Ghosting Julian Assange

f13-iconAndrew O’Hagan writes: On 5 January 2011, at 8.30 p.m., I was messing about at home when the phone buzzed on the sofa. It was a text from Jamie Byng, the publisher of Canongate. ‘Are you about?’ it said. ‘I have a somewhat left-field idea. It’s potentially very exciting. But I need to discuss urgently.’ Canongate had bought, for £600,000, a memoir by the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. The book had also been bought for a high sum by Sonny Mehta at Knopf in New York and Jamie had sold foreign rights to a slew of big houses. He said he expected it to be published in forty languages. Assange didn’t want to write the book himself but didn’t want the book’s ghostwriter to be anybody who already knew a lot about him. I told Jamie that I’d seen Assange at the Frontline Club the year before, when the first WikiLeaks stories emerged, and that he was really interesting but odd, maybe even a bit autistic. Jamie agreed, but said it was an amazing story. ‘He wants a kind of manifesto, a book that will reflect this great big generational shift.’ He’d been to see Assange in Norfolk and was going again the next day. He said he and the agent Caroline Michel had suggested me for the job and that Assange wanted to meet me. I knew they’d been talking to other writers, and I was at first sceptical. It’s not unusual for published writers to get requests to write things anonymously. How much did Alex Haley protect Malcolm X when he ghosted his autobiography? To what extent did Ted Sorensen create the verbal manner of John F. Kennedy when he wrote Profiles in Courage, a book for which the future president won the Pulitzer Prize? And are the science fiction stories H.P. Lovecraft ghosted for Harry Houdini not the best things he ever wrote? There would be a touch of all this in the strange case of Assange. But there is something else about the genre, a sense that the world might be more ghosted now than at any time in history. Isn’t Wikipedia entirely ghosted? Isn’t half of Facebook? Isn’t the World Wide Web a new ether, in which we are all haunted by ghostwriters?

I had written about missing persons and celebrity, about secrecy and conflict, and I knew from the start that this story might be an insider’s job. However it came, and however I unearthed it or inflected it, the Assange story would be consistent with my instinct to walk the unstable border between fiction and non-fiction, to see how porous the parameters between invention and personality are. I remembered Victor Maskell, the art historian and spy in John Banville’s The Untouchable, who liked to quote Diderot: ‘We erect a statue in our own image inside ourselves – idealised, you know, but still recognisable – and then spend our lives engaged in the effort to make ourselves into its likeness.’ The fact that the WikiLeaks story was playing out against a global argument over privacy, secrets and the abuse of military power, left me thinking that if anyone was weird enough for this story it was me.

At 5.30 the next day Jamie arrived at my flat with his editorial colleague Nick Davies. (Mental health warning: there are two Nick Davies in this story. This one worked for Canongate; the second is a well-known reporter for the Guardian.) They had just come back on the train from Norfolk. Jamie said that Assange had poked his eye with a log or something, so had sat through three hours of discussion with his eyes closed. They were going to advertise the book for April. It was to be called WikiLeaks versus the World: My Story by Julian Assange. They said I would have a percentage of the royalties in every territory and Julian was happy with that. We talked about the deal and then Jamie went into detail about the security issues. ‘Are you ready to have your phone tapped by the CIA?’ he asked. He said Julian insisted the book would have to be written on a laptop that had no internet access. [Continue reading... if you have time... it's 26,390 words!]

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Snowden documents reveal covert surveillance and pressure tactics aimed at WikiLeaks and its supporters

f13-iconGlenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher write: Top-secret documents from the National Security Agency and its British counterpart reveal for the first time how the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom targeted WikiLeaks and other activist groups with tactics ranging from covert surveillance to prosecution.

The efforts – detailed in documents provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – included a broad campaign of international pressure aimed not only at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but at what the U.S. government calls “the human network that supports WikiLeaks.” The documents also contain internal discussions about targeting the file-sharing site Pirate Bay and hacktivist collectives such as Anonymous.

One classified document from Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s top spy agency, shows that GCHQ used its surveillance system to secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site. By exploiting its ability to tap into the fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone of the Internet, the agency confided to allies in 2012, it was able to collect the IP addresses of visitors in real time, as well as the search terms that visitors used to reach the site from search engines like Google.

Another classified document from the U.S. intelligence community, dated August 2010, recounts how the Obama administration urged foreign allies to file criminal charges against Assange over the group’s publication of the Afghanistan war logs. [Continue reading...]

