Julian Assange and Edward Snowden

Edwatd Snowden seemed to be just a guy who believed that the Constitution of the United States was being violated by its very government.

Chris has thought about Julian Assange a lot more than I have:

What drove Julian Assange to start WikiLeaks? Do you think he’s a white, gray, or black hat? Has your opinion of Assange or Snowden changed at all due to the leaks and Russian involvement?

I’m going to assume Assange started Wikileaks for the reason he said he started it. From a recent Bloomberg story I can’t locate presently:

“A decade ago, when Assange founded WikiLeaks, it was a very different organization. As Raffi Khatchadourian reported in a 2010 New Yorker profile, Assange told potential collaborators in 2006, ‘Our primary targets are those highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia, and Central Eurasia, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal illegal or immoral behavior in their own governments and corporations.’ For a while, WikiLeaks followed this creed.”

The same story shows how the organization has gone off the rails, most recently proposing the tracking of verified Twitter users’ homes, families, and finances. Um, no thanks. That seems to be the Big Brother that Assange looked to take down initially.

When Agent Orange sided with Assange Over the CIA, that was disturbing on more than one level. Sarah Palin’s support further diminishes.

I thought, 10 years ago, that he was a white hat if you will, but certainly not now.

Whereas Edward Snowden I’ve seen differently. He was just a guy who believed that the Constitution of the United States was being violated by its very government. He believed that protection from unwanted and illegal government attention should be afforded to every citizen.

I wondered if I, in the same situation, might have been tempted to do the same, be a whistle-blower, to detail these conflicting, interrelated issues of national security, privacy, civil liberties, and Internet freedom. Librarians, after all, have been at the forefront of the fight for freedom, changing the way records are no longer kept in the wake of the so-called USA PATRIOT Act.

He changed the business model. “The NSA relied on Internet giants to do surveillance for them (surveillance being a major part of the Big Data business model), and pre-Snowden, there was no real downside to cooperating with illegal NSA spying requests — in some cases, spooks would shower your company with money if it went along with the gag. Post-Snowden, all surveillance cooperation should be presumed to be destined to be made public, and that’s changed the corporate calculus.”

I wish I had seen “Citizen Four,” Laura Poitras’ film about abuses of national security in post-9/11 America. “In June 2013, she and reporter Glenn Greenwald flew to Hong Kong for the first of many meetings with the man who turned out to be Edward Snowden. She brought her camera with her.”

I did watch that John Oliver interview of Snowden in 2015, in Russia. As a buddy of mine put it, “he was clear, clever, and careful in how he responded, even when he was adopting the joke angle. He earned a lot of my respect just in how he dealt with Oliver’s interjections and his goofy gimmick interview style.”

Did Edward Snowden sabotage the war on terrorism? Did he provide too much information to Russian intelligence? Or did he let the American public know about the illegal activities that the US Government was doing in their name and at their expense? Possibly all of the above.

Someone wrote recently that, if he were a real patriot, Snowden would come home, and like a Father Berrigan, face his accusers, and let the ACLU or others defend him. That’s a personal decision only he can make.

I find Julian Assange to be an arrogant twit, whereas Edward Snowden appears to be a bright guy, but way out of his depth.

The Internet domain of Colombia

Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s leftist president, seemed to bask in Assange’s bad-boy glow.

Chris asked in the previous round of Ask Roger Anything, albeit not until December:

Have you ever wondered why Assange is in the Ecuadorian embassy or all those fake news places are registered to Columbia? Don’t those seem like weirdly arbitrary choices?

Why Ecuador’s embassy?

Let’s take the Colombian connection first. The two-letter Internet domain for Colombia is .co, which looks a whole lot like .com or some new generic top-level domain. Go Daddy has put on the big push advertising these new domains, at least in the past.

Some countries restrict the use of their domain to registrants who are in, or are from, their country. Colombia does not. Thus, one gets sites such as wsj.com.co or nbcnews.com.co out there to try to fool the user, and often succeeding.

There are some interesting country code top-level domains that are more open:

.fm for the Federated States of Micronesia, an independent island nation located in the Pacific Ocean. “Except for reserved names like .com.fm, .net.fm, .org.fm and others, any person in the world can register a .fm domain for a fee, much of the income from which goes to the government and people of the islands. The domain name is popular (and thus economically valuable) for FM radio stations and streaming audio websites

.io for British Indian Ocean Territory, treated as “a generic top-level domain (gTLD) because ‘users and webmasters frequently see [the domain] more generic than country-targeted.'”

.nu for the island state of Niue. “It was one of the first ccTLDs to be marketed to the Internet at large as an alternative to the gTLDs .com, .net, and .org… Commonly used by Danish, Dutch, and Swedish websites, because in those languages ‘nu’ means ‘now’.”

.tv for Tuvalu. “Except for reserved names like com.tv, net.tv, org.tv and others, any person may register second-level domains in TV. The domain name is popular, and thus economically valuable because it is an abbreviation of the word television.

.ws for Samoa. “The .ws domain is an abbreviation for ‘Western Samoa’, which was the nation’s official name in the 1970s when two-letter country codes were standardized. While there are no geographic restrictions on registration of most second-level .ws domains, .org.ws, .gov.ws, and .edu.ws registration is restricted.

“The .ws country code has been marketed as a domain hack, with the .ws purportedly standing for ‘World Site’, Web Site or Web Service, providing a ‘global’ Internet presence to registrants, as it supports all internationalized domain names

In other words, Colombia is the country for the faux sites because of the stroke of fortune that the Internet domain for Colombia is .co, and because there is money to be made.

As for Assange, this Washington Post article from October 2016 explains it well:

Ecuador treated Julian Assange like a trophy in 2012 when it opened the doors of its London embassy to the WikiLeaks founder, sheltering him from extradition to Sweden over rape allegations and, possibly, to the United States.

Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s leftist president, seemed to bask in Assange’s bad-boy glow, which gave the small South American nation a big role in a global drama. Protecting the WikiLeaks editor also gave Correa a way to poke Washington in the eye and look like a champion for press freedom even as he cracked down on journalists back home.

Correa embraced Assange’s mother at the presidential palace in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, and championed the Australian “hacktivist” as an anti-imperialist comrade-in-arms.

Now he’s treating Assange like a bad tenant who won’t leave.

There may be other factors in play here that I’m not aware of, but I don’t think it’s some odd South American conspiracy.