Greenwald vs. Wired in 1000 words or thereabouts


Glenn Greenwald and's Christmas gift to internet trashtalk is finally beginning to make sense! So let's recap.

The smackdown started a few days ago with Greenwald reiterating his demand that reveal more of the chat logs in which Pvt. Bradley Manning, alleged whistleblower, confided in Adrian Lamo, who turned him over to the authorities.

While Wired's news-writing is accurate, the problem with writing the story of the year is that how it was written is often the next headline, especially when the relationships between source, subject and reporter are unusually close and opaque. And there are two sides to that story: what was left unpublished from the chat logs, and how did Wired get the scoop in the first place?

Melding these two issues led Greenwald to lard salient questions about the logs with conspiracy theories about how Wired sourced its reporting. His aggressive style, directed at Wired Senior Editor Kevin Poulsen and his longtime association with Lamo, earned a defensive and contemptuous response from Poulsen and chief Evan Hansen. With the mutual trashtalk, however, focus blurred away from the more interesting question of what the logs reveal about Manning and Lamo's chats. These details loom ever larger in the public imagination, not least because they could help American prosecutors get international man of demystery Julian Assange charged over Manning's exfiltration of sordid (and occasionally very witty) displomatic cables.

Today, mercifully, Greenwald separated out the personal stuff and got back to basics with a new post that focused on the issue of the logs.

It comes down to this: is there anything Wired can say about the logs that helps others verify Lamo's increasingly erratic recollections of them, without compromising its journalistic duty to protect sources and subjects? Though Greenwald's aggressive style alienated many, few today seem entirely happy with Wired's given answer, which was "No."

But why is this? One reason is because Adrian Lamo keeps getting fresh press attention by describing what's in the chat logs, but in a way that contradicts established facts or seems otherwise inconsistent or shifty. Wired may be in a position to at least fact-check him without further compromising anyone's privacy, but hasn't.

Another reason is because the story's enormous importance makes every detail seem equally important, even if it isn't. We become fixated on Poulsen's personal associations because its easy to imagine moral hazard spreading like kudzu in the shadow cast by the journalist's shield.

Other questions stand out: is anyone being protected who is not a public figure? Did receive legal advice on running the logs? It's possible that the options available to it are limited by matters that it can't discuss in public. (A good example of this would be our own run-in with a company that sued us over a blog post: we remained silent as the court case dragged on because that helped ensure we could go public in full later on.)

If it's able to, Wired has a great opportunity for some radical transparency. That doesn't have to be running the chat logs: it could be a straightforward discussion of why it would be impossible or inappropriate to do so. In the meantime, lovers of DRAMATIC HUMAN can still enjoy all the smacktalk at Wired, Salon, BB, Facebook, Reddit and elsewhere: a sure antidote to the winter gloom.

So, the normal procedure here would be for me to polish this off with some clever analysis, then slam dunk in a zinger that fills everyone involved with epic pathos.

Instead, brainfarts:

• Perhaps Lamo isn't lying exactly! Instead, he could be studiously trying to limit what he discusses to the inventory of facts currently in the wild, a misguided sense of propriety doing battle with a desire to get what's his by throwing new tidbits at journalists. The result, however, is that his story morphs over time as new info emerges. Mr. Lamo, unaware of why this makes him look bad, is therefore unaware of why it makes reporters who rely on him look bad.

• The AP-style story format now prevalent at makes it less bloggy than readers think it is. This establishes a distance between readers and reporters and restores a traditional tone of objectivity to its newswriting. As it is, Wired's commenters rarely emerge from a state of inchoate, slavering rage, so there's no incentive for its writers to enter the peanut gallery. And the blog river itself is polished to such a high standard that casual, chatty posts don't really belong. Without a local venue where writers and readers can engage readers in non-confrontational discussion, it all ends up as bitching on Twitter.

• Even if Lamo is as mendacious as he appears to be, Poulsen may have a responsibility to protect him as a source, even if Lamo abuses that by going on television to discuss that which Poulsen offered discretion on. A promise is a promise, even if you shouldn't have made it, and especially when legal uncertainty coincides with public opprobrium. I can't help but think there is some kind of journalistic paradox going on over there with no real solution. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but you know what? Transparency is harder than it looks when the well-being of innocent people depends upon keeping secrets. You could drown in the polite ironies of journalism.