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Edward Snowden isn’t the only truth teller who deserves clemency

Michael Ratner, the U.S. attorney for Julian Assange, writes: Last week, both the New York Times and the Guardian released editorials supporting clemency for NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Considering the important nature of Snowden’s revelations, clemency is definitely in order – and it’s about time that majorww outlets recognize that.

However, the focus on Snowden’s singular case seriously deflects from the fact that the Obama administration has been a nightmare for whistleblowers and truth tellers, and that several others currently in prison or in exile deserve the same clemency or clear assurances they will not be prosecuted.

So why is the media now calling for mercy for Edward Snowden, while other truth tellers including Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, continue to face persecution (and prosecution)?

If you apply the criteria established by both the New York Times and the Guardian to Manning and Assange – as well as other truth tellers including Jeremy Hammond, currently in prison serving a 10-year sentence after exposing corporate spy networks – a clear double standard emerges. [Continue reading...]

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WikiLeaks’ Sarah Harrison: ‘How can you take Pierre Omidyar seriously?

The Guardian reports: The WikiLeaks staffer and Snowden collaborator Sarah Harrison has criticised Pierre Omidyar, the eBay founder who is setting up a new journalism venture with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, for his involvement in the 2010 financial blockade against WikiLeaks.

In her first interview since leaving Moscow for Berlin last month, Harrison told German news weekly Stern: “How can you take something seriously when the person behind this platform went along with the financial boycott against WikiLeaks?”

Harrison was referring to the decision in December 2010 by PayPal, which is owned by eBay, to suspend WikiLeaks’ donation account and freeze its assets after pressure from the US government. The company’s boycott, combined with similar action taken by Visa and Mastercard, left WikiLeaks facing a funding crisis.

“His excuse is probably that there is nothing he could have done at the time,” Harrison continued. “Well, he is on the board of directors. He can’t shake off responsibility that easily. He didn’t even comment on it. He could have said something like: ‘we were forced to do this, but I am against it’.”

Harrison joined WikiLeaks from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and worked with the organisation on the Afghan war logs and leaked cables projects. She now works on the WikiLeaks legal defence team, although she has no legal qualifications, and was catapulted to fame when she accompanied Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, on his flight from Hong Kong to Russia in June 2013.

Referring to Omidyar’s plans to set up a new media organisation, in which the former Guardian writer Greenwald – who wrote a number of stories from the Snowden revelations – will play a central part, Harrison said: “If you set up a new media organisation which claims to do everything for press freedom, but you are part of a blockade against another media organisation, then that’s hard for us to take it seriously. But I hope that they stick to their promises”. [Continue reading...]

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Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the ownership of the Snowden’s leaks

Mark Ames writes: Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?

Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.

It’s especially worth asking since it became clear that Greenwald and Poitras are now the only two people with full access to the complete cache of NSA files, which are said to number anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 200,000 files. That’s right: Snowden doesn’t have the files any more, the Guardian doesn’t have them, the Washington Post doesn’t have them… just Glenn and Laura at the for-profit journalism company created by the founder of eBay.

Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.

Think about other famous leakers: Daniel Ellsberg neither monetized nor monopolized the Pentagon Papers. Instead, he leaked them to well over a dozen different newspapers and media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post, and to a handful of sitting senators — one of whom, Mike Gravel, read over 4,000 of the 7,000 pages into the Congressional record before collapsing from exhaustion. The Papers were published in book form by a small nonprofit run by the Unitarian Church, Beacon House Press.

Chelsea Manning, responsible for the largest mass leaks of government secrets ever, leaked everything to WikiLeaks, a nonprofit venture that has largely struggled to make ends meet in its seven years of existence. Julian Assange, for all of his flaws, cannot be accused of crudely enriching himself from his privileged access to Manning’s leaks; instead, he shared his entire trove with a number of established media outlets including the Guardian, New York Times, Le Monde and El Pais. Today, Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in a military prison, while the Private Manning Support Network constantly struggles to raise funds from donations; Assange has spent the last year and a half inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, also struggling to raise funds to run the WikiLeaks operation.

A similar story emerges in the biggest private sector analogy — the tobacco industry leaks by whistleblowers Merrell Williams and Jeffrey Wigand. After suffering lawsuits, harassment and attempts to destroy their livelihoods, both eventually won awards as part of the massive multibillion dollar settlements — but the millions of confidential tobacco documents now belong to the public, maintained by a nonprofit, the American Legacy Project, whose purpose is to help scholars and reporters and scientists fight tobacco propaganda and power. Every year, over 400,000 Americans die from tobacco-related illnesses.

