Response to Wired's accusations

The website's editors launch a fusillade of accusations to distract attention from the core issue


Glenn Greenwald
December 29, 2010 7:01PM (UTC)

(updated below)

As noted above, the principal tactic of Wired.com Editor-in-Chief Evan Hansen and Senior Editor Kevin Poulsen in responding to my criticisms is to hurl a variety of accusations at me as a means of distracting attention from the issue that matters.  Between my June article and the one on Sunday, I've now written more than 9,000 words about Wired's role in the Manning/Lamo case.  To accuse me of "a breathtaking mix of sophistry, hypocrisy and journalistic laziness," they raise a handful of alleged inaccuracies (a) for which there is ample evidence and (b) which are entirely ancillary to the issues I raised. 

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I'm going to address each and every one of their accusations in order (their accusations are indented and my responses follow).  I realize this is lengthy.  But I take the accusations seriously, know that they're false, believe it's incumbent to provide the same accountability and responsiveness I demand of others, and everyone is free to read only those portions which interest them.


Hansen

Tellingly, Greenwald never misses a chance to mention Poulsen’s history as a hacker, events that transpired nearly two decades ago and have absolutely no bearing on the current case. This is nothing more than a despicable smear campaign based on the oldest misdirection in the book: Shoot the messenger. 

This is all false.  I've actually mentioned Poulsen's hacker past very rarely, and every time I did, it was in connection with substantive questions raised about his relationships to key players in these events, including Lamo and Mark Rasch.  I don't think Poulsen's credibility is impaired because he was once a hacker or even a felon.  I think it's impaired because he is withholding key evidence and pretending that he and Lamo have nothing more than a standard journalist-source relationship. 

Even Greenwald believes this … sometimes. When The New York Times ran an entirely appropriate and well reported profile of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — discussing his personality and his contentious leadership style — Greenwald railed against the newspaper, terming the reporters “Nixonian henchmen.”  

This claim is designed to accuse me of hypocrisy for simultaneously arguing that Assange should not be subjected to scrutiny while demanding full disclosure of the chats.  That accusation is made only by wildly distorting what I wrote in the very piece Hansen cites.  My objection to The New York Times smear job on Assange was that by prominently featuring gossipy, personality issues about him on the very day the Iraq War documents were released, the paper distracted attention from what actually mattered:  what the documents showed about American behavior in the war (the same reason why Nixon wanted dirt about Ellberg's psychiatric state:  to impugn the source of the Pentagon Papers).  In fact, I argued the opposite of what Hansen suggests:  "None of this is to say that WikiLeaks and Assange shouldn't be subject to scrutiny. Anyone playing a significant role in political life should be, including them.

Moreover, I never argued that Wired should release deeply personal, irrelevant aspects of the chat logs.  I argued that they should be much more diligent about making those assessments given that part of what they withheld was not personat at all and, more important, that they should release the portions about which Lamo has made public claims or confirm they do not exist.

Hansen:

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Similarly, when Assange complained that journalists were violating his privacy by reporting the details of rape and molestation allegations against him in Sweden, Greenwald agreed, writing: “Simultaneously advocating government transparency and individual privacy isn’t hypocritical or inconsistent; it’s a key for basic liberty.”

With Manning, Greenwald adopts the polar opposite opinions. “Journalists should be about disclosing facts, not protecting anyone.” This dissonance in his views has only grown in the wake of reports that Manning might be offered a plea deal in exchange for testimony against Assange. 

Hansen again wildly distorted what I wrote by taking a Twitter comment and tearing it out of context.  I most certainly never "agreed" that "journalists were violating [Assange's] privacy by reporting the details of rape and molestation allegations against him in Sweden,"  That's a total fabrication.  I don't believe that and never said that.  Hansen made that up.  

Assange was asked in a BBC interview questions such as "how many women have you slept with?"  When Assange refused to answer, many WikiLeaks critics pointed to this as hypocrisy -- oh, see, he doesn't believe in transparency for himself -- and my tweet pointed out the obvious fallacy of that claim:  there is nothing inconsistent about demanding transparency for government while insisting upon personal privacy.

Moreover, the question Assange refused to answer -- "how many women have you slept with?" -- is relevant to absolutely nothing of public interest, including the rape accusation.  By stark contrast, the information Wired is concealing -- whether Lamo is telling the truth about his various claims -- goes to the heart of one of the most significant political controversies in the world.

