Donate for the Cryptome archive of files from June 1996 to the present

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 hoary tradition.

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 era?

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 snooping adults.

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 game?

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 information.

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, cowardly leaders.