Belmont Club

Kim and the Khyber

Pakistani papers were duped by a faked Wikileaks report, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Relying on reports said to be contained in Wikileaks, “Pakistani newspapers carried a series of scoops” until they realized they had been duped. The reporters reported that the US was colluding with India to inflict “genocide” in Kashmir; America was plotting with New Delhi to unleash a campaign of terror on Pakistan and that shadowy operatives had rubbed out a cop who threatened to expose the plot. Then they found themselves embarassed and blamed a conspiracy against them for the disinformation.

It’s got to be somebody’s fault. In the immortal words of Ed Wood’s detective in Plan 9 from Outer Space: “One thing’s sure: Inspector Clay is deadmurdered — and somebody’s responsible!” And in some parts of the world, the rule of culpability is anybody but me. Wikileaks has been imposing an intense intellectual strain on Pakistani editors of late. Radio Free Europe earlier reported on the difficulties of cherry picking even the authentic unverified reports, let alone the fake unverified reports.

The country’s virulently anti-Western Urdu-language press sees conspiracy theories behind the leaked diplomatic correspondence.

“We should think [about] whether turning WikiLeaks into headlines on our front pages and TV screens is right? Apparently it is propaganda against the Muslim countries and by projecting it, aren’t we becoming part of it? It will be best not to hype these revelations based on flawed information,” daily “Express” opined on August 4.

Declan Walsh, Islamabad correspondent for “The Guardian” — one of five media outlets with advance access to the cables — notes that most Pakistani media coverage of the WikiLeaks revelations target what has been said about the country’s civilian politicians and the deep divisions between civilian and military leaders. But Pakistani media has been silent on other critical issues highlighted in the secret diplomatic correspondence, he says.

“What we have not seen in Pakistan is a lot of debate about the other revelations of the WikiLeaks, which are, according to American diplomats and intelligence, the continuing links between Pakistan’s military and selected Islamist militant groups in the region, such as the Haqqani group and the Afghan Taliban,” Walsh says. “And according to American officials who are cited in the cables, they say that Pakistan is supporting these groups as part of a strategic hedge against India in the region.”

The Pakistani problem is simple. The Assange files cannot be true in their all-in-all. They show the Americans to be perfidious but they show the Pakistanis and their extremist friends to be even more perfidious. And now come these fake files. What’s an editor to do?

The potential for using sources without provenance for disinformation was been the subject of earlier posts.  Because Assange is “leaking” reports about classified events, there is very little we can do to verify the leaks against collateral information. There is no open source collateral. For so long as the “leaks” seems plausible, they will gain credence. Once they gain credence, they become a vehicle into which can insert disinformation into the message in small but crucial quantities. Kevin Mitnick was a master of this kind of “social engineering” or hacking. “All social engineering techniques are based on specific attributes of human decision-making known as cognitive biases. These biases, sometimes called “bugs in the human hardware, ‘are exploited in various combinations to create attack techniques'”. It is our old friend disinformation, about which I wote in What Would Assange Be Willing To Say?

Julian Assange achieved the remarkable goal of establishing the truth of a set of assertions without reference to a known provenance. The fact that they were about classified information meant that the prospects of collateral confirmation or denial were small. As long as the leaks were plausible they could be passed off as true. In all likelihood the WikiLeaks stories are probably mostly true because disinformation consists of a lie embedded in a matrix of fact filler. Assange would have understood the power of a background process running amidst a mass of routine code; the importance of a wrapper around the core function. But what was the core function doing? You could never be sure if you couldn’t look very closely. And you could never look too closely as long as the leaks talked about classified comms. If Assange leaked about an entirely accessible event — if, for example, he leaked the location of every fire hydrant in the world — we could verify it. But if he leaked a claim about what we could only partially descry then his leak would only have to conform to the public visible truth to become accepted as entirely true.

He would have been well aware of the concept of deniable encryption. “Deniable encryption allows its users to decrypt the ciphertext to produce a different (innocuous but plausible) plaintext and insist that it is what they encrypted. The holder of the ciphertext will not have the means to differentiate between the true plaintext, and the bogus-claim plaintext.” How can the public know that WikiLeaks hasn’t given us the false plaintext of the real secret events if there is no other way of finding other plaintexts? It can’t. And we may never know for sure if Julian Assange’s leaks are true or whether a ringer is lurking in there somewhere.

The most important preparation for disinformation is to set up the scenario, what is called “pretexting”. It consists of creating a background we are ready to believe so that when the lie is fed to us, it is swallowed hook, line and sinker.  And for decades — going way back before the Second World War — the Left has been “pretexting” by promoting self-hatred in the West. We are the bad guys. We don’t deserve to live. And so when Julian Assange says he wants to “crush bastards” he is really referring to his own civilization. What is more, there are nods of assent all around.

It is perhaps appropriate that the Russians have just unveiled the Kim Philby monument in Moscow at almost exactly the same time the “British Youth” were urinating on the Churchill Monument and swinging like apes from the Cenotaph — ostensibly because they would be charged tuition to go to college. But they were really there to stick it to the Man. Never mind that the Man was Dad.  The person photographed swinging from the Union Jack on the War Memorial was Charlie Gilmour, son the Pink Floyd guitarist worth 80 million pounds. For Gilmour, there was no descration. It was another “so what” in a culture full of “so whats”. Charlie Gilmour claimed that he was carried away by the spirit of the moment and ‘I did not realise that it was the Cenotaph”.  Gilmour is enrolled at Cambridge in history. Philby was from Cambridge, too. That coincidence should remind us that lies and Western self-loathing are the most potent time bombs ticking in it. “Don’t you just want to smash it up?” the fictional Philby asks Maclean in the glamorous British television recreation, upon casting his eye on students disporting themselves. Perhaps what he really wanted to do was smash himself and his circle up, and being unable to bring himself to do it, settled for the rest of us.

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Link to Wretchard’s novel “No Way In” print edition
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