Transcript of secret meeting
between Julian Assange and
Google CEO Eric Schmidt
Friday April 19, 2013
On the 23 of June, 2011 a secret five hour meeting took place between
WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, who was under house arrest in
rural UK at the time and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Also in attendance was
, a former Secretary of State advisor
to Hillary Clinton, Scott Malcomson, Director of Speechwriting for
Ambassador Susan Rice at the US State Department and current
Communications Director of the International Crisis Group, and Lisa
Shields, Vice President of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Schmidt and Cohen requested the meeting, they said, to discuss ideas for
"The New Digital World", their forthcoming book to be published on
April 23, 2013.
We provide here a verbatim transcript of the majority of the meeting; a
close reading, particularly of the latter half, is revealing.
You can download the recording
[beginning of tape]
Well do you want us to start eating?
Well, we can do both.
Yeah, is that ok?
So this is... what's the date?
...June 23rd. This is a recording between Julian
Assange, Eric Schmidt and...?
...Lisa Shields. To be used in a book by Eric Schmidt,
due to be published by Knopf in October 2012. I have
been given a guarantee that I will see the transcript and
will be able to adjust it for accuracy and clarity.
Can we start... I want to talk a little about Thor. Right.
The sort of, the whole Navy network and...
Tor or Thor?
Yeah, actually I mean Tor. Uh...
And Odin as well.
That's right, sorry. Tor, uh, and the Navy network, and
I don't actually understand how all of that worked. And
the reason I'm mentioning this is I'm...I'm
fundamentally interested in what happens with that
technology as it evolves. Right. And so, the problem I
would assert, is that if you're trying to receive data you
need to have a guarantee of anonymity to the sender,
you need to have a secure channel to the recipient, the
recipient needs to be replicated, you know... What I'd
like you to do is if you could just talk a bit about that
architecture, what you did in WikiLeaks technically,
you know, with the sort of the technical innovations
that were needed and maybe also what happens. You
know, how does it evolve? Technology always
Let me first frame this. I looked at something that I had
seen going on with the world. Which is that I thought
there were too many unjust acts.
And I wanted there to be more just acts, and fewer
unjust acts. And one can sort of say, well what are
your philosophical axioms for this? And I say I do not
need to consider them. This is simply my temperament.
And it is an axiom because it is that way. And so that
avoids, then, getting into further unhelpful discussions
about why you want to do something. It is enough that
I do. So in considering how unjust acts are caused and
what tends to promote them and what promotes just
acts I saw that human beings are basically invariant.
That is that their inclinations and biological
temperament haven't changed much over thousands of
years and so therefore the only playing field left is:
what do they have? And what do they know? And
"have" is something that is fairly hard to influence, so
that is what resources do they have at their disposal?
And how much energy they can harness, and what are
the supplies and so on. But what they know can be
affected in a nonlnear way because when one person
conveys information to another they can convey on to
another and another and so on in a way that nonlinear
and so you can affect a lot of people with a small
amount of information. And therefore you can change
the behaviour of many people with a small amount of
information. So the question then arises as to what
kinds of information will produce behaviour which is
just? And disincentivise behaviour which is unjust? So
all around the world there are people observing
different parts of what is happening to them locally.
And there are other people that are receiving
information that they haven't observed first hand. And
in the middle there are people who are involved in
moving information from the observers to the people
who will act on information. These are three separate
problems that are all coupled together. I felt that there
was a difficulty in taking observations and putting them
in an efficient way into a distribution system which
could then get this information to people who could act
upon it. And so you can argue that companies like
Google are involved, for example, in this "middle"
business of taking... of moving information from
people who have it to people who want it. The
problem I saw was that this first step was crippled. And
often the last step as well when it came to information
that governments were inclined to censor. We can look
at this whole process as the Fourth Estate. Or just as
produced by the Fourth Estate. And so you have some
kind of... pipeline... and... So I have this description
which is... which is partly derived from my experiences
in quantum mechanics about looking at the flow of
particular types of information which will effect some
change in the end. The bottleneck to me appeared to
me to be primarily in the acquisition of information that
would go on to produce changes that were just. In a
Fourth Estate context the people who acquire
information are sources. People who work information
and distribute it are journalists and publishers. And
people who act on it... is everyone. So that's a high
level construct, but of course it then comes down to
practically how do you engineer a system that solves
that problem? And not just a technical system, but a
total system. So WikiLeaks was and is an attempt
although still very young at a total system.
For all three phases?
To deal with... not for all three phases but for the
political component, the philosophical component and
the engineering component in pushing out first
component. Politically that means anonymizing and
protecting... Sorry. Technically that means
anonymizing and protecting sources in a wide variety
of ways. Politically that also means protecting them
politically, and incentivizing them in a political manner.
Saying that their work is valuable, and encouraging
people to take it up. And then there is also a legal
aspect. What are the best laws that can be created in the
best jurisdictions to operate this sort of stuff from? And
practical everyday legal defense. On the technical
front, our first prototype was engineered for a very
adverse situation where publishing would be extremely
difficult and our only effective defense in publishing
would be anonymity. Where sourcing is difficult. As it
still currently is for the national security sector. And
where internally we had a very small and completely
So publishing means the question of the site itself? And
making the material public?
Yeah. Making the primary source material public. That
is what I mean by publishing.
So the first step was to make that correctly.
It was clear to me that all over the world publishing is a
problem. And... Whether that is through self censorship
or overt censorship.
Sorry, just you're gonna have to... is that because of
fear of retribution by the governments, you know? Or
It's mostly self censorship. In fact I would say it's
probably the most significant one, historically, has been
economic censorship. Where it is simply not profitable
to publish something. There is no market for it. That is
I describe as a censorship pyramid. It's quite
interesting. So, on the top of the pyramid there are the
murders of journalists and publishers. And the next
level there is political attacks on journalists and
publishers. So you think, what is a legal attack? A legal
attack is simply a delayed use of coercive force.
Which doesn't necessarily result in murder but may
result in incarceration or asset seizure. So the next level
down, and remember the volume... the area of the
pyramid.... volume of the pyramid! The volume of the
pyramid increases significantly as you go down from
the peak. And in this example that means that the
number of acts of censorship also increases as you go
down. So there are very few people who are murdered,
there are a few people who suffer legal... there is a few
number of public legal attacks on individuals and
corporations, and then at the next level there is a
tremendous amount of self censorship, and this self
censorship occurs in part because people don't want to
move up into the upper parts of the pyramid. They
don't want to come to legal attacks or uses of coercive
force. But they also don't want to be killed.
Right. I see.
So that discourages people from behaving... and then
there are other forms of self censorship that are
concerned about missing out on business deals, missing
out on promotions and those are even more significant
because they are lower down the pyramid. At the very
bottom which is the largest volume is all those
people who cannot read, do not have access to print,
do not have access to fast communications or where
there is no profitable industry in providing that. Okay.
So we decided to deal with the top of this censorship
pyramid. The top two sections: the threats of violence,
and the delayed threats of violence that are represented
by the legal system. In some ways that is the hardest
case. In some ways it is the easiest case. It is the easiest
case because it is clear cut when things are being
censored there, or not. It is also the easiest because the
volume of censorship is relatively small, even if the per
event significance is very high. So in... Before
WikiLeaks had... although of course I had some
previous political connections of my own from other
activities, we didn't have that many friends. We didn't
have significant political allies. And we didn't have a
worldwide audience that was looking to see how we
were doing. So we took the position that we would
need to have a publishing system whose only defense
was anonymity. That is it had no financial defense, it
had no legal defense, and it had no political defense. Its
defenses were purely technical. So that meant a system
that was distributed at its front with many domain
names and a fast ability to change those domain names.
A caching system, and at the back tunnelling through
the Tor network to hidden servers...
So... if I could talk just a little bit about this, so... You
could switch DNS... your website names very quickly,
you use the tunnelling to get back... to communicate
among these replicas? Or this is for distribution?