• Boing Boing also received a version of the Manning-Lamo logs, and we've run what we've got with some redactions. (We also received chat logs not involving Manning, which we didn't run ourselves: they're up here) The Washington Post also received yet another version of these mysteriously never-quite-identical logs. But no-one cares about that, because discussing journalism with the Washington Post would be like discussing metaphysics with a melting knob of butter.


  1. Excellent synopsis. The more I read about the allegations and denials the more I am not sure who is right. Freedom of the Press means Wired can print what they want without interference. It also means they can *not* print everything they have on the topic. It is bad for transparency and that’s where you get conspiracy theories but it’s their right.

  2. 10,000 words at Wapo, 1000 words from my beloved beschizza, when, in fact, it all boils down to 21 words and a full stop:

    I would love to post one of my graphic responses to the debate, but really, it all boils down to 21 words and a full stop.

    The rest is just noise.

  3. watching this unfold has been nerd sport playoffs.

    the likely DADT aspect of the Manning/Lamo chats seems to me to present one likely cause for Wired’s evasiveness. Certainly having a “TG traitor” making global headlines prior to the repeal of DADT would provide FOX with fodder for months and further obscure the already fogged over heart of this important story.

    given the enormous national security aspects of this story and the cooperation/collusion of it’s primary source with investigators, it isn’t unreasonable to presume that Wired/Poulsen and Lamo are operating under some restraints either advised by those investigators or secrecy dictated via one of the thousands of national security letters that are routinely being tossed around.

    1. I didnt want to point that out, it would have spoiled all the fun for everyone else. I think it is pretty cool that you used another 979 words to cover up what you gave away in the first sentence :)

      cheeky, rob, very cheeky.

    1. Yes, lard can be a verb. To lard means to add fat to a lean piece of meat. This is usually done for roasting. You take a lardon and insert it whole into, let’s say a loin, with a larding needle.

  4. Journalists have a responsibility to protect the confidentiality of a source….

    But we already know that Manning and Lamo are the sources here. THe chat logs don’t enter into any of that responsiblity to protect their identities.

    What makes much more sense, in this world of grand juries, informants, and the heavy hand of American Exceptionalism, is that Poulsen and Lamo are under severe scrutiny from the DOJ/FBI and so their handlers or lawyers are instructing them to keep those remaining documents under wraps for now.

  5. Rat Patsy.

    Bradley Manning is innocent.

    So what if Bradley Manning is innocent ?

    Weird how they haven’t cracked him yet despite 7 months of torture. He must be very very tough – or doesn’t know anything.

    Wouldn’t be the first time an incompetent federal sting covered up its incompetence by not investigating the facts.

    It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Lamo made this whole thing up.

    Groomed a depressed DADT.

    Aquired some juicy details by ‘hacking’ the US Army’s super excellent cyber security *cough*.

    Freaked a couple of Feds and Army guys with a super secret code word. (contradictorally #cablegate is only ‘secret’ not ‘top secret’).

    Gives them the ‘chat logs’ which implicate Manning and implicate Assange.

    Does everything hinge on Lamos ‘chat logs’ or is there any other evidence at all against Manning.

    Lamo said what got the Feds and Army excited was a code name of a project.

    Maybe Lamo entered that name into the logs.

    In true neo-incompetent style the Feds go for whatever conclusion is politically expedient.

    Perhaps it was even a cosy little honey-pot.

    One which Lamo is poisoning fast.

    So either Lamo gets whacked and the logs are never revealed.


    Or the panther moderns are behind this whole spectacle.

    Either way Poulsen is sitting on something we all need to see.

    He is probably just being blackmailed, the usual M.O.

    Remember being a source of what ‘they’ want to hear can be very very profitable.

    Meanwhile American Tax money is being spent on rounding up orphans under 10 and giving them the choice of torture in jail or endless bum rape and drugs by corrupt Afghani heroin dealers *cough* democratic leaders.

    Your Tax Dollars Fund Child Gay Rape, America.

    Your Army dies to ensure this goes on.

