The part of scheduled keynote speaker Julian Assange, the Australian hacker US agents have made it clear they would like to question, was played by Jake Appelbaum today at HOPE.
Appelbaum is increasingly the other public face of Wikileaks, while also being a spokesperson and developer for the Tor online anonymity project. Appelbaum led off his talk today by clarifying which hat he was wearing. “I’m sure they wouldn’t be too unhappy about me speaking here, but they certainly didn’t know until this moment,” he said.
The talk provided a few vital statistics about the enigmatic organisation. He said that over 1000 people work with Wikileaks, including technologists, cryptographers, journalists, human rights activists and lawyers. But he said he doesn’t know who they are, and wasn’t clear who, if anyone, did. It was unclear from Appelbaum’s description whether their identities are checked by anyone in Wikileaks. This team, he explained, vets the information given to Wikileaks. The specific process of vetting and how the organisation makes choices about what to run and when are still largely unknown.
Appelbaum went on to give a greatest hits-style round up of documents Wikileaks has brought to public attention, including the Minton report about toxic waste dumping along the Ivory Coast, the 9/11 pager data, and most famously the Collateral Murder video, which captures the deaths of various Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists from an Apache helicopter during a relatively routine American engagement in Iraq.
He talked about Wikileaks’ role in advising the Icelandic government on IMMI, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a bill working its way through the Icelandic Parliament that makes Iceland the world’s most free and safe environment for speech and journalism.
Questions remain about Wikileaks, but Appelbaum mentioned some issues raised recently by Wired and the New Yorker. He denied the claim in a New Yorker article on Assange that many of Wikileak’s initial documents were sniffed from a Tor exit node before the site launched, but gave no alternative source for the documents.
Wired recently reported an expired SSL certificate on the submission site, which Appelbaum explained Wikileaks is fixing in a relaunch. The new site also features a new design and a Tor hidden service. The redesign introduces new features, including a blog, dynamic URLs to let people get data by broad categories, and a Torrent/magnet link interface. “You don’t have to rely on us,” said Appelbaum, “You can throw [what you want]into Bittorrent and pretty much be us.”
Wikileaks is also launching an API to create direct access to data for developers, but Appelbaum gave no details on what kind of data Wikileaks would be handing out.
Appelbaum all but admitted the key role of PFC Bradley Manning in leaking documents from the Army to Wikileaks, including the Apache video and an alleged collection of sensitive diplomatic memos numbering in the hundreds of thousands. He said that the organisation is raising $US200,000 to pay for Manning’s defence and encouraged the attending hackers to get involved in fundraising.
After the talk Appelbaum refused further questions from the media, was given a safe escort from the conference.
The Hackers on Planet Earth conference is an outsized 2600 meeting that happens every two years in New York. It’s come a long way in its time, ideas of hacking expanding from software to hardware, society, food and even sex. Quinn Norton is reporting live throughout the weekend.