We had sacrificial front nodes, that were very fast to set
up, very quick to set up, that we nonetheless did place
in relatively hospitable jurisdictions like Sweden. And
those fast front nodes were fast because there was no...
very few hops between them and the people reading
them. That's... an important lesson that I had learned
from things that I did before, that being a Sherman tank
is not always an advantage, because you are not
manouevrable and you are slow. A lot of the protection
for publishers is publishing quickly. You get the
information out quickly it is very well read, the
incentive for people to go after you in relation to that
specific piece of information is actually zero. There
may be incentives for them to go after you to teach a
lesson to other people who might defy their authority
or teach a future lesson to your organization about
defiance of authority.
So, again, in constructing the argument you were
concerned that governments or whatever would attack
the front ends of this thing through whatever... denial
of service attacks or blocking, basically filtering them
out, which is essentially is commonly done. So an
important aspect of this was to always be available.
Always be available in one particular way or another.
Now that's not a.. it's a battle that we have mostly won
but we haven't completely won it. Within a few weeks
the Chinese government had handed us to their ban list.
We had hundreds of domain names, of various sorts,
the domain names that were registered with very very
large DNS providers, so if there was IP level based
filtering it would whack out another five hundred
thousand domains and that would create a political
back pressure that would undo it. However DNS based
filtering still hits us in China because the most common
names the ones that are closest to "WikiLeaks" the
name that people can communicate easily they are all
filtered by the Chinese government.
Of course they are.
And any domain with "WikiLeaks" anywhere in it, no
matter where it is, is filtered. So that means there has to
be a variant that they haven't yet discovered. But
people... the variant has to be known widely enough
for people to go there. So there is a catch 22.
That's a structural problem with the naming of the
internet, but the Chinese would simply do content
filtering on you.
[background noise. JC entering]
Well, HTTPS worked for about a year and a half.
Worked quite well actually. And then changing up IPs,
because they were... the Chinese internet filtering
system is quite baroque, and they have evolved it...
sometimes they do things manually and sometimes they
do it in an automated way, in terms of adding IPs to the
list based on domain names, and then we did... we had
a quite interesting battle where we saw that they were
looking up our IPs, and we see that these requests
came from a certain DNS block range in China.
Whenever we saw that we just then returned...
Ha ha ha ha ha. That's clever. Ha ha ha ha ha.
...different IPs. I was actually thinking we could return
Public Security Bureau IPs!
This is Jared Cohen, by the way.
Hi, I'm so sorry we're late. Flight delay and...
Pleased to meet you.
Was it United or was it?
Uh, Delta. Never flying again!
Yeah, that's Delta.
And this is Scott.
Nice to meet you!
Scott is our editor.
Sorry, we're an hour and a half late.
We're actually, we could use...
It's a useful day to drive!
We've actually been having a perfectly wonderful time.
I'm sure. I'm sure. I'm sure.
Why don't you just. Scott sit there, and then you sit
here, next to me...
Are you joining us?
Julian was kind enough... we... did not bring a tape
Ha ha ha ha ha...
Quite embarrassing that you're you ask to interview
someone and you have to borrow a tape recorder.
A friend of mine did an interview...
Fiji, the staff of... during General Rabuka's coup.
Where he had General Rabuka's second in command
admit, on tape, that the CIA had paid him off...
... and he got back. And he was like, yes! This is the
story of the decade! And the tape had failed. I have a
few of these. You should always...
Always always have your own...
For Scott and Jared, we spent a fair amount of time just
sort of chatting about Google, and I went up to
introduce Lisa... I failed to properly articulate what a
brilliant book we are working on.
Ha ha ha!
And Lisa assisted me. And we seem to be ok with her
assist. What we agreed was that we would talk about
the technology directions and maybe the implications
of all of this, and the deal was that it would be on the
record for the book. We would have a transcript
prepared, which he would have an opportunity to
modify and improve its clarity, which all seemed
incredible reasonable to me. So we just started talking a
little bit about... we talked a little bit about sort of the
general principles he's articulated and I was just starting
to talk a little bit about the structure, why WikiLeaks is
architected the way it is. And the rough summary there
is that, the concern that he had in architecting this was
that if you look at the governments you know the sort
of the stuff that they do, murder journalists, imprison
journalists and that kind of stuff, his view was that we
want to attack that problem by making a system that
was very very hard to block. So the non technical
explanation of what he did is that if you built a system
where if they do the obvious things to block them it
can essentially show up in another way. Change its
name and replicate...
We developed an internal system to do some of these
fast replicas. Not quite unsophisticated, but worked
quickly. But I think this is... I've been thinking about
this for a while now. I think there is... The naming of
things is very important. The naming of human
JA playing with Tomato on table],
intellectual work and our entire intellectual record is
possibly the most important thing. So we all have
words for different objects, like "tomato." But we use a
simple word, "tomato," instead of actually describing
every little aspect of this god damn tomato...
...because it takes too long. And because it takes too
long to describe this tomato precisely we use an
abstraction so we can think about it so we can talk
about it. And we do that also when we use URLs.
Those are frequently used as a short name for some
human intellectual content. And we build all of our
civilization, other than on bricks, on human intellectual
content. And so we currently have system with URLs
where the structure we are building our civilization out
of is the worst kind of melting plasticine imaginable.
And that is a big problem.
And you would argue a different namespace structure,
I think there is a fundamental confusion, an
overloading of the current URL.
So, on the one hand we have live dynamic services and
organizations... well there's three things. Live dynamic
services. Organizations that run those services, so that
you are referring to a hierarchy. You are referring to a
system of control. An organization, a government, that
represents an organized evolving group. And on the
other hand you have artefacts. You have human
intellectual artefacts that have the ability to be
completely independent from any system of human
control. They are out there in the Platonic realm
somehow. And shouldn't in fact be referred to by an
organization. They should be referred to in a way that
is intrinsic to the intellectual content, that arises out of
the intellectual content! I think that is an inevitable and
very important way forward, and where this... where I
saw that this was a problem was dealing with a man by
the name of Nahdmi Auchi. A few years ago was
listed by one of the big business magazines in the UK
as the fifth richest man in the UK. In 1980 left Iraq.
He'd grown rich under Saddam Hussein's oil industry.
And is alleged by the Italian press to be involved in a
load of arms trading there, he has over two hundred
companies run out of his Luxembourg holding unit.
And several that we discovered in Panama. He had
infiltrated the British Labour political establishment to
the degree that the 20th business birthday in London he
was given a painting signed by 146 members
Commons including Tony Blair. He's the same guy
who was the principal financier of Tony Rezko. Tony
Rezko was the financier and fundraiser of Rod
Blagoyevich, from Chicago. Convicted of corruption.
Tony Rezko has been convicted of corruption. And
Barack Obama. He was the intermediary who helped
Barack Obama buy one of his houses and then the
money not directly for the house but it bouyed up Tony
Rezko's finances came from that... [indistinct]. So
during the this is detail, but it will get to a point.
During the 2008 presidential primaries a lot of attention
was turned to Barack Obama by the US press,
unsurprisingly. And so it started to look into his
fundraisers, and discovered Tony Rezko, and then they
just started to turn their eyes towards Nadhmi Auchi.
Auchi then hired Carter Ruck, a rather notorious firm
of London libel solicitors, whose founder, Carter Ruck,
has been described as doing for freedom of speech
what the Boston strangler did for door to door
And he started writing letters to all of the London
papers who had records of his 2003 extradition to
France and conviction for corruption in France over the
ElfAcquitaine scandal. Where he had been involved in
taking kickbacks on selling the invaded Kuwaiti
governments' oil refineries in order to fund their
operations while Iraq had occupied it.
So the Guardian
pulled three articles from 2003. So they were five years
old. They had been in the Guardian's archive for 5
years. Without saying anything. If you go to those
URLs you will not see "removed due to legal threats."
