Glenn Greenwald and Wired Magazine: “I see no reason to doubt Poulsen’s integrity or good faith”

by zunguzungu

Yesterday afternoon, Wired magazine Editor-in-Chief Evan Hansen lamented

It’s odd to find myself in the position of writing a defense of someone who should be held up as a model. But it is unfortunately necessary, thanks to the shameless and unjustified personal attacks he’s faced…Our critics — notably Glenn Greenwald of Salon, an outspoken WikiLeaks defender — have resorted to shocking personal attacks, based almost entirely on conjecture and riddled with errors.”

“Shameless,” “unjustified,” “personal,” “attack,” “shocking,” “personal,” conjectural, and error-riddled are the key terms there, in a piece which accuses Greenwald of mixing up a wild cake of conspiracy theory and baking it in the oven of ad hominem.

When I read the original Glenn Greenwald piece, way back in June, I agreed with it. I still do. He criticized Wired magazine’s decisions to publish only selected excerpts from the chat logs between Adrian Lamo and Bradley Manning, and that seemed basically right to me: Bradley Manning’s case is really important — something Hansen is quick to emphasize as well — and while anything that’s merely gossipy should not be publicized, it is hard to understand why anything that is of clear public interest should be held back. And actually, it turns out that Greenwald and Hansen are in agreement on this principled, that only the portions of the chat logs which are of public interest should be revealed. Where they disagree is in their assessment of what those portions are. Here, for example, is what the “shameless” and “shocking” Glenn Greenwald wrote in his original “riddled with error” article:

Wired should either publish all of the chat logs, or be far more diligent about withholding only those parts which truly pertain only to Manning’s private and personal matters and/or which would reveal national security secrets.  Or they should have a respected third party review the parts they have concealed to determine if there is any justification for that.  At least if one believes Lamo’s claims, there are clearly relevant parts of those chats which Wired continues to conceal.

This still seems to me to be wholly reasonable; all of Glenn Greenwald’s shocking and shameless personal attacks must have occurred in the other parts of his error riddled piece. For example, Adrian Lamo has claimed that Bradley Manning told him that he received help from Julian Assange in leaking the cables. This is important because any case the US may eventually try to raise against Julian Assange and Wikileaks will almost certainly hinge on showing that he and they did more than simply passively receive leaked data. After all, it is a protected journalistic activity for a journalist to receive leaked information; it might have been illegal for Manning to leak that data to a journalist, of course, but that has nothing to do with the legality of the journalist receiving it. This is why the Wikileaks site specifically notes that

“Like other media outlets conducting investigative journalism, we accept (but do not solicit) anonymous sources of information.”

Again, accepting and publishing a leak is legal, since (in the US) it is a form of journalism protected by the first amendment. This is why any US legal action against Wikileaks will be hard to get off the ground unless they can prove that Julian Assange or Wikileaks aided or conspired with Bradley Manning in the commission of what would be (for him) an illegal act, then they would have something to pin on him. From the NY Times:

Justice Department officials are trying to find out whether Mr. Assange encouraged or even helped the analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, to extract classified military and State Department files from a government computer system. If he did so, they believe they could charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them.

This is a weird sentence, by the way, since you can’t charge someone for being a passive recipient of a leak; the grammar suggests that would be a crime, and it isn’t. But here’s where it gets interesting; it’s exactly this notion — that Assange actively aided Manning in leaking the data — which Adrian Lamo had previously admitted to the New York Times that he didn’t have, actively confirming that he has no reason to think Wikileaks helped Manning obtain the classified information:

Mr. Lamo acknowledged that he had no direct evidence that Private Manning had help. He said he based his belief on information from people who knew Private Manning, not on his contact with the soldier himself. Asked if Private Manning had ever told him of any WikiLeaks assistance, Mr. Lamo replied, “Not explicitly, no.”

And yet! In the article of two weeks ago, the NY Times quotes Lamo as saying the exact opposite, claiming that Manning told him he did and that the chat logs show it:

Among materials prosecutors are studying is an online chat log in which Private Manning is said to claim that he had been directly communicating with Mr. Assange using an encrypted Internet conferencing service as the soldier was downloading government files. Private Manning is also said to have claimed that Mr. Assange gave him access to a dedicated server for uploading some of them to WikiLeaks.

