DisInfoWars with Tom Secker: Is Jacob Appelbaum for Real?

Jacob Appelbaum is a journalist, hacker and a major developer on the TOR project. However, he neglects to mention the origins of TOR (the Office of Naval Research) or the Pentagon's role in funding its development. In this episode I reflect on whether Appelbaum should be taken seriously as an advocate for an open society free from mass surveillance. Using a recent presentation by Appelbaum I explore how his proposed solutions and means of circumventing surveillance technology are exactly the reason why a politics of anti-surveillance is unlikely to emerge from the hacker culture.


A Technical Action Plan - Security in Times of Surveillance 2015

The TOR Project

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  1. Hi Tom, you expressed a feeling / a thought that occurred to me too: This in the end is not going to help. Discovering unbreakable crypto and making it available to common people is like telling them to “invest in gold because the state can’t print it”: In the end if it gets too much of a nuisance, the state can just make it illegal to use the one and own the other. (crypto and gold that is).

    Now from there to ask yourself whether he’s the real thing because he doesn’t go for the throat is somewhat of a triviality right? Because in the end at the moment nobody goes for the throat. Well not yet anyway .. 😉 You might say he’s part of a consortium of detractors, but hey there isn’t really anything worth detracting from anyway, since nobody really knows how to reach the proverbial throat.

    So in the end I appreciate what he does, I’m aware he doesn’t offer a solution, and I keep on thinking for myself what going for the throat would look like, particularly when the throat is so dispersed, is everywhere and nowhere.

  2. Gary Binmore says:

    The difference between what you and Applebaum and co do is that you expose some of the surveillance state’s lies and deceptions; the tech crowd, as you said, just make its surveillance stronger. They are engaged in a battle they cannot win, not for more than 5 minutes anyway. If you disguise yourself in a bush next time you log on or walk past a CCTV don’t expect the surveillance state to be mystified for too long. They have the money and the power and therefore will always have the best technology. The idea that some new politics will come out of that arms race is just a pipe dream.

    The only way to beat the surveillance state is to expose it for the fraud that it is, which it was those guys never do. They are all partial hangouts and shills. Snowden, Greenwald, Ellsberg, Assange, Poitras etc on one committee! What sort of halfwit would be fooled by that line up?

    “I have a right to be entropy!” William Burroughs eat your heart out. Is that line a leftover from when the CIA was infiltrating, if not creating and controlling, the flower power movement? The guy is either completely blinkered – always possible with tech types – or just another fraud.

  3. Hmmm..!
    NSA or MI5…What ever…
    They Are…
    To Me…!
    Just like the old Line…
    From world war 2… The Maginot Line.
    Ineffective and wasteful.
    Best Regards

  4. An awful lot of speculation here, Tom. I’m not disagreeing with you yet. But Julian Assange doesn’t pry into certain things? Doesn’t want to upset the gravy train? Wha?! Tom, ground yourself, my friend. Or perhaps you should give one of those Ecuadorian spas that is currently being raved about in the mainstream and quasi-alternative press a chance to works its charms on you. Come on… Yes, it’s useful that you’re raising these questions. But perhaps like the characters you’re on the edge of assassinating, you should watch and wait a little longer before you begin to level too many unfair criticisms. I’m with you regarding the possibly shady interconnections between hackers and official sponsors and creators.

    • James,

      To my knowledge Assange himself has never pried into anything. I’m still waiting for this globally-famous man to actually DO something rather than swanning around SAYING things. Just like Ron Paul, he’s a man whose reputation is entirely built on ‘but but but he SAID something I wanted to hear’.

      Put another way: what am I speculating about? Did I claim Assange is CIA? No. Did I claim Appelbaum is CIA? No. Did I, in fact, do anything except offer an opinion which I clearly identified as an opinion? No. Yet you accuse me of bad journalism. Well, here’s one back at you – I never said I was a journalist. Unlike Assange, Appelbaum and the rest I never claimed to be doing journalism (while doing nothing of the sort). I said I was offering an opinion which people were free to disagree with. Instead of disagreeing with it you’ve used it as an excuse to have a go at me personally.