You will see "page not found." And one from the
Telegraph. And a bunch from some American
publications. And bloggers, and so on.
of history, recent history, that were relevant to an
ongoing presidential campaign in the United States
were pulled out of the intellectal record. They were
also pulled out of the Guardian's index of articles. So
why? The Guardian's published in print, and you can
go to the library and look up those articles. They are
still there in the library. How would you know that
they were there in the library? To look up, because
they are not there in the Guardian's index. Not only
have they ceased to exist, they have ceased to have
ever existed. Which is the modern implementation of
Orwell's dictum that he controls the present controls the
past and he who controls the past controls the future.
Because the past is stored physically in the present. All
records of the past.
This issue of preserving politically
salient intellectual content while it is under attack is
central to what WikiLeaks does because that is what
we are after! We are after those bits that people are
trying to suppress, because we suspect, usually rightly,
that they're expending economic work on suppressing
those bits because they perceive that they are going to
induce some change.
So it's the evidence of the suppression that you look for
in order to determine value?
Yeah, that is a very good not precisely but it is a
Well, tell me precisely. Ha ha.
Well, it's not precise... it's not always right. It's a very
It's not perfect!
It's not perfect. It is a very suggestive signal that the
people who know the information best ie. the people
who wrote it are spending economic work in
preventing it going into the historical record,
preventing it going into the public. Why spend so
much work doing that? It's more efficient to just let
everyone have it. You don't have to spend time
guarding it, but also you are more efficient in terms of
your organization because all the positive unintended
consequences of the information going around can
come out. So...
No no no, I wanted water, but Eric took mine. Ha ha.
So we selectively go after the information, and that
information is selectively suppressed inside
organizations and very frequently if it is a powerful
group as soon as someone tries to publish it it is also
So, just, I want to know a bit more about the
technology. So in this structure, you basically have a,
you basically can put up a new front very quickly and
you have stored replicas that are distributed. One of the
questions I have is how do you decide which ISPs...
OK. That's a very good question.
Yeah, it is a pretty complicated question.
Yeah, so I will give you an example of how not to
choose them. So we dealt with a case in the Cacos
islands where there was a great little group called the
TCI journal. The Turks and Cacos Islands Journal,
which is sort of a best use case of the internet. So who
are they? Well they are a bunch of legal reformers,
logically minded people in the Turks and Cacos
islands, who lived there, who saw that overseas
property developers were coming in and somehow
getting crowned land, very cheaply and building big
high rises on it and so on. They were campaigning for
good governance and trying to expose these people. It's
a classic best use case for the internet. Cheap
publication means that we can have many more types
of publishers. Which means that you can have self
subsidizing publishers. So you can have people that are
able to publish purely for ideological reasons or for
altruistic reasons, because the costs of altruism in
relation to publishing are not so high that you cannot
They were hounded out of the Turks and Caicos
islands pretty quickly. And they moved their servers to
India. The Turkish property developer they had been
busy exposing then hired correspondent lawyers in
London who hired correspondent lawyers in India who
hounded them out of their ISP there, they then moved
to Malaysia, they got hounded out same deal there. The
ISP, they became non profitable to the ISP as soon as
the legal letters started coming in. They went to the
US, and once they were in the US their US ISP didn't
fold they picked one of the better ones and it didn't
collapse as fast. However it was noticed that they were
using a Gmail address. The editors were anonymous
because of the threats. Who was the responsible party?
It was anonymous, although their columnists often
And so a suit was filed in California, and as
part of filing suit they started issuing subpoenas. They
issued a subpoena for Gmail. And the result was that
Gmail... Google told them that they had to come to
California to defend, otherwise it would be handed
These are little guys in the Turks and Caicos
Islands trying to stop corruption in their country against
property developer with hundreds of millions. How
can they go to California to fight off a libel suit, to fight
off a subpoena which is part of a bogus libel suit?
Well, of course they can't go. We managed to arrange
some lawyers for them and there just happened to be a
nice little bit of the California statute code that
addressed this precise situation which is when someone
publishes something and then a subpoena is issued to
try and get their identityyou can't do it and you've got
to pay costs. That was a nice little legal hook that
someone had introduced.
The problem is..
And Google didn't send any lawyers to help them
Yeah, we guessed... [indistinct] entertainment industry
That's an example of what happens if you have pretty
bright guys; they had a good Indian technical guy.
They had bright political guys. You have a decent
technical guy, you have decent political guys, you
come together to try and fix corruption in your country
using the internet as a publishing mechanism, what
You are hounded, from one end of the earth
to the other!
These guys were lucky enough that they
had enough resources that they could survive this
hounding, and they ended up finding some friends and
settling into a position where they are alright.
this was a matter of looking at what ISPs had survived
pressure, also because I was connected to this role of
politics and technology and anticensorship for a long
time and I knew some of the players. So we had
friends at ISPs, within the ISPs, that if you like we had
already ideologically infiltrated so we knew that they
would fight in our corner if there was a request come in
and we knew if there was a decent chance that
subpoenas were served, even with a gag order, we'd
soon find out about it.
So how can someone do it who
is not in that world. Well the answer is, not easily. You
can look at ISPs that WikiLeaks has used or is
currently using, or that the Pirate Bay has used, or
other groups that are tremendously under attack. In the
case of this little ISP, and it is often a little ISP that is
fighting, take the little ISP PRQ in Sweden that was
founded by Gottfried, whose nickname is Anakata, he
is one of the technical brains behind the Pirate Bay, so
they had developed a niche industry, also Bahnhof an
ISP in Sweden of dealing with refugee publishers, and
that is the correct word for it, the correct phrase for it,
that they are publishing refugees. They had at that time
other than us Malaysia Today, which had to flee, the
American Homeowner's Association, which had to flee
from property developers in the United States, the
Cavatz Centre, a Caucasian, a Caucus news center
which is constantly under attack by the Russians. In
fact PRQ was raided several times by the Swedish
government under pressure from the Russian
government. The Rick Ross institute on destructive
cults, an American based outfit had been sued out of
America by Scientology and so on.
Huh huh, huh huh huh
Hhm hm hm
Huh huh. Wow
Malaysia Today, run by a wonderful guy by the name
of Raja Petra who, he has two arrest warrants out for
him in Malaysia, he is based in London, but his servers
can't survive in London, they are in Singapore and the
But again, I get the, the, that's [indistinct] there are sites
that participate in this?
Yes, we have some fourteen hundred, but those are...
we have mirrors that are voluntary as well as
So they basically optin mirror sites.
They determine their own risks, we don't know
anything about them, we can't guarantee that they are
all trustworthy, etc, but they do increase the numbers.
You have been quoted in the press as saying that there
is a much larger store of information that is encrypted
and distributed. Is it distributed in those sorts of places?
No, that's an open... we openly distribute backups of...
encrypted backups of materials that we view are highly
sensitive that we are to publish in the coming year.
Not as some people have said so that we have a
"thermonuclear device" to use on our opponents. But
rather so that there is very little possibility that that
material, even if we are completely wiped out, will be
taken from the historical record.
So, so and eventually you will reveal the key that is
necessary to decrypt it.
No, ideally, we will never reveal the key.
Because there is things, like, so redactions sometimes
need to be done on this material.
So it's... our view is that the material is so significant
that even if we released it as is, with no redactions, that
the benefits would outweight the harms. But through
redacting things we can get the harm down even more.
And I understand that. One more sort of tactical
question for now. So, my simple explanation is that the
tools will get better for an anonymous sender send to a
distrustful recipient, and then this anonymous [noise]
your describing. We will get to the point where the... a
very large amount of people using such services for all
sorts of reasons: truthful, lying, manipulation, what
have you. The current technology used... basically, like
FTP [indistinct] runners sent to you. Basically people
will FTP something and then just sort of ship it to you.
