Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Article: Accused leaker Bradley Manning in court

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

In its punitive treatment of accused leaker Bradley Manning, the US government has missed an opportunity to live up to its values of freedom, says Heather Brooke

After 18 months, accused leaker gets a day in court
Index on Censorship, 16 Dec 2011

After nearly 18 months’ incarceration and punitive treatment described as “torture” by human rights activists, accused leaker and former US Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning will finally get a day in court.

This is not a trial, but an “Article 32″ hearing, the US military equivalent to a civilian pre-trial hearing, where the defence can evaluate the government’s case and obtain facts through pre-trial discovery. It begins on 16 December at Fort Meade, Maryland and is expected to run right through the weekend for approximately five days. Despite press interest, only a small number of seats are available for the public and reporting restrictions are in place to prevent live coverage.

Saturday will mark Manning’s 24th birthday, the second birthday he has spent in custody since his arrest in May 2010 for allegedly leaking a US Army video that showed soldiers gunning down Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists. He was later charged with 22 violations of military law for allegedly leaking records and transmitting defence information. He faces life in prison if convicted. The hearing will determine whether or not he goes ahead for a full court-martial.

The length of time Manning has been in pre-trial confinement is controversial, but more so has been his treatment while confined — seeming more like punishment than justice. While in the military brig in Quantico, Virginia he was in maximum custody and controversially placed on prevention of injury (POI) watch, which meant he was in solitary confinement, forced to spend 23 hours in a cell six feet wide and twelve feet in length.

His lawyer David Coombs reported Manning was woken at 5am weekdays and 7am on weekends and was not allowed to sleep any time between then and 8pm. If he attempted to sleep during those hours, he was made to sit up or stand by the guards. Guards checked on him every five minutes by asking him if he was okay. He had to surrender his clothes at night apart from boxer shorts. He was not allowed a pillow or sheets, nor any personal items in his cell, and was prevented from exercising apart from one hour when he would walk in a figure of eight motion.

The harsh conditions were denounced by human rights groups, including (more…)

Article: US Govt secretly snoops on your email

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

How the US government secretly reads your email
The Guardian, 11/12 October 2011

Secret orders forcing Google and Sonic to release a WikiLeaks volunteer’s email reveal the scale of US government snooping

Somewhere, a US government official is reading through a list of those who sent or received an email from Jacob Appelbaum, a 28-year-old computer science researcher at the University of Washington who volunteered for WikiLeaks. Among those listed will be my name, a journalist who interviewed Appelbaum for a book about the digital revolution.

Appelbaum is a spokesman for Tor, a free internet anonymising software that helps people defend themselves against internet surveillance. He’s spent five years teaching activists around the world how to install and use the service to avoid being monitored by repressive governments. It’s exactly the sort of technology Secretary of State Hilary Clinton praised in her famous “Internet Freedom” speech in January 2010, when she promised US government support for the designers of technology that circumvented blocks or firewalls. Now, Appelbaum finds himself a target of his own government as a result of his friendship with Julian Assange and the fact WikiLeaks used the Tor software.

Appelbaum has not been charged with any wrongdoing; nor has the government shown probable cause that he is guilty of any criminal offence.

That matters not a jot, because, as the law stands, government officials don’t need a search warrant to access our digital data. Searching someone’s home requires a (more…)

Article: Journalism’s unique selling point is the public interest

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

As Lord Justice Leveson prepares to investigate newspaper conduct, I joined three other writers to discuss ‘How far can the press go in the public interest?’

The press will die if it fails in its duty to serve the public interest
The Times, 27 September 2011

The ethics of what should or shouldn’t be published can be distilled down to a simple rule: is it in the public interest? Put simply, the public interest is not the tittle-tattle that interests the public but anything that informs and enlightens society.

