Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning was charged yesterday for allegedly leaking video and documents to secret-sharing website Wikileaks. He faces up to 52 years in prison. Now, nerds are waging fierce campaigns to discredit both Manning's informant and Wikileaks itself.
Bradley Manning was arrested last month after his confidant, ex-hacker Adrian Lamo, turned him in. Lamo won Manning's trust by portraying himself as a minister and a journalist, and likely traded on a shared queer identity to convince the 22 year-old, deeply troubled soldier to confess his illegal activities over instant message. Lamo immediately notified Army investigators and spilled the story to his long-time unofficial mouthpiece, Wired's Kevin Poulsen.
Blogs and messageboards have filled with Anti-Lamo chatter. Lamo and company are waging war against Wikileaks. It's a classic nerd fight played out via the Wikileaks-approved tactics of leaks and counter-leaks, as both sides bring secrets to light in the hopes of discrediting the other.
So, how's the fight shaping up? On one hand, there's:
The most vocal member of Team Lamo is Adrian Lamo. Lamo has a long history of seeking attention, fueled in part by a symbiotic relationship with Wired editor Kevin Poulsen to whom he feeds tips about his exploits in exchange for favorable coverage. He's a one-person PR shop with a cringe-worthy formspring.me page, Twitter account and a barrage of formal press releases with titles like "Despite Death Threats, Adrian Lamo Maintains Resolve to Testify in Wikileaks / Bradley Manning Case." The New York Times Times took notice of Lamo's PR output recently, and wrote an article about how he won't stop talking.
In his most brazen attempt to discredit Wikileaks, Lamo gave an interview claiming that Wikileaks had betrayed him as a source. He says that he leaked an uncensored transcript of his own IM chat with Bradley Manning to Wikileaks to see if they would leak it. The transcript mysteriously turned up on BoingBoing a few days later.
Recently, Lamo wrote a long refutation of a Salon article by Glenn Greenwald that was critical of him. After Greenwald refused to publish Lamo's spiel, he posted it to secret-sharing website cryptome.org, Wikileaks' main competitor. Cryptome.org, whose founder has been highly critical of Wikileaks in the past, is Team Lamo's other major player. In addition to posting Lamo's denials and clarifications, Cryptome has leaked eight messages from a person known only as "Wikileaks Insider". These purport to offer inside knowledge of a division in Wikileaks' ranks, constant money problems and the "absolute dictatorship" of Wikileaks editor Julian Assange. Wikileaks says these messages are part of a fabricated "smear campaign."
Wikileaks' and its conspiracy-minded editor Julian Assange are spearheading their own campaign against Lamo, in apparent revenge for his betrayal of one of their key sources. On Twitter, they've hinted that Poulsen and Lamo were colluding with the US government, and pointed out "disturbing" articles and interviews . And it appears Wikileaks had a hand in leaking a log of an instant message chat between Lamo's wife and a former friend, Nadim Kobeissi. These chats suggest that Wired's Kevin Poulsen whitewashed a recent profile of Lamo to hide a prescription drug problem. Kobeissi says these chats "provide evidence that shows that [Lamo] and Poulsen are both very unreliable sources." (Kobeissi told us in a phone interview that the logs were real, and Lamo has not contested this.)
At least two websites have been set up specifically to cast doubt on Lamo's character and history. When Adrian Lamo put out a press release claiming he had employed "award winning journalist Andy Stangby" to fact-check Glenn Greenwald's critical Salon article, one of these blogs published a funny Facebook wall exchange that suggests Lamo had embellished his fact-checker's credentials. (Lamo soon deleted the press release and the wall post)
In the battle over Wikileaks, as with Wikileaks itself, leaks aren't pure data. They're pointed arguments. And while Wikileaks' and its rhetoric of radical transparency is new, this tactic is as old as journalism. It's called digging up dirt.