No we have... we have lots of different paths. And
that's quite deliberate. And we don't say which one is
used more than which other one, because that means
resources have to be spread across all
possible paths. But they are from inperson, in the mail.
Postal mail is still actually pretty good if you want to
send anonymous stuff. Encrypt something to a key, if
you think it might be intercepted on the way, send it
from somewhere, it's still pretty good. Straight HTTPS
uploads, although they are not actually sort of straight.
But to the user it looks like they are straight. Behind
the scenes all sorts of other stuff is going on. The
biggest problem with computer security is not
communication. It's end points.
And so dealing with end point attacks both on
someone trying to send us information and more
importantly if someone tries to send us information is
themselves compromised, that's one compromise of
one person. If our engine that receives information is
compromised, that is a potential compromise of every
person that is trying to send us material.
I guess I... I didn't ask my question quite right. If the...
Is there some new technology which in your view
would kind of materially change this simple model that
I have about, of the vast increase of...
Yes! So I've...
So what are those technologies?
The most important one is naming things properly. If
we are able to name some... a video file or a piece of
text in a way that is intrinsically coupled to the
information there, so that there is no ambiguity a hash
is an example of thisbut then there's variations, maybe
you want one that human beings can actually
remember. Then it permits this information to be spread
in such a way where you don't have to trust the
underlying networks. And you can flood it.
Why don't you have to trust the underlying networks?
Well because you can sign... you can sign the hashes.
You can sign the name as well as the content.
You can sign the hash.
You can sign the hash.
And that's the hash. If a name is like a hash.
So it's... it's unambiguous as to whether...
You're basically saying you have a provable name...
As opposed to an alterable name.
And those sorts of mechanisms are evolving now. We
have been using something like this internally, I've
been writing a paper on it to try and make this a
standard for everyone. But you can see they are
actually evolving. If we look at magnet links... have
you seen these? There is an enhancement of
BitTorrent, which is a magnet link, and a magnet link
is actually a hash.
So it is hash addressing. It doesn't point to any
particular server, rather there is a big hash tree.. a
distributed hash, three over... I don't know how
technical I should get... There is a big distributed hash
tree over many millions of computers involved in thee
hashtree, and many many entry points into this hashtree
so it is very hard to censor. And the addressing for
content is on the hash of the content.
Right so you are basically doing the hash as the
address, and you do the addressing within the
namespace to provide... so as long as you have a
As long as you get the hash...
...you can't hide it.
Well, there's a question as to you've got a name of
something, you've got a hash, but what does that tell
you. Nothing really, because it is not really human
readable. So you need another mechanism to get the
fact that that's important to you.
And that is something like WikiLeaks signs that, and
says that that is...
An interesting piece of information
...an interesting piece of information, and we have
verified that it is true. But that, once you feed that
information into the system then it becomes very
unclear how it got into the system. Well how do you
get rid of it from the system? And if you do get rid of
it, if someone does manage to get rid of it, you know
for sure that it's been gotten rid of, because the hash
doesn't resolve to anything anymore. Similarly, if
someone were to modify it, the hash changes...
I was just gonna say, why wouldn't they just rename it,
They can't because the name is intrinsically coupled to
the intellectual content.
I think the way to explain this... To summarise the
technical idea is... take all the content in a document,
come up with a number, so if the content is gone, the
number doesn't match, show anything. And if the
content has changed, the number doesn't compute right
anymore. So it is an interesting property.
Mm hm. So...
So how far are we from this type of system?
On the publishing end, the magnet links and so on are
starting to come up. There's also a very nice little paper
that I've seen in relation to Bitcoin, that... you know
Okay, Bitcoin is something that evolved out of the
cypherpunks a couple of years ago, and it is an
alternative... it is a stateless currency.
Yeah, I was reading about this just yesterday.
And very important, actually. It has a few problems.
But its innovations exceed its problems. Now there has
been innovations along these lines in many different
paths of digital currencies, anonymous, untraceable etc.
People have been experimenting with over the past 20
years. The Bitcoin actually has the balance and
incentives right, and that is why it is starting to take off.
The different combination of these things. No central
nodes. It is all point to point. One does not need to trust
any central mint.
If we look at traditional currencies
such as gold, we can see that they have sort of
interesting properties that make them valuable as a
medium of exchange. Gold is divisible, it is easy to
chop up, actually out of all metals it is the easiest to
chop up into fine segments. You can test relatively
easily whether it is true or whether it is fake. You can
take chopped up segments and you can put them back
together by melting the gold. So that is what makes it a
good medium of exchange and it is also a good
medium of value store, because you can take it and put
it in the ground and it is not going to decay like apples
or steaks. The problems with traditional digital
currencies on the internet is that you have to trust the
mint not to print too much of it.
And the incentives for the mint to keep printing are
pretty high actually, because you can print free money.
That means you need some kind of regulation. And if
you're gonna have regulation then who is going to
enforce the regulation, now all of a sudden you have
sucked in the whole problem of the state into this issue,
and political pushes here and there, and who can get
control of the mint, push it one way or another, for
particular purposes. Bitcoin instead has an algorithm
where the anyone can create, anyone can be their own
mint. They're basically just searching for collisions
with hashes.. A simple way is... they are searching for
a sequence of zero bits on the beginning of the thing.
[JA using lunch table objects]
And you have to randomly search for, in order to do
this. So there is a lot of computational work in order to
do this. And each Bitcoin software that is distributed..
That work algorithmically increases as time goes by.
So the difficulty in producing Bitcoins becomes harder
and harder and harder as time goes by and it is built
into the system.
Right, right. That's interesting.
Just like the difficulty in mining gold becomes harder
and harder and harder and that is what makes people
predict that there is not going to be a sudden amount of
gold in the market, rather...
To enforce the scarcity...
Yeah, to enforce scarcity, and scarcity will go up as
time goes by, and what does that mean for incentives in
going into the Bitcoin system. That means that you
should get into the Bitcoin system now. Early. You
should be an early adopter. Because your Bitcoins are
going to be worth a lot of money one day. So once you
have a... and the Bitcoins are just... a Bitcoin address is
just a big hash. It's a hash of a public key that you
generate. So once you have this hash you can just
advertise it to everyone, and people can send you
Bitcoins, and there is people who have set up
exchanges to convert from Bitcoin to US dollars and so
on. And it solves a very interesting technical problem,
which is how do you stop double spending?
All digital material can be cloned, almost zero costs, so
if you have currency as a digital string of numbers,
how do you stop me... I want to buy this piece of pasta.
Here is my digital currency and, now I take a copy of
it. And now I want to buy your bit of egg. And then
and now I want to buy your radish! And you
go, what? I've already got that! What's going on here?
There's been some fraud! So there's a synchronization
problem. Who now has the coin?
So there is a point to
point.. a spread network with all these problems, some
points of the network being faster, some points of the
network being slower, multiple paths of
communication, how do you solve this synchronization
issue about who has the currency? And so this is to
mind actually the real technical innovation for Bitcoin,
it has done this using some hashtrees and then a delay
time, and then CPU work has to be done in order to
move one thing to another so information can't spread
too fast etc.
OK, so, once you have a system of
currency that is easy to use like that, then you can start
to use it for things that you want to be scarce. What is
the example of some things that we want to be scarce?
Well, domain names. Names. We want names to be
scarce. We want short names to be scarce, otherwise if
they are not scarce, if it doesn't take work to get them,
as soon as you have a nice naming system, some
arsehole is going to come along and register every
short name themselves.
Right. That's very interesting.
