This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypherpunks, and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers
Who Are The Cypherpunks?
This is the unauthorized telling of the revolutionary cryptography story behind the motion picture The Fifth Estate in theatres this October, and We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, a documentary out now.
WikiLeaks brought to light a new form of whistleblowing, using powerful cryptographic code to hide leakers’ identities while they spill the private data of government agencies and corporations. But that technology has been evolving for decades in the hands of hackers and radical activists, from the libertarian enclaves of Northern California to Berlin to the Balkans. And the secret-killing machine continues to evolve beyond WikiLeaks, as a movement of hacktivists aims to obliterate the world’s institutional secrecy.
Forbes journalist Andy Greenberg has traced its shadowy history from the cryptography revolution of the 1970s to Wikileaks founding hacker Julian Assange, Anonymous, and beyond.
This is the story of the code and the characters—idealists, anarchists, extremists—who are transforming the next generation’s notion of what activism can be.
With unrivaled access to such major players as Julian Assange, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, and WikiLeaks’ shadowy engineer known as the Architect, never before interviewed, Greenberg unveils the world of politically-motivated hackers—who they are and how they operate.
About the Author
ANDY GREENBERG is a staff writer for Forbes magazine, focusing on technology, information security and digital civil liberties. His Forbes story on WikiLeaks and the future of information leaks was the first magazine cover story to feature Julian Assange. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, filmmaker Malika Zouhali-Worrall.
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (September 25, 2013)
New York Times Editors’ Choice
“Greenberg is at his best when on the road — driving through a volcano-ridden Iceland, flying a decrepit Soviet plane with nine hackers, swimming in the Black Sea with fearless Bulgarian journalists. Even seasoned observers of WikiLeaks will find something new and interesting in this book.”— Evgeny Morozov, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
“Computer hackers haven’t been made into heroes like this since Stieg Larsson created Lisbeth Salander—and luckily Greenberg shares a bit of Larsson’s flair for suspense, too.” — SLATE
Greenberg delves eloquently into the magicians of the all-powerful technology that shatters the confidentiality of any and all state secrets while tapping into issues of personal privacy. — PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY
While lawmakers and law enforcers struggle with the philosophy and practicality of these issues, the people Greenberg profiles have made up their minds, and they are a few steps ahead. If you’re wondering who they are and why they feel so strongly, look no further than this book. — NEW SCIENTIST
“…fascinating and well-researched.” –WALL STREET JOURNAL
“Forbes magazine journalist Andy Greenberg takes readers on a terrific and revealing — if considerably unsettling — investigation into the shadowy war rooms behind our computer screens.” –CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER
“A globe trotting exploration into the heart of the contentious world of brilliant, eccentric and erratic game changers who have taken the tools at hand and turned them into powerful weapons that can — and have in some cases — altered the course of history…Greenberg went looking for a story and nailed it.” — PAPER MAGAZINE
“A series of moving and deeply complex portraits… In all, Greenberg has created a seriously riveting read.” — CAPITAL NEW YORK
Gripping…For all the technical detail (which Greenberg excels at explaining), this book is still about human feats and failings, idealism, trust and betrayal. — IRISH TIMES
A great read that borders on important.
OK, finished THIS MACHINE KILLS SECRETS by Andy Greenberg.
First of all, let me just say that this is an excellent read. It moves along quickly, like a novel, and Greenberg discusses many of the basic technological capabilities that were invented directly or inspired by the Cypherpunks. It also gives little character portraits developed mainly by direct interaction Greenberg had with some of the key players. Greenberg describes meetings with John Young, Tim May, Julian Assange and others. And those who subscribed to the Cypherpunks mailing list will recognize the characters he has captured in book form: John Young is a (necessarily) paranoid characters who truly believes in freeing information, particularly information owned by the public. Tim May is a cranky old crank who is nonetheless brilliant and has egged on or conceived of many of the key inventions spawned by Cypherpunk thinking. Julian Assange is the self-proclaimed Cypherpunk messiah who is nevertheless hell-bent on exposing some of the worst abuses of both Governments and large corporations. In my opinion, Greenberg captures some aspects of the people without ignoring their contributions.
Where the book falls short of it’s very high potential is in the last couple of chapters. Basically, Greenberg ends up spending a lot of time of the gossipy side of how Wikileaks came apart. While some coverage of this part of recent history is probably merited (and showing how Assange may have partly contributed to Wikileaks’ loss of clout), Greenberg should have continued the main anti-authoritarian themes developed in the early chapters and discussed (for instance) BITCOIN. Whether Bitcoin itself survives or not isn’t relevant, but Bitcoin emodies many Cypherpunkly ideals, including anonymous cash and a decentralized coining mechanism. As such, it is the first of what will certainly be a series of digital forms of cash. Greenberg should have maintained his focus on the core themes of the Cypherpunks and strong crypto and then looked towards the future and (possibly) discussed which of the themes may continue to proliferate (eg, Collapse of governments due to anonymous crypto payments? Probably unlikely. Forcing nation-states to come to terms with far higher forms of transparency? Increasingly likely.)
In my opinion this book is informative, fun-to-read, and even somewhat important. If Greenberg fixes the descent into Gossip in a second edition, then this book could become of lasting relevance.
Good detail but cheers a bit too much for the wrong people
Andy Greenberg wrote a well-researched book about the cyberpunks, hackers, and obvious had great access. I borrowed the audio edition and it passed the commute time for a week. I would recommend it to someone looking for a window to that world. It is also quite timely discussing Wikileaks and beyond. My chief problem is with the overall tone. It seems to have a message that leaks are good and that exposure of all secrets is something noble. In fact what we see with Assange and those like him is basically digital anarchy – regardless of who gets hurt. The premise that governments should not have the right to keep secrets, nor private businesses, nor individuals (other than the hackers themselves of course) is just false and places them no better than the anarchists that simply want no functioning government.
Daniel Ellsberg, who stole and leaked classified documents later called the Pentagon Papers, is treated as a founding father, and well a hero in the book. Only those on the far left believed that then and only those today think that government has no right to secrets of any kind. The biggest fallacy in the book was the lack of any attempt by Mr. Greenberg to confront Assange, and those that have followed him, with the question ‘what gives you the right to decide what should be secret, and thus kept from our enemies’? It is one thing to expose corruption in government or society in an individual instance, quite another to expose a hundred thousand documents that are classified secret, well just because you can. Doing that hurts people, harms countries, and gets people killed. That is the real world that those that love to curl up with a laptop and create mayhem don’t face – but should. I don’t think I want some over-caffeinated pale hacker adolescent type in a dark room making that decision for us. It is not a computer game, it is not noble, it is the real world. Maybe the message should have been that they should put down the computer and actually join the real world.