The point is this: In the most successful whistleblower cases, the public has sided with the selfless whistleblower against the power- or profit-driven entity whose secrets were leaked. The Snowden case represents a new twist to the heroic whistleblower story arc: After successfully convincing a large part of the public and the American Establishment that Snowden’s leaks serve a higher public interest, Greenwald promptly sold those secrets to a billionaire. [Continue reading...]

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Julian Assange unlikely to face U.S. charges over publishing classified documents

The Washington Post reports: The Justice Department has all but concluded it will not bring charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing classified documents because government lawyers said they could not do so without also prosecuting U.S. news organizations and journalists, according to U.S. officials.

The officials stressed that a formal decision has not been made, and a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks remains impaneled, but they said there is little possibility of bringing a case against Assange, unless he is implicated in criminal activity other than releasing online top-secret military and diplomatic documents.

The Obama administration has charged government employees and contractors who leak classified information — such as former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning — with violations of the Espionage Act. But officials said that although Assange published classified documents, he did not leak them, something they said significantly affects their legal analysis.

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WikiLeaks publishes secret trade text to rewrite copyright laws, limit internet freedom

Wikileaks: On November 13, 2013, WikiLeaks released the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. The TPP is the largest-ever economic treaty, encompassing nations representing more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. The WikiLeaks release of the text comes ahead of the decisive TPP Chief Negotiators summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 19-24 November 2013. The chapter published by WikiLeaks is perhaps the most controversial chapter of the TPP due to its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents. Significantly, the released text includes the negotiation positions and disagreements between all 12 prospective member states.

The TPP is the forerunner to the equally secret US-EU pact TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), for which President Obama initiated US-EU negotiations in January 2013. Together, the TPP and TTIP will cover more than 60 per cent of global GDP. Both pacts exclude China.

Since the beginning of the TPP negotiations, the process of drafting and negotiating the treaty’s chapters has been shrouded in an unprecedented level of secrecy. Access to drafts of the TPP chapters is shielded from the general public. Members of the US Congress are only able to view selected portions of treaty-related documents in highly restrictive conditions and under strict supervision. It has been previously revealed that only three individuals in each TPP nation have access to the full text of the agreement, while 600 ‘trade advisers’ – lobbyists guarding the interests of large US corporations such as Chevron, Halliburton, Monsanto and Walmart – are granted privileged access to crucial sections of the treaty text. [Continue reading...]

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Sarah Harrison joins other Edward Snowden files ‘exiles’ in Berlin

The Guardian reports: Sarah Harrison, the British journalist and WikiLeaks staffer who has been working with Edward Snowden since his arrival in Moscow, has left Russia and joined the growing band of net activists stranded in Berlin.

A statement released on the WikiLeaks website, attributed to Harrison, states that she arrived in Germany on Saturday and has been advised by her lawyers that it is “not safe to return home” to the UK.

Harrison joins a growing group of journalists and activists who were involved in the publication of Snowden’s files and are now living in the German capital “in effective exile”, including Laura Poitras and Jacob Applebaum.

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U.S. government puts hacktivism on trial

Aarti Shahani reports: With online relationships, it’s complicated.

The billionaire founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, is bankrolling a new media company with reporters who have used WikiLeaks to break giant stories.

But the eBay-owned subsidiary PayPal is working with the Justice Department to prosecute a handful of WikiLeaks supporters. The defendants could serve decades in prison, and their convictions could decide if “hacktivism” is free speech or a felony offense.

On Oct. 31, 14 defendants are scheduled to walk into a federal court in San Jose, Calif. They are known as the PayPal 14, and prosecutors will ask them to plead guilty to attacking PayPal, the online payment service based in that city.

In December 2010, PayPal, Visa, Mastercard and major banks became targets of a spate of cyberattacks, but not by criminals who wanted to steal credit card numbers.

When the companies stopped processing online donations for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, supporters — some associated with the hacker group Anonymous — responded with a novel form of protest.

In the case of PayPal, they sent thousands of packets of data to the company’s servers at such a speed, its system nearly crashed.

“It was serious,” said PayPal spokesman Anuj Nayar, who recalled that deflecting the traffic felt like a chess game.

PayPal estimates the attacks cost $3.5 million in technology upgrades. The company gave prosecutors a list of the top 1,000 attackers. From that list, the Department of Justice indicted a handful as part of its ongoing crackdown against Anonymous.

The DOJ cannot comment on pending cases but relies on prosecution guidelines that consider how likely a person is to repeat an alleged offense. Attorney Peter Leeming, who represents one of the defendants, says the selection “seemed arbitrary to me.”

