Frontline on Wikileaks

[Video Link: teaser for Frontline's "Wikisecrets" episode. Watch the full documentary here.]

PBS Frontline aired an episode on the Wikileaks saga tonight: "WikiSecrets," produced by Martin Smith. You can watch the video online here, and you can also buy a DVD or download via iTunes. Casual reactions I'm reading from journalists on Twitter who have followed the story closely, and from Wikileaks supporters, are generally negative.

Greg Mitchell describes it as a "yawner," but notes an interesting cameo by Adrian Lamo's pet fish:

The mountain labored, and in the end, it gave birth to a mouse. Or rather, a goldfish. One of the only bits of new information in the much-ballyhooded PBS Frontline program on WikiLeaks, Assange and Bradley Manning which aired tonight was: The man who fingered Manning, Adrian Lamo, secluded in California, has a large goldfish in his apartment. The other scoop: It was Manning's aunt who made the final update to his Facebook page, announcing his arrest. Come to think of it, maybe that one came out before. But we've still got that goldfish. The rest of the program, from beginning to end, was nothing but re-hash, much of it from news reports going back to last June or a ltitlle later.

Wikileaks and Julian Assange published a "behind the scenes" and "unedited" version of the Assange interview portion here. Wikileaks and Assange take the position that the Frontline story "is hostile and misrepresents WikiLeaks' views and tries to build an 'espionage' case against its founder, Julian Assange, and also the young soldier, Bradley Manning."

Frontline's redacted reconstruction of accused leaker Bradley Manning's Facebook page is here.


Other voices in the piece include Wikileaks defector Daniel Domscheit-Berg, New York Times executive editor Bill "Twitter Makes You Stupid" Keller, and Bradley Manning's father, Brian.

In related news, Adrian Lamo has been summoned to testify in the case against Bradley Manning. Wired News:

Almost one year to the day Army investigators arrested intelligence analyst Bradley Manning on suspicion of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, the ex-hacker who turned him in is set to meet with the chief prosecutor on the case for the first time.

"I'm finally going to meet with the JAG officer to go over the preliminaries for the actual testimony and how they want to play out my role," Lamo said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "It's the first time I've met with them."

The meeting is set for June 2 and 3 in Washington, and marks the first outward sign that Manning's court-martial case is proceeding apace now that a lengthy inquiry into his mental health has concluded.


  1. So a media machine that can engineer a nearly infinite scandal out of Lindsay Lohan’s fingernail polish finds Bradley Manning ‘boring’.

    The truth is that Bradley Manning spoke truth to power and will face nearly infinite punishment.

    The media industry wants no part of this very real issue, given the very lucrative path of least resistance.

  2. OMG! According to this program, Bradley Manning was “mingling with hackers.” And feel free to substitute “builders” and “makers.” OMG!

  3. Yes, it sure is terrible when people compile a collection of information from other sources.

    Oh wait…

  4. I don’t think I’d heard “curled up in the fetal position in a store room with a knife” before. That does complicate my feelings about the prevention of injury watch. And they didn’t even mention the waving the knife at his father story.

  5. F-i-n-a-l-l-y, they’ve been teasing this episode for MONTHS. This made my Tuesday evening, thanks!

  6. Xeni, there’s apparently an EXTREMELY huge revelation in the Frontline report: Not only was Assange indifferent that the Manning leak might endanger civilians, he actually WANTED them to be killed. Yes, you read that right:

    Was Julian Assange prepared to publish some of the leaked documents without adequately redacting the names of people who could have been harmed by the disclosures? “Julian was very reluctant to delete those names, to redact them.” David Leigh of the Guardian newspaper tells FRONTLINE of meetings he attended with Assange in the run-up to publication of the war logs. “And we said: ‘Julian, we’ve got to do something about these redactions. We really have got to.’

    And he said: ‘These people were collaborators, informants. They deserve to die.’ And a silence fell around the table.”

    1. Was Julian Assange prepared to publish some of the leaked documents without adequately redacting the names of people who could have been harmed by the disclosures?

      That’s a fair question. And a rhetorical question would be, “even if he’d wanted to, could he and/or his anonymous panel of volunteer advisors have reliably figured out what ‘adequate’ redaction was, or what information might harm people if released?”

    2. @ WJames Au

      Two Der Speigel journalists who were at the same dinner as Assange and David Leigh deny that Assange said collaborators deserved to die. So they say Leigh is lying. I think I believe them. There is also a mention of this episode in the Der Speigel book on Wikileaks too.

  7. Wow, that information is right and it’s there on the PSB site and doesn’t have to come from far right little green footballs..

    Very interesting this little bit of information painting him as a far left murderous ideologue and not a peace loving “freedom should be free” type has been left out of this coverage so far.. Some of you (and Boing Boing/reddit in particular!) really have him up on a pedestal!

