CORRECTED: The post has been corrected to fix an error in the original post, which incorrectly substituted Poulsen for Lamo on the question of mental health/Asperger claims. Thanks to vigilant TRR readers for pointing out the error.
Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell has perhaps the best summation/response to the growing feud between Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald and Wired Magazine editors Evan Hansen and Kevin Poulsen over their publication of partial transcripts of chat logs between Pfc Bradley Manning — accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of government documents and other data and handing them over to Wikileaks — and a former hacker named Adrian Lamo, who handed the logs over to Poulsen in June. But what is Greenwald really after? More to the point, are the editors at Wired — a rival publication — obligated to help him get it?
To start, please go over and read Hounshell’s excellent summation before proceeding. Then come back and note this excerpt:
On June 18, Greenwald wrote a long blog post raising questions about Poulsen’s scoop and about Lamo. He said he found the story “quite strange,” called Lamo an “extremely untrustworthy source,” and accused Poulsen of being “only marginally transparent about what actually happened here.”
What was curious about Greenwald’s post was that he didn’t challenge any specific facts in Wired‘s reporting; he just pointed to what he saw as inconsistencies in the story, as well as Lamo’s account, and condemned the ex-hacker’s actions as “despicable.” He didn’t suggest outright that Manning had not actually confessed to Lamo. He didn’t try to argue that Manning hadn’t broken the law. He didn’t say the log excerpts were fabricated. He did, however, complain that Lamo had told him about conversations with Manning that were not in the chat-log excerpts published byWired, and called on the magazine to release them. Poulsen said he wouldn’t be doing so, telling Greenwald: “The remainder is either Manning discussing personal matters that aren’t clearly related to his arrest, or apparently sensitive government information that I’m not throwing up without vetting first.”
Still with me?
Then, on Monday, several weeks after the cables had begun trickling out, Greenwald again returned to the issue. In a torqued-up post titled “The worsening journalistic disgrace at Wired,” he excoriated the magazine and Poulsen for refusing to release the full logs, calling Poulsen’s behavior “odious” and “concealment” of “key evidence.” Greenwald appears to have been motivated to weigh in anew by Firedoglake — a left-leaning website whose members had beenobsessively trolling the Web for stories about Lamo and Manning, and even pulled together a handy, color-coded expanded transcript from the logs — as well as by a flawed New York Timesarticle reporting that the Justice Department was trying to build a conspiracy case against WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange. Presumably, the logs would be an important part of the prosecution’s argument.
Poulsen and Hansen responded with a double-barreled thumping of Greenwald on Tuesday, they continue to refuse to release the full transcripts, insisting everything there is to know about the leaking is in the published portions, and per Hounshell, “Greenwald fired back with two angry posts of his own today (1, 2)” (which is actually Wednesday.) And Hounshell adds:
What still remains a mystery to me is what, exactly, Greenwald thinks is being covered up here. What is he accusing Wired of doing, and why? Does he think that the full transcript of the logs would somehow exonerate Manning, or prove Lamo a liar? And if he catches Lamo telling a journalist something that wasn’t in the logs, what then?
Reuters blogger Felix Salmon writes today that some of Greenwald’s substantive critique of Wired may have been answered, courtesy of yet another blogger, Sean Bonner:
The biggest development in the story today comes from Sean Bonner, who seems to have managed to elicit over Twitter the very information that Wired’s critics have been calling for all along. Wired’s Kevin Poulsen told Bonner in a tweet that “The published logs include the reference to a secure FTP server Lamo discussed with the Times”; when Bonner asked Poulsen for clarification that the reference in question was the only reference in the chat logs,Poulsen said yes.
