1 November 2013
Cryptome Interview by La Repubblica
Excerpts of this interview:
30 October 2013, by email exchange.
Federico Rampini, La Repubblica US Bureau Chief:
1) In several European countries, including my own (Italy), government
leaders and citizens are upset after discovering the extent of the NSA reach.
Even German chancellor Angela Merkel was wiretapped. The answer from the
Obama Administration and the NSA has struck different notes. On one hand
President Obama seems willing to review the intelligence guidelines, possibly
even offering a "no-spy treaty" to allies and friends (this being a Franco-German
request). On the other hand, the intelligence community says: everybody does
it. Do you think there is any reasonable hope that something will change?
Or will this "incident" soon be forgotten, and the intelligence community
will go back to business as usual?
There will be a series of adjustments testing public acceptance. Hearings,
press releases, private briefings of the media, public speeches, op-eds,
essays by selected friends, leaks of various kinds. There will also be a
series of classified performances arranged for each national leader, each
spy service, each contractor, each "ex-spy", each NGO, each front, each financial
institution, each justice ministry, each foreign affairs ministry. These
parallel series are underway now and will continue as long as there is public
interest and political capital to be accumulated -- which will decline into
a new status quo. However, if public interest remains high, a few officials
will be scapegoated, exchange of bribes, arms and intelligence will rise
among the governmental, commercial and public service interests groups to
capitalize on the public attention while beneficial to do so. Snowden and
his media outlets will be complicit, rewarded, attacked, iconized, maybe
one or two will be prosecuted then found innocent after lengthy show trials
like that of Chelsea Manning. Based on statements by all parties -- governments
and media -- they have been briefed to continue to play their role in this
2) In the latest round of revelations, one thing is worrying. Even the
White House was not informed about the wiretapping of chancellor Merkel.
The explanation, according to what general Alexander (Nsa chief) said today
to the Congress: the Nsa does not give all the details to the president and
his staff. The president just approves guidelines. Does that sound realistic
to you? Is it normal? Is it safe?
Not believable. This is standard "protection of the presidency." Happens
in all nations. The only truth about espionage is to lie, dissimulate, deceive,
distort, exaggerate, under- and over-state, bark and cry, weasel and attack;
appear wounded, aggrieved, misunderstood; apologize half-heartedly; never
cease doing what spies do; dress in new clothing of sacred national security
and burn the old. This is the premier role of nationals leaders and their
most crucial servants.
3) One default reaction, from republicans in the US but also from many
democrats, sounds approximately like this: the world is dangerous, it is
full of enemies that may attack America and its allies. Therefore, it would
be very naive to think that we can do without a vast network of intelligence
agencies to protect us. What is your comment on this?
There is no more assured justification for national governments than national
security by secret means. An ancient tradition to protect power and privilege,
democracies little different than tyrannies in this regard. And every form
of government falls due to excessive secrecy due to its fundamental design
to be beyond public accountability. This lack of accountability is irresistible
to political leaders of all stripes. Fortunately, every form of government
contains the seeds of its own destruction, that is excessive secrecy, which
eventually turns its people against it. The stronger the nation the more
dependent upon excessive secrecy, and consequent requirement for ever greater
spying upon foes, friends, citizenry, itself. Paranoia leads to debility,
this weakness invites overthrow or defeat. Before then, however, an increase
in spying frenzy accompanies death throes.
4) You have had a long experience in defying the establishment (corporate,
political, military establishment). Looking back at a few decades ago, do
you think that today something has fundamentally changed in the balance between
privacy and secrecy? Has the technological progress altered the equilibrium?
Are we more vulnerable today than we were, let's say, in the Watergate/Vietnam
Technology and profitability for official, commercial and personal spying
has vastly increased and privacy diminished. When protection of privacy is
more profitable than violating it there will be a change. We have long said
the Internet is the greatest spying tool ever invented. Lately that honor
is being surpassed by cellphones, personal devices. implanted chips, digital
transactions, wireless technology, deliberately weakened communications security.
Nostalgia for the hearings and exposures Watergate/Vietnam/Pentagon Papers
era is used to obscure the extent of current spying and loss of privacy.