      In short, people in glass houses…

  5. We’re all implicated in a “symbiosis,” as much as we are in a “matrix” (I dislike the word, but it has its uses). But let’s not rush to single anyone out. Watch. Wait. And then let’s base our possible conclusions on evidence that is a bit more substantial. Aside from the title, thanks for raising the questions. Yes.

  6. candideschmyles says:

    An “intuition” is not enough to publish anything on. I have an intuition that it is a consortium of bacteria, virus and phages that constructs higher organisms much in the same way we construct buildings. But that intuition is worthless. Has no value outside of my own internal speculation.
    I echo the above concern raised by James Williamson that bad mouthing Assange et Al is plain foolishness. Without concrete evidence of complicity in an elaborate plot we have to go on what evidence actually exists. And nobody but nobody does more to release government secrets that Wikileaks. The charge amongst Julian’s detractors is that he fails to back up or produce documents confirming 9/11 as an inside job. Yet base logic would presuppose that such a plot in the making would take care not to leave a paper trail. Julian only deals in documentary evidence, not speculation and intuition. And for this he maintains an integrity and weight that makes him near peerless. Both you Tom and James Corbett, in his case with a pathetic critique worthy only of a spoiled brattish teenager, have no evidence to call Julian’s integrity into question yet continue to do so. This has all the journalistic value of a mass media rag catering for a fringe and I for one find myself asking who exactly is the potential shill? Not that I decide that you are but I do find it difficult to see why you want to allign with with what is no more than an idle speculation. Is it jealousy of what he has achieved? It could be.
    Applebaum I, nor you, know enough about to put to trial on the alternative media dock. Along with Assange, Snowden, Poitras, Greenwald etc. I see no harm in an open discussion on them, their histories and motivations but such a discussion cannot be based on “intuition”. It must be evidence based. My own ” intuition ” regarding Snowden for instance is extremely cautionary but the evidence available, and I have spent many many hours searching and evaluating, simply does not add up to enough of a case against him to evn begin to lay a charge. Yes he was raised by spys and followed the family business into that realm. But as a young adult, by his explanation, he began to question the morality of what he was doing. If this is not a valid and honest reasoning then perhaps my rejection of my own father’s quasi fascist thinking is just me fooling me too? It is in fact the only plausible and rational explanation he could produce to explain why. Of course it’s also the only rational explanation if he is a liar too so it becomes valueless. So we must look at the value of his other actions. All of which end up presenting nothing more than a circumstantial case that he is genuine.
    So I think we have to give these guys a cautionary backing while keeping an open mind until such times as there is hard evidence to the contrary. CIA involvement in TOR is public record and Applebaum and his brethren make no secret that it is not fully secure. Anybody thinking that it is has only themselves to blame in thinking otherwise. The tech has reached the level where nano drones delivered by micro drones delivered by macro drones are an actual reality. If they are interested in you there is nowhere to hide.

    • I have wondered about him. Do you think that maybe he was led to the corrupt clutches of Greenwald for some reason, but himself still legit?

      • candideschmyles says:

        I presume you mean Assange. I don’t think he is corrupted. I would go so far as to say that if Julian is an agent then we !might as well abandon any faith in anybody. I have considered that Snowden had as a mission objective the job of infiltrating and revealing the methods and techniques Wikileaks has in place to protect its sources and it was apparently Greenwald who, when Snowden was in Hong Kong, ‘advised’ him Wikileaks were the people to turn to to get practical help in evading the authorities. But again no proof. Just a mix of hunch and logical deduction.

    • Candide,

      What government secrets have Wikileaks released? In reality the National Archives have released more secrets (including material on Gladio, Northwoods etc.) than Wikileaks ever have or ever will.

  7. There is no solution to stop it. But you can turn it in on them with a surveillance society. Got a problem with terrormarists the state just cant seem to stop no matter how hard it “tries”? Just have everyone surveil everything. You wont stop the surveillance, but you can turn it against the corrupt pricks that currently control it. And from that injection of truth a new politics really can be born.

  8. Oh, and the throat isnt the surveillance. It is instead the spirit of its current purpose. This spirit has created a vaccuum, one the can only be filled with a backlash, but will that backlash dethrone this spirit, or merely offer a new flavor up to it?

    That is why a surveillance society is so important to found. Only with direct knowledge can the proper moves be made.