But if you go back to Greenwald’s original post torching Wikileaks, and particularly Lamo, it seems that Greenwald is after something else, since he doesn’t even dig into the server issue. Instead, he focuses on inconsistencies between what was in the published transcripts, and what Mr. Lamo told him. A few key excerpts from the June 18 post:
From the start, this whole story was quite strange for numerous reasons. In an attempt to obtain greater clarity about what really happened here, I’ve spent the last week reviewing everything I could related to this case and speaking with several of the key participants (including Lamo, with whom I had a one-hour interview last night that can be heard on the recorder below, and Poulsen, with whom I had a lengthy email exchange, which is published in full here). A definitive understanding of what really happened is virtually impossible to acquire, largely because almost everything that is known comes from a single, extremely untrustworthy source: Lamo himself. Compounding that is the fact that most of what came from Lamo has been filtered through a single journalist — Poulsen — who has a long and strange history with Lamo, who continues to possess but not disclose key evidence, and who has been only marginally transparent about what actually happened here (I say that as someone who admires Poulsen’s work as Editor of Wired‘s Threat Level blog). [Emphasis added]
So Greenwald has deemed Lamo “untrustworthy.” On what does he base that? The fact that he and Poulsen were hackers, mostly, which seems to me to be an attack on their character, wholly apart from what Poulsen achieved journalistically. Is that fair? And note how some of Greenwald’s ire seems to be the exclusive access that Poulsen had both to Lamo and the chat logs, while Greenwald himself only got a one-hour phone interview with Lamo. What Greenwald calls “evidence” is actually Poulsen’s work product — information he is not required under any code of journalistic norms or ethics, to share with a competing journalist.
Greenwald then launches into a highly conspiratorial sidebar about a leaked government plan to burn Wikileaks, that the reader is apparently expected to surmise is germane to this case:
In 2008, the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center prepared a classified report (ironically leaked to and published by WikiLeaks) which — as the NYT put it — placed WikiLeaks on “the list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States.” That Report discussed ways to destroy WikiLeaks’ reputation and efficacy, and emphasized creating the impression that leaking to it is unsafe…
What evidence does Greenwald provide to prove the U.S. government somehow orchestrated the Lamo-Manning affair to carry out its nefarious 2008 plan to destroy Wikileaks? Why none. None at all. It’s all inference, which is certainly as interesting as it is irrelevant. Moving on, Greenwald gets to the “strangeness” of the Lamo-Poulsen relationship:
Adrian Lamo and Kevin Poulsen have a long and strange history together. Both were convicted of felonies relating to computer hacking: Poulsen in 1994 (when he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, ironically because a friend turned government informant on him), and Lamo in 2004 for hacking intoThe New York Times. When the U.S. Government was investigating Lamo in 2003, they subpoenaed news agencies for any documents reflecting conversations not only with Lamo, but also with Poulsen. That’s because Lamo typically sought media publicity after his hacking adventures, and almost always used Poulsen to provide that publicity.
Despite being convicted of serious hacking felonies, Poulsen was allowed by the U.S. Government to become a journalist covering the hacking world for Security Focus News. Back in 2002, Information Week described the strange Lamo-Poulsen relationship this way: ”To publicize his work, [Lamo] often tapped ex-hacker-turned-journalist Kevin Poulsen as his go-between: Poulsen contacts the hacked company, alerts it to the break-in, offers Lamo’s cooperation, then reports the hack on the SecurityFocus Online Web site, where he’s a news editor.” When Lamo hacked into the NYT, it was Poulsen who notified the newspaper’s executives on Lamo’s behalf, and then wrote about it afterward. Poulsen told me that the above picture was taken at a lunch the two of them had together with convicted hacker Kevin Mitnick back in 2001. When I asked Poulsen if he considers Lamo his friend, he would respond only by saying: ”He’s a subject and a source.” [Emphasis added]
Note Greenwald’s formulation here. Poulsen and Lamo are not to be trusted because they were both convicted of hacking — I think they call that “shoot the messenger.” And it is somehow “strange” and suspicious that one convicted hacker would gravitate toward a former hacker turned journalist to publicize his exploits. In fact, there are lots of instances of sources preferring a single news outlet or reporter to disgorge information to. Isn’t that the entire basis of Bob Woodward’s career? Greenwald even goes after Lamo’s mental health in his post, actually questioning his Asperger’s diagnosis claim and seeming to deride him as some combination of mentally unstable and insatiably publicity-mad. All of that just strikes me as an unnecessary ad hominem by Mr. Greenwald against a journalist who got information that frankly, he couldn’t. But it’s the second paragraph above that is more troubling. Greenwald says the government “allowed” Poulsen to become a journalist despite his felonious record. Someone should read Mr. Greenwald, who though he lives overseas most of the time is still an American-educated lawyer — a copy of the U.S. Constitution. The government doesn’t “allow” such things.