Leeming, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., has represented political protesters for decades and is developing a boutique practice around hacktivism, or online attacks that are politically or socially motivated and not driven by financial gain.

“They’re a relatively new creature,” he said. “Is demonstrating and shutting down a street any different from shutting down a line of commerce on the Internet?” [Continue reading...]

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Why Julian Assange is a crucial historical figure

Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes: Assange’s entire public life has been an experiment on the theme of trust, one devoted to the conviction that the public trust in government has been badly misplaced. But for a time, in 2010, Assange felt a part of something larger—if not affiliated with any institution other than his own, then at least part of a broader political movement against American power. The Fifth Estate, a thoughtful drama out this week with the English actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange, focuses on the extraordinary eight-month period when WikiLeaks published the military’s war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq, the State Department’s internal cables, and the “Collateral Murder” video—everything that made Assange famous. There was a casual brutality to the way that powerful states and com­panies seemed to behave in these documents: A Shell executive bragged about having packed the Nigerian government with sympathizers, American military officers substantially underreported the numbers of Iraqi civilians their soldiers were killing. In London, Wiki­Leaks became an Establishment liberal cause, and the Australian found himself joined by human-rights crusaders who had been knighted by the queen, journalists and filmmakers, concerned citizens and TED Talk celebrities.

These allegiances were always bound to collapse—Assange is simply too weird, in his person and his politics, to have become part of any mainstream coalition—but they have collapsed so completely that there is little left of Assange’s public image right now beyond the crude cartoon. Vain and self-mythologizing, he has been accused of sexual assault by two of his supporters; a prophet of the mounting powers of the surveillance state, he now reportedly lives in a fifteen-by-thirteen-foot room in London’s Ecuadoran Embassy, sleeping in a women’s bathroom, monitored by intelligence agencies at all times; still trusting of the volunteers around him, he gave one such man access to secret American diplomatic cables about Belarus, only to find that information passed along to the Belarusian dictator. It is as if Assange has been consumed by his own weaknesses and obsessions. Calling around, I’d heard that the last prominent London intellectual who still supported him was the writer Tariq Ali, but when I finally reached him, via Skype, on an island in the Adriatic, it turned out that Ali, too, had grown exasperated with Assange. “He hasn’t formulated his worldview,” Ali said. “Certainly he is hostile to the American empire. But that’s not enough.” Assange has come to be seen, as a journalist at The Guardian put it, as nothing more than “a useful idiot.”

All of this is Assange’s own doing. And yet it is strange how completely these dramas have obscured the power of his insights and how fully we now seem to be living in Julian Assange’s world. His real topic never was war or human rights. It was always surveillance and the way that technology unbalanced the relationship between the individual and the state. Information now moves through electronic circuits, which means it can all be collected, stored, analyzed. The insight that Assange husbanded (and Snowden’s evidence confirmed) is that the sheer seduction of this trove—the possibility of secretly knowing everything about other people—would lead governments and companies to abandon their own laws and ethics. This is the paranoid worldview of a hacker, assembled from a lifetime of chasing information. But Assange proved that it was accurate, and the consequence of his discovery has been a strange political moment, when to see the world through the lens of conspiracies has not only made you paranoid. It’s also made you aware. [Continue reading...]

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Using law to crush political dissent

An editorial for the New York Times says: The 35-year sentence a military judge imposed on Pfc. Bradley Manning Wednesday morning was in some sense a vindication of his defense: following his conviction last month on charges of violating the Espionage Act, Private Manning faced up to 90 years in prison. He had previously pleaded guilty to lesser versions of those crimes that exposed him to 20 years behind bars. For a defense lawyer, a sentence of one-third the potential maximum is usually not a bad outcome. But from where we sit, it is still too much, given his stated desire not to betray his country but to encourage debate on American aims and shed light on the “day to day” realities of the American war effort.

Certainly, Private Manning faced punishment.

In providing more than 700,000 government files to WikiLeaks — extensive excerpts of which were published in The New York Times and other publications — he broke the law and breached his responsibility as a military intelligence analyst to protect those files. It was by far the biggest leak of classified documents in U.S. history, and thus it is not surprising that the punishment would be the longest ever on record for leaking such information.

