect — a sound a band gets once their success allows for good equipment and their years of effort are steadily paying off.
McMurtry has a great blog where he’s expressed his support for Occupy Wall Street:
With regard to Occupy and Law enforcement, mayors and college presidents seemed to be charged with giving the orders, at least officially, and they are subsequently charged with taking the heat when the execution of any of their orders goes terribly wrong and produces violence, physical injury, and embarrassing Utube. Politicians and Administrators don’t generally like controversy, it’s bad for careers. I don’t think such people would give orders that would likely result in some really messy controversy, unless enough pressure were brought to bear on them that they would fear for their careers anyway. I think there are bigger forces at work here. [...]
I hear complaints that the protest is unfocused, that the protesters rejection of traditional hierarchy renders the movement ineffective as a political force, that it has no clear message. But I don’t see a problem yet. Occupy has been effective simply by coming into existence. No one organized Occupy ahead of time. A call went out and people showed up. They’re still showing up and their numbers and tenacity do have an effect. They get noticed. As for the message, one can google Keith Olbermann and hear the message, well written by Occupy and well read by Olbermann. Basically, occupiers want to take their country back from the banks and lobbyists. Their demands aren’t that different from those of the Tea Party. The two groups should join forces. They’re mad about the same conditions, though they disagree on where to put the blame.
The Tea party blames the government, Occupy blames the corporations that now own the government. Is there that much difference? Ultimately, we will all have to join forces if we are to call ourselves a nation. Right now, we are too polarized to be effective. We no longer recognize each other as Americans. The mayors and college presidents who call out the riot squads apparently don’t know that those are their fellow Americans getting beaten and pepper sprayed. Those are American sons and daughters. Those are American students, American librarians, American grandmothers, and American veterans, and when they get hurt, we all get hurt. The stick swinging has to stop. It serves no useful human purpose.
He also blogs about his observations during his travels. Little observations and the powerful sense of place that shows up in his father’s novels appear in his songs, too; many of them are narratives of ordinary lives and the travails people experience. From “Out Here in the Middle“:
They broke into your car last night,
took the stereo
Now you say you don’t know why
you even live there anymore
The garage man didn’t see a thing,
so you guess it was an inside job
You made a reservation, a table for three
They said you’d have to wait,
somebody must have bribed the maitre’d
Boss got mad and he blamed it all on you
Food was bad and the deal fell through
Well out here in the middle
you can park it on the street
Step up to the counter;
you nearly always get a seat
Nobody steals. Nobody cheats
Wish you were here my love
Wish you here my love
The show had a sad point for me in that McMurtry’s music was one of the things my ex-wife and I shared. (My divorce concluded last month.) You have something with someone such as a marriage or a business or a band, and then the structure isn’t there anymore; you remember good things and bad things, and it’ll always be that way, but you come across things that remind you of what used to be. And there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s hard to take.
Some more about McMurtry: NPR, a Rumpus interview, and this short clip from CNN:
Here’s the set list from the show. (links go to official lyrics). I couldn’t figure out all the song titles, so you’ll have to pardon me for the blanks. If you know, leave a note in the comments.
James McMurtry in Denton, Texas, June 2012 by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: email@example.com.
June 20th, 2012 — Activism, Digital Ideologies, Ecuador, Politics, WikiLeaks
[UPDATE: Something or other about the #AsiloAssangeEC petition.]
[UPDATE: French translation of labSurlab #AsiloAssangeEC press release in comments.]
[UPDATE: German translation of labSurlab #AsiloAssangeEC press release in comments.]
labSurlab (Twitter, Website), a network of independent initiatives including hackerspaces, published along with others a press release (PDF in Spanish) supporting Julian Assange’s request for political asylum in Ecuador. (Get up to speed: WikiLeaks Central live-blog tracking the asylum request; Glenn Greenwald article in Salon; Philip Dorling article in the Sydney Morning Herald; justice4assange.com; @wikileaks.)
The press release is dated 19 June 2012 from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and they’re using this hashtag — #AsiloAssangeEC — for their efforts. Since no translation seems readily available, a native Spanish speaker, Fernando (Website, Twitter), put together this translation with me (as a Texan I know a bit of Spanglish). (Jumping off from ours, alxgucci put together another English translation.) Nothing below in brackets is in the original Spanish, but rather has been added by me.
Corrections and help are welcome — comment on this blog post. The press release asks for signatures to their petition. For people who don’t know Spanish: the big box at the top right asks for your first and last names (“Nombre y apellidos”) and then for your email address (“Tu correo electrónico”). After clicking the blue Unirme button, you’ll receive a confirmation email. Click “Sigue este enlace” in the confirmation email for your signature to count.
We support asylum for Assange in Ecuador.
We want to make known our support for the petition made by Assange to Ecuador’s government.
Ecuador as a country recognizes in its constitution the right to communication and defends the freedom of speech; it can’t evade its solidarity with someone who is suffering the consequences of having exercised the right to freedom of speech and who defends the right of all citizens to access to information.
We think that granting political asylum follows from the respect of norms and principles of the international rights available. We want Ecuador to make the right decision in relation to the request of asylum and we support this decision in advance.
SIGNATURES [Some might be wrong. Most explanations are based on the signers' self-descriptions.]:
LabSurLab Quito 2012. [Twitter, Website. A network of independent initiatives including hackerspaces.]
Differential Quito [Twitter, Website. Connection space aiming to promote projects and activities that stimulate the development of digital culture.]
Aller [Possibly Aler with one 'L'; possibly this group: Twitter, Website. Latin American Information Radio Education.]
Isaac Hacksimov [Twitter.]
Mujeres en Red (Spain) / Women in Network [Website. Feminist site.]
Baoba Voador (Brazil) [Maybe this website?]
Asociación de Cabildos Suroccidente Colombiano / Southwestern Colombian Association of Councils [Translation uncertain. Can't find anything online.]
Fedaeps [Twitter, Website, Facebook. Foundation for research, action, and social participation.]
Centro Experimental Oído Salvaje [Something like "Wild Ear Experimental Center." Vimeo, MySpace. Radio and sound art collective.]
Lado B-En tiempo real / Side B – In Real Time [Maybe this music group: Website (click "lado b" section), SoundCloud, Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook.]
Juuntos.org [Twitter, Website. Latin American Web community.]
Red Anillo Sur / South Ring Network [Likely this group: Website, Media Website. Distributed Federation of Free Lorea Social Networks.]
Chimbalab (Chile) [Twitter, Website. Art laboratory focused on research and production of DIY and open hardware.]
Minipimer (Chile) [Twitter, Website. Experimental lab for real-time Internet video. But maybe they're based in Barcelona.]
Translab (Chile) [Likely this group: Twitter, Website. Platform for practice and research on contemporary art, technology, cyberculture, transmedia labs and processes.]
Artek (Chile) [Likely this group: Website. The Cultural Arts and Technology Corporation (Artek), created to promote the development of cultural and creative projects which link art, science, and technology.]
Cultura Senda (Venezuela-Argentina) [Something like "Culture Trail"? Likely this group: Twitter, Website. Organization specializing in research, development, and training in network technologies to facilitate the work of groups, networks and institutions.]
Hipermédula (Argentina) [Twitter, Website. Platform for Latin American art and contemporary culture. Thought, discussion, information.]
FM La Tribu (Argentina) [Twitter, Website. Free internet radio FM 88.7.]
Centro de Comunicación Mapuche KONA / the Center for Mapuche Kona Communication Productions [An indigenous advocacy group? Can't find anything for it proper.]
Sat (Canadá) [Apparently this group: Twitter, Website, Facebook. Society for Arts and Technology in Montreal.]
Sayad (Mexico) [Can't find anything.]
We have launched this campaign on oiga.me in support, sign this petition:
Again: sign the petition.