Moving on, we get closer to what seems to be the true source of Greenwald’s anger:
It was just over two weeks after writing about Lamo’s Asperger’s, depression and hacking history that Poulsen, along with Kim Zetter, reported that PFC Manning had been detained, after, they said, he had “contacted former hacker Adrian Lamo late last month over instant messenger and e-mail.” Lamo told me that Manning first emailed him on May 20 and, according to highly edited chat logs released by Wired, had his first online chat with Manning on May 21; in other words, Manning first contacted Lamo the very day that Poulsen’sWired article on Lamo’s involuntary commitment appeared (the Wired article is time-stamped 5:46 p.m. on May 20).
Lamo, however, told me that Manning found him not from the Wired article — which Manning never mentioned reading — but from searching the word “WikiLeaks” on Twitter, which led him to a tweet Lamo had written that included the word “WikiLeaks.” Even if Manning had really found Lamo through a Twitter search for “WikiLeaks,” Lamo could not explain why Manning focused on him, rather than the thousands of other people who have also mentioned the word “WikiLeaks” on Twitter, including countless people who have done so by expressing support for WikiLeaks. [Emphasis added]
“Countless people” like, say, Glenn Greenwald, maybe?
Greenwald is fixating on how Lamo and Manning’s chats came to be, in part because he apparently is angry at Lamo for betraying Pfc Manning, who Greenwald considers a hero. Another excerpt:
Although none of the Wired articles ever mention this, the first Lamo-Manning communications were not actually via chat. Instead, Lamo told me that Manning first sent him a series of encrypted emails which Lamo was unable to decrypt because Manning “encrypted it to an outdated PGP key of mine” [PGP is an encryption program]. After receiving this first set of emails, Lamo says he replied — despite not knowing who these emails were from or what they were about — by inviting the emailer to chat with him on AOL IM, and provided his screen name to do so. Lamo says that Manning thereafter sent him additional emails encrypted to his current PGP key, but that Lamo never bothered to decrypt them. Instead, Lamo claims he turned over all those Manning emails to the FBI without ever reading a single one of them. Thus, the actual initial communications between Manning and Lamo — what preceded and led to their chat — are completely unknown. Lamo refuses to release the emails or chats other than the small chat snippets published byWired.
Using the chat logs between Lamo and Manning — which Lamo provided to Poulsen — the Wired writers speculated that the Army Private trusted Lamo because he “sensed a kindred spirit in the ex-hacker.” Poulsen and Zetter write that Manning confessed to being the leaker of the Apache attack video “very quickly in the exchange,” and then proceeded to boast that, in addition, ”he leaked a quarter-million classified embassy cables” to WikiLeaks. Very shortly after the first chat, Lamo notified federal agents of what Manning told him, proceeded to speak to Manning for the next several days while consulting with federal agents, and then learned that Manning was detained in Iraq.
* * * * *
Many of the bizarre aspects of this case, at least as conveyed by Lamo andWired, are self-evident. Why would a 22-year-old Private in Iraq have unfettered access to 250,000 pages of diplomatic cables so sensitive that they “could do serious damage to national security?” Why would he contact a total stranger, whom he randomly found from a Twitter search, in order to “quickly” confess to acts that he knew could send him to prison for a very long time, perhaps his whole life? And why would he choose to confess over the Internet, in an unsecured, international AOL IM chat, given the obvious ease with which that could be preserved, intercepted or otherwise surveilled? These are the actions of someone either unbelievably reckless or actually eager to be caught.
And then we get to the heart of the matter (emphasis not added by me):
All that said, this series of events isn’t completely implausible. It’s possible that a 22-year-old who engaged in these kinds of significant leaks, sitting in isolation in Iraq, would have a desire to unburden himself by confessing to a stranger; the psychological compulsion to confess is not uncommon (seeCrime and Punishment), nor is the desire to boast of such acts. It’s possible that he would have expected someone with Lamo’s hacking and “journalist” background to be sympathetic to what he did and/or to feel compelled as a journalist not to run to the Government and disclose what he learns from a source. Still, the apparent ease with which Manning quickly spilled his guts in such painstaking detail over an Internet chat concerning such serious crimes — and then proceeded to respond to Lamo’s very specific and probing interrogations over days without ever once worrying that he could not trust Lamo — is strange in the extreme.