The pursuit of this high-minded ideal is not exclusive to reporters: a lot of academic and scientific research fits that bill. But journalism is different because as a rough trade it deals with the ugly realities of human nature: sex, scandal, crime, corruption – all the emotional vagaries that make up the “crooked timber of humanity”. It’s not about peddling pretty pictures; that’s public relations or propaganda. Because of those ugly realities journalists have to use subterfuge or deception to dig out the truth. Where activity is not in the public interest and criminal then let it be prosecuted, but we should be wary of prosecuting speech or regulating the press.

First, it is impractical to introduce national regulations on the press as information now flows globally. What people can’t read in the newspaper they will get from Twitter, which, as a US company, is governed by the more tolerant First Amendment.

Second, we should note that the greatest abuses in history were never a result of too much speech but rather too little. It is only through free speech that we have any hope of tackling the real enemy of the people: the concentration of power.

Where speech is false, then the best way to tackle it is with more, not less, speech. Jemima Khan showed this when she put paid to rumours that she had sought a superinjunction not by bringing a court case against Twitter, but by tweeting the truth herself. Public figures may be more accountable in the internet age but they equally have more opportunity to get out their side of the story.

Journalists, too, have come under more scrutiny than ever before, thanks to the internet.

Rather than a race to the bottom, this explosion of speech creates a renewed need for public interest journalism. In the age of information overload, when everyone can tweet or blog, how can we know what is important or true? We look to reputation.

Journalists are, or ought to be, the public’s hired guns sent out to collect information, question it, verify it and distilit to what is important and true. This takes time and skill, and is the only thing a journalist does that marks him or her out as a professional. It’s also the reason why anyone would choose a well-known newspaper’s website over an unknown blog.

The survival of journalism in the digital age rests on its one unique selling point: serving this public interest. Fail or forget to do that, and it has no future.

Separating the man from the cause

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

An abbreviated version of this article appeared in today’s (London) Times.

The WikiLeaks ‘hero’ is actually morally bankrupt
The Times, 23 September 2011

One question I’m often asked about my long investigation into MPs’ expenses is whether I was ever threatened with retribution. The answer is no. The closest I came was John Prescott getting snarly on Newsnight and an angry letter from a former MP staffer.

Strangely enough, it was investigating Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks frontman, for a book about the digital revolution that put me in the crosshairs of an angry online mob. At first I was impressed by this seeming warrior for transparency, democracy and accountability. In his “unauthorised autobiography”, published this week, we hear the old war stories of his early hacking days when he used the handle Mendax, from Horace’s Splendide Mendax – nobly untruthful. Yet I came to discover there was little that was noble about Assange’s mendacity.

He may have started WikiLeaks with the best of intentions, but to lead a campaign for openness while acting like an authoritarian patriarch with little respect for the truth does not bode well.

He looked upon WikiLeaks donations in the same way some politicians look upon the taxpayer, as a funding source for personal needs. This first became apparent after he was accused of sexual assault by two women in Sweden and he tried to use donations to fund his personal legal defence. Other WikiLeaks volunteers opposed this, and for this they were deemed traitors. Assange’s method throughout has been to conflate the cause with the man and by so doing try to make himself above question.

In his world, those who challenge him for his dubious behaviour aren’t holding him to account but part of a dark conspiracy. I witnessed many Wikileaks volunteers who dared question Assange, denounced by him as either stooges of intelligence agencies or spurned lovers (men or women, it didn’t matter). Online whispering campaigns would start up seeding these ideas. People who gave Assange their time and money would find themselves suddenly sidelined and briefed against for daring to question an immoral action by the founder. Long before Daniel Domscheit-Berg wrote his book, Assange was telling people that his former partner was a paranoid schizophrenic and an intelligence agent. When Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir voiced her disapproval of Assange’s decision to publish informers’ names in the Afghan war logs, he told reporters it was because ‘she’s in love with me’. It was the same with all those who worked with Assange whether at the Guardian, New York Times, Norway’s Aftenposten or most recently Canongate. What could never be countenanced was that Assange was responsible by his own actions.