So this Bitcoin replacement for DNS is precisely what
I wanted and what I was theorizing about, which is not
a DNS system, but rather short names... short bit of text
to long bit of text tuple registering service. Cause that is
the abstraction of domain names and all these problems
solved. Yes, you have some something that you want
to register that is short, and you want to couple that to
something that is unmemorable and longer.
example, the first amendment, that phrase, the "US first
amendment", is a very short phrase, but it expands to a
longer bit of text. So you take the hash of this text, and
now you have got something that is intrinsically
coupled to that which is unmemorable. But then you
can register "US First Amendment" coupled to the
hash. And that then means you have a structure where
you can tell whether something has been published or
unpublished, you can... one piece of human intellectual
information can cite another one in a way that... can't
be manipulated, and if it is censored the censorship can
be found out. And if one place is censored, well you
can scour the entire world for this hash, and no matter
where you find you know it is what you wanted
So that, in theory, then permits human beings to build
up an intellectual scaffold where every citation, every
reference to some other part of human intellectual
content, is precise, and can be discovered if it exists out
there anywhere at all, and is not dependent on any
So as a way of publishing this
seems to be the most censorship resistant manner of
publishing possible, because it is not dependent on any
particular mechanism of publishing. You can be
publishing through the post, you can be publishing on
conventional websites, you can be publishing using
Bittorrent, whatever, but the naming is consistent. And
same is for... publishing is also a matter of transferring,
you can... all you then have to do is, if you want to
transfer something anonymously to someone else, one
particular person, you encrypt the information with
their key, and you publish it.
Are you worried.. basically this entire system depends
on basically irrevocable key structures. Are you
worried that the key structures would fall apart?
Well the hashing, in terms of the naming part, going to
patternsit doesn't depend on the key structure at all. In
terms of Bitcoin has its own key structure and that's an
independent thing, there is all sorts of problems with it.
Hackers can come in and steal keys etc. And the same
problems that you have with cash. Armored vans are
needed to protect the cash etc. And there are some
enhancements you can use to try and remove the
incentives one way or another. You can introduce a
subcurrency with fixed periods of expense. So you
retract for one week or one day and a merchant will
accept or not accept.
The average person does not understand that RSA was
broken into an awful lot of private keys involving
commerce were taken,
The public key structure is a tremendous problem, so in
the same way that domain name structures are a
tremendous problem. The browser based public key
system that we have for authenticating what websites
you are going to, it is awful. It is truly awful. The
number of people that have been licensed to mint keys
is so tremendous.. there's one got bankrupted and got
bought up cheaply by Russian companies, you can
assume, I have been told actually that VeriSign, by
people who are in the know, although I am not yet
willing to go on the public record, cause I only have
one source, just between you and me, one source that
says that VeriSign has actually given keys to the US
government. Not all, but a particular key.
That's a big
problem with the way things are authenticated
presently. There are some traditional alternative
approaches, like PGP has a web of trust. I don't think
those things really work. What I think does work is
something close to what SSH does, and that's probably
the way forward. Which is it is opportunistic key
registration. So there is part of your interaction, the first
time you interact, you register your key, and then if
you have a few points of keying or some kind of flood
network, then you can see that well lots of people have
seen that key many times in the past.
And one more technical question, and I think we
should probably, Scott you were sort of...
I'm ready! Ha ha ha.
When we were sort of chatting initially we talked about
my idea that powering, mobile phones being powered,
is sort of changing society. A rough summary of your
answer for everybody else is that people are very much
the same and something big has to change their
behaviour, and this might be one of them, and you
said, you were very interested in someone building
phone to phone encryption. Can you talk a little bit
about, roughly, the architecture where you would have
a broad open network and you have person to person
encryption. What does that mean technically, how
would it work, why is it important. That kind of stuff. I
mean, I think people don't understand any of this area
in my view.
When we were dealing with Egypt we saw the
Mubarak government cut off the internet and we saw
only one there was one ISP that quite few of us were
involved in trying to keep its connections open, it had
maybe 6% of the market. Eventually they cut..
eventually the Mubarak government also cut off the
mobile phone system. And why is it that that can be
done? People with mobile phones have a device that
can communicate in a radio spectrum. In a city there is
a high density... there is always, if you like, a path
between one person and another person. That is there
is always a continuous path of mobile phones, each
one can in theory hear the radio of the other.
You could form a peer to peer network.
So in theory you could form a peer to peer network.
Now the way most GSM phones are being constructed
and others is that they receive on a different frequency
to that which they transmit...
...and that means that they cannot form peer to peer
networks. They have to go through base stations. But
we're seeing now that mobile phones are becoming
more flexible in terms of base station programming.
And they need to do this because they operate in
different markets that have different frequencies. They
have different forms of wireless output, and so ... and
also, even if there is not sufficiently flexible mobile
phones, we are seeing that in the mobile phone aspect,
maybe WiMax is coming along which will give them
greater radius for two way communications. But also it
is getting very cheap to make your own base station.
There is software now which will run a base station.
For you. So you can throw these things up and make
your own networks with conventional mobile phones
pretty quickly. In fact this is what is done to spy, to
keep spying on mobile phones. You set up a fake base
station. And there's vans now, you can buy these in
bulk on the commercial spy market, to set up a van and
intercept mobile phone calls.
revolutionary periods the people involved in the
revolution need to be able to communicate. They need
to be able to communicate in order to plan quickly and
also to communicate information about what is
happening in their environment quickly so that they
can dynamically adapt to it and produce the next
Where you only have the security services
being able to do this, and you turn the mobile phone
system off, the security services have such an
tremendous advantage compared to people that are
trying to oppose them. If you have a system where
individuals are able to communicate securely and
robustly despite what security services are doing, then
security services have to give more ground. It's not that
the government is necessarily going to be overthrown,
but rather they have to make more concessions.
They have their networks. So your argument that even
with these existing phones they modify them to have
peer to peer encrypted tunnels for voice and data,
Voice is a bit harder. What we did internally in this
prototype I designed was a
which only works for
medium sized groups so a peer to peer flood UDP
encrypted network UDP permits you to put lots and
lots of cover traffic in cause you can send stuff to
random internet hosts.
Oh, so, oh, so that's clever, so that way you can't be
Because UDP is a single packet, right? So...
Right, so you send it to random internet hosts and a
random internet host doesn't respond, which is exactly
the same thing as a host that is receiving stuff. And
even structured... and using this you can do hole
punching through firewalls and it means that normal at
home people can use this. They don't need to have a
server. And it is very light bandwidth, so you can put it
on mobile phones as well.
The killer application is not
lots of voice. Rather it is chat rooms. Small chatrooms
of thirty to a hundred people that is what revolution
movements need. They need it to be secure and they
need it to be robust. The system I did was protocol
independent. So yes, you've got your encapsulating
thing, UDP or whatever, and in theory you could be
pushing it over SMS you could be putting it over TCP,
you could be pushing it over whatever. You could be
using a mobile phone, you could be using a desktop or
You can put that into one big mesh, so that
all you need, even when the whole country is shut off
you just need one satellite connection out and your
internal network connects to the rest of the world.
And if you've got a good routing system. If it is a small
network you can use flood, and thereby flood
network takes every possible path therefore it must take
the fastest possible path. Right? So a flood network
always finds a way but doesn't scale to large quantities.
But if you've got a good routing system you just need
this one link out. And in Cairo, we had people who
hacked Toyota in Cairo, and took over their satellite
uplink, and used that to connect to this ISP that fed 6%
of the market, and so that sort of thing was going on all
this time. There was a hacker war in Egypt to try and
keep this I don't like to call it radical, but this more
independent ISP that provided 6% of the market, up
and going. But it shouldn't have been so hard. It should
have been the case that all you need to do is have one
connection and then the most important information
could get out. And if you look at, if this is equivalent to
SMSs, I mean look how important Twitter is and how
important SMS is. Actually, human beings are pretty
good at encoding the most important thing that is
happening into a short amount of data. There's not that
many human beings. There just aren't that many. So
with one pipe you can...
It's not a bandwidth problem.
It's not a bandwidth problem. So all you need is one
pipe. And you can connect a country that is in a
revolutionary state to the rest of the world. And points
within that country just as important. Cities within that
country. And it's not that hard a thing to do quite
Scott, do you wanna?
