Before there was Wikileaks, there was Cryptome, still one of the web’s premiere clearing-houses for information that government, industry, or the intelligence community wouldn’t necessarily want to be made public. Now, the site is trying to raise $US100,000 — largely because of rifts within the pro-transparency community that Cryptome helped build.
The site, which was founded in 1996, hasn’t published anything with the worldwide impact of Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning’s leaks. But Cryptome’s documents provide a jarringly intimate and at-times quirky glimpse into the inner workings of government and industry. Want to read the course catalogue for the National Intelligence University’s past academic year or see what a non-disclosure agreement at Snowden’s former employer looks like? Both are posted on Cryptome, along with 70,000 other documents. For some in the national security field, Cryptome is a daily read.
And it embodies the radical anti-secrecy ethos that has turned Snowden and Wikileaks into major international figures.
The site’s format is simple — it consists of a constantly-updated chronological list of PDF uploads and has the same user-friendly, low-tech feel of other Internet early standbys, like the Drudge Report or Wikipedia. Cryptome is a maverick operation, and it costs just $2,000 a year to maintain, according to the AP.
But yesterday, Cryptome announced a Kickstarter campaign, with the aim of raising $US100,000 in two months. It turns out the campaign has less to do with raising money than it does with Cryptome’s discomfort with where they believe the public dialogue on government secrecy is heading — a dialogue that the site itself helped spark.
Business Insider got in touch with John Young, Cryptome’s 78-year-old founder and a professional architect, to ask about the Kickstarter campaign. Young said that the money will go towards creating a system where any user can access the entirety of the site’s archives.
But the site archives are already free, and talking to Young we got the impression that that his primary goal was sending a message to rival anti-secrecy groups he accuses of selling out.
“I’ll candidly admit that this is aimed at [Pierre] Omidyar’s operation and these oligarchs moving into public service,” Young told Business Insider. He accuses First Look Media — the PayPal founder’s media startup, anchored by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the journalists who broke the Snowden leaks — and even Wikileaks of “hyping public debate” through their coverage decisions.
Worse, in Young’s mind, is that they’re allegedly profiting off of whistleblowing. “It’s making a tremendous amount of money for a lot of people and we find that offensive,” says Young. Cryptome, in contrast, is “a free public library, rather than a product for sale.”
Greenwald’s newly-published book is currently posted on Cryptome, free for anyone with an internet connection.
“If you watch all these hyperbolic agendas, Snowden, Wikileaks, Greenwald, they copy government,” he told Business Insider. “It’s the same kind of hustle of the public where they pretend to be in opposition when they’re in cahoots.”
The Kickstarter campaign is a sign of Young’s frustration with the way the transparency conversation has gone in the year after the Snowden leaks — as well as a way to get under Greenwald and Omidyar’s skin.
In that respect, the Kickstarter is an outgrowth of pro-transparency critiques of Greenwald and Snowden. In April, journalist Chris Floyd engaged in a lengthy email exchange with Greenwald, decrying the allegedly-slow pace of publication of the Snowden disclosures and claiming that Greenwald’s handling of the Snowden leaks went against the interests of transparency and the general public.
Young still admires Greenwald, though.
“He’s pretty argumentative. We like argumentative people. He’s an interesting guy, and a worthy target.”
And confrontation is an ingrained part of Cryptome’s ethos, for Young. “We particularly like people who disagree with us. We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t want to piss people off.”
Reached for comment by email, Greenwald objected in all-caps to the idea that he is profiting off of the Snowden leaks, and notes that “THERE IS AN OBVIOUS IRONY TO COMPLAINING THAT WE’RE PROFITING FROM OUR WORK WHILE HE TRIES TO RAISE $US100,000 BY FEATURING OUR WORK.”
Yet Greenwald still respects Cryptome and wishes them well in their fundraising efforts. “EVEN THOUGH JOHN YOUNG OCCASIONALLY DOES SOME REPELLENT AND DEMENTED THINGS – SUCH AS POSTING THE HOME ADDRESSES OF LAURA POITRAS, BART GELLMAN, AND MYSELF ALONG WITH MAPS POINTING TO OUR HOMES – HE ALSO DOES THINGS THAT ARE QUITE PRODUCTIVE AND VALUABLE. ON THE WHOLE, I’M GLAD THERE IS A CRYPTOME AND HOPE THEY SUCCEED IN RAISING THE MONEY THEY WANT.”
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