When I got hold of the full set of US diplomatic cables, I discovered first-hand Assange’s capacity for dissembling, spin, threats and blatant untruths*. While Assange showed bravery, the way the Afghan logs were published with informers’ names left in was ethically irresponsible. He claimed I’d obtained the leak of his leaks through “criminal deception”, which was an utter untruth*. He told another reporter that he “knew where I lived” and the insinuation was that I’d better watch out. He threatened to sue me for depriving him of his “financial assets” (no writ yet). I heard from hacker friends that he’d been smearing my reputation, and his tiny army of cultish Assangistas launched a hate campaign online.

These people wanted their hero and they could not countenance the truth: that the man they’d chosen as their saviour was morally bankrupt. His fight for freedom of information wasn’t based on any moral principle but rather from a barely understood psychological compulsion.

So I, for one, want to separate the man from the cause. If one is going to be a campaigner for truth then telling it occasionally wouldn’t go amiss.


* Due to English libel law, newspapers in the UK are loathe to ever use the word ‘lie’ and so you will see that ‘lies’ and ‘utter lie’ are published as ‘untruths’ and ‘utterly untrue’. These two words may seem indistinguishable to the reader but in English libel law they matter. A lie is: to speak untruthfully with intent to mislead or deceive whereas an untruth is: the state or quality of being untrue; a statement or fact that is untrue. The key difference is that a lie is an untruth told with deliberate intent to mislead. In this article, ‘lie’ is actually more accurate. However, English libel law is one of the most restrictive of free speech in the world. It puts the burden of guilt on the defendant (the writer) who is presumed guilty and must prove innocence. It is for this reason that England is favoured by the rich and powerful as the place to bring libel actions as a means to stifle and suppress criticism. Assange was initially a great campaigner against England’s libel law, at least until he became powerful and then began threatening libel actions of his own against those who criticised him.

Article: Police attempting to criminalise investigative journalism

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Investigative journalism must not be criminalised
Guardian, 9/10 September

Police questioning of journalists such as the Guardian’s Amelia Hill who seek to uncover corruption is a worrying trend

The questioning under caution of the Guardian reporter Amelia Hill by the Metropolitan police is part of a worrying trend: for the police appear to be using their power not to root out corruption or bribery, but to stop a reporter doing her job, namely to winkle out the truth about an issue of public importance.

Hill reported a number of stories about the phone-hacking scandal, including the revelation of Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked by News of the World. It was this story that finally compelled police and politicians to fully investigate a scandal that some had known about for years. Commentators have seen Hill’s questioning as part of a wider attempt to criminalise contact between journalists and off-the-record sources.

But there is nothing unusual about police and reporters hanging out together. In the old days of crime reporting this was commonplace and it was not unduly difficult to strike a balance between keeping the public informed without endangering investigations. But in the age of public relations and spin, such free conversations are looked upon by the authorities as highly dangerous – not to policing so much as to those in power. Such free conversations might lead to challenging questions.

The danger with a centralised police PR operation is that information is used not to benefit the public but to benefit those in power, often to the detriment of the public. It is for this reason that officers “leak”, because they want to solve their cases and they know they can only do so with the help and co-operation of the public.

The situation Hill has apparently been questioned about calls to mind two recent cases. Philip Balmforth was a former police inspector and vulnerable persons officer responsible for Asian women in the Bradford area of West Yorkshire. He was praised in a House of Commons early day motion signed by 56 MPs in March 2008 for being a “knight in shining armour” who “does everything he can to protect people and give them time to assess the situation they are in”. Yet a week after he was praised in parliament he was facing a disciplinary hearing for “damaging the reputation” of West Yorkshire police, all because he spoke directly to a journalist.

“I had a speech ready for every journalist – after being told the publicity had to stop,” Balmforth told me. “The speech was: ‘You must contact the press office.’ But many in the media would ask for ‘off the record’ background to the problem, which I would willingly give, subject to contacting the press office before using it (who would always refuse).