RESPALDAMOS EL ASILO PARA ASSANGE EN ECUADOR
Queremos manifestar nuestro apoyo a la petición de asilo realizada por Julian Assange al Gobierno de Ecuador.
Ecuador como país que reconoce en su constitución el derecho a la comunicación y que defiende la libertad de expresión, no puede eludir su solidaridad con alguien que está sufriendo las consecuencias de su compromiso con el ejercicio de esta libertad de expresión, y que defiende el derecho de la ciudadanía al acceso a información verdadera.
Consideramos que otorgar el asilo político está en consecuencia con el respeto a las normas y principios del derecho internacional vigentes.
Animamos al gobierno del Ecuador a tomar una decisión positiva en relación a la solicitud de asilo y respaldamos de antemano esta decisión.
LabSurLab Quito 2012. Diferencial Quito, Aller, Isaac Hacksimov, Mujeres en Red (España), Baoba Voador (Brasil), Asociación de Cabildos Suroccidente Colombiano, Fedaeps, Centro Experimental Oído Salvaje, Lado B-En tiempo real, Juuntos.org, Red Anillo Sur, Chimbalab (Chile), Minipimer (Chile), Translab (Chile), Artek (Chile), Cultura Senda (Venezuela-Argentina), Hipermédula (Argentina) FM La tribu (Argentina) Centro de Comunicación Mapuche KONA, Sat (Canadá), Sayad (Mexico),
Hemos lanzado esta campaña en oiga.me apóyanos y fima esta petición.
Sign the petition. The Spanish PDF seems to have originated from here, by the way.
Rough English Translation of labSurlab Press Release for Julian Assange Ecuador Asylum Request by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 5th, 2012 — Politics, Writing
Guru.com is a website that serves as a middleman for freelancers and people wanting to hire them. About a month ago I noticed this ad:
Title: Political Rant I
Project ID: 820169
Budget: Not Sure/Confidential
Category: Writing, Editing & Translation
Description: Looking for freelance writers to produce humorous/sarcastic in nature rants (mostly political in nature) at the demand of the client. Clients will provide the subject material or target of the rant. What we would like to see is an ability to use the facts to make your point in a humorous/sarcastic fashion within a quarter page our less (not interested in character assassination). We are a start-up web base business offering a unique form of stress relief to the politically frustrated. We would eventually like to have three (3) writers work represented on our site for clients to choose from. All interested individuals should provide a location where your work maybe viewed, injection of humor is a must and please include pricing. This is a start up and we do not have an open date but are aggressively working to establish one.
Ad was placed by some outfit (not sure who) apparently based in Cedar Park, Texas. It received 26 proposals from freelancers.
Startup Seeks Mercenary Character Assassin by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: email@example.com.
April 29th, 2012 — Activism, BradleyManning, DFW, Digital Ideologies, Politics, Texas, WikiLeaks
On Tuesday 24 April 2012, about 13 people (including me) rallied in Dallas, Texas, in support of Private First Class Bradley Manning as similar rallies took place worldwide on the dates of his Article 39 pre-trial hearing. Manning, a 24-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is, after nine months of pre-trial humiliations and solitary confinement, currently undergoing court martial for allegedly leaking the following material to WikiLeaks:
The Collateral Murder video, which shows a U.S. helicopter firing on several Iraqis, killing, among others, two Reuters journalists and a van driver who tried to rescue one of the pair.
The classified reports of the Afghan War Diary and the Iraq War Logs, which detail several years of military action.
Cablegate, over a quarter-million secret State Department cables, which among other revelations show that U.S. Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and others promised Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi military hardware; that Hillary Clinton instructed diplomats to swipe biometric data, passwords, and credit card numbers from foreign dignitaries at the United Nations; and that Canada covertly promised aid for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The Gitmo Files, memoranda describing prisoners held by the U.S. Joint Task Force at Guantanamo.
Manning is charged with multiple violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including aiding the enemy, a capital offense, though prosecutors have said they will not seek his execution. For two years and counting, no one has been demonstrably harmed by the leaks. Manning’s nine months of extreme pre-trial punishment, the Bradley Manning support website points out,
sparked a probe by the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez. Mr. Mendez stated that he has been “frustrated by the prevarication of the US government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr. Manning.” After having his requests to visit Bradley repeatedly blocked, and after completing a fourteen month investigation, Mr. Mendez issued a statement saying that PFC Bradley Manning’s treatment has been “cruel and inhuman.”
The Dallas rally started at 4:30pm. I took the photos on this page (click ‘em for larger versions), and the videos of the rally embedded here are from bucky3phase’s YouTube channel, which has more, similar clips from the rally.
On Mockingbird Lane
(In the above video, the guy in the black WikiLeaks T-shirt messing with his phone is me. I was spreading information about the rally on Twitter.)
As I wrote for Salon, Geoffrey Robertson, one of Assange’s lawyers, says the nine months of humiliation and solitary confinement imposed on Manning were an attempt to make him “falsely confess to being groomed by Assange.” Right now, in northern Virginia, the U.S. is pursuing a grand jury investigation against WikiLeaks and its founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange. A plea bargain from Manning might mean information or “information” prosecutors can use against WikiLeaks. Though WikiLeaks works with many big media outlets worldwide, the U.S. has prioritized WikiLeaks as an enemy (in addition to pursuing whistleblowers and journalists not connected with WikiLeaks), probably in large part because the Internet and the organization’s design means many more leaks against powerful wrongdoers than otherwise. Prosecution of WikiLeaks is a gigantic threat to the freedom of the press, and it isn’t helping anything that the New York Times, which has worked closely with WikiLeaks, is siding more with the U.S. government than with Assange.
We had a mild incident with two police officers and a plainclothes guy with a gun (see video above) — he is, I’m told, a Dallas Police Department detective. I didn’t hear exactly what happened, but apparently we were in violation of Dallas City Code 28-158.1, which is titled PROHIBITING THE CARRYING OF SIGNS ON, OVER, OR NEAR FREEWAYS and says among other things:
In this section, SIGN means any device, flag, light, figure, picture, letter, word, message, symbol, plaque, poster, or other thing that is designed, used, or intended to advertise or inform.
(b) A person commits an offense if he carries or otherwise displays a sign on, over, or within 75 feet of the roadway of any of the following streets or highways in a manner intended to attract the attention of vehicle occupants on those streets or highways
The ordinance lists the highway we were over, Central Expressway. Essentially they wanted us to scoot our free speech activity 75 feet away from the Central Expressway access roads. What the detective reads out — about access roads — when he’s apparently quoting the ordinance is different than the ordinance as written online (linked above), but maybe the detective is accessing an updated version; the Dallas City Hall website says the online version may not be up to date. (As a Fort Worth resident, it might be hard for me to get a copy of the up-to-date, printed Dallas City Code; does anyone have it?) Anyway, as written online, the ordinance doesn’t specify access roads, and I think the overpass is more than 75 feet above the Central Expressway roadway proper. It is not clear to me that this (online version of the) ordinance is constitutional since generally the First Amendment guarantees the right to assembly and free speech activity on public sidewalks without permits, but I guess the overpass bridge might not be a “sidewalk” or something. Presumably there is relevant case law somewhere on this. (Please comment if you know more.)
Our conversation with the detective strikes me as particularly Southern somehow. I can’t articulate how I feel about all this very well. A city government has a legitimate interest in keeping people from dangerously distracting drivers, but that’s not what we were doing.