    1. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Lamo made this whole thing up.
      Yeah, sure. Adrian Lamo out of nowhere decides to invent the story of a US Army guy with access to classified materials leaking it to Wikileaks, just to make himself look good. He identifies and decides to frame one Pvt. Manning, in Kuwait, for giggles.

      In the meantime, a stork brings Wikileaks a bunch of US Army and US State Department secret material, completely unrelated to the US Army guy that Lamo decided to frame. This happens to match the decription of the type and quantity of materials Lamo invented, by random chance.

      Come on, dude. Even for Anon, that’s a pretty silly conspiracy theory.

      1. Lamo and Poulsen and whoever else “made it all up” is not necessarily beyond the bounds of probability. In fact, both Lamo and Poulsen are convicted felons, both convicted of crimes involving dishonesty, and both may have motives to create a deception, i.e. to write a story about the most earthshaking event in the intelligence world since Kim Philby and make lots of money, and maybe get a million-dollar book deal.

        They have connections with government agencies, and maybe there’s a government agency that has nailed an otherwise inconsequential Private First Class with sending 50 cables to Wikileaks, small-time stuff, not important.

        The trouble is is that about 259,950 other documents have been sent out, too, and the government agency doesn’t have a clue, and can’t find out who did it, or if there’s a group of people who did it, or if another government did it, or a bunch of other governments did it, because the information security is so terribly, terribly weak that the government agency would be a laughingstock, and people would be turned out of their jobs in disgrace, with not a hope of getting another.

        From top government agency head to fry cook at the International House of Pancakes, not good… so the logical response is to duck and cover, pin the whole thing on the patsy, and get Lamo and Poulsen in on the deal. The patsy gets sent up for 30 years at the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Lamo and Poulsen get notoriety and a million-dollar book deal, and the agency head and his buddies get to keep their jobs, their perks, and their pensions.

        Some minor changes in infosec are implemented, enough to keep the spooks away for a while, but after a couple of years, there’s a fresh set of leaks, and the need for a new patsy arises – or the US runs out of money to prosecute expensive foreign wars and the Chinese decide they aren’t up to funding the newest version of the Global War on Terror, in which case the leaks aren’t nearly so fun.

        So yeah, it’s entirely possible that Lamo and Poulsen made 95% of this up, under the scenario I just proposed. And with the sole source of the “chat logs” and their authentication being the word of honor of convicted felons Adrian Lamo and Kevin Poulsen, there’s no way of proving me false.

  6. “The Washington Post also received yet another version of these mysteriously never-quite-identical logs.”

    If there are several versions, which one is right? Can we even trust chat logs from hackers? I’m no hacker, but it seems to me that faking an AOL chat log would be beginner work. God help us all if that kind of flimsy evidence (eventually) holds up in court.

  7. I agree with the first link mightily.

    This is a story (on whole) that could deeply affect Journalism (with a capital “J”) in this country (US), and everywhere (not to mention the lives of several individuals). Keep that in mind.

  8. Lamo is damaged goods he deserves our pity no matter how dangerous he is.
    As for Wired: perhaps one day we will know wether to sigh relief or burn the whole pile of back issues for what they became.

  9. Greenwald himself is as mendacious and untrustworthy as anyone in or around this story. I distrust him to the extent that if he says it’s Tuesday, I’d look at three calendars.

    1. Yeah, doesn’t it just suck when someone you disagree with raises a really good point?

      It’s almost enough to make you attack them instead of their really. good. point.

        1. I did, and you came after me, so you made my second point,.

          The first and most important point is that no matter how much you like Greenwald, he’s made a really good point, for which you insulted him, as though that were some sort of retort that adults find useful in honest conversation.

    2. “Greenwald himself is as mendacious and untrustworthy as anyone in or around this story. I distrust him to the extent that if he says it’s Tuesday, I’d look at three calendars.”

      Neocon/Conservadem spotted.

      Anyway, good link. What’s with the oddly-manipulated photos of Greenwald and Lamo? It looks like a photo-painting left out in front of a heatlamp.

      1. Neocon?

        BS, pure and utter BS.

        I’m just not one of Greenwald’s credulous acolytes.