But 35 years is far too long a sentence by any standard. In more than two weeks of hearings, government lawyers presented vague and largely speculative claims that Private Manning’s leaks had endangered lives and “chilled” diplomatic relations. On the other hand, much of what Private Manning released was of public value, including a video of a military helicopter shooting at two vans and killing civilians, including two Reuters journalists. By comparison, First Lt. Michael Behenna was sentenced to 25 years for the 2008 killing of an unarmed Iraqi man who was being questioned about suspected terrorist activities. Lieutenant Behenna’s sentence has since been cut to 15 years. Private Manning has already been held for more than three years, nine months of which were in solitary confinement. It is some comfort that he has several opportunities to avoid serving out his full term — including a sentence reduction by a military appeals court; the possibility of parole, for which he will be eligible in about eight years; or a grant of clemency by a board that considers requests from service members.

Army Col. Denise R. Lind, the judge who sentenced Private Manning, also reduced his rank to the lowest in the military and dishonorably discharged him. Those are appropriate punishments. But the larger issue, which is not resolved by Private Manning’s sentencing, is the federal government’s addiction to secrecy and what it will do when faced with future leaks, an inevitability when 92 million documents are classified in a year and more than 4 million Americans have security clearance.

In their drastic attempt to put Private Manning away for most of the rest of his life, prosecutors were also trying to discourage other potential leakers, but as the continuing release of classified documents by Edward Snowden shows, even the threat of significant prison time is not a deterrent when people believe their government keeps too many secrets.

In Egypt, when President Morsi made use of long-standing laws against blasphemy and insulting the government, critics quite reasonably saw this as evidence of an unwillingness to uphold the democratic principle of free speech.

The United States differs from Egypt in as much as it does not have these kinds of laws on the books. Nevertheless, what the Manning case highlights is the willingness of government officials to use the law as an instrument to crush political dissent.

As the New York Times points out, the Pentagon has shown greater leniency with murderers than it did with Manning — an indication that the reaction to the offense had much less to do with the nature of the crime than it had to do with the fact that Manning’s actions caused embarrassment to important people. That is to say, people who having acquired great power through government, who then come to regard government and the legal system as instruments for reinforcing that power.

This mentality has repeatedly been manifest in President Obama who having entered the political elite has always shown that his preeminent loyalty is to that elite. His refusal to “look back” at the crimes of his predecessors has little to do with a spirit of hope and everything to do with the unspoken code that “we look after our own.” Just as he wouldn’t prosecute anyone for torture, he likewise believes his loyal resolve will ensure that no future occupant of the Oval Office will decide to prosecute him for murder.

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‘He wanted to help America’: Manning’s attorney in first extended interview after 35-year sentence

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Video: Jesselyn Radack and retired Col. Morris Davis on the Bradley Manning sentence

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Statement by Julian Assange on today’s sentencing of Bradley Manning

Julian Assange: Today the well-known whistleblower Bradley Manning has been ordered by a military court in Maryland to spend a minimum of 5.2 years in prison with a 32 year maximum (including time already spent in detention), for revealing information about US government behaviour to the public.

This hard-won minimum term represents a significant tactical victory for Bradley Manning’s defense, campaign team and supporters. At the start of these proceedings, the United States government had charged Bradley Manning with a capital offence and other charges carrying over 135 years of incarceration. His defense team is now appealing to the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals in relation to this sentence and also for due process violations during the trial.

While the defense should be proud of their tactical victory, it should be remembered that Mr Manning’s trial and conviction is an affront to basic concepts of Western justice. On Mr Manning’s arrest in May 2010, he was immediately subjected to punitive incarceration by the US government, which was found to be “cruel, inhumane and degrading” by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, and even found to be unlawful by US military courts. [Continue reading...]

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Our world: A young man of conscience gets thrown in jail while an old dictator is about to be set free

Quinn Norton writes: Somewhere in the Iraqi desert in 2009 in the middle of a flailing war, a soldier committed a seemingly small crime. Private Bradley Manning didn’t kill anyone, or rape anyone, but by nabbing information from his commanders and giving it to WikiLeaks, he lit up the world, like a match discarded into a great parched forest.

Bored and depressed by army life, Manning started hanging out on the WikiLeaks IRC channel with its controversial founder, Julian Assange. It began as a simple act of communication no different in most respects from millions of casual chats that meander daily through uncounted online forums. Manning would occasionally get into conversations and debates, which he would say nourished him in a court statement years later. “[They] allowed me to feel connected to others even when alone. They helped me pass the time and keep motivated throughout the deployment.”

Manning described the WikiLeaks IRC channel as “almost academic in nature,” and Assange, years after the channel had vanished, agreed: “… the public IRC channel was filled with technical, academic, and geopolitical analysis, with many interesting people from different countries.” Assange said it wasn’t unusual for the channel to be visited by soldiers, like Manning. [Continue reading...]

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Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years

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