Forbes' technology writer Andy Greenberg reports that at the Defcon Security Conference yesterday, an individual named Chet Uber appeared with revelations about the case of accused WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning and government informant Adrian Lamo. These revelations are both remarkable in their own right and, more important, highlight some extremely significant, under-examined developments unrelated to that case. This is a somewhat complex story and it raises even more complex issues, but it is extremely worthwhile to examine.
Uber is the Executive Director of a highly secretive group called Project Vigilant, which, as Greenberg writes, "monitors the traffic of 12 regional Internet service providers" and "hands much of that information to federal agencies." More on that in a minute. Uber revealed yesterday that Lamo, the hacker who turned in Manning to the federal government for allegedly confessing to being the WikiLeaks leaker, was a "volunteer analyst" for Project Vigilant; that it was Uber who directed Lamo to federal authorities to inform on Manning by using his contacts to put Lamo in touch with the "highest level people in the government" at "three letter agencies"; and, according to a Wired report this morning, it was Uber who strongly pressured Lamo to inform by telling him (falsely) that he'd likely be arrested if he failed to turn over to federal agents everything he received from Manning.
So, while Lamo has repeatedly denied (including in his interview with me) that he ever worked with federal authorities, it turns out that he was a "volunteer analyst" for an entity which collects private Internet data in order to process it and turn it over to the Federal Government. That makes the whole Manning case all the more strange: Manning not only abruptly contacted a disreputable hacker out of the blue and confessed to major crimes over the Interent, but the hacker he arbitrarily chose just happened to be an "analyst" for a group that monitors on a massive scale the private Internet activities of American citizens in order to inform on them to U.S. law enforcement agencies (on a side note, if you want to judge what Adrian Lamo is, watch him in this amazing BBC interview; I've never seen someone behave quite like him on television before).In terms of what they mean for the Manning case, those revelations require a lot more analysis, but I want to focus on the much more important aspect of these revelations: namely, what Project Vigilant does as well as the booming private domestic espionage industry of which they are a part.