Excuse Me, Coming Through
Attending this rally made me think quite a bit about the challenges and payoffs of getting people involved with political, humanitarian, or other activist causes. (Nonprofits talk about encouraging people to climb a “ladder of engagement.”) Jon Stewart’s humorous Daily Show makes people feel good while they learn more about politics and possibly contribute to causes that, while sometimes centered primarily around dialogue and tolerance, more or less sync with establishment progressive Democrat goals and methods. Plenty of evidence shows nothing kills a cause like negativity (and this applies in other areas as well, such as trying to win someone over while flirting). For example:
Dr Gloor has found that, in Western countries at least, non-violent protest movements begin to burn out when the upbeat tweets turn negative, with “not”, “never”, “lame”, “I hate”, “idiot” and so on becoming more frequent. Abundant complaints about idiots in the government or in an ideologically opposed group are a good signal of a movement’s decline. Complaints about idiots in one’s own movement or such infelicities as the theft of beer by a fellow demonstrator suggest the whole thing is almost over.
The video above captures one of the ralliers calling out “Wake up, people!” while banging on a cowbell, which he did quite a bit during the event. I’m supportive of this, as well as — clearly, from my Twitter feed — more in-your-face measures; hacktivists and Occupy activists, for example, having chosen intense tactics ranging from the legal to the civilly disobedient. (And many with effective, feel-good humor as well.) I’m glad when people raise a ruckus that makes people think, even when I don’t support their cause; democracy is supposed to be noisy, and like the Manning rallier was saying, people need to wake up. But is the crying out (or, to put it less positively, the yelling) effective? Does the audience hear it and wake up some as a result, or do they just get turned off? And how much does that matter, since part of the point of a rally is to reinforce the base and therapeutically vent?
That the crying out makes me cringe a bit reflects my intrinsic personality, my discomfort with intruding on others (see this on the INFP personality interaction style; this issue goes a long way toward explaining why creative writing suits me as opposed to a performance art form such as live music) — my internal cringing has no necessary connection with how in-your-face rally tactics empirically affect audiences. It’s also interesting that I don’t really cringe dealing with in-your-face tactics when they are expressed in sheer text or static imagery, but I do when they are live or on video. Attending one of these events in person is very different from watching it on Twitter. And the cringing isn’t just needless embarrassment at the intrusion on others; it’s also a reflection of my emotional upset about the injustice that the intrusion is protesting.
Much of Occupy Wall Street’s critique of contemporary America accurately concerns the middle class or suburban or establishment tendency to act politely — or, submissively — when working for political change. When Manning is being abused, or when banksters crash the economy and don’t go to jail since they run so much of the political process, and that destroys people’s lives, or when immoral wars kill innocents and governments cover up the causalty numbers, why be meek at a rally? (See this blog post about the progressive middle class wanting change without conflict, the Phil Ochs song “Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” or the Jello Biafra cover of the same song with updated lyrics.) Well, because it might not be effective (or maybe it is?). Plus, I think there are real and legitimate reasons for some people not to stick their necks out. If you have dependent kids, for example, you’re morally obliged to take care of them, and so you have an interest in security and safety; some people take their kids to protests (which is great and teaches them values), but that’s not feasible for everyone’s financial situations or personalities. But they might be able to support causes in other ways (emotionally supporting more active individuals, for example). I guess this all goes to show that it’s good for causes to have a variety of techniques and ways to participate.
Now Showing at the Angelika
Daniel Ellsberg, whose famous leak of the Pentagon Papers exposed U.S. government lies about the Vietnam War — and got him charged with espionage — has been very supportive of Manning, Assange, and WikiLeaks.
When Manning supporters brilliantly bought tickets to an Obama fundraiser and confronted him about the whistleblower’s prosecution, they recorded Obama on video saying Manning “broke the law”, which, as Obama is the Commander-in-Chief, could be unlawful command influence prejudicing Manning’s trial; people are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and as a law scholar, Obama knows better. (See also.) There is also Manning’s 700+ days of confinement in violation of the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. Though his defense’s efforts to have charges dropped have failed so far, some miracle could still happen. After all, Ellsberg’s charges were dropped due to crimes against him by the Nixon Administration:
After many months of legal maneuvers–and illegal government maneuvers, the trial of Ellsberg and Russo finally opened in January 1973. This was the same month that the United States officially ended its war in Vietnam (a fact that escapes Wells’ notice). By this time, the Plumbers had burglarized the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, tried to physically attack Ellsberg at a demonstration, developed plans to firebomb the Brookings Institute (because Nixon thought Ellsberg had hidden documents in its vault), and burglarized the Democratic national party office in the Watergate Hotel during the 1972 election campaign. During the trial, Nixon’s aide John Ehrlichman twice tried to bribe the presiding judge with the possibility of being chosen to head the FBI. These facts were brought into the trial, which was now taking place during the Watergate hearings. Finally, when evidence of previously undisclosed White House wiretaps of Ellsberg was introduced, the judge was forced to dismiss all charges.
Unlikely things happen.
Group Photo/Social Graph!
The point is to do what you think is right, even if it’s uncomfortable or dangerous at times. I think that’s more important than measuring whether your action is the most effective one; but, as an artsy/emotional/creative person, that’s how I tend to relate to the world, and I’m glad there are more logical, practical-oriented people who focus on increasing efforts’ impact, since you don’t want wasted effort.
The leaks certainly weren’t wasted effort. To take just one example, when the U.S. wanted to keep its troops in Iraq past the 2011 deadline, the Iraqi government’s decision to say no was at least in part influenced by a WikiLeaks cable that showed Iraqi civilians, including children, were killed in a 2006 raid by American troops rather than in an airstrike as the U.S. military initially reported. (More.)
Quotes from an online chat attributed to Manning:
If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?
God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.
Bradley Manning Support Rally in Dallas April 24 by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 3rd, 2012 — Activism, Agitprop, Culture, Digital Ideologies, Politics, Space, WikiLeaks
March 8th, 2012 — Activism, Digital Ideologies, Houston, Politics, Texas, WikiLeaks
Geoffrey Robertson addresses seminar via Skype
In January I attended a Law and the Media seminar in Houston that focused on WikiLeaks. The Houston Bar Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Houston Press Club sponsored this 26th annual Law and the Media event. I wrote “Julian Assange Prepares His Next Move” for Salon.com using material from the seminar, but I also took photos, detailed notes, and a pretty good transcript, items which I’ll reproduce in part with this blog post.
(Big thanks to my friend Kristyn for hosting me at her apartment.)
Just a little more than a hundred people attended the seminar. This was the agenda:
8:00-8:55: Registration and Continental Breakfast
8:55-9:00: Welcome and Introductions
9:00-10:00: Inside the WikiLeaks Legal Team: Geoffrey Robertson, QC, Doughty Street Chambers, via Skype from London
10:15-11:15: WikiLeaks and America’s Campaign Against Al-Qaeda: Eric Schmitt, New York Times
11:30-12:30: The WikiLeaks Debate: Panelists: Lucy Dalglish [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Executive Director], Don DeGabrielle [private international governmental investigations attorney, former U.S. Attorney, and former FBI Special Agent], David Adler [federal criminal defense attorney and former CIA officer] and Tom Forestier [Moderator; law firm managing shareholder].
Transcript of most of the seminar below. Quotations indicate exact speech. Brackets indicate my clarifications. Brackets with my “– DAL” signature indicate my comments. Everything else is paraphrase. Mistakes mine. This transcript assumes you have some familiarity with the material.
Robertson began with three quotes: James Madison on the importance of a free press for governing knowledgeably, Theodore Roosevelt “calling on muckrackers to destroy what he called ‘the invisible government,’” and a Supreme Court opinion in New York Times Co. v. United States saying the only protection for the public lies in an enlightened citizenry. “Assange takes this philosophy seriously.”
Assange uses electronic methods to keep sources anonymous. “You could waterboard him for weeks, and he couldn’t name his source, because he wouldn’t know.”
WikiLeaks published exposes on “the malpractice of the church of Scientology” and “tax evasion in the Cayman Islands” and “banking fraud in Iceland”; “all these releases were of obvious media interest. Assange is often seen as being left-wing, but WikiLeaks published the so-called Climategate” wherein “Essex University seemed to be rigging the data.”