It's hard to stop! It's so interesting!
I actually, I have like five hours more...
I know! Because it's like one thing and then there's like
How would you architect this how would you architect
that... I think my summary would be that this notion of
a hash idea of the name is a very interesting one,
because I had not linked it to Bitcoin, or that kind of
approach, with scarcity. That's a new idea for me.
Have you published that idea?
I've published... not the link to Bitcoin, that paper that
came out about coupling something to Bitcoin was just
trying to address the DNS issue. But fortunately the
guy who did it understood that... why just have
quadtets? You know, why limit it to IP addresses? It's
sort of natural in a way to make the thing so that it
could go to any sort of expansion. But the idea for...
[chatter about food]
that there should be this naming system and the
importance of this naming system, the importance of
preserving history and doing these scaffolds, and
mapping out everything. Yeah, so that's on the site,
under... I think it is part of one of the Hans Ulrich
I think we should study this quite a bit more so we
generally understand it... so we might have a few more
questions about it... The other comment I would make
is that on the assumption that what you are describing
is going to happen someday is probable given that the
incentive structure is...
Well I've had these ideas several years but now I see
other people are also getting into...
Well there is enough people who are interested in
solving the problem you are trying to solve. On the
internet you see a lot of experiences. What I am
thinking of is how would I attack it. How would I
attack your idea. And I still think I would go after the
signing and the key infrastructure. So if I can break the
There are different parts of the idea. So, if you publish
some information or if you spread some information...
this publishing thing is quite interesting as to whether
when something has gone from not being published to
being published its quite... interesting. So if you spread
some information and you've got it well labeled, using
That hash is important. It is something that has to
spread in another way. So that is say by WikiLeaks
signing the hash. But there is many ways for it to
spread. I mean people could be swapping that hash in
email. They could be telling each other on the
You are saying that all of these systems are do not have
a single point of attack, I can break down your HTTPS
but you can still use the US postal service to send it, for
Exactly, and you would know that you were getting
the right thing, because of its naming it is completely
I am just wondering, on the human side of this, you
have such experience of the world you described
earlier. I mean I had three hours sleep, so forgive me if
I don't remember exactly what you said, but some
combination of technical and altruistic people and what
amounts to a kind of subculture that you've been in for
some 15 years now.. So you know about how the
subculture works. And that subculture needs to either I
guess stay the same or expand in order to do the work
that you are describing, and so since our book is about
ten years away...
It's dramatically expanded...
What are the patterns there in terms of the people part,
rather than the...?
That's the most optimistic thing that is happening. The
radicalization of internet educated youth. People who
are receiving their values from the internet... and then
as they find them to be compatible echoing them back.
The echo back is now so strong that it drowns the
original statements. Completely. The people I've dealt
with from the 1960s radicals who helped liberate
Greece and.. Salazar. They are saying that this moment
in time is the most similar to what happened in this
[LS spills water all over her note taking laptop]
period of liberation movements in the 1960s, that they
Do you see it scaling differently than it did in the 60s?
And as far as what has entered into the West, because
there are certain regions of the world I am not aware
of, but as far as I am aware that and of course I
wasn't alive in the 1960s but as far as I can tell, that
statement is true. This is the political education of
apolitical technical people. It is extraordinary, in the
same way that the young...
Apolitical? Do you mean one word?
One word. People are going from... young people are
going from apolitical to political. It is a very very
interesting transition to see.
How do you think... I mean this is your world why do
you think that took place? I mean, why do you think it
Fast communication. Critical mass of young people.
Newer generation. And then some catalyzing events.
The attack on us was a catalyzing event. And our
defense... our success in defending was a catalyzing
event. I don't know, do you remember the PGP case,
and that grand jury with Zimmermann and so on?
He had a lot of fun that with that.
I wrote half a book on that. It was never published,
because my cowriter went and had children.
[JA quickly grabs her laptop and turns it upside down]
Ha ha ha ha
Ha ha ha!
Ha ha ha! Why do I feel that has happened before?
So much for the historical record!
As I saidmultiple copies!
Why don't you save whatever you were doing... get it
into the name tree before...
Someone: everything goes
Did you see how fast he was? It was like an impulse.
Yeah, I feel you were almost there before the
Computers are important...
That was sweet, thank you. Go ahead.
So you were saying. But young people aren't
inherently good. And I say that as a father and with
Oh no I think that actually... well, I've read the Lord of
and I went to thirty different schools, so I've seen
plenty of Lord of the Flies situations...
...But no, I think that the instincts human beings have
are actually much better than the societies that we have.
Then the governments, basically.
I am not going to say governments. The whole
structure of the society. The economic structure. And
that people learn that simple altruistic acts don't pay off
and they see that some people who act in non altruistic
ways end up getting Porsches and fast cars, and it tends
to pull people in that direction. I thought about this a
while ago when I saw there was this fantastic video
that came out of Stanford in about '69 on nuclear
synthesis of DNA. Have you seen it?
It's on youtube. It's great. A wonderful thing. So it is
explaining nuclear synthesis through interpretive
dance. And so there are like a hundred and thirty
Stanford students out there pretending to be DNA, a
whole bunch pretending to be a ribosomal subunit and
da da da. And all wearing the hippy clothes of the day.
But they were all actually very bright people. And I
looked at that and thought, could Stanford.. and it was
a very good bit of education, so it is not that it was cool
and unusual, rather that it was extremely instructive,
and before computer animation was the best
representation of how a ribosomal unit behaves. Could
you see Stanford doing that now? Absolutely
impossible. It is far too conservative for it to do that
now, even though that was an extremely effective
education... you can bet everyone who was in that
dance remembers exactly how nuclear synthesis
occurs, because they all had to remember their parts.
And I remember it having seen it. No, rather that
period of peak earnings for the average wage in the
United States was, what, like '77? That certain things
simply happened. That those people who were
altruistic and not too concerned about finances and
fiscalization simply lost power relative to those people
who were more concerned about finances and
fiscalization and worked their way up in the system. So
certain behaviours were disincentivized and others
were potentiated. And that is primarily I believe as a
result of technology that enables fiscalization. So fast
bank transfers. The IRS being able to account for lots
of people, it sucks people into a very rigid fiscalized
structure. So you can have a lot of political change in
the United States. But will it really change that much?
Will it change the amount of money in someone's bank
account? Will it change contracts? Will it void
contracts that already exist? And contracts on contracts,
and contracts on contracts on contracts? Not really. So
I say that free speech in many places
Western places is free not as a result of liberal
circumstances in the West but rather as a result of such
intense fiscalization that it doesn't matter what you say.
ie. the dominant elite doesn't have to be scared of what
people think, because a change in political view is not
going to change whether they own their company or
not. It is not going to change whether they own a piece
of land or not. But China is still a political society.
Although it is radically heading towards a fiscalized
society. And other societies, like Egypt was, are still
heavily politicized. And so their rulers really do need to
be concerned about what people think, and so they
spend a portion of efforts on controlling freedom of
So if you were...
But I think young people have fairly good values. Of
course it's a spectrum and so on. But they have fairly
good values most of the time. And they want to
demonstrate them to other people and you can see this
when people first go to university and so on. And they
become hardened as a result of certain things having a
pay off and other things not having a payoff. Studying
for an exam, constantly, even though in some cases the
work is completely mindless, and pointless, has a
payoff at the end of the year, but going and talking to
someone and doing a favour doesn't have a payoff at
the end of the year. And so this disincentivizes some
behaviours and incentivizes other ones.
But let me tease out some of this, I mean it sounds like
you have got a view of the globe with certain societies
where the impact of technology is relatively slight,
certain societies where politically the impact of
technology can be quite great, and certain societies
where it would be at a sort of middling way. And you
would put China into I guess the middling category.
Well, it's starting to...