        And you might want to look into his affiliation with the Cato Institute. He’s not the “liberal” voice you think he is.

  10. The problem is becoming how much of what is being said has credibility.

    The answer is becoming non of it.

    The story is now tarnishing the reputations of everyone connected to it. People are still reading but they aren’t trusting what they read.

  11. Greenwald himself is as mendacious and untrustworthy as anyone in or around this story

    Unsubstantiated, irrelevant trolling.

    This blog post should have ended at the first sentence.

    1. Greenwald has a long and well-established record of mendacity at Salon and elsewhere and an affiliation with Libertarian causes and institutions that combine to make him, by definition, untrustworthy.

      1. I don’t understand. “an affiliation with Libertarian causes and institutions” entail “untrustworthiness”?

        That makes no sense. Just because someone has political beliefs you don’t like does not mean that they’re lying. Libertarianism =!> mendacity. (This is all assuming Glenn Greenwald is a Libertarian, which is unlikely, for reasons discussed below.)

        Second, so what if Greenwald has “links” to Cato? His work there is on the things that left-wing/liberals overlap with libertarians, like drug legalization/decriminalization and the surveillance state. Pillorying Greenwald for publishing those works at Cato is guilt-by-association in its silliest form. Why does the think tank through which those things are published matter?

        What matters are the facts and analysis presented there, and the conclusions — that overactive government surveillance is bad, and that most drugs should be legalized or decriminalized — are conclusions that everyone from L/libertarians to liberals to left-wing anarchists should support.

      2. Greenwald has a long and well-established record of mendacity at Salon

        Really? Ok, then, cough it up, choppers. Let’s see some proof for your unsubstantiated claim.

        Also, although I don’t like the Cato Institute, I’m not aware of any definition that makes them automatically untrustworthy. Citation, por favor.

      3. again, my point, is that you don’t have to trust him. He’s not telling you how it is. He provides ample (actually, impressive) citations.

        He’s asking a really good question, maybe you think it’s a trick question? I don’t.

      4. I think it’s the guilt by “affiliation” / lack of substance in your comments that triggered the troll remark.

        Calling someone “by definition, untrustworthy” without giving any definition of what the heck you’re talking about beyond vague name-dropping is, by definition, untrustworthy.

        Ooh, he’s a closet libertarian! Wait till the people find out, then they’ll realize that everything he’s said that makes absolute common sense is actually false.

  12. The originals had light backgrounds, and it all looked wrong when I shopped them onto one image. So I smoothed out their meat.

      1. I think you might have larded that meat a bit too much while you were smoothing it.

        Now, if you added a bit of PUDDI…

  13. “…then slam dunk in a zinger”

    “…like discussing metaphysics with a melting knob of butter”

    Yep. That’s a zinger.

  14. What’s not been discussed — correction, what I haven’t seen being
    discussed in the all the prose being fired back and forth between
    the combatants — is the question of the provenance of the chat logs.

    I’m quite capable of fabricating a chat log, as is anyone who can
    manipulate a text editor. And — depending on the protocol allegedly
    used — there’s no way for my alleged conversational partner to prove
    that they DIDN’T have that chat. (While instant messaging servers
    at places like Yahoo and AOL function as intermediaries and thus might
    have logs showing connecting IP addresses and timestamps…and possibly
    even chat text…they’re not able to track the contents of encrypted
    conversations, nor are they able to identify the sources of conversations
    conducted via Tor.)

    Moreover, ubiquitous mobile computing and wireless access implies that
    an alleged correspondent can’t produce as an alibi something along the
    lines of “I wasn’t home”, because of course they could be using their
    smartphone from anywhere.

    Thus I could produce chat log tomorrow that shows a conversation between
    myself and MrSecretLeakerGuy, and I could claim that his person is Rob;
    and Rob would have no effective way to prove these claims are false.
    (Absent semantic/syntactic analysis of the text, that is; a credible
    fake would require emulating his writing/chat style convincingly.
    I’m not sure I could do that in Rob’s case, because I haven’t read
    enough of what he’s written…but I might be able to fake Cory.
    And surely someone who has better language skills than I do would
    find this task somewhat easier.)

    Which is my longwinded way of getting to this question: what reason do
    we have to believe that ANYTHING in these chat logs is authentic?