“In quick succession in 2010″ WikiLeaks published “the material that is alleged to be posted by Bradley Manning. There was Collateral Murder, which was manslaughter. An extraordinary revelation. I thought it should have been called Collateral Manslaughter because it was a tape that showed the killing of two Reuters reporters, children, and several civilians.” It was “a war crime.”
Skype call interrupted by a Windows automatic update on the Texas side. Call resumed.
“Iraq-gate included 400,000 raw field reports that showed many thousand more civilian causalities than had been estimated. A treasure trove for future historians writing about that war, showing exactly how it was fought on the ground.”
“Obvious stories of public interest.” A “very interesting fact: in 2010, as these revelations were coming out, a number of countries were so disturbed by what WikiLeaks was doing that they dropped all WikiLeaks-related websites and threatened to jail any of their citizens who were caught sending material to WikiLeaks. Which countries were these? [...] China, Syria, Russia, North Korea, Russia, Thailand, Zimbabe.”
“It was with Cablegate in 2010 that we did get a burst of hysteria from the United States. It was the release of diplomatic cables [...] published jointly by the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel, with fact-checking, removal of names, and so on done together by all the organizations. Criticism from the government came not against the New York Times but singled out Assange,” casting him as “this peripatetic Australian with this supernatural power.”
When there was criticism of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp invading privacy with cell phone hacks there was “no real protest about” Murdoch from governments.
Vice President “Joe Biden accused” Assange “of being a hi-tech terrorist; “Huckabee called for his assassination”; Sarah Palin said “he should be hunted down like bin Laden.”
When going to visit Assange in Norfolk, Robertson keeps “an eye out for Navy SEALs.”
Robertson has received “death threats from middle America by email.”
Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense, said Cablegate resulted in “no long-term damage.”
The pragmatic United States diplomats were “so insightful that when all this was published, President Clinton suggested Assange was a secret CIA agent.”
“America was upset; its pride was wounded by this pesky Australian. It couldn’t — I guess because of the First Amendment and Democratic Party politics — attack the New York Times.” The attack on WikiLeaks is “a betrayal of the founding fathers who claimed belief in freedom.”
People keep saying “Assange has blood on his hands”; “let’s examine this”: “2.5 years and not a single causalty.” So “that’s the first point. No blood on WikiLeaks’ hands. Those who said there was were talking nonsense. We wouldn’t expect there to be casualties because these cables were not classified Top Secret” as the “Pentagon Papers” were. “Top Secret is a classification where there are likely reprisals from publication.” [Reviewing US government information on classification levels, I found nothing to support this claim. -- DAL] “So obviously” the writers of “these cables didn’t expect reprisals.” That “two and a half million people had access to these particular cables” makes it “so entirely false to suggest lives would be at stake.”
“It’s the responsibility of a government that puts sources at risk to guard them; to encrypt their names, [to encrypt] cables, [and] to have a proper classification policy.”
It comes back to the Pentagon Papers and the principle that “the duty of government is to protect its sources.”
“Proper classification should” adhere to “four principles”: “Firstly, citizens have a right to know what the government does in their name”; “Secondly,” a “government has the responsibility to protect” sources”; “Thirdly, outsiders who have obtained it [classified information] should not be punished unless they got it by fraud” or “bribery”; and fourth, classification “should not stop whistleblowers from” revealing “war crimes.”
“It is not clear what communication there has been between Manning and Assange.”
“Look at the Espionage Act.” There are “three positions between journalists and sources. First is that the journalist receives the information unknowingly such as through the traditional brown paper envelope or through the Internet in various ways. It seems in that situation no one would suggest the publisher should be liable [...] If it’s in the public interest, there should be no criticism in publishing [it].” 2. Intermediaries. With an “intermediary there is contact. The source says ‘I’ve got information of importance, how can I get it to you?’ [...] The journalist says ‘drop it in a certain place at midnight’ [...] arranging to receive information [...] should not be criminal.” 3. “Where the journalist contacts the source and persuades him or her to breach confidentiality of government or bribes him, then that is soliciting and that should fall under the scope of the Espionage Act.”
Electronic leaks are “here to stay.” The “Wall Street Journal has something called Safe House that guarantees safety of information, if you trust Rupert Murdoch.” And there are “other sites outside the constraints of traditional publishers. So we’ve got to accept — governments and corporations have got to accept — that confidentiality is going to be limited where it deals with information of public interest. Information will not only leak; it will go viral on the Net. You remember, perhaps, that YouTube film set in Domino’s Pizza; a secret camera depicted photographs of one of the Domino’s Pizza cooks stuffing the pizza in his nose before” finishing with it, and “Domino’s stock went down 10%.”
“Corporations have to face up to the fact that this is the new power of ordinary people. Ordinary people — that [wrongly] condescending phrase.” We must “remember that WikiLeaks stands there [...] at a time when Google is blocked by 25 countries in the world. You can’t get YouTube in Turkey.” Now there are “two billion people” connected online. “For better or worse, this prospect of breaches in confidentiality is here to stay.”
With “unredacted” material published “directly on to the Net there will be more danger, but perhaps more benefit. We must live with this” and “we should welcome” it.
“Some analysts say” that “the Arab Spring began with the revelation of the corruption in the Tunisian government [...] through the revelation of the WikiLeaks cables [...] The most virulent attack on WikiLeaks was made on January 14, 2011″ when “it was accused of leading the protesters in Tunisia astray by false claims against their incorruptible president [... this] violent attack on Assange was made by one Colonel Gaddafi.”
(In response to a question:) “At the end of the day you have the community standard that provides that ultimate judgment on the whistleblower” and “that is ultimately for a jury to decide”; “Governments make offers to” mediate “whistleblowers, telling its agents, ‘You can approach Congressmen with complete confidence if you’ve got anything to reveal’; that hasn’t been found to be effective. There is just not the trust that is necessary. The journalists by themselves are more trusted [...] It is a principle of journalistic ethics that they do not betray a source.”
“Who judges the whistleblower? The answer is: the whistleblower begins” with a “moral imperative to make the disclosure” and “so long as there is a public interest defense, it would be a jury that would provide the ultimate decision.”
Question from the audience [me]: “Has the Swedish prosecution given reasons why they cannot ask Assange the questions over the phone or some other medium?”
Robertson: “No they have not. There is no doubt that Mr. Assange is willing to answer questions. He waited in Sweden for six weeks waiting to be interrogated [...] He offered to talk to them from Britain by telephone or Skype or by any number of means and the Swedish prosecutor refused [...] The Swedish prosecutor takes the view that when [and if] he returns to Sweden [...] he should not get bail [...] and [that] he should be tried in secret, because in Sweden these cases are tried in secret.” [Gasps from the audience.] “There will be a whole host of other issues, but it’s not particularly germane to the WikiLeaks issues themselves.”
Question from the audience: “You talked about corporations and governments needing to understand that confidentiality is really limited by the need of the public’s interest and that there’s a balance there. I was wondering [if you can] define what would be the public interest that would [override] legitimate confidentiality needs.”
Robertson: “This” type of publication is “power for the powerless to affect the way corporations behave [...] It’s one way in which Internet technology can democratize corporate activity, make corporations accountable for human rights violations. I suppose there’s a failure — a black area — in international law saying corporations are not subject to international criminal law.” But this new Internet technology is a way “of making corporations liable for human rights abuses.” When “corporate insiders are offered by WikiLeaks-type organizations or even by the newspapers, which as I’ve explained are trying to set up WikiLeaks-style electronic letterboxes — where they’re offering that kind of anonymity as a guarantee — that may tip the balance and make [the insiders] more inclined to take the risk to expose” abuses.