Hansen:

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Nonetheless, once the Times story — and our explanation — was over a week old, Greenwald sent Poulsen an e-mail inquiring about it, and giving him one day to respond to his questions. He sent that e-mail on Christmas Day.

When we didn’t meet the urgent Yuletide deadline he’d imposed on himself to publish a piece about a 10-day-old newspaper article, he wrote in his column that we “ignored the inquiries,” adding: “This is not the behavior of a journalist seeking to inform the public, but of someone eager, for whatever reasons, to hide the truth.” 

First, not only did I raise most of these issues six months ago (about which Poulsen says "We took the high ground and ignored Greenwald and Salon"), but I loudly re-raised them on my Twitter feed -- from which Hansen quotes -- on Friday, December 24.  See here ("Read the first 6 paragraphs of this article to see how inexcusable it is for Wired not to release the chat logs it has: http://is.gd/jo29s"), here ("Wired Magazine [and the WashPost] possess key evidence on 1 of the year's most important news stories but have concealed it for months") and here ("Fair enough - I mean @KPoulsen: RT @stevesilberman "Do not underestimate the cultural divide between "Wired magazine" and wired.com.").

Second, after trumpeting my intention to raise these issues the day before, I then emailed Poulsen on Saturday morning -- Christmas -- and told him I intended to write about this the following day.  When I didn't hear back from him all day Saturday, I waited the entire next day (Sunday) and, in the hopes of getting a reply from Poulsen, still didn't write anything.  I only published my piece mid-morning on Monday:  two full days after I first emailed Poulsen.  Once it was published, Poulsen, despite being "on vacation," certainly responded on Twitter very quickly. 

Third, my accusation -- that "this is not the behavior of a journalist seeking to inform the public, but of someone eager, for whatever reasons, to hide the truth" -- was not based exclusively or even primarily on Poulsen's failure to answer my questions; it was based on his six-month-and-counting withholding of key evidence and his failure to confirm or deny all of the serious claims made by his close associate, Adrian Lamo.

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Poulsen

To Greenwald, all this makes Lamo “a low-level, inconsequential hacker.” This conclusion is critical to his thesis that Lamo and I have something more than a source-journalist relationship. Greenwald’s theory is that Lamo’s hacks were not newsworthy.

That Lamo's skills as a hacker are "critical" to any issue I've raised is just absurd.  In speaking to numerous hackers and others in that community, I repeatedly heard the same thing about Lamo:  that his hacking exploits were unsophisticated but designed to achieve the only thing he cares about:  press attention for himself.  That issue is interesting because it suggests what Lamo's motive might have been for turning government informant on Manning -- an opportunity to get his name in the paper -- but it has little or nothing to do with the ethical issues I raised about Wired and Poulsen.

I detailed with multiple links and documentation in my June article exactly what makes this Lamo-Poulsen relationship so strange.  Lamo basically used Poulsen as his personal spokesman for years:  he'd hack, and then have Poulsen announce it.  When Lamo was involuntarily hospitalized, it was Poulsen he called, so that Wired would write about in the light Lamo wanted.  This is how Information Week described the relationship all the way back in 2002:

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To publicize his work, [Lamo] often tapped ex-hacker-turned-journalist Kevin Poulsen as his go-between: Poulsen contacts the hacked company, alerts it to the break-in, offers Lamo's cooperation, then reports the hack on the SecurityFocus Online Web site, where he's a news editor.

Lamo posts smiling, arms-around-each-other pictures with Poulsen on his Facebook page, including one the day before Wired published excerpts of the chat log.  Nadim Kobeissi, Lamo's longtime friend, told me that Lamo has long considered Poulsen his friend.  This is anything but some objective, arms-length journalist-source relationship.

Poulsen:

From that bit of sophistry, Greenwald descends into antics that shouldn’t pass muster at any serious news outlet. He bolsters his argument by quoting Jacob Appelbaum as an expert on Lamo. Appelbaum has "known Lamo for years," he writes, and "Lamo’s ‘only concern’ has always been ‘getting publicity for Adrian'."

Nowhere in the article does he disclose that Appelbaum -- the only third-party source in the piece -- is a key WikiLeaks activist: a man who’d shared hotel rooms with Julian Assange, and had already spoken publicly on behalf of the organization. Appelbaum's key role in the organization has been a published fact since April.

