Wikileaks boosted by hacker's 'betrayal'
The Feds are due at the door, so what will the high-tech Judas do? The currency of betrayal is supposed to be 30 pieces of silver, but for celebrity ex-hacker Adrian Lamo it was much simpler. "I was worried for my family,” he told...
The betrayal - if it was such a thing - involved Lamo apparently telling the US authorities about IM conversations he had with a soldier who claimed to be behind the leaking to Wikileaks of a piece of video that vies with the unofficial Abu Ghraib photography course as a bad day for US self-image in its Iraq war.
In shocking clarity (we can admire the video quality at least) the Wikileaks video shows a US helicopter pilot tracking and then gunning down a number of Iraqis including, it later transpired, two Reuters journalists, none of whom appeared to be doing much of anything and the majority of whom were not obviously armed.
Is this what an Apache AH-64 does to a man?
The soldier accused of posting the video, Bradley Manning, is now under lock and key in Kuwait and Lamo is being widely blamed for putting a whistleblower behind bars for being brave enough to expose an incompetent slaughter under the cover of a military operation.
The curious thing about misdeeds in the 21st Century is not that they are covered up but that they are filmed at all. But these events are not filmed as atrocities but as documentable intelligence, just as they were in WW2 when pilots took footage to confirm a downed enemy. The uneasy apotheosis of this was reached in the video game-like clips from the first Gulf War and it was at this point that someone inside the military realised that they could be powerful - read negative - stuff.
The military now routinely records almost everything, but then encrypts and classifies the files in case the data is ‘misinterpreted’. You can understand why they do it out of impulse but it is futile. Even without whistleblowers posting official footage to Wikileaks there is always the possibility of a soldier or contractor secretly making their own unofficial videos for YouTubing.
People expect to see events and even suspect that when they don’t they are being lied to. The power of the helicopter massacre is that it confirms people’s worst fears about events unseen in a draw-out and brutal war, with Manning as a sort of proxy for our own dark curiosity.
Apart from becoming a cult hero to the Fox TV watchers, Lamo will also be reviled, a status he seems almost to enjoy judging by the dry quips with which he counters every incoming bite of Twitter hate.
If Lamo is really the key man behind Manning's arrest, I still find it hard to blame him. He could perhaps have avoided reporting Manning by claiming that he thought the soldier's claims were crank fantasy, but the important responsibility lies elsewhere. Was everything Manning leaked justified? We don't know. With the men in black on his tail Lamo blew the whistle on the whistleblower, or claims to have.
The fault lies, as it always has, with a US military that insists on seeing such video footage as an admin problem to be bottled up long after that has stopped being possible. The fitting response is a detailed investigation not the prosecution of the man who let the world know that something untoward had happened, as it often does in any war involving any army.
There may be a more shaded and complex story of what happened on that day in July 2007. Images are ambiguous, even with voiceover. But that story is not best served by being ignored or locked up.