Question from the audience: “So far we’ve been talking about the legality of WikiLeaks.” Can you say “how many of your resources you are using against the extradition & sexual assault issues versus [how many resources you are using to defend] the legality of WikiLeaks?”
Robertson: “These battles have been going on for a while. There’s nothing much, in fact, in the Swedish allegations; I won’t go into it because to do so would take some time. But it’s not been the Swedish allegations themselves that cause any worry; they may have to be faced down eventually, and I think Mr. Assange would deal with them willingly if the prospects for extradition to the United States” weren’t so likely. Sweden has a “regrettable record of supporting extradition to the United States” and it “has been exposed by the UN criminal court for doing that.” [Murmurs of surprise.] “The real problem is the grand jury proceedings which are of course cloaked in secrecy and have been going on a while, and the United States government hasn’t announced any position; it seems content to play a cat-and-mouse game; Alan Dershowitz and I are advising Mr. Assange on that.” Grand juries “can be open-ended”; they “haven’t been used in Europe”; they’re “unique to the United States. It may well be that the focus of concern will shift to Mr. Manning’s trial; that will come up shortly. It would be helpful, as I say, if the US Justice Department would say one way or another, if the United States government would say if they propose to bring a case against Mr. Assange.”
Eric Schmitt of the New York Times
“The Assange I met was not the hi-tech terrorist as Biden described him nor the crusader as his lawyer described him. The Guardian had set up an awful Excel spreadsheet” for us to look through the documents in London. “Julian Assange was supposed to arrive and help us clarify the muck. There was this mystique about this guy.” The “Guardian was unclear about” where he was coming from [to London]; “it was Scandinavia.” Assange is “a striking figure: tall, lanky guy, about 6’2″ or 6’3″ with a shock of white hair.” He arrived “that night alert and disheveled in this kind of dingy coat, cargo pants, dirty white socks that sort of collapsed around his sneakers [...] It was almost like Oz showing up to show you what’s going on behind the scenes. All he had with him was this huge backpack which he kind of sloughed off and from which were disgorged cables and” all sorts of computer equipment. And he had this “plastic box and he said, ‘In here are the crown jewels.’”
We needed to “figure out an arrangement for how we could get access for these documents back to New York.” It was “too long, too difficult” to go through the documents in the condition they were in. Once we achieved “access back to New York,” then “my colleagues using special technical means could essentially bundle these documents; we could give them search terms [...] whether it was civilian causalities” or “relations with Pakistan.” And “over the next coming weeks as we did work out this arrangement with Assange and WikiLeaks [...] we as a team at the New York Times in our own bunker [...] were able to divide up the content of these documents and write up over the course of several weeks some five or six stories that ran in a package that day [...] Assange had not placed restrictions on the material we used, he certainly didn’t” give us money or anything like that. He did ask for an “embargo”; he wanted it all to come out at the same time; “we had to settle on a common time and date.”
“With Assange, though, it was always a struggle figuring out who this guy was. He is a brilliant man to be sure, he’s very well-schooled in American history and American law,” and a “computer hacker, though he doesn’t like that term. He’s also incredibly paranoid, sees conspiracies everywhere, [and has] this kind of Peter Pan quality about him.” When “walking out with a Der Spiegel reporter, he started skipping ahead and humming this kind of tune” and then “continued the conversation.”
“The most difficult thing we had to deal with Assange” was what to do “about the names.” We at the New York Times “were very concerned about the safety of these individuals who had spoken to the Americans or the allied coalition [...] it was very clear to us [...] the Taliban would take a list, and they would remember and there would be a retaliation because that’s exactly what they had done [previously ...] they had killed and intimidated [families ...] so we took out names of individuals that we felt could be in danger [...] we went to Assange and hoped” we could work together on redactions. Assange said, ‘That’s not what we’re going to do, we are an anti-secrecy organization. Sometimes there have to be casualties in this fight for transparency.’” That “wasn’t [our] position or that of” the Guardian or Der Spiegel. “We [at the New York Times] can’t be as certain as Geoffrey Robertson was now in claiming there was no harm, no injury [from these publications].”
“I participated in the workings of the Iraq War Logs which Assange had given us access to [...] the diplomatic cables we did not get from Assange or WikiLeaks [...] He was very angry with the New York Times [...] throughout our collaboration our whatever you want to call it [...] We consider WikiLeaks today a source, a very different source to be sure, but a source” [This position from the NYT puts all digital journalism, which is to say basically all journalism, at risk -- DAL] “Julian Assange saw the four organizations in that room, that bunker in London, as journalistic collaborators. It depended on what day it was. On a certain day, Assange would say, ‘I’m a journalist today,’ and the second day, ‘I think I’m going to be a publisher today,’ and the third day, ‘I’m back to being an advocate’ [...] Even he was conflicted about the role he played [...] We [the New York Times] were not part of a crusade or the Musketeers or anything like that” [Why not? -- DAL] He “was very angry we did not link to the WikiLeaks site.” Assange “was angry [...] we did not stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him.”
“The impact of WikiLeaks has really set new standards, I think. This remains a gold mine not only for journalists but academic researchers. Any kind of story that comes up now, my editors say, ‘What’s in WikiLeaks about this story?’ If there’s a prominent new diplomat, ‘Go and search the WikiLeaks documents’; so, this is a rich trove of information [...] It remains a very important source of information not only for understanding our foreign policy but to understand those we trust with our foreign policy [...] Government has gone a long way to [ensure] this never [happens] again.” [Some government figure] “said it could take five more years to make sure our system is not vulnerable to another WikiLeaks-type attack [...] Another effort of this kind is very unlikely. This was a perfect storm type of event [...] The access that [Manning] had, the restrictions that were in place [...] makes it very difficult to [redo] that.”
Assange “has contracted for a couple of books; those seem underway.” What takes the cake is that “a couple of weeks the RT Kremlin-sponsored news station” has agreed to host his television program. [RT bought the show; hosting is the wrong way to describe the licensing. --DAL]
“Bradley Manning is facing court martial now [...] Obviously” Manning is “some disturbed young man.” But “it’s much less certain what’s going to happen with Julian Assange and what’s going to happen with WikiLeaks. This panel that’s in northern Virginia could very well issue some indictments, but it’s very unclear what path they may take.”
“We do have access at the New York Times of classified documents [as a general matter], but nothing like this; to get 90,000 electronic documents was overwhelming. There was nothing in those documents you could pull out and say, ‘Oh my God, that’s an incredible revelation’ — that’s not there. [There is however] a fine-textured, round-eye view of what’s going on with this war.” For example, “the number of IED attacks” or “the war is heating up again by 2007, and there’s no [help from the US government] despite the cries from the commanders.”
“The other thing [WikiLeaks] did was fill in gaps of stories we have written about [such as] the double-game Pakistan was playing with the United States [...] While playing a very productive role helping the CIA round up Taliban, but at the very same time help the Taliban [...] because Pakistan was taking a longer-term look [...] because Pakistan wanted to make sure it had influence against its arch-rival India. So there’s this double-game that goes on to this day where Pakistan will cooperate in some areas but not in others [...] Even if you discount half of these reports as biased by the Afghan intelligence service, it was still much more detailed than we ever had before [...] Same thing with the Iraq documents.”
“WikiLeaks was severely chastened by the names released in the Afghan documents, so what did they do in these Iraq logs? They went the other way, using a computer program that took out almost every proper name [...] if you get copies of the documents today, they’re virtually unusable. We had to redact, very carefully, a certain portion of the documents we put online. Robertson’s right in laying out the key stories that came out from these cables; these were finished diplomatic cables. What they’re saying in public is pretty much what they’re saying in private, but without so much detail.” [WTF. I list some of the cables indicative of lies here. -- DAL]
“In my book with Thom Shanker, we talked a lot about the financing of terrorism.” The topic is “not as sexy as a SEAL team” blasting people. But the “funneling [of] a lot of money to terrorist groups” is important to understand; we talk about how individually these cables single out key allies in the Persian Gulf such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait [...] This [Cablegate] was just a stunner to diplomats who have to deal with their counterparts every day [...] You can imagine being a diplomat and having to face [the people you talk with] after this [...] But it was also quite revealing in many ways [...] as I think Robertson accurately pointed out, you had these cables talk about corruption [...] I do believe this contributed to the Arab Spring. It wasn’t the sole cause, but it told people what they had all along suspected — but here are the nitty-gritty details. It did spark that [Arab Spring] outrage to a certain extent.”