The quote from Appelbaum about Lamo's desire for publicity is (a) something that at least ten other people told me in that period and (b) completely ancillary to any points I raised about Wired.  I will readily concede that Appelbaum's association with WikiLeaks should have been disclosed.  It wasn't for a simple reason:  I wasn't aware of it.  Poulsen claims that "Appelbaum's key role in the organization has been a published fact since April" but notably links to no news report saying that (only to Appelbaum's Twitter feed).  I was unaware -- and still am -- of any news reports before then identifying him as such.  If there were any, I didn't see them.

I quoted Appelbaum because his quote was most usable, but I could easily have quoted at least ten other people with knowledge of Lamo to make this same point.   Indeed, in a June email he sent me after I wrote that article -- none of which was off the record:  indeed, it was all explicitly on the record at his request -- Wired's own Ryan Singel told me: "Lamo is clearly starved for attentionOften he gets it by coming up with odd leads. Here he decided to become a rat, and then went on to brag about it."  That quote would have sufficed just as well as the Appelbaum one.  That Lamo is pathologically fixated on self-promotion is an article of faith in the hacker world.

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Poulsen:

After that glaring omission, Greenwald mischaracterizes my contacts with the companies Lamo hacked. In writing about Lamo’s New York Times hack, Greenwald claims: “When Lamo hacked into the NYT, it was Poulsen who notified the newspaper’s executives on Lamo’s behalf, and then wrote about it afterward.” In truth, I contacted a spokeswoman for the Times, notified her of the intrusion, gave her time to confirm it, and then quoted her in the article. 

This is the type of accusation that proves how weak is Poulsen's claim that my articles were filled with a "litany of errors."  Read what Poulsen claims I wrote.  Then read what he says is the reality.  They're the exact same thing.  That's one his leading examples of my "errors."

Poulsen:

Nearly half of his article is devoted to a characteristically murky conspiracy theory involving a well-known cybercrime attorney and former Justice Department lawyer named Mark Rasch. Rasch is one of three people that Lamo sought for advice while looking to turn in Bradley Manning.

The blockbuster, stop-the-presses, “incontrovertibly true” disclosure with which Greenwald caps his piece? That Rasch once prosecuted me for hacking the phone company.

Based, apparently, on something he read on a website called GovSecInfo.com, Greenwald announces that "Rasch is also the person who prosecuted Kevin Poulsen back in the mid-1990s and put him in prison for more than three years." (I served five, actually, and all but two months of it was in pretrial custody, held without bail.) He then attacks me for failing to report on this supposed link. "Just on journalistic grounds, this nondisclosure is extraordinary," he claims. . . . 

Rasch, who worked for the Justice Department in Washington D.C., left government service in 1991. I had two prosecutors in my phone-hacking case: David Schindler in Los Angeles and Robert Crowe in San Jose, California.

Greenwald, a former law professor, could have learned this in a few seconds on Pacer, the federal court’s public records system. It would have set him back 16 cents, and his article would have been half as long.

First, I was never a "law professor" and never claimed to be one.  By Poulsen's reasoning, this grave inaccuracy proves how his response is filled with "a breathtaking mix of sophistry, hypocrisy and journalistic laziness."

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Second, my statement that Rasch prosecuted Poulsen is based on far more than "something [I] read on a website called GovSecInfo.com."  It is true that Rasch's GovSec biography does say that he "investigated and prosecuted the earliest computer crime cases including those of Kevin Poulsen."  But so do other sources.  From a 2002 article in Information Week:  "Lamo could face felony charges, says Mark Rasch, former head of the Justice Department's Computer Crime Unit, who prosecuted Poulsen and Mitnick."  Rasch's biography for Secure IT Experts similarly states:  "Mark investigated and prosecuted the earliest computer crime cases including those of Kevin Poulsen, Kevin Mitnick and Robert T. Morris."  

Beyond those sources, Rasch was the head of the DOJ's Computer Crimes Unit until 1991:  the year Poulsen was arrested after several years of being a fugitive and one of the Government's most-wanted hackers.  Rasch was probably not the courtroom attorney litigating the case against Poulsen -- it'd be highly unlikely that he would be -- but it's inconceivable that, as head of the Computer Crimes Unit, he wasn't significantly involved in the investigation of and search for Poulsen and his ultimate arrest, which is presumably why these multiple sources contain the claim that Rasch "investigated" and/or "prosecuted Poulsen."

That the same Mark Rasch then proceeded to have numerous interactions over the years with Poulsen -- and then end up as the person who helped direct Lamo to government authorities to inform on Manning -- is absolutely relevant and is something that should be disclosed when Poulsen writes about this case.  If, despite these facts, Rasch actually had nothing whatsoever to do with the investigation of Poulsen, then Poulsen should say so, and if it's true, I'll be the first to rescind this disclosure objection.  But my statements were well-grounded in these sources and facts.

