Notes from the ducking stool: wget as evidence of guilt at the Manning trial


A moment of outstanding absurdity from the Manning trial: prosecutors inquiring in tones of menace whether a witness is familiar with "wget" -- a standard Unix command for fetching a file from the Web ("wget" = "Web get") that many of us use routinely.

The prosecutors are in their early 30s — nominally “digital natives” — and should know better. “Do you know what Wget is?” they interrogate a witness, as if it is malicious spyware and not an everyday command line program. The government is capitalizing on asymmetric tech literacy and the failure of language when old laws are applied to the internet.

Bradley Manning on Trial

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  1. And have you ever, now or in the past, used that tool of evil.....GREP?!

    (gasping, fainting, and eye rolling ensue)

  2. [setting is federal prison]

    "Hey bro," cellmate asks. "What're you in for?"

    "Wget-fu, man...," other cellmate replies. "Who GNU?"

  3. sudo apt-get install linux_competence
    
    Reading package lists... Done
    Building dependency tree       
    Reading state information... Done
    Correcting dependencies... Done
    Do you want to continue [Y/n]?
    dpkg: dependency problems prevent configuration of linux_competence:
     linux_competence depends on linux_basic_awareness (= 3.2.0.37.45); however:
     Version of linux_basic_awareness on system is 1.2.0.16
    E: Sub-process /usr/bin/dpkg returned an error code (1)

    (FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.......)

  4. Do you now or have you ever exhibited a level of technical competence that would allow you to do scary things with my email machine?

  5. Sure.

    The topic claims "wget as evidence of guilt at the Manning trial."

    There's no evidence of that in the article. The sole mention of this in the article is the following:

    "“Do you know what Wget is?” they interrogate a witness, as if it is malicious spyware and not an everyday command line program."

    That's it. There's no indication that knowing what Wget is is "evidence of guilt." This is a witness, not a defendant. We don't know what witness this is. It could even be one of the prosecution's witnesses, and the question might be being asked in order to establish competence. There are no names here, neither the prosecutor nor the witness is named. And the "as if it is malicious spyware..." bit is entirely the author's spin. If the prosecutors are really indicating that knowledge of wget is evidence of illicit conduct, then surely there would be followup questions along the same lines? But all we have is a hint, an intimation that there's something wrong with this question, or how it was asked, from an author whose headline ("If Manning is ever released, he will re-enter a world ready to embrace him, advanced with the understanding to recognize his greatness.") does not exactly speak to journalistic integrity.

    So yes, I think Cory's characterization of this small bit from this article as indicating that the prosecutors have used knowledge of wget as evidence of guilt, is quintessential FUD. There's not enough information given to support the claim, what information is given is ambiguous, and the interpretation put on that information is questionable given the source.

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