“This is the latest issue of Rolling Stone with Michael Hastings interviewing Assange [Schmitt raises it in the air]. This is fascinating because Assange today, as he did then, criticizes the New York Times for this collusion with the United State government, [saying] that we’re in collusion with the CIA.” [In the article Assange does not mention the CIA in relation to the NYT, but rather says the NYT was "sucking up to the White House." -- DAL]. “But we believe our moral and ethical responsibility in dealing with very sensitive classified information” is to run it by the government. “We are going to write a story no matter what; that’s our going-in position with the government no matter what. [We ask the government] is there any reason” to treat this material differently. [The NYT says to the government:] “We’re going to give you a space to push back against this [...] Are there any individuals we have missed that you think we should redact for their own personal safety [...] Is there any sensitive information about intelligence [methods]” that we might jeopardize by publishing the story as-is. “We would have phone conversations telling [the government] ‘Here’s what’s going on with this classified information; we’re not giving you” prior restraint “here. Is there a legitimate national security interest in holding back material? This is responsible journalism. Respectable news organizations have always dealt with classified material like this.” [Questionable -- DAL]
“This Administration didn’t come after us. In London we went through all these goofy rituals [...] We couldn’t use our cell phones [...] and we all kind of got into this.” We used a “secret code” to describe the information. “Package one was the Afghanistan documents; package two was Iraq; package three was the diplomatic cables. Because we didn’t know if the NSA was listening to our conversations.” [Contrast "goofy" with panelist statements below. -- DAL]
“We have heated [internal] debates about sources: ‘Why is the New York Times doing this?’ Today I asked [a colleague], ‘Do you still have these concerns? It’s a year after these cables have come out. [My colleague said] ‘We still have these concerns, some day something’s going to happen to them [the informants]. But there’s been a chilling effect on our ability to acquire new contacts because WikiLeaks is out there. Everyone knows what it’s like to be WikiLeak’ed.” [I don't understand how leak publications decrease the number of leaks. Perhaps Schmitt meant non-leak contacts are more afraid of the press now? -- DAL]
“It’s a rare diplomatic meeting that doesn’t begin with a semi-serious joke: ‘What I’m about to say is not for WikiLeaks.’”
[People ask] “‘How could the American government be so incompetent to let this happen?’ It’s completely true we [as in the United States] classify too much. The State Department points their finger at the Defense Department, rightly so. The Pentagon came clean, embarrassingly so, about how little they had done to restrict this kind of thing. You had the ability to put a memory stick in a classified machine” and pretend to be copying Lady GaGa songs. It’s still an issue, “how little supervision there was over these classified machines.”
“The impact on journalists continues today.” Though “we have [already] gone through the big publicity burst of these documents, we continue to go back into the documents. The [Gitmo Files] did add more fidelity to our understanding of who’s being held in Guantanamo Bay. We dip back into WikiLeaks.”
“The State Department felt burned [by WikiLeaks] like no other agency did. [That's] something that I think is really unfortunate for the transparency issue. After 9/11, the State Department lowered some of its walls” to help interagency communications “and that’s some of what Bradley Manning tapped into [and now] the walls have gone back up again.”
“Just some final thoughts on where this is going on the legal front. Lawyers are the guys trying to keep us out of jail.” One NYT lawyer, David McCraw, “offered some interesting observations here. David talked about how our Espionage Act [...] has been written [...] but so far it hasn’t been applied to publishers, it’s been applied to leakers. What McCraw later drilled into our editors and some of us were some of the things that makes it unlikely prosecutors will go after us. [That is] to redact sensitive information, giving the government the chance to have a space to push back, [discussing] what the public interest is in these stories [...] What made it easier with the New York Times is that there were other, foreign publications that were going to go ahead with these publications, that wouldn’t have to answer to the US Government. The Obama Administration said let’s not go ahead with this at all, but if you have to do this at all, let’s do it in a responsible way. It really would have been pointless” to try to stop the global publishing.
“We didn’t want to appear to be collaborating with the Guardian in any way that [would have] made us” liable to UK laws. “We also wanted to maintain that distinction between journalist/source relationship with Julian Assange [...] It was impossible to know just what he had done [...] I asked Assange what he knew about Bradley Manning, and he would smile and say ‘We don’t know.’” But “these court proceeding seems to show otherwise.” And “could we at the New York Times be seen as aiding or abetting what Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks did? No one in the government has come after us. David [McCraw] also suggested to me that there are only three open-ended legal questions. The first is: ‘Should leakers have more protection?’ The Obama Administration has been very aggressive in going after leakers.” For example, a “former CIA operative named John Kiriakou has been gone after by the Justice Department for sharing information with reporters including one of my New York Times colleagues Scott Shane.” The mainstream news organizations have historically taken the position that it’s “illegal to leak” in exchange for the freedom for publishers to publish.” [Make an exchange in order to receive First Amendment protection? -- DAL] “Courts have rarely recognized the right to retain and collect information. Are we” liable “if the government asked for the documents back? The Espionage Act could be read to allow such prosecution.”
“Would we sign on to an amicus brief to [defend] Julian Assange? Would we be reluctant at the New York Times to the lock arms with him?” [Questions posited as hypotheticals. His tone of voice and other remarks seemed to indicate the answers would be 'No.'] “It’s always going to come back to the ‘Why we did this’” and “‘Why is it important to have to sources like this?’ We may never have WikiLeaks”-style “documents come this way to us again.”
“What did our most seasoned diplomats think of what we’re doing? Individuals who had nothing but casual contact with individuals might be captured or killed.” The questions “forced us to try to come to grips with what these different kinds of sources mean when we’re coming to this increasingly cyber-world. And finally I think it also underscores our obligation to verify this kind of material.” We’re back “where we started this conversation when I was sent to London. Are these documents forgeries or are they real? The ability to supply context is so important for journalists. And finally, ultimately, it’s to make sense of what’s complicated in a fast-paced world.”
Question from the audience [me]: “How much of the New York Times going to the government to give them a space to push back is really about maintaining access with the government to receive information, to receive authorized leaks and the like for domestic news and other information?”
Schmitt: We’re “not going to give the government the right of censorship, but [the right] to say, ‘You’re missing something here; you’re missing something about our operations and methods that you might be jeopardizing.’ They make their case; but, the decision to publish is up to us. Almost always we publish. There are small things we can do [such as] taking out a name that we think might not undercut the” overall story. “We don’t take things out because we think it will hurt our relationships with the government. It’s very rare that we get an authorized leak. It’s very rare to get the traditional brown envelope with documents. It’s more like a lawyer building a story by getting information from a variety of sources. The idea that [by giving the government a space to push back prior to publication] you’re somehow jeopardizing your relationship with the government to get freebie classified docs? It just doesn’t work that way.” [I'm not sold -- DAL]
Question from the audience: “Do you think Assange has an ideology beyond transparency?”
Schmitt: “I don’t know. He clearly has an anti-war philosophy; that came through quite clear. There were some estimates coming from the Guardian of higher numbers … clearly this is something we went through very closely.” [This might have been a reference to Special Task Force 373 numbers, discrepancies noted by Jason Leopold -- DAL]
Question from the audience: “You talked about bloggers; I wanted to see if you had any comment about Glenn Greenwald …”
Schmitt: “That’s probably a better question to ask to my colleagues such as Scott Shane.” Greenwald’s “voice is valuable. Like most bloggers, he has a point of view; you have to be careful with that.”