Balmforth spoke out in the Times challenging the official figure given by the government’s forced marriage unit that there were 300 cases of forced marriage annually, saying he dealt with that many in West Yorkshire alone.

We should be grateful to Balmforth for alerting us to the problem of forced marriage. Instead he was stripped of his position by the police force. He has now retired.

Another police officer who dared to question one force’s use of covert surveillance was himself put under surveillance and his friend Sally Murrer, a journalist at the Milton Keynes Citizen, was arrested and threatened with life in prison.


Article: Freedom of Information and big business

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Freedom of information is for businesses too
Guardian, 1/2 September 2011

Is scientific research endangered by Philip Morris’s freedom of information request? Not when we all benefit

A request by tobacco giant Philip Morris International to the University of Stirling has reignited concern about the use of freedom of information laws. The data it was interested in was collected as part of a survey of teenagers and smoking carried out by the university’s Centre for Tobacco Control Research.

The UK’s FoI law is meant to be applicant blind. This means anyone can ask a public body for official information and there should be no discrimination based on the identity of the person asking. In the case of scientific research conducted and funded in the public’s name, there is a strong argument that the underlying data and methodology should be disclosed. It is precisely this transparency that grants research reports their status as robust investigations.

Some universities, however, are balking. Stirling is one of nine universities that form the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, and is the premier research institute for investigating smoking behaviour. It receives funding from the Department of Health and its findings are used to formulate anti-smoking laws. So it’s probably no surprise that Philip Morris is interested in its data. The tobacco company made its first FoI request anonymously through the London law firm Clifford Chance in September 2009. It put in a further two FoI requests in its own name: all seeking underlying data and methodology for the centre’s report, which was called “Point of Sale Display of Tobacco Products”. In particular, it sought information from a survey entitled “Cancer Research UK CTCR survey of adolescents’ reactions to tobacco marketing” which was referred to in the introduction to the report.

The university provided some data but refused the bulk by claiming the requester was time-wasting. It would have been better off dealing with the request openly and using those exemptions in the FoI law which protect privacy or expending excessive resources. Instead, its appeal to the Scottish information commissioner was rejected. This is not the first time a university has tried to hide from FoI. The University of East Anglia breached the Freedom of Information Act when handling requests by climate change sceptics (the university escaped prosecution because the case came to light outside the six-month time limit for cases to be brought).

Other universities claim researchers will feel inhibited or endangered if forced to reveal their methodology or primary data. This strikes me as unlikely. The arguments reveal a discomfort with the higher level of accountability that exists in the digital age. There are plenty of exemptions in the FoI law for genuine issues of cost, privacy and confidentiality. Stirling’s attempt to refuse the request, calling it “vexatious”, smacks of fear. The research in question is funded with public money and conducted in the public’s name. These reports often go on to become cornerstones in creating new legislation, so we should be allowed to interrogate the underlying facts.

Several FoI officers complain it’s unfair to the taxpayer to provide such data to a rich company like Philip Morris. Indeed there may well be concerns about what Philip Morris will do with the data, but if it’s available to all then we can see for ourselves if any attempt is made to “spin” it.

In the US, businesses are one of the biggest users of FoI and new industries are built on this universal access to official data. The ability to use and re-use official government data is a factor behind the remarkable growth of the US knowledge economy. The satellite navigation industry grew out of free GPS data obtained from the US government.

There’s a unique anti-business attitude in Europe in relation to FoI. Prof James Boyle of Duke University Law School told me: “European attitudes towards private commercialisation actually work against the idea of openness. In the US if the government hands out weather data for free and people make a ton of money off the back of it, everyone says, ‘Great! it’s good for the economy, good for us, good for the company’ … In Britain there’s a sense that the company has got something for free and now they’re making money out of it. ‘How terrible! They’re free-riding.’ They don’t see the overall economic benefit that comes from sharing information.”