Poulsen:

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The “regularly contributes to his magazine” part is apparently a reference to this single 2004 opinion piece [by Rasch] in Wired magazine.

My claim that he was a "regular contributor" to Wired was based on numerous sources, apparently including Rasch himself.  From Rasch's biography on the SCIIP Board of Advisers:  "He writes a monthly column in Symantec’s Security Focus online magazine . . .  and is a regular contributor to Wired magazine."  His biography as a guest on The Charlie Rose Show states that he "is a regular contributor to 'Wired' magazine."  His own prepared biography makes the same claim ("a regular contributor to Wired Magazine").  If Rasch has nothing to do with Wired other than the single article, then there is obviously no disclosure issue, but it also means that someone has been making false claims about Rasch's relationship to that magazine.

I could go on -- the daily, off-the-record conversations Greenwald had with Assange while penning at least one of his anti-Wired screeds; or the fact that he failed to disclose in the body of his first article that he was personally trying to secure a new attorney for Manning while writing the piece. 

Poulsen seems to think that it's some sort of secret that I am an active supporter of both WikiLeaks and Manning.  Unlike Poulsen, I don't conceal my relationships to subjects or my views of them.  That I am a fervent supporter of WikiLeaks and Manning is about the most disclosed fact about me.  I've twice encouraged readers to donate money to WikiLeaks, including all the way back in March when few people had heard of the group.  I've also encouraged readers to donate to Manning's defense fund right out in the open on my blog.  I've made repeatedly clear -- by writing it -- that I consider both of their actions heroic.

Poulsen doesn't provide any citation for his grand discovery that I spoke with Assange while writing my piece in June; that's because he presumably knows that because I said it.  I often make clear that I communicate with Assange about WikiLeaks matters (from CNN's introduction of me on Monday night:  "Glenn, I'd like to start with you. I know you have spoken to Julian Assange several times").  I don't know where Poulsen gets the idea that my conversations with him were "off-the-record":  the reason I didn't quote Assange in my piece on Wired is because he had nothing of relevance to say.  Indeed, the only statement of WikiLeaks that I used was its allegation that Poulsen himself acted as government informant -- an accusation I stated in both articles had no evidence to support it.

Honest journalists disclose rather than hide their associations and views.  And that's exactly what I've done from the start with both WikiLeaks and Manning.  

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Finally, we have this:

But by now it should be clear why we don’t seek Greenwald’s advice on a serious matter of journalistic ethics. 

Over the years, Wired has repeatedly -- and always approvingly -- cited to, quoted from, and otherwise used my work.  Its reporters, including Ryan Singel and others, have sent emails with lavish praise.  After my first article about Wired in June, Singel emailed me to defend Poulsen and contest my objections but wrote:  "I've long been a fan of your work and I'll continue to be."  

But now that I've written critically about Wired, I'm suddenly converted into a dishonest, ethics-free, unreliable hack.  That's par for the course.  That's why so few people in this profession are willing to criticize other media outlets.  Journalists react as poorly as anyone to public criticism; it doesn't make you popular to do it; it can terminate career opportunities and relationships; it's certain your credibility will be publicly impugned.  But journalists need scrutiny and accountability as much as anyone -- especially when, as here, they are shaping public perceptions about a vital story while withholding important information -- and I'd vastly prefer to be the one to provide it even if it means that the targets of the criticism don't like it and lash out. 

Ultimately, what determines one's credibility is not the names you get called or the number of people who get angry when you criticize them.  What matters is whether the things you say are well-supported and accurate, to correct them if they're not, and to subject yourself to the same accountability and transparency you demand of others. 

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UPDATE:  Poulsen's claim that Rasch has contributed to Wired only a "single 2004 opinion piece" is false. Here are two at least -- here and here -- in addition to the close to 40 times that he has been cited as a source in Wired articles, including -- as I documented in my piece on Sunday -- multiple times by Poulsen and Zetter. That's presumably why he calls himself a "regular contributor" to Wired. And that's all independent of the other forms of interaction over the years Poulsen and Rasch have had. That Poulsen and Wired has this long and varied relationship with the person who put Lamo in touch with federal authorities in order to inform on Manning in certainly something I'd want to know -- and I think the reasonable reader would want to know -- when reading Poulsen write about the Manning case.


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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