Question from the audience: “Had those documents not been acquired from WikiLeaks [...] would have reported on it [...] differently?” [I didn't quite hear the question -- DAL]
Schmitt: “We got the final tranche of cables from the Guardian; that’s public knowledge. We had a falling out with WikiLeaks. He felt we weren’t being fair to him. He was particularly upset about a profile we wrote about Bradley Manning and a profile we wrote about him. I don’t think we would have written it any differently. The source is giving you documents; then you have to look at the documents themselves. Julian Assange needed these news organizations and their technical skills as partnership, collaboration, whatever — he thought it was more of a journalistic collaboration. He just felt he didn’t have the technical skills” to analyze them journalistically. “He was savvy enough to know that and pick the new organizations that he did to have that impact. WikiLeaks is an unusual organization. It was, before it started imploding. Its main branch was in Germany; that was where a lot of its funding and volunteers came from. But it had branches in Scandanavia and this branch in Iceland. He knew he had a more sensitive liberal audience in Europe. He had El Pais in Spain and Le Monde in Paris for the diplomatic cables. Is his organization starting to fracture from internal fighting? People took the documents with them, virtually, and they started popping up. He started losing control of his organization.”
Concluded by moderator due to time.
Lucy Dalglish [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Executive Director], Don DeGabrielle [private international governmental investigations attorney, former U.S. Attorney, and former FBI Special Agent], David Adler [federal criminal defense attorney and former CIA officer] and Tom Forestier [Moderator; law firm managing shareholder].
L to R: DeGabrielle, Dalglish, Adler, Forestier
Dalglish: “WikiLeaks is an inevitable thing; it’s the collision of technology and national security; if WikiLeaks didn’t do it, someone else would have invented it.”
Dalglish: “What makes WikiLeaks different than the Pentagon Papers is the speed and volume of the information. I understand why this makes various people in the government very anxious and very angry. I think they’re responding not so much to WikiLeaks and what it did, but what will happen next time.” These documents “were not the ‘crown jewels’ [...] What happened in the WikiLeaks case was good journalism.”
Dalglish: “The question, wherever I go, is, ‘Is Julian Assange a journalist?’ Under the Espionage Act, that really doesn’t matter. Whom it really matters to are the journalists who have been out there year after year because they want the public to understand the process of what they are doing, the fairness. They really, really care. Under the law it doesn’t really make that much difference, except the US government has shown the more you are acting like a journalist the more they leave you alone.”
Dalglish: “The first group of documents was really dumped out there. Julian Assange started as identifying himself as an advocate, but more and more as a journalist; I think that was something his lawyers advised. And as time went on [WikiLeaks] started paying more and more attention to people on the ground. That’s just what I’m surmising they did.”
Dalglish: Assange “putting himself in the position of a journalist puts him in a better position if he were to be charged in the United States.”
Dalglish: “I was at a meeting at the Wye River Plantation, which is owned by the Aspen Institute. It had been a long time since there had been a meeting between intelligence chiefs from the CIA, the Justice Department, the military” and more. “I was flattered to be invited. The ground rules were, we could report on what was said, but we could not report who said. It became very clear — because they point-blank said it — that they do not believe there is even the slightest possibility of there being a whistleblower in the national security arena. There are whistleblowers in government, but not in national security. If you leak national security info, you are not a whistleblower — you are a felon. Period. That is the attitude this Administration takes. At a meeting this was verified by the president himself; he said to us” there are whistleblowers “but that doesn’t apply in the national security arena.”
Dalglish: James Risen has been “fighting a subpoena for many, many years.” I was told at that [Wye River Plantation] meeting that “by the way, this Risen subpoena is the last one you guys are going to see. We don’t need you anymore; we already know who you’re talking to.” And then Jane Mayer’s “article came out about Thomas Drake, about how the government is capable of tracking everything you do. Reporters, if you have a source to protect, stay off cell phones, stay off email; do what Bob Woodward did: use flowerpots, balconies, and parking garages. Look how long he was able to protect those sources using tried-and-true methods.”
DeGabrielle made a joke that Robertson’s Skype call interruption might have been shut down by the US Government.
DeGabrielle: “We believe firmly [...] that indictments have a lot of power — they can ruin lives, families [...] don’t just do it because you can.”
DeGabrielle: Quick point about Robertson’s remark on rendition and extradition. “They’re not the same thing. Rendition happens like with our neighbor to the south, Mexico. They’ll show up in the middle of the night with someone we in the United States want. They’ll meet us on a bridge and” hand them over “and we’ll say thank you and adios. Renditions, they’re not” chock-full “of due process.”
DeGabrielle: “If the United States wants to prosecute Julian Assange, I rather suspect there will be an extradition hearing, and it will get done.”
Adler joked that with a criminal defense attorney background and a TV photographer background, he [Adler himself] must be very conflicted about WikiLeaks.
Adler: “I can tell you with the contact I maintain with my friends who are intelligence officers that people have been affected by this. Careers have been destroyed in the foreign ministries. You can imagine what your boss would do if he found out what you really think about him. Lives have been devastated by this. I’m not aware of anyone having been killed, but to say that no one has been hurt — I don’t agree with that. It comes down to your responsibility to your fellow human being. I understand the concept of leaking, and frankly, I’m in favor of it; the government makes a lot of mistakes [...] but people are at the heart of the” issue. “My problem with Mr. Assange is, I think Mr. Assange wants the story to be about Mr. Assange. For whatever reason Assange chose not to” redact sufficiently “but being anti-war and still being willing to risk their safety [i.e. safety of informants] — it seems to be a contradiction to me. Even Mr. Robertson said” about Sierra Leone “he was very concerned about sources coming forward with information and being killed.” [I didn't hear clearly the part where Robertsont brought up Sierra Leone; that's why it's not included above. -- DAL]
Adler: “There are tremendous parallels between being an intelligence officer and being a journalist. Mr. Assange’s method does more to endanger journalists. I think you go to the government and say, ‘We’re going to do this, but what do you have to say?’ It is the moral thing to do, but it also has a practical effect: [it makes it] less likely that the government is going to come after you. So just to willy-nilly throw yourself out there with these documents, I think, was a very unfortunate difference.”
Adler: “There is some value” in the WikiLeaks documents. “And I think there’s some deterrence value in having government employees concerned someone’s going to leak their misdeeds. Mr. Schmitt mentioned this CIA officer Kiriakou who was indicted just this past week. The similarity between his case and Mr. Assange’s case is he also wanted to be the center of the story.” Kiriakou “was clearly enjoying the publicity. By the same token, he could have done it the way that got the information out” without getting his name all in the press. “As a CIA officer we were very wary of sources who wanted to be the story. Number one, the information may be suspect. But number two, you may end up being clients of Don and myself. Look for the good information, publicize it when you think it’s appropriate, but do it in the appropriate manner. I don’t think disclosing the names in many of the instances is” the right way to do it.
Forestier: “One of the comments that Mr. Robertson made that I found to be very intriguing is whether or not the government needs to do a better job of keeping its secrets secret.”
DeGabrielle: There was the “Vanessa Leggett matter where a subpoena ‘was issued to someone who called herself a journalist. She was writing a book; she recorded a conversation in secret.” [DeGabrielle said more about this Leggett matter, but I couldn't transcribe it quickly enough since I wasn't familiar with the case. -- DAL]
DeGabrielle: “Don’t think if you’re using a cell phone that the government doesn’t know what is going on.”
DeGabrielle: “I agree it’s a responsibility of the government to maintain the confidentiality it is swearing people into” [I missed the rest of this --DAL]
Forestier: “Lucy, can you share with us about the Valerie Plame affair?”