I’m in favour of businesses using FoI. Not simply because business people are members of the public but because once businesses – with their bigger budgets and legal departments – start using FoI, we might see the law have some real bite.

Article: Inside the secret world of hackers

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

As part of my research for ‘The Revolution Will Be Digitised’ I hung out in a lot of hackerspaces and met many hackers. A lot of people think hackers are synonymous with cybercriminals but the real picture is more complex. The full story is in the book but here I pick out a few highlights from my travels.

Inside the secret world of hackers
Guardian, 25 August 2011
By Heather Brooke

Hackerspaces are the digital-age equivalent of English Enlightenment coffee houses. They are places open to all, indifferent to social status, and where ideas and knowledge hold primary value. In 17th-century England, the social equality and merit-ocracy of coffee houses was so deeply troubling to those in power that King Charles II tried to suppress them for being “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers”. It was in the coffee houses that information previously held in secret and by elites was shared with an emerging middle class. They were held responsible for many of the social reforms of the 18th century, when English public life was transformed.

Hackerspaces could prove to be as important for reform in the digital age. While collectives of rogue hackers such as Anonymous and Lulzsec have grabbed headlines with their mischievous hacks of personal information from Sony, News International and governments, hackerspaces have quietly focused on creating alternatives to the things they see wrong in society: secretive government, unfettered corporate power, invasion of privacy. Bradley Manning, the US Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking files to WikiLeaks, attended the launch of BUILDS, a hackerspace at Boston University last year. In Sweden the hacker collective Telecomix has been involved in keeping lines of communication open in middle eastern countries when political leaders shut down networks.

As part of the research for my book, The Revolution Will Be Digitised, I travelled to Berlin to meet the group of hackers known as the Chaos Computer Club (CCC). The Club was so named not because it set out to cause chaos but rather because one of the founders, Wau Holland, felt chaos theory offered the best explanation for how the world actually worked. Dutch hacker and entrepreneur Rop Gonggrijp says the club is about “adapting to a world which is (and always has been) much more chaotic and non-deterministic than is often believed”.

In Berlin, just after Christmas last year, more than 2,000 hackers and information activists gathered at the CCC’s annual conference to discuss technology and the future. Gonggrijp gave the keynote speech, which was startlingly prescient in light of subsequent uprisings, revolutions and riots. “Most of today’s politicians realise that nobody in their ministries, or any of their expensive consultants, can tell them what is going on any more. They have a steering wheel in their hands without a clue what – if anything – it is connected to. Our leaders are reassuring us that the ship will certainly survive the growing storm. But on closer inspection they are either quietly pocketing the silverware or discreetly making their way to the lifeboats.”

The hacker community may be small but it possesses the skills that are driving the global economies of the future. So what is a hacker? (more…)

Article: Publishing in the Digital Revoluion

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Writing In The Digital Revolution
The Huffington Post, 12 August 2011
By Heather Brooke

As the news agenda goes into warp speed, it becomes ever more difficult for authors writing about current events to keep their books timely and relevant. Seismic events race by at almost weekly intervals: phone hacking gives way to the Norwegian terror atrocity, which is replaced by stories about the London riots and the world in economic meltdown.

The hyper acceleration of news is a result of the digital age in which we now live. No sooner will an author begin a book then the story will begin to mutate before her very eyes. This happened to me while I was working on “The Revolution Will Be Digitised,” which will be published in the UK on August 18th. When I began my research for this book in February 2010, few had heard of WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. The speed with which WikiLeaks went from niche interest to global prominence was a real-time example of the revolutionizing power of the digital age in which information can spread instantly across the globe through networked individuals.

But how can an author of current affairs keep up with such a fast-changing landscape? Traditional publishers require an author to submit a manuscript six months in advance, and if pressed, no later than two or three. In these months, everything can change. To try and get on top of the news agenda, publishers can pull forward the publication date but they still require at least six weeks from the date the book comes off the presses to the date it is in book shops. In only a few exceptional circumstances can this time be reduced.