Since our book is all about technology and social
transformation ten years down the line... what's the
globe that you see given the structure that you are
I am not sure about the impact on China. It is still a
political society, so the impact could be very great. I
mean I often say that censorship is always cause for
celebration. It is always an opportunity, because it
reveals fear of reform. It means that the power position
is so weak that you have got to care about what people
Right. It's like you find the sensitive documents by
watching them hunt.
This is a very interesting argument.
Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt.
So when the Chinese express all this energy on
censoring in all these novel ways, do we say that it is a
complete waste of time and energy, or do they have a
whole bunch of experience managing the country and
understand that it matters what people think? I say it is
much more reasonable to interpret it as the different
groups different actors within China who are able to
control that censorship system understand correctly that
their power position is weak and they need to be
careful what people think. So they have to censor.
So the state is rational, at least in its repression.
I am always worried in talking about the state, because
it's all individuals acting in their own perceived interest.
Some, this group or that group.
Even the censors in China of the Public Security
Bureau, people who work there. Why do they censor
stuff and what do they censor first? I'll tell you what
they censor first? They censor first the thing that
someone in the Politburo might see. That's what they
censor first. They are not actually concerned about
They are not concerned about darknets. Because their
bosses can't see what is on the darknet, and so they
can't be blamed for not censoring it. We had this
fantastic case here in the UK, we had a whole bunch of
classified documents from the UK military, and
published a bunch. And then later on we did a sort of
preemptive FOI which we do occasionally on various
governments when we can. So we did it on the UK
ministry of defense, just to see whether they were
doing some investigation, sort of a source protection to
understand what is going on. So we got back... first
they pretended they were missing documents and we
appealed and we got back a bunch of documents. And
so it showed that someone in there had spotted that
there was a bunch of UK military documents on our
website. About their surveillance programme. Another
two thousand page document about how to stop things
leaking, and that the number one threat to the UK
ministry was investigative journalists. So that had gone
into some counterintelligence da da da da, and they had
like, oh my good, it has hundreds of thousands of
pages, and it is about all sorts of companies and it just
keeps going, and it's endless, it's endless! Exclamation
marks, you know, five exclamation marks. And that
was like, okay, that is the discovery phase, now the
what is to be done phase. What is to be done? BT has
the contracts for the MoD. They told BT to censor us
from them. So everyone in the UK MoD could no
longer read what was on WikiLeaks. Problem solved!
It's like all the generals and their bosses and all these
people could no longer see that we had MoD stuff on
there. And so now there is no more complaints and
their problem is solved. So understandings like this
might be quite advantageous to use in some of these
systems. So it means that darknets for example, if you
understand the bureaucratic structures that employ
people and give them tasks always have that sort of
thing going on then that means that darknets are gonna
have a pretty easy time of it, until they are so big that
they are not darknets anymore.
Hm. That's really... that's really really interesting. You
mentioned investigative journalism, do you... you've
had a lot of experience with journalism by now, in
many different respects, i mean, how do you see the
kind of freedom of information that you are describing,
that you were describing earlier, as fitting into
journalistic processes, if at all, or is it replacing it?
No it is, I mean it's more how these journalistic
processes fit into something that is much bigger, and
the much bigger thing is that we as human beings
shepherd and create our intellectual history as a
civilization. And it is that intellectual history on the
shelf that we can pull off to do stuff, and not do the
dumb thing again. Someone already said said it was
done and wrote about their experience and we don't do
it again. And so there are several different processes
that are creating that record and other processes where
people are trying to destroy pieces of that record and
others that are trying to prevent people putting things
into the record. We all live off that intellectual record,
so what we want to do is get as much into the record,
prevent as much as possible being deleted from the
record, and then, and then have the record as
searchable as possible.
But one consequence of this view is that actors will
find the generation of very large amounts of
misinformation strategic for them.
Yeah. So this is another type of censorship that I have
thought about but don't speak so much about. Which is
censorship through complexity.
Hide it. Too complicated.
And that is basically the offshore financial sector.
Censorship through complexity. Censorship of what?
Censorship of political outrage. With enough political
outrage there is law reform and enough law reform you
can't do it anymore. So why is it that all these careful
tax structuring arrangements are so complex? I mean,
they may be perfectly legal, but why are they so god
damn complex? Well, because the ones that weren't
complex were understood and the ones that were
understood were regulated, so you're only left with the
things that are incredibly complex.
More noise less signal, kind of...
Yeah, exactly, exactly...
But how in the future will people deal with the fact that
the incentive to publish information that is misleading,
wrong, manipulative, is very high. Furthermore you
can't figure out who the bad publisher was as well as
the good...because there's anonymity in the system.
Yeah, so I suggested. Well, the way it is right now is
there is very... first we must understand that the way it
is right now is very bad. Friend of mine Greg Mitchell
wrote a book about the mainstream media, So Wrong
For So Long. And that's basically it. That yes we have
these heroic moments with Watergate and Bernstein
and so on, but, come on, actually, it's never been very
good it's always been very bad. And these fine
journalists are an exception to the rule. And especially
when you are involved in something yourself and you
know every facet of it and you look to see what is
reported by it in the mainstream press, and you can see
naked lies after naked lies. You know that the
journalist knows it's a lie, it is not a simple mistake, and
then simple mistakes, and then people repeating lies,
and so on, that actually the condition of the mainstream
press nowadays is so appalling I don't think it can be
reformed. I don't think that is possible. I think it has to
be eliminated, and replaced with something that is
Which does seem to be happening!
Yes, and I think things like, you know I have been
pushing this idea of scientific journalism that things
must be precisely cited the original source or as much
of it as possibly available should be put in the public
domain so that people can look at it, just like in science
so that you can test to see whether the conclusion
comes from the experimental data. Otherwise you
probably just made it up. You could have just made it
up. And in fact that is what happens all the time people
just make it up. And they make it up to such a degree
that we are led to war. I mean most... Most wars in the
20th century have started as a result of lies. Amplified
and spread by the mainstream press. And you go, well
that is a horrible circumstance, that is terrible that all
these wars start with lies. And I say no, this is a
tremendous opportunity, because it means that
populations basically don't like wars and they have to
be lied into it. And that means we can be truthed into
peace. And so that is the extremely optimistic thing.
But this, how do you distinguish publishers, truthful
publishers, untruthful publishers, this is a reputation
business. And so what I would like is that part of that
repetitional business, like in science, where is your
data? You're not providing your data, why the hell
should I take this seriously? Is that now that we can
publish on the internet, now that there is physically
room for the data, newspapers don't have physical
room for the primary source, now that there is physical
room for the primary source, it should be there and we
should create a standard that it should be there. And
sure people can deviate from this standard, but well
you deviate from the standard, if you can't be bothered
providing us with the primary source data why should
we pay any attention to what you are writing? You're
not treating the reader with respect. It's not falsifiable
therefore, therefore we can pay no attention to it. But
the issue of reputation, this is an important issue. How
do things have reputation? Well, part of the way that
they have reputation is by this coupling of something
happens, someone else says something about it,
someone else says something about that, etc. And this
is a series of citations as information flows from one
person to another and they augment it and so on. For
that to be strong you need this naming system. Where
what you are relying on is not some startup website
that just appears tomorrow, or some company that
didn't like it and has modified it or is being sued out of
existence. So that, I think, would help with reputation.
Complexity is harder. I think that is a big problem. So
when things become open things tend to become more
complex, because people start hiding what they are
doing, their bad behaviour, through complexity. And
so that will be bureaucratic double speak is an
example. When things get bureaucratized and so on,
and everything becomes mealy mouthed, and so that's
a cost of openness. Is that kind of bureaucratization,
and in the offshore sector you see incredible
complexity in the layers of things happening to one
another so they become impenetrable. And of course
cryptography is an intellectual system that has
specialized in making things as complex as possible.