Dalglish: “Okay, that’s like my least favorite case of all time. You know, the parallels, I can’t draw too many parallels to that case because the Plame case was a situation where there was a lot of debate over whether yellow cake uranium, I think, was being gathered by Iranians. A columnist by the name of Robert Novak wrote a column” in which “he identified, in a kind of offhand way, that the former ambassador they sent to Niger was married to a CIA employee named Valerie Plame. The mention was almost gratuitous. In that particular case, I would distinguish them by saying the WikiLeaks case is a matter of the national intelligence agencies sitting down and being very, very concerned and having a kind of meltdown over the damage that could be done with the government. With the Plame case there is far more politics [...] there was Scooter Libby, Karl Rove [...] and multiple reporters involved in all of it; there were political columnists involved in all of it [...] There just weren’t all that many similarities. Did the release of Valerie Plame’s name do incredible damage to her career? Yeah, it did. To this day I don’t understand why publishing her name was necessary.”
Adler: “From my years in the” intelligence community / CIA … When “someone in the family breaches that trust,” the family is “beyond furious. It’s like your wife or husband cheating on you; you’re that angry. With someone who’s made a member of ‘the Brotherhood,’ let’s say, would turn it around to get their name out there and risk people out there [...] I think Obama has prosecuted six of these cases [...] I don’t think it’s a decision made in the White House, I think it’s people in the national security agencies saying shut this down, it’s getting out of hand.” [Dalglish nodding her head.] “Manning and Drake will be the subject of CIA training videos. Although I agree the Plame thing was politically motivated because Joe Wilson, the ambassador who was sent over there, was a Clinton appointee.”
Dalglish: “Reporters were calling me and saying, ‘Doesn’t this Plame affair have a chilling effect on reporters?’ And I’d say, ‘Don’t you think that’s the point? Yeah.’”
Dalglish: “Mostly” protection for sources “involves staying off the phones, acting more like a CIA operative.” Your airline tickets and more are being tracked. “They are trying to track people who are leakers.” The government “will kind of ‘go back’ and look for the connections with the reporters who did the stories. It is kind of a lesson from the Plame-Cooper-Liddy-Rove case, and this is, when you’re communicating on your employer-owned communication devices, your employer is going to take the position that that information and that product belongs to them. And under the law that is probably true. So as Matt Cooper found out, after he fought the subpoena” TIME Magazine lost, and someone at TIME “thought he had the duty to turn it over. So TIME Magazine turned it over. So that’s another thing you guys have to pay very careful attention to. So Eric I’m sure knows all of this, and the NYT and David McCraw know all of this, and they’ve probably told everybody these things. Basically, stay off technology if you have somebody you seriously need to protect, particularly if they are in the national security world.”
DeGabrielle: “In the U.S. Attorney’s office, email is referred to as ‘evidence mail.’ We hear about horror stories of people who’ve said certain things in email, and they still don’t think about it, the confidentiality of the employees at a company, or even among the government. Electronic information is just cascading [...] I think we’re going to have to redo some of the laws. This generation thinks there’s instant access to anything, so what’s the harm in reading something WikiLeaks has divulged? I would like to see” the matter raised: “does the public really need to know? Or are these salacious details that people would just like to hear about? Frankly, the people who are the decision-makers now are a bunch of dinosaurs who didn’t grow up with this, so they’re basing information on outdated information about what’s out there [...] Everything is going to be available to everybody. I think David pointed out, and I think Lucy has said it as well, that the government probably classifies too much, and you get” agencies “that protect their turf. In a perfect world we’d have a super classification agency, one kind of ‘pinnacle’ that’d understand what it takes to get something classified. However, that’s impractical. No single group [...] is going to be able to make that call.” The government “needs to think more in a sober fashion before they put that stamp on their confidential or their top secret or whatever it happens to be and think about it before the stamp goes down and why.”
Adler: “I gave a talk a while back to some civil lawyers titled ‘Delete Doesn’t.’ So not only should you not communicate” via technology, “but you shouldn’t think deleting” is sufficient. “Forensic people” who work for the intelligence agencies “are spectacular.”
Adler: “A quick story that illustrates how bizarre the government is with classifying things. When I was with the [CIA] agency, you have to put everything in your desk at night, [your] safe, lock it up. I had this friend who just had a blank piece of paper there and was stamping SECRET all over it [for fun]. When I got back the next day, there was the equivalent of a CIA speeding ticket on my desk! And the paper was blank!”
Forestier: “About post-9/11 integration of intelligence agencies to help one another … Do you want to comment on that, anyone?”
Adler: “The government bureaucracy does not — They’re not very good at the appropriate response to the problem. It’s all or nothing. After WikiLeaks they don’t want anyone to share. They swing back and forth between these extremes, and it takes a long time to work out the mechanics. I’m not surprised this Assange thing — and let’s be honest, there’s still rivalry between the FBI and the CIA, between the CIA and the State Department. ‘Those weanies over there don’t know what they’re doing, so we need not send something over there for fear it’ll make it over there to Assange.’”
Dalglish: “I can tell you that just being in Washington and talking to various people that the rage over this particular [WikiLeaks] incident, the folks I’ve spoken to, the rage seems to be mostly focused on the Pentagon. So honest to God, as an outsider who doesn’t know much about this [...] it blows my mind that a twenty-two-year-old Army private with known psychological issues has access to information that two and a half million people.”
Adler: “I think that two and a half million figure is inaccurate. It’s more like 300,000 to 400,000.”
Dalglish: These groups “trying to co-ordinate publishing –” [Something I didn't catch -- DAL] “In most other parts of the world, reporters have a right to protect confidential sources, but they are subject to censorship” including in the UK. “But in the United States, they’re not going to block you from publishing unless it’s something extreme or imminent, but they do have the right under the law to come after your sources. So I would think that the publishing partners in the UK must have been apoplectic when the folks at the New York Times went to the government and said, ‘We’re about to publish it, what do you think?’ The Guardian must have been thinking, ‘Oh my God, the White House might call Downing Street” and tell them.
Schmitt (from the audience): “It did come up. The way it worked was, the lawyers got together and talked about it, and as long as the New York Times got together and talked about it, and as long as the New York Times published before the Guardian or before Der Spiegel, even if it was just a minute or two more, they were released from that obligation. By the time we got to that point, the Guardian was less concerned about the impact because the UK had realized this stuff is going to come out — it’s futile to block it.”
Adler: “That middle-ground [...] It can be revealed to a journalist, but it can be done in a way that makes it difficult for Don’s old colleauges to come after you. Maybe I’ll make my fortune teaching spy tradecraft to journalists [...] It may need to be journalist-source-lawyer more than it has been in the past; lawyers can’t go over the line and tell people how to break the law.” But “some of you who are at smaller outlets need to, maybe, contact Lucy’s organization and say, ‘Hey there’s this situation I’m facing; I don’t want to step on a landmine.’”
Dalglish: “There are several bills that are in Congress trying to adapt the Espionage Act. There are some significant efforts to rewrite it. I don’t think it will happen in the next few months because Congress is not doing anything at the moment.” But “they are spending a considerable amount of time on the Hill with media trying to make sure people in the media understand the government’s point of view on this particular issue.”
Super Security Bros. (L to R: DeGabrielle, Schmitt, Adler)
I asked Dalglish after the panel what she thought of the argument that WikiLeaks is accountable since it depends on donations from the public. She thought the notion ridiculous and said legal accountability and financial accountability are distinct. After all, “people will buy anything.”
I asked Adler about the nascent US prosecution against Assange after the panel and he said to me one of the major issues surrounding the Assange case is whether “we [the United States] can drag his ass over here.” Obviously I don’t support that.
Houston Law and Media Seminar on WikiLeaks (January) #WLTex by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: email@example.com.