The digitization of information has revolutionized all sorts of industries from music and movies to shopping and finance. It has fundamentally changed the media landscape, so why not publishing? It seemed appropriate that as the author of a book about the digital revolution, I should look into publishing in new digital formats, so when RosettaBooks’ CEO Arthur Klebanoff pitched the idea of a Kindle Single, I was intrigued. He wanted to take the narrative section of the book and edit it into a 24,000-word, stand-alone piece. Unlike traditional publishing where the author is advanced funds from prospective royalties, digital deals are done without an advance but with a higher percentage of royalties going to the writer. We agreed to try out this new digital experiment.

The real surprise was the speed with which it all happened. In less than two weeks from the time Mr. Klebanoff and I spoke, “Assange Agonistes” was proofed, laid out and available to download on Kindle. Of course, the timely work of writing and editing had taken place with the help of a traditional publisher but for a timely news story, I can’t see how a writer of current affairs could beat the efficiency of e-publishing. It will certainly be my first port of call for future investigations.

The book trade may be in transition, but it is far from dead. Digitization is certainly challenging the old ways of doing things whether that’s in publishing or politics. But it’s not the end. In many ways, it is just the beginning.

Article: Bradley Manning’s health deteriorating

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Bradley Manning’s health deteriorating in jail, supporters say
Guardian, Thursday 16 December 2010

By Heather Brooke

The intelligence analyst suspected of leaking US diplomatic cables is being held in solitary confinement

As Julian Assange emerged from his nine-day imprisonment, there were renewed concerns about the physical and psychological health of Bradley Manning, the former US intelligence analyst suspected of leaking the diplomatic cables at the centre of the storm.

Manning, who was arrested seven months ago, is being held at a military base in Virginia and faces a court martial and up to 52 years in prison for his alleged role in copying the cables.

His friends and supporters also claim they have been the target of extra-judicial harassment, intimidation and outright bribery by US government agents.

According to David House, a computer researcher from Boston who visits Manning twice a month, he is starting to deteriorate. “Over the last few weeks I have noticed a steady decline in his mental and physical wellbeing,” he said. “His prolonged confinement in a solitary holding cell is unquestionably taking its toll on his intellect; his inability to exercise due to [prison] regulations has affected his physical appearance in a manner that suggests physical weakness.”

Manning, House added, was no longer the characteristically brilliant man he had been, despite efforts to keep him intellectually engaged. He also disputed the authorities’ claims that Manning was being kept in solitary for his own good.

“I initially believed that his time in solitary confinement was a decision made in the interests of his safety,” he said. “As time passed and his suicide watch was lifted, to no effect, it became clear that his time in solitary – and his lack of a pillow, sheets, the freedom to exercise, or the ability to view televised current events – were enacted as a means of punishment rather than a means of safety.”

House said many people were reluctant to talk about Manning’s condition because of government harassment, including surveillance, warrantless computer seizures, and even bribes. “This has had such an intimidating effect that many are afraid to speak out on his behalf,” House said.


Articles: Vatican revelations in diplomatic cables

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Here are a few links to the Vatican articles I worked on (Sorry for delayed posting).

Vatican refused to engage with child sex abuse inquiry
11 Dec 2010: Leaked cable lays bare how Irish government was forced to grant Vatican officials immunity from testifying to Murphy commission.

Pope wanted Muslim Turkey kept out of EU
10 Dec 2010: Vatican diplomats also lobbied against Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and wanted ‘Christian roots’ enshrined in EU constitution.

Pope helped to free British sailors held by Iran, WikiLeaks cables show
10 Dec 2010: Leaked cables show UK diplomats were reluctant to give pontiff credit for release of 15 sailors held for a fortnight in 2007.

Pope’s offer to Anglicans risked ‘violence against Catholics’
11 Dec 2010: British ambassador warned that pontiff’s invitation to disaffected Anglicans to convert left relations with Vatican at 150-year low