    • candideschmyles says:

      You only need to briefly glimpse your own internal long view of history to know the result of any change in the status quo means no substantial change at all. The throat of the beast does not exist. All we can do is observe and record for posterity. Sad but true.

  9. Tom,

    Thanks so much for this episode!

    My thoughts:

    Interesting childhood back-story about Appelbaum, I’ve never looked into it but that explains quite a bit. At the very least it gives his perspective a different context.

    A minor ‘for the record’: “Managing” a Tor node doesn’t require any more effort than running the command to start the Tor relay software on a computer and keeping the computer powered on.

    Irrational freedom should, of course, be within the realm of freedom — this is what I get out of the concept of “the right to be entropic.”

    Regarding his choice (and preference) of offing technical solutions: I feel that it makes both moral and ethical sense to, when speaking of ‘actionable solutions’ that you have the experience to support, discuss what you know. In his case, I would expect his technical background to support solutions that would be considered technical. I think both of us would likely have a bigger problem with him if he was offering “the best way to protest the NSA” without a solid portfolio of successful protests.

    Lastly, I really think you’re onto something with the concept of simply serving to provide an opposing side to the digital arms race by publishing exploits to the existing systems of surveillance.

    I really appreciate the extra time and thought you’ve given to this question

    Thanks again,

    • Minor typo edit: Regarding his choice of **offering technical solutions…

    • Mike,

      It wasn’t so much that he was offering technical solutions but that the questionner interrupted him halfway through the answer to point out that he was asking for non-technical solutions, and then Appelbaum went right back into talking about technical solutions.

      As I say, I think this is a metaphor for the struggle between hackers and the security state – you can ask a hacker for a non-technical solution but that’s like asking a car mechanic for a solution to global warming. So the answer did not come as a surprise and I’m not really getting at Appelbaum for that (though some people seem to think I am). I’m saying this is a metaphor, or possibly better a synecdoche for the larger struggle and why I don’t think technical solutions will ever resolve that struggle.

      Not that I am sure of anything that will, but I’d put a lot more money on a political solution than a technical one. Naturally, since I’m not a techie…

  10. Ciaran Hawbolt says:

    I have always been on the fence about him, especially with the links between ‘Tor’ and the state department.

  11. Tom. What is your problem? He stated, unapologetically: “I don’t know.” Good grief. He didn’t dodge the question. Why are you saying he did? As for all the other whiz kids who are commenting and criticizing Applebaum in this thread… what’s your solution, teenagers?

  12. I’m sorry. I usually love BFP. But this is “journalism” —and I use the word loosely—at its shabbiest. It barely counts as an opinion piece.

    • candideschmyles says:

      I appreciate your frustration. There is too much lazy speculation, too much hunting for the skeletons where likely there are none. Even the fact that TOR was part funded by the CIA is in fact evidence of nothing but the CIA being a good source of funding for research graduates. As Tom well knows the CIA has its fingers in more pies than my local baker. That of itself proves nothing pejorative in Applebaum and the others who devised TOR. Though I am a communications engineer I am not tech savvy when it comes to encryption. Still I have always known that uncrackable encryption between two IPs requires offline communication of keys prior to use. TOR never was secure and I never thought for a moment that it was.

      • Candide,

        ‘Even the fact that TOR was part funded by the CIA is in fact evidence of nothing but the CIA being a good source of funding for research graduates.’

        That’s a bit like saying the fact that terrorism is partly funded by the CIA is in fact evidence of nothing but the CIA being a good source of funding for violent radicals…

        • candideschmyles says:

          Well the way you write it doesn’t make much sense but I get your point and yes you are right. However not everybody shares the kind of worldview in which the CIA is an exclusively evil entity. Many are able to rationalise the need for it as an organisation protecting national security. And thus, as I stated, have no qualms in seeing it as a good potential source of funding for research graduates interested in programming and encryption. You and I may not share that view but its held by many many people with the best of intentions.
          As for your attitude to Wikileaks. I will ask you the same question I asked Corbett, have you ever actually been on the site? 80 million documents many of which are the source material for much of what is found on altmed. Most recently the Saudi embassy emails, BiS documents and the revelation of TTP and TTIP plans.

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