Ryan Singel

On Glenn Greenwald Distorting My Words

Ryan Singel 5 min read

In Glenn Greenwald’s recent response to Wired’s explanation of why it is not releasing more of the Bradley Manning/Adrian Lamo chat logs in the Wikileaks controversy, he defends himself by unethically cherry-picking and truncating a quote from an e-mail from me, that he says, erroneously, that I explicitly put on the record.

He writes that I said, “I’ve long been a fan of your work and I’ll continue to be.”

That’s true, but there was no period after the word “be”.

Instead, the full sentence was, “I’ve long been a fan of your work and I’ll continue to be, but I think you screwed this up, Glenn, and it’s pretty disappointing that you seemed to let your infatuation with Wikileaks color your analysis.”

Any journalism 101 student will tell you Greenwald’s quote is a clear violation of journalistic ethics.

So in the spirit of openness, here’s the e-mail I sent Greenwald on June 18, 2010, trying to be diplomatic about what I thought was clearly a hatchet job on a very good journalist.

Glenn –

Suffice it to say I’m disappointed by your article, which I find to be warped by your allegiance to Wikileaks, which gets nothing but glowing accolades from you, despite ample evidence that Assange and Wikileaks aren’t acting in good faith.

You make much of Wired not revealing all of the transcripts. […]

Moreover, you go to some lengths to portray Poulsen as some sort of consigliere to Lamos, when what Poulsen has done over the years is simply develop a source.

He wasn’t the only security journalist to have the same relationship. In fact, it was Brian Krebs, formerly of the Washington Post, who got the inside scoop from Lamo about his foray into the NY Times database. Lamos gave him the screenshots, and Krebs then contacted the Times and wrote up the story. http://www.infosecnews.org/hypermail/0202/5510.html (ED. NOTE 12/30/2010: This timeline is not correct – Krebs was on the story simultaneously and had a long relationship with Lamos, but Poulsen published first.)

What exactly is a journalist supposed to do otherwise, when a hacker comes with proof they’ve broken into a company? You make it sound nefarious (strange and complicated, in your words). In fact, it’s exactly what happened with Gawker’s Ryan Tate and the recent vulnerability in AT&T’s iPad interface. Frankly, your characterization of it is slimy.

Intriguingly, you leave out all the attacks from Assange on Poulsen (calling him a manipulator and a snitch). Meanwhile, you ignore all of Assange’s weird attacks on the press any time he doesn’t like a story. Did you read the Mother Jones piece that exposed how Wikileaks fakes its advisory board? Or see Assange’s reaction?

Did you notice that Assange loved the New Yorker profile, until other outlets jumped on the fact that Assange admits that Wikileaks was bootstrapped by spying on the Tor network? Then Assange attacked those outlets and the New Yorker, calling them liars but not saying that Wikileaks didn’t spy on the Tor network. (Which Assange himself all but admitted when he was trying to get support for Wikileaks’ start, writing in an e-mail list that Wikileaks was getting info by spying on Chinese hacker, “when they pull, we pull”) http://cryptome.org/wikileaks/wikileaks-leak2.htm

Then when Assange wanted to drum up donations to Wikileaks after the Manning disclosure, he sent out a blast e-mail pointing to the anonymous Boing Boing comment suggesting that Poulsen was working on behalf of the feds.

And now, thanks to your article, you have commenters saying the same thing.

You mention that you are a fan of Threat Level, but you NEVER mention throughout the story anything of the kind of coverage that Poulsen has done in the last decade. You don’t mention that Threat Level published the NSA docs while they were under court seal. You don’t mention that Poulsen exposed, via a successful FOIA suit, that DHS covered up that its computers got infected with a virus. You don’t mention that he revealed to the world that the FBI has a secret browser vulnerablity. You don’t mention at all the type and kind of coverage that Poulsen is responsible for for over a decade.

That credibility would go a long way to dispelling the slander campaign Wikileaks and its rabid followers are waging against him, for having the audacity to write a story that a leaker had been arrested.

Instead you added to it with insinuations that Kevin is somehow in cahoots with Lamo.

For instance, you make it sound creepy that Poulsen wrote a long profile about Lamo. Huh. Read the story again. Basically, it goes like this. A convicted hacker, now gone legit, calls the police to report a stolen laptop. When the police arrive, instead of focussing on the crime, they 5150 the victim. Lamo contacts Poulsen while in the ward. Poulsen gets the intake sheet, takes his time to develop the story (which could have been made very over the top, COPS THROW EXHACKER CRIME VICTIM IN MENTAL WARD). Lamo gets a diagnosis and new medicine, which oddly helps. Lamo learns something (maybe) about himself. Story is now very interesting, but complicated. Poulsen takes the time to write it well. Then you come along and say it looks fishy.

I appreciate that you spent the time to interview people in the case. But it’s unclear to me where Poulsen crossed any journalistic line. People aren’t *friends* with Lamo. They just end up talking and IMing with him. He used to contact me out of the blue on IM, offering odd leads.

Lamo is clearly starved for attention. Often he gets it by coming up with odd leads. Here he decided to become a rat, and then went on to brag about it. I’m not sure how Poulsen gets tagged or slimed as an informant for reporting it, but Wikileaks managed to do that — and sadly, you helped out.

I’ve long been a fan of your work and I’ll continue to be, but I think you screwed this up, Glenn, and it’s pretty disappointing that you seemed to let your infatuation with Wikileaks color your analysis.


Ryan Singel

(A snippet of this e-mail going into minutiae has been clipped for readability.)

Additionally, here’s a full, not truncated quote from Glenn Greenwald in that same e-mail thread, about Kevin Poulsen:

“The very idea that I’ve “successfully impugned the reputation of a fucking good journalist” about whom I said: (a) he violated no ethical principle, (b) there was no evidence to suggest he did anything wrong, (c) is someone whose work I’ve admired, and (d) there’s no evidence to question his integrity or good faith — is, to put it mildly, fucking insane.”

So there it is — Glenn Greenwald believes Poulsen has not violated any ethical principle, is someone he admires, and says there’s no evidence he’s done anything wrong or any reason to question his integrity.

Greenwald and I have also had e-mail conversations over the last few days, where I vociferously objected to his slimy, Yuletide Glenn-Beck-esque insinuations about Poulsen. And at no point, did he bring up the e-mail from June, which according to my records of the conversation, includes nothing about whether it is on or off the record.

Stating that I explicitly wanted it on the record is just wrong, and cutting off sentences halfway through to distort the meaning of a sentence wouldn’t pass muster at even a neighborhood weekly. It’s the tactic of FOX News.

It’s especially galling coming from Greenwald, who holds himself up as the the arbiter and scold of the world’s journalistic practices.


Ryan Singel

Just an old-fashioned personal blog

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