Extraordinary battle underscores serious threats to our very democracy, in more ways than one...
By Brad Friedman on 12/8/2010, 3:46pm PT  

"We will fire at anyone or anything that tries to censor WikiLeaks, including multi-billion dollar companies such as PayPal. ... The major shitstorm has begun."

That's the message currently posted by the hacker group calling themselves "Anonymous", as part of what they call "Operation Payback".

The group has already reportedly succeeded in taking down both MasterCard and Visa's servers following the two corporations freezing the credit card transactions of WikiLeaks.

Earlier, according to RAW STORY, Anonymous issued a statement which read:

While we don't have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same reasons. We want transparency and we counter censorship. The attempts to silence WikiLeaks are long strides closer to a world where we can not say what we think and are unable to express our opinions and ideas.

We can not let this happen. This is why our intention is to find out who is responsible for this failed attempt at censorship. This is why we intend to utilize our resources to raise awareness, attack those against and support those who are helping lead our world to freedom and democracy.

What appears to be the first real and serious --- at least the first known and serious --- "all-out cyber war", as Secure Computing Magazine is now calling it, seems to be underway. In this case, however, it wasn't the hackers or even a foreign government who appear to have fired the first shots, but the U.S. Government who did so via apparently successful tactics used to intimidate both Amazon and PayPal into cutting off service to WikiLeaks, the international media organization which has leaked thousands of classified U.S. documents, but has been charged with breaking absolutely no U.S. laws.

The entire episode reveals a number of very serious concerns, and at least one that may not be quite as obvious...

Last week we learned that Sen. Joe Lieberman's office, in his capacity as Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, intimidated Amazon into dropping their services to WikiLeaks with little more than a phone call. Other, smaller Internet sites were asked to, and did, follow suit.

Today we learn that PayPal Vice President Osama Bedier confirmed his company shut off WikiLeaks' account due to pressure from the U.S. State Department, telling an audience at a web conference this morning, according to Christian Science Monitor:

State Dept told us these were illegal activities. It was straightforward. We first comply with regulations around the world making sure that we protect our brand.

But, in fact, whatever those "illegal activities" are, they have yet to be spelled out to anyone, as no criminal charges have been brought by the U.S. against either WikiLeaks or its founder Julian Assange.

[Update: More egg on PayPal's face in regard to this.]

In short, these tactics appear to be little more than out and out McCarthy-esque style intimidation by the U.S. Government against supposedly private companies which led them to comply with the government's political agenda. Hollywood Black List anyone?

This, of course, should outrage not only all members of the media and the entirety of the Progressive blogosphere, but even all of those who claim to support the U.S. Constitution, including the far Right from Fox "News" to Glenn Beck to Sean Hannity to the "Tea Party". Incredibly, very few among any of those groups have spoken up against what is clearly an extra-legal, extra-constitutional assault on both a media organization and the private companies with whom they worked.

[We discussed these matters at length with Salon's Glenn Greenwald, a great transparency advocate and supporter of WikiLeaks, during a live interview with him on KPFK on Monday, even before the latest volleys were fired in this rapidly growing, all-out cyber/information war. That interview can be heard here.]

There have been a few who have spoken out in favor of WikiLeaks/Assange from among the media, the blogosphere and even on the Right, though surprisingly few. Here are a few examples:

  • Spain's El Pais editorialized: "We are, in a sense, freer now than we were before, which is as much as journalism can hope to achieve."
  • "Pentagon Papers" whistleblower Dan Ellsberg --- who we interviewed on this last week --- joined with a number of other whistleblowers and well-known transparency advocates today to issue a statement today in support of WikiLeaks and Assange in which he said: "EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time."
  • And really the only voice on the Right to speak out loudly to our knowledge, is Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) who said "What we need is more WikiLeaks".

There are more, of course, but remarkably few, particularly given the all-out assault that is now coming down on WikiLeaks with the extra-legal power of the U.S. Government apparently brought to bear as its intimidating engine.

RAW STORY's thrice-updated report says that late this afternoon, credit card company Visa has now been hacked by "Anonymous" in response to the "censorship" they see from both corporations and governmental bodies:

'Anonymous' hackers flexed their muscle again Wednesday, orchestrating a successful denial of service attack against Visa, the largest credit card provider in the world.

A Twitter account connected to the hackers declared the start of the attacks and the site was unavailable less than 16 minutes later.