    1. Regarding the “far right” LGF, a quick FYI. It’s not exactly progressive yet, but Little Green Footballs has undergone a massive and almost inconceivable personality transplant since the days when they were calling for the planet-wide genocide of all Muslims.

      On the subject of Israel, they’re still pretty twitchy (and more or less neocon). But on many other subjects, they’re generally pretty middle-of-the-road and occasionally even leftish, and absolutely scathing about the really right-wing personalities and media outlets that… well, that they used to worship.

  8. Some of you (and Boing Boing/reddit in particular!) really have him up on a pedestal!

    Emphasis on ‘some’, or you don’t read BB very carefully.

  9. I see “posts” like this on Reddit and other forums, ie: “This is old news” , “Boring, this has been discussed before…” etc…

    Now we have whole “articles” on Boing Boing doing just that as well…kinda sad.

    I guess they shouldnt have ever bothered making this show eh?

    Everyone is so equally enlightened to this situation, and there is no need to bore those who know this news already just to educate those who may not, right?

    Awesome work.

  10. People in general are quick to confuse support for an idea, with support for the person associated with the idea.

    I can (and do) support greater transparency in governments and big corporations, without necessarily supporting Assange as a person. I can also support a fair trial for Manning without condoning what he’s been accused of.

    As for Wikileaks – my personal opinion is that it’s done a lot more good than harm. Obviously, I don’t want to see anyone hurt or killed though.

  11. From now on, the only thing I will watch from PBS is its NOVA series, no more Frontline.
    PBS’ Frontline is part of my banned list, I impose sanctions, I see they have weapons of mass distraction, so is the rest of “bound media”. I used to like Frontline, but that’s no more.

  12. The impression I got from watching the PBS report was that Manning was torn between feeling that leaking the info was the right thing to do and that it might endanger people, and/or get him in serious trouble. His “friend” who turned him in seems quite remorseful at this point. He probably didn’t realize it would lead to Abu-Ghraib style torture and lifetime imprisonment without trial…

  13. This answers why Frontline was blandly asking it’s Facebook followers, “So, what did you think?” last night following the program. Gotta quit letting the interns man the social networking queues . .

  14. Most anti-WikiLeaks stories I’ve seen/read have been extremely poor journalism. It’s as if these so-called ‘real journalists’ from the mainstream media feel threatened by someone doing the job they should have been doing. Just read an excellent novel, My Beautiful Racist, which is based on whistle-blowing and the cynical way the media uses it. Recommended:

    1. I think what most and everyone misses about this story is the fact the world cannot be painted in purist shades of “black” or “white.” What exactly is meant by “transparency.” What is allowed and what should be kept secret? Assange in his recent televised appearances always seems to get trapped by the pragmatics and secrets of his own situation.

      There is a large disconnect between the “hacker/maker/etc..” sub-culture and mainstream society, that’s obvious and I shouldn’t have to remind anyone of that. PBS at least has the mind to make the program accessible to a wider audience. The program very clearly addressed this and the ideas championed by Assange. It also left the corresponding conclusions up to the viewers.

      This is where I think Assange got in over his head, he is unable to effectively address his ideals of “transparency” publicly when he is under questioning. Such demands would invite prickly questions he would rather not answer (his combativeness was on display on this occasion). Assange defines the term publicly in such a way that it appears he has his own secret definition of what it means, the viewer is left with no real grasp on what Assange means by “transparency.”

      Frontline picks up on this and then asks the viewers in the final minutes, what exactly is transparency? What does this term mean inside of a larger complex society? Much could be done to address the disconnect between mainstream and hacker society if we could just start by defining what is meant by the term, minus any hyperbole from either end.

  15. The behind-the-scenes recording of the interview, that you link to, is WAY more interesting than the Frontline piece.

    It’s fascinating to watch this reporter, whoever he is, be scolded by Assange. You could tell that the reporter’s shields went up immediately — no way he was going to sit there and listen to some punk like Assange tell him, an award-winner, what journalism is. Too bad, cause Assange was essentially correct in all of his criticisms.

    And throughout the interview, Assange brings up all sorts of fascinating angles that this reporter could have used in his film, but he ignored those, too. Tell me, why in the world is the way-worn story of Lamo more interesting to Frontline than the more controversial story of how the prosecution is exploring the use of the Espionage Act?

    1. Pardon the long quote: but this section deals with the meat of Assange’s ideals on secrecy.

      sourced from PBS

      … The government has a right to secrets or not?