Adrian Lamo, an ex-hacker in whom Private Manning confided and who eventually turned him in, said Private Manning detailed those interactions in instant-message conversations with him. He said the special server’s purpose was to allow Private Manning’s submissions to “be bumped to the top of the queue for review.” By Mr. Lamo’s account, Private Manning bragged about this “as evidence of his status as the high-profile source for WikiLeaks.”

Wired magazine has published excerpts from logs of online chats between Mr. Lamo and Private Manning. But the sections in which Private Manning is said to detail contacts with Mr. Assange are not among them. Mr. Lamo described them from memory in an interview with The Times, but he said he could not provide the full chat transcript because the F.B.I. had taken his hard drive, on which it was saved.

So despite all his shameless and shocking personal attacks on journalism‘s living avatar and embodiment, I wholeheartedly agree with Glenn Greenwald about the inexplicability of Wired’s actions. If they haven’t done something weird like delete the chat logs at the behest of the FBI or something, then Wired can easily confirm which of the two mutually exclusive and irreconcilable things that Adrian Lamo has publicly alleged are actually true: did Manning tell Lamo that he received assistance from Assange (as Lamo told the NYT recently) or did Manning tell Lamo nothing of the sort (as Lamo said back in July). I simply can’t imagine what reason Wired could possibly have for not clearing this up. It can’t be both ways, it is of public interest, and since Lamo is out there talking up a storm, it can’t really have anything to do with protecting Manning’s privacy.

So, since because we can‘t possibly trust a shocking and shameless purveyor of conjecture and errors like Glenn Greenwald, here’s a series of some of the respectable and reasonable journalism people that I follow on twitter who have made similarly respectable and reasonable points (but not at all the kind of shameless, unjustified, shocking, conjectural, and error-riddled personal attacks of your screeching and hysterical Glenn Greenwald types):

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, tweeted “I know @evanatwired. I respect him hugely. I don’t get why he’s not releasing the logs, redacted to meet the concerns”

Zeynep Tufekci, professor of sociology and general smarty pants, tweeted@wired is implying that everything related to Wikileaks has been published.  If they can confirm that, everyone can leave them alone.”

Dave Winer, totally impressive and reasonable technology person, tweetedif there’s more information to be had about manning and the leaks, let’s have it.”

Adam L. Penenberg, “journalism professor and assistant director of the Business and Economic Program at New York University” tweetedA good first step: Wired should collect all of Adrian Lamo’s published comments based on the logs and compare them to the actual chat.”

Evgeny Morozov — “contributing editor to Foreign Policy and Boston Review and a Schwartz Fellow at the New American Foundation” — wrote this in a series of tweets: “I can’t see how Wired would be able to justify not releasing specific portions of the chat referenced by Greenwald. What kind of secret injunction would apply to Wired but not to Lamo, who is talking nonstop? The point is that Lamo has already violated Manning’s privacy & honor with his statements. Wired can help restore the latter. If Wired’s argument is that in choosing b/n honoring Manning’s privacy & restoring his honor, they chose privacy, I find it hard to accept. Greenwald offered them reasonable options. Wired can confirm/deny Lamo’s (very serious) statements w/t releasing all logs.”

Terry Heaton, author of Reinventing Local Media, tweetsAs one who teaches journalism ethics, Wired’s position troubles me deeply. How far we’ve fallen in the name of sources.”

Jeff Jarvis, “author of What Would Google Do?…associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program and the new business models for news project at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism” tweets: “Wired has not answered a series of factual, important questions. Simple as that.”

Looking back at Even Hansen’s piece, though, I do feel comforted that he  was able to refute several tendentious claims brought by some very dangerous straw men:

“Not one single fact has been brought to light suggesting did anything wrong in pursuit of this story.”

or this one:

The bottom line is that did not have anything to do with Manning’s arrest.

Suck it, straw men! And also this:

Our position has been and remains that the logs include sensitive personal information with no bearing on WikiLeaks, and it would serve no purpose to publish them at this time. That doesn’t mean we’ll never publish them, but before taking an irrevocable action that could harm an individual’s privacy, we have to weigh that person’s privacy interest against news value and relevance.

I leave the internet to have the final word on the matter.

Update: And also, Kevin Poulsen, his own self, who tweeted me this link to the Wired’s article responding to the NY Times, and commented (at my query) “I can send you the link, I can’t make you read it.”