Those things are hard to attack. On the other hand
complex systems are also hard to use. So bureaucracies
and internal communications systems which have this,
which are full of weasel words and arse covering, are
inefficient internal communications systems. And
similarly, those tremendously complex offshore
structuring arrangements are actually inefficient. But
maybe you're ahead when the tax regime is high, but if
the tax regime is zero you're not going to be ahead at
all. Sorry, if the tax regime is 3%, you're not going to
be ahead at all, you're going to be choked by the
Well, if they weren't inefficient then everybody would
have their money offshore Julian.
Yeah, that's right.
I mean that as a joke, but it's probably true, heh.
No, that's true.
Let me just add that uh...
There is a battle between all of these things going on.
With different people, economic different... see I don't
see a different between government and big
corporations and small corporations, actually this is all
one continuum, these are all systems that are trying to
get as much power as possible. So that's what they are.
A general is trying to get as much power for his section
of the army, and so on. They advertise, they produce
something that they claim is a product, people buy it,
people don't buy it, they complexify in order to hide
the flaws in their product and they spin, so I don't see a
big difference between government and non
government actors in that way. There is one difference
about the deployment of coercive force but even there
we see that well connected corporations are able to tap
into the governmental system and the court system and
are able to deploy... effectively deploy coercive force,
by sending police to do debt requisition or kicking
employees out of the office.
Can I just ask you about the same thing but sort of in
reverse which is the ways in which the sources of
information as individuals can and can't be protected,
in other words how can their information be
anonymous, so that they don't pay a price for
circulating it. and you know maybe with one example
from North Korea or Iran for example from the US,
and the differences between those scenarios.
There is many ways for people to transmit
anonymously. One of the greatest difficulties for
sources is their proximity to the material. So if they
have high proximity to it and it's a limited number of
people know it. It actually doesn't matter what
technical mechanism you then apply at the top. It
would be quite difficult for them to evade scrutiny.
And it doesn't matter what country or regime you are
in. But systematic injustice by definition is going to
have to involve many people. And so while the inner
sanctum of cabinet, maybe you cannot safely get
records out of this, but as those decisions start
spreading down to lower levels if they are to affect
many people many people must have either the high
level planning that produces some unjust consequence
or the shadow of it. So maybe the whole plan isn't
visible by the time it gets down to the grunts but some
component of it is visible. And this struck me when we
got hold of the two main manuals for Guantanamo
Bay. The 2003 manual was the first one we got hold
of, written by Major... by General Jeffrey Miller, who
subsequently went over to Abu Ghraib, to GTMOize
it, as Donald Rumsfeld called it, so that manual had all
sorts of abuses in it and one of the ones that I was
surprised to see was explicit instructions to falsify
records for the Red Cross. And how many people have
read this manual? Well all the prison captains at
Guantanamo Bay had read this. Why would you risk
telling the grunts this sort of information? It wasn't
even classified. They made it unclassified For
Official Use Only why? Because it's more expensive
to get people who have classification clearance. If you
want to hire contractors without classification clearance
it is cheaper. You can't whisper to the coal face. You
can't have the president whispering to the coal face.
Because the coal face, because the coal face is too big.
You can't have the president whispering to the
intermediaries, because then you end up with Chinese
whispers that means your instructions are not carried
out. So if you take information off the paper, if you
take it outside of the electronic or physical paper trail,
the instructions decay. And that's why all organizations
of any scale have rigorous paper trails for the
instructions from the leadership. But by definition if
you try... if you want people to do something, you are
going to have to have those form of instructions.
Which means there is always going to be a paper trail,
except for small group decisions. Small group
decisions that don't end up going to the coal face. And
instructing hundreds of people... are they so important
in the scheme of things?
We went to Berlin, there is a place where they signed
the final order, what's it called?
Final solution. Wannsee.
Wannsee, and these are Germans. So they documented
So it's exactly your point, so that in order to kill six
million Jews, you actually have to write it down.
It's a big logistical process.
Absolutely, and many many many people had to be
implicated, what the procedures were and so on. And
here are the pictures of people and their signatures and
Minutes of the meeting...
It was like, seriously [inaudible]. This is the banality of
Yes, but this is one of the first things... internal
arguments I had with other people in 2006. While
okay, you have a good get, you expose some
organization and show it has been abusing something
in some way, and it just takes something off paper.
Well next thing it does, well they just take it, and
everything will go to oral form and so on. No, that's
not going to happen, because, if it does go that way,
fine, they take everything off paper, if they internally
balkanize, so that information can't be leaked, what is
the cost? There is a tremendous cost to the
organizational efficiency, of doing that. So that means
this abusive organization simply becomes less powerful
in its struggle for economic equilibrium and political
equilibrium with all other organizations.
This is the inverse of your argument about empowering
the dissidents in Egypt. They needed SMS to
communicate. In your argument, by stopping the
inability to coordinate at this level, the inverse of your
argument. Literally the inverse of the first...
Yeah, so ...
Well, your argument would be if you take those tools
Yeah, well, I say they take them away themselves in a
way. Once things can become public. So why is it that
people engage... why is it that powerful organizations
there is all sorts of reasons why nonpowerful
organizations engage in secrecy, which to my view is
legitimate, they need it, because they are powerless.
But why do powerful organizations engage in secrecy?
Well, usually because the plans that they have if made
public would be opposed by the public. And plans that
are opposed before implementation often don't get
implemented. So you want to wait as long as possible.
And then implementation eventually makes them
public by the very fact that they are being implemented
but it is too late by then to alter the course effectively.
So an organization on the other hand that is engaged in
planning behaviour that if revealed is not opposed by
the public doesn't have that burden. It doesn't have that
planning burden where it is forced to take things off
paper. So this will be an efficient organization, this will
not be an efficient organization, and in the mix as they
do economic and political battle, it will equilibriate out,
these guys will shrink and these guys will grow.
Is that your fundamental justification, do you think...
for this, for the work that you're in?
Fundamental justification is that, there is really two.
First of all, the human civilization, its good part, is
based upon our full intellectual record, and our
intellectual record should be as large as possible if
humanity is to be as advanced as possible. The second
is that in practice releasing information is positive to
those engaged in acts that the public support and
negative to those engaged in acts that the public does
...[inaudible] general restraint.
Well, it can create a redress for an act of injustice that is
revealed and that's nice. But the larger effect is that it
creates disincentives for organizations that are to create
unjust plans or engage in unjust acts.
One more... In 10 years, what does this world look
like? In other words if you extrapolate this argument...
Well, we are at a bit of a crossroads, no? It could go
An optimistic scenario. What is the best scenario? Ha
So remember Philip Zimmermann's PGP case?
That was just a grand jury investigation. It was
moderately serious. But he wasn't convicted. No one at
that time was being convicted, they were being
investigated. It changed the behaviour of tens of
thousands of people who were involved in choosing to
put cryptography into programs or not. All sorts of
tortured copyright assignments and inter software
company structuring arrangements, and how code was
deployed, were engaged in, just from that negative
signal of a grand jury investigation. So what that means
is that signals about what behaviour is acceptable, what
behaviour you can get away with and what behaviour
is beneficial to individuals engaging in it and what
behaviour is not, changes how many people behave.
So we are at a crossroads now where those
organizations that are fighting against those people
who want to be able to publish freely and disclose
important information to the public... I can't remember
the beginning of this sentence now.
You said we are at a crossroads now where those
organizations that are fighting against those people
who want to be able to publish freely and disclose
important information to the public.
It was pretty long wasn't it? Okay, hah. ...Could
produce if successful a signal which discourages
everyone or almost everyone from engaging in those
activities, or we and people who share our values could
be successful and that will then become the new norm
of accepted behaviour.
And what are the necessary conditions for that to occur
for the latter? I can easily imagine the necessary
conditions for the former.
Everyone gives money to WikiLeaks. That is the
I didn't even hear that!
Everyone gives money to WikiLeaks.
Ha ha ha.
Are you taking Bitcoin?
Yes. Yes. Um. So it is quite interesting to know