It is astonishing how little the media knows about this technology, to wit,
the shallow, hyperbolic coverage of the very few Snowden documents -- which
it should be noted are entertaining entry-level slide shows used to brief
recruits, nothing useful for understanding the technology that implements
the cartooned programs. It is not clear if Snowden, Greenwald and Poitras
know they are being deluded by these briefing diagrams, charts, texts, bold
names, classification markings. The kinds of documents that have been released
are juvenile; there may be more adult versions being withheld. I suspect
Snowden never had access to the adult documents, due to his inexperience,
lack of seniority, lack of training, lack of oversight, only a young contractor,
and in this sense, like Chelsea Manning who also was compartmentalized from
access to adult information. Keep in mind that most classification markings
on the Manning and Snowden documents are illusory to impress the unknowing,
not how adult documents are marked.
5) Cryptome has been a pioneer. And yet you never reached the "celebrity
status" of Assange. Is it because you don't want to be a celebrity? What's
the difference between your approach and WikiLeaks?
Celebritization is manipulation and control. Assange has acknowledged this
but cannot escape, not that he appears to want that lack of attention. Manning,
Snowden, Greenwald and Poitras and others are suffering the adverse consequences
of excessive valorization, castigation, suspicion and ridicule which will
get worse. Assange and Manning have been betrayed and jailed because of celebrity
aspiration and delusion, preceded by Ellsberg. A coven of "ex-spies" face
the same hazard, keeping in mind that "ex-spy" merely means different clothing
for the same role. Moreover, "leaks" were invented for publicity, profits
and public manipulation, thus we do not consider Cryptome to be a leaks
operation, instead a free library, cheap, minuscule, one that anyone can
run, best, no bosses or financial interest.
6) Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor? Do you think that he can stay
in Russia without becoming a puppet in the hands of Vladimir Putin?
Aspiring, bored, gullible like Manning, like all of us at their age. Youngsters
are exploited the world over as puppets of demagogues, hustlers, evangelists,
freedom fighters, hackers, military, spies, anti-military, anti-spies. but
above all as students, fans and consumers seduced by charlatans peddling
dreams of running their own lives. Sounds like the Internet, cellphone and
personal devices, does it not. Oh, and promises of privacy from viciously
7) Is Barack Obama a different man today, compared to what he was as a
senator of Illinois, in his approach to national security? Has he surrendered
to the tradition of US presidents, conservatives and liberals alike, on matters
of security? Is there still hope that he might change the rules of the
He has surrendered to the powerful influence of "The Institution of the
Presidency." No way to avoid that. the crucial glue of this institution is
secrecy. Once brought into the world of secrecy there is no way out. That
is its evil genius. That is why nobody once in ever tells the truth about
what goes on in that closed world. They are forbidden to tell the truth of
it, and are compelled to lie. A very long history of secret societies with
the same Faustian attributes. And apologists for secrecy all sound the same.
8) Is journalism changing, under the challenge of "non journalistic"
approaches to investigative reporting (Assange, Snowden) ?
Changed for the worse in braggardy and self-importance as avowed reputable
overseers of the Manning and Snowden gifts widely and swiftly monetized.
Assange has been diminished by identifying himself as a journalist after
years of disavowing that institutionally self-censoring profession. Greenwald
appears headed toward that obsequious, sanctimonious decline with Omidyar.
Poitras may save herself from wretchedness but market forces are immensely
persuasive. "Investigative reporting" is like the inflated classification
markings, not to be taken at face value.
9) What should we do, as reporters, in order to provide our readers with
the largest possible access to vital information, and at the same time preserve
our independence and make sure we are not being manipulated by any other
actors in this game? WikiLeaks had a conflict with some media outlets that
did not accept to be used as mere "tools" for the dissemination of
Our drumbeat, hoot and holler, is freely available documents ("dumping" is
used to disparage freely available), with minimal interpretation, narration
and editorialization. Snowden's initiative is being badly damaged by dribbling
and hyperbolization. We prefer both, maximum provision of documents and concrete
evidence, matched with informed, low-key interpretation. We understand the
need for self-aggrandizement of the media, but excessive valorization is
destructive of credibility and numbing of senses and thought. We see media-driven
hyperbole and celebrity as scourges on the commonweal, destructive of public
discourse, inhibiting of uncontrolled political participation, harmful to
genuine "national security" -- the term itself a loathsome habit of metronomical,