Earlier, RAW reported that MasterCard had similarly had their services interrupted by the group (right in the middle of the Christmas Season, for whatever that's worth):

MasterCard Worldwide confirmed on Wednesday morning that the "MasterCard Directory Server" had gone down and that cardholders were experiencing service interruptions. The revelation was made as a massive denial of service attack was staged against MasterCard, ostensibly for refusing further payments to secrets outlet WikiLeaks.

"Please be advised that MasterCard SecureCode Support has detected a service disruption to the MasterCard Directory Server," MasterCard said. "The Directory Server service has been failed over to a secondary site however customers may still be experiencing intermittent connectivity issues. More information on the estimated time of recovery will be shared in due course."

Why did MasterCard and Visa cut off services to WikiLeaks, despite all lack of due process in charging them with any criminal wrongdoing whatsoever? A clue may be found in one of the diplomatic cables, dated February 1, 2010, released via WikiLeaks and reported on by the UK's Guardian this afternoon. Both Visa and MasterCard work very closely with the U.S. Government, which has lobbied foreign countries on their behalf, according to the cable. That certainly offers to support to the notion that such companies would likely be loathe to risk that friendly relationship if called upon by the government to cut off ties to the media outlet:

The US lobbied Russia this year on behalf of Visa and MasterCard to try to ensure the payment card companies were not "adversely affected" by new legislation, according to American diplomats in Moscow.

A state department cable released this afternoon by WikiLeaks reveals that US diplomats intervened to try to amend a draft law going through Russia's duma, or lower house of parliament. Their explicit aim was to ensure the new law did not "disadvantage" the two US companies, the cable states.

The Guardian goes on to report that both MasterCard and Visa "have justified their decision to stop donations on the grounds that WikiLeaks is acting 'illegally'".

But again, there are no details on what "illegal" activities WikiLeaks has carried out. And, in any case, if they are acting illegally, so too would be the New York Times and other media outlets who have published the very same documents, often before WikiLeaks does, even as no such Governmental oppression seems to have been brought to bear on them or the private companies with whom they do business --- at least as far as we know.

All of this, of course, catches our eye for not simply the obvious (or what should be obvious) outrage that it is, as well as the bright red flag being waved (if ignored by too many) in regard to the vulnerability of our Internet and the ease at which Big Government muscle can be brought to bare over private companies and individuals who have committed no legal wrong-doing, but also for another reason, another concern near and dear to The BRAD BLOG.

Despite the proven ability of a small group of hackers to take down several of the most secure financial sites in the universe, with ease, in what appears to be incredibly short notice, there remain those who believe that voting over the Internet and e-voting at local polling places, can be carried out safely and securely --- even with, often, trillions of dollars riding on the outcome of such elections.

As we've reported hundreds if not thousands of times over the past nearly-seven years, with an enormous amount of support from both computer scientists and cyber security experts (here's our recent report on just one such recent incident in which hackers took complete control of an Internet Voting scheme within a matter of hours, and even reportedly discovered both Iranian and Chinese computers also hacking into the same system) all of this underscores the madness of relying on polling place e-voting systems and its insanely-emerging brethren "Internet Voting", for the very core of our democratic elections.

Such systems are not safe from those who may wish to malevolently, and secretly, manipulate our elections and our democracy. And that would include even e-voting systems which use paper ballots, but are tabulated by easily-hacked computer systems rather than the transparent and overseeable process of counting by human beings in public. And the fact that those systems e-voting systems are created, serviced, program and run by corporate, rather than public, entitities only underscores the menace they pose to our democracy.

As Dr. David Jefferson, a computer security expert from Livermore National Laboratories and an expert on e-voting systems as CEO of VerifiedVoting.org, has been arguing for many years, along with many other colleagues, "election security is a matter of U.S. national security".

He explained to us during a recent interview following the extraordinary hack of the Internet Voting system in D.C., that "it's really important that it not be possible for foreign governments or crazy self-aggrandizing hackers in other countries --- or in our own --- to be able to modify votes and get away with it."

Unfortunately, as this new "all-out cyber war" over WikiLeaks reveals, it is not "possible" for that to be the case under the current system of voting we currently use. If the threats mentioned by Jefferson, and reported on these pages for years, are not finally apparent in light of all of this, it remains unclear to us, at least, what it will take for the American people to finally "get it".

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