If one assumes that this happened as the Wired version claims, what Lamo did here is despicable. He holds himself out as an “award-winning journalist” and told Manning he was one (“I did tell him that I worked as a journalist,”Lamo said). Indeed, Lamo told me (though it doesn’t appear in the chat logs published by Wired) that he told Manning early on that he was a journalist and thus could offer him confidentiality for everything they discussed under California’s shield law. Lamo also said he told Manning that he was an ordained minister and could treat Manning’s talk as a confession, which would then compel Lamo under the law to keep their discussions confidential (early on in their chats, Manning said: ”I can’t believe what I’m confessing to you”). In sum, Lamo explicitly led Manning to believe he could trust him and that their discussions would be confidential — perhaps legally required to be kept confidential — only to then report everything Manning said to the Government.
Worse, Lamo breached his own confidentiality commitments and turned informant without having the slightest indication that Manning had done anything to harm national security. Indeed, Lamo acknowledged to me that he was incapable of identifying a single fact contained in any documents leaked by Manning that would harm national security. And Manning’s capacity to leak in the future was likely non-existent given that he told Lamo right away that he was “pending discharge” for “adjustment disorder,” and no longer had access to any documents (Lamo: “Why does your job afford you access?” - Manning: “because i have a workstation . . .*had*“).
If one believes what the chat logs claim, Manning certainly thought he was a whistle-blower acting with the noblest of motives, and probably was exactly that. And if he really is the leaker of the Apache helicopter attack video — a video which sparked very rare and much-needed realization about the visceral truth of what our wars entail — then he’s a national hero similar to Daniel Ellsberg.
So what Greenwald is really upset about is what he sees as Lamo conning Manning into making damning admissions, and then turning Manning in to the authorities. He seems to want the chat logs in order to confirm or deny whether Lamo told Manning he was a journalist, or promised him confidentiality, not, it seems to me, to confirm or deny information about a special FTP protocol Julian Assange may have provided to Manning. Greenwald, who apparently at one point was attempting to secure a lawyer for Manning, is targeting Lamo — and smearing both him and Mr. Poulsen, because he faults them for Manning’s detention, when in Greenwald’s eyes, Manning is a hero. I could be wrong, but that’s what I get from Greenwald’s post.
Greenwald goes on to cite Ellsberg and “other Internet commenters” — who turn out to be these random people — who agree with him about Manning. And you can certainly find plenty of people lionizing both Pfc Manning and Julian Assange.
But whether or not you consider them to be heroes or villains, none of that gets to what responsibility Wired might have to release its work product — and disgorge the chat logs wholesale, ironically, the way Wikileaks might do. To my reading, they have no such obligation.
Greenwald is essentially asking Wired to provide him with the additional background research he needs to prove his theories, about the government’s collusion in attacking Wikileaks, and about Lamo’s alleged mendacity in his dealings with Manning. Why is Wired obligated to do that? Greenwald has had contact with Lamo, and presumably could do so again. He has every right to pursue his questions with him. Wired doesn’t appear to have much journalistic obligation to help him — and thus, to help a rival publication. They certainly could do so, if they wish to, but I don’t think they have an obligation to. Does Bob Woodward have an obligation to share full transcripts of the interviews he’s done for his books, if some other author comes up with contradictory information from the same source? I’m no expert, but I would say not.
Back to Mr. Hounshell, who writes [with my emphasis added]:
Reporters generally don’t consider it their business to fact-check claims made by sources in other publications. They look for ways to advance a story, or move on to other topics if there doesn’t seem to be any “news” to be had. They also generally do weigh the harm that will come of too much disclosure against the value of the information to be disclosed. And they judiciously husband their scarcest resource: time.
I think some combination of all that is what is going on here, in addition to the bad blood that has been generated by Greenwald’s unfortunate impugnment of Poulsen’s integrity and his motives. Would it be relatively easy for Wired to take a look at the specific claims Lamo has made and check them against the logs? Probably. Would it be worth someone’s time there? Maybe. Do I wish Poulsen would just directly address the seeming contradictions in Lamo’s statements, in a way that protects what shred of privacy Manning has left? Yes. (In fact I emailed him this morning hoping to talk with him about it myself.) But at this point, I doubt it will happen.
I doubt it too. And I doubt this fight will end any time soon.