      The government doesn’t have a right to secrets. Governments give rights to the people. The government through police enforces rights for people. In a good system, courts are the mediators in that. Now, the government — parts of the government — can argue a case that in particular circumstances, they need to keep things secret. And I would agree with that, that there are many cases, operational cases, say, during the police investigation into a murder when information needs to be kept secret. Now, the question is, who has to keep things secret and for how long?

      And who decides who leaks what?
      And who has to justify secrecy? And how is secrecy accountable? Now, the problem with secrecy is that it has encoded within it its own corruption.

      But I feel like we’re getting away from the question. It’s a simple question: Does the government have the right to keep secrets? Yes, you’re saying?
      No, it is not a simple question. That’s completely wrong. Who bestows rights? Who has to justify the use of secrecy? If you’re justifying the use of secrecy, how can you do it? If you say, “I have this secret information, and it needs to be secret,” who do you then tell to say that you need this to be secret?

      We have a situation in many countries, including the United States, where intelligence agencies go to congressmen and give them secret briefings, and they say to the congressmen: “Look, if you don’t give us all this money, something very bad is going to happen. But you can’t tell anyone why we say something very bad is going to happen. And in fact, we’re not going to show you the intimate details of that.” So you have a built-in unaccountability in the procedure of secrecy. So that means secrecy needs to be kept in check. It needs to be used very sparingly. Just like secret courts are inherently corrupting, because justice needs to be seen to be done, similarly, government secrecy is inherently corrupting, because it allows abuses to flourish in secret.

      Would you agree that if a government has a hostage rescue operation in the works that that deserves to be kept secret?
      I would say that it is legitimate for those people involved in that, in the government, to take the necessary steps to keep that information secret. Now, that does not include deploying police to everyone else in the world to shut them up. Obviously, in some cases, we can say information, say about a hostage situation, would be better off kept secret. But we know what would be much worse off: if the state had the right to shut everyone up in the world at a point of a gun if those people were saying something that the state did not like.

      That is the situation that mirrors that in the Soviet Union and instantly corrupts the state and the people, because in the end, it is only the people working with the press that holds powerful groups like the states to account. That system of scrutiny of the state is so sacrosanct in preventing democracy’s going astray that it must be kept open, and that people must be kept free to exchange knowledge with each other, and the press must not be censored.

      Now, that is a lesson that the founding fathers of the U.S. learned with regard to censorship that was applied to them by the British. That is a lesson that has been learned in a number of countries that have themselves gone through revolutions after periods of dictatorship or abuse.

      The subject seems to be such a massive beast that I am a bit confused by Assange’s earlier insistence (in this linked transcript) that his or his framework’s intent or his editorial decision making doesn’t matter.

      Seems to me that Assange’s intent is only to attack what might be termed functioning-large-organization secrecy. Especially given his penchant for the use of “conspiracy.” Granted I’m still not fully satisfied as to his true motivations, I still feel this interview cast about as much light as we, as the public, will ever get to see on who he is and what his position is.

  16. Frontline disgraced itself by focusing on Manning’s personal story rather than his motivations, which he stated clearly in the chat logs (assuming they’re legit). Manning said was outraged by the war crimes he encountered in Iraq, and by all the scandals he unearthed worldwide in reading through the diplomatic cables. He decided to open a doorway to the secret dealings of the world’s most powerful factions and even stated outright that he was aware he could go to jail for the rest of his life for doing so.

    Frontline also failed to interview Daniel Ellsberg, America’s most revered whistleblower, who considers Manning a great American patriot and hero. Ellsberg has stated that Manning revealed far worse war crimes, in much greater numbers, than were in the Pentagon Papers. Frontline barely covered any of the content of the revelations or their dramatic beneficial effects on democracy movements worldwide. They chose instead to focus on sleazy character attacks on Manning and Assange.

    Watching the program, a viewer would never learn that a majority of the world supports Wikileaks and Assange. Viewers would never learn that the attacks on Assange/Wikileaks are attacks on the foundation of investigative journalism, which consists of journalists soliciting and publishing secret or classified information from highly placed government and corporate sources. Viewers would never learn that Wikileaks was the target of extremely sophisticated illegal cyber attacks that have gone uninvestigated and largely unreported.

    Assange’s motivations and beliefs are not secret or clouded; he has been quite explicit about his beliefs and strategy for years. I highly recommend The Cypherpunk Revolutionary, the best essay ever written on Assange and his political philosophy.

  17. One point where I wish the interviewer had pressed Assange more: when they’re talking about redacting names from the leaks and Wikileak’s process of risk control. It looked like Assange was going to admit to fighting to keep all names in, but his final word was that they had a redaction procedure and that it was firmly in place to protect “innocents”.
    Previously it was implied that Assange considers anyone cooperating with the military to be complicit in whatever harm they’re causing, and thus not innocent. I wish the interviewer had pressed on who in the papers Assange considers an innocent.

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