  15. “Greenwald’s aggressive style alienated many”

    That’s great. “Waah, Greenwald hurt mah fee-fees; civility is more important than honesty. You’re supposed to let me know there are trigger words in there!” Boo fuckin’ hoo.

  16. Manning is being tried and publicly found guilty via the media b/c the Gov’t probably doesn’t have enough evidence to convict him. They may know that Manning communicated something but can’t prove exactly what.

    It appears that Lamo was easily used by Rasch, and Poulsen is how the Gov’t “broke” the story. Classic tactics.

  17. How did “remain[ing] silent as the court case dragged on . . . hel[p] ensure we could go public in full later on”?

    It’s not like releasing information during a suit means you have to sign a confidentiality agreement afterward. You may have a reason for not wanting to disclose information (which is why companies make explicit statements that they won’t comment on ongoing legal issues all the time), but that’s not really related to preserving the ability to go public with the details later on.

  18. …so by Wired’s staying mum, it lets Lamo be the one who frames/convicts Manning in the court of public opinion.

  19. Going public is a single-shot weapon of mass destruction that doesn’t mean much legally-speaking. So there seem to be two good times to use it — before a lawsuit (to prevent it) and after you’ve won it (best journalism). Unfortunately, we were sued without warning — a SLAPP tactic.

  20. Who the hell takes the word of a narc on anything ? We have zero facts and only the word of a government informant (or a textfile given by him which amounts to the same thing.) At least if Poulsen offered corroboration it’d come from someone who’d be risking his reputation on it. That’s what this is all about. Not very difficult to understand at all.

  21. Greenwald has a long and well-established record of mendacity at Salon

    This can only be mistaken for truth if you don’t know what the word ‘mendacity’ means. Greenwald does, legitimately, have a reputation for intemperate language and for pit-bull-like doggedness for issues he gets invested in. Mendacity, however, is not a vice Greenwald suffers from.

    Greenwald is a national treasure in the same way that Bob Somerby is. The heat in their language keeps them out of the mainstream, but the truths they tell are important ones irrespective of ideology.

  22. I find it really intriguing how half the comments on this story discuss the people reporting this situation and the other half discuss the situation.

    But more intriguing is the fact I haven’t been paying very much attention to this story and now I realise I don’t have a source of information that I trust. I don’t know if there is anything more than hearsay and circumstantial evidence that ties Manning to Wikileaks. Maybe there is. I don’t know.

    If I lived in America I’d be worried about the likelihood that my Government would never let me know the full story in a way I could trust.

  23. Proper masking might work better than goopy filters?

    Bit funny how this piece about a vindictive e-feud ends with a snipe.

  24. I wrote about this a while back. As it stands, we only have Lamo’s assertion that he was talking to Manning via IM.

    Think. IM. He never saw Manning.

    We all know how easy it is to sign up for an account under any name. Sure, the IM account he was talking to may have been Bradley Manning, but who’s to say it was actually Manning on the other end?

  25. Yes, Lamo and Paulson were convicted of hacking crimes… just like Julian Assange.

    As is often the case with Greenwald’s, unfortunately, he has allowed the issue to become about him and the personalities he envisions as his opponents, rather than the actual underlying issue at hand. Because Wired didn’t jump when he yelled jump, now he’s on a mission to prove them wring, or unethical, or… something, and to vindicate himself. Now we’re all reading and talking about Paulson and Greenwald rather than Manning, Lamo and Assange, because if Greenwald perceives any slight to himself (like not responding to his tweets by his deadlines, or his emails, or blog comments) he feels the need to chase that down rather than stick to the main issues. Never have I followed someone whose discussion so quickly devolves into I-said-you-said nonsense.

    Glenn: I don’t care what emails you wrote to what editors when. It’s not always about you. Reading your articles would be much more informative if you remembered that, and boingboing wouldn’t need to spend time summarizing your journalistic pissing contests for you.

  26. People here seem to forget that the only reason Greenwald and Salon got any notoriety is because in 2006 they dedicated an entire portion of their site to lying and got caught. The biggest mistake Wired has done is pretending that Greenwald has any shred of authority as a journalist.

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