Brain Dead Journalism

Brain Dead Journalism

It’s always fun when you take on something big, something you care about, and brain-dead “journalists” attack you. For full transparency, here’s what I sent to Evgeny after he had no spine to contact me before he penned his tabloid bullshit. Enjoy.

Hey Evgeny,

Completely fair article, I understand it’s frustrating for people outside our organization to figure out how we work. I also wish you would have reached out and I would gladly have clarified the misunderstandings you highlight in the article.

Haystack’s story makes for great Hollywood material: Bay Area technologists who serendipitiously discover that there is a bloody and violent world beyond Silicon Valley – the one where people rebel, fight, and die for real and not just as part of some new Facebook game - decide to dedicate themselves to the fight against authoritarian evil with the help of – you guessed it! – the Internet. They are the ones putting “Twitter” into the “Twitter Revolution”! And you too can abet their fight: they’ve got whole two Donate buttons on their web-site!

I agree with you that the media narrative is very “Hollywood” — go modern day press, right? I also agree a lot of media are quick to yell “TWITTER REVOLUTION” or other nonsense. I’m the first person to shoot this down, and do so at every opportunity.

The “Twitter Revolution” is a bullshit phrase used by Twitter and many others to boost the image of social media. I regret any role I had in furthering this completely empty notion.

This is, for example, what the ever-modest Heap told Newsweek: “Tomorrow I meet with [Sens. John] McCain, [Bob] Casey, maybe [Carl] Levin, but I don’t know if I will have enough time”.

(a) lol, (b) I work endless hours, I was tired, I was meeting with a reporter on my third dinner of the night. I know people like to yell “omg you think you’re so important” — I have a good friend who always says “omg i’m @austinheap” to me. I had a flight leaving that evening, it was a pure scheduling issue. Not the lols you’re trying to spin it into, but I applaud your attempt to do so and Newsweeks effort at making it seem like I’m the most in-demand person in DC.

I’m trying to raise awareness of Internet freedom in DC among our policy makers. As you may know, nothing happens in DC, so we can use all the support we can get. So can the Internet as a whole.

31% of those with access to the Internet live under some form of Government-imposed censorship. More people should get involved. One warning I’d give them, though, is: watch out, a whole bunch of people with blogs are going to bitch you out every step of the way no matter what you do.

And it’s not just American media: The Guardian pronounced Heap to be “The Innovator of the Year” –  personally I would have gone with “The Publicist of the Year” though – just check this photo - but then who am I to judge?

I learned my lesson: turn down every award offered. Their photo guy suggested the mouse cable stuff, I just complied. Again, lesson learned.

Who are you to judge? Are you actually asking or just using that phrase to play the victim card? You tell me, because I’m still wondering that.

So, in essence, the outside public – including Iranians – are asked to believe that a) Haystack software exists b) Haystack software works c) Haystack software rocks d) the Iranian government doesn’t yet have a copy of it, nor do they know that Haystack rocks & works.

(a) I’ll gladly meet you in person and prove it. (b) See A. (c) No one said that — can you source it? Haystack is an *alternative* to Tor, Freegate, Ultrasurf, Psiphon, etc. (d) We would never expect Haystack to *not* fall in the hands of the Iranian regime. That would be stupid.

On the contrary – I’m in the anecdotal mode – plenty of cryptologists on the mailing lists I am seem to be extremely cautious/skeptical of what Haystack has (or, as is the case, doesn’t have) to offer.

Every smart person approaches every subject they don’t have full understanding about with cautious skepticism. I support that, it’s smart.

I have also reached out to multiple crypto/liberation technology mailing lists to try to answer questions they have about Haystack. If you would like to recommend others to reach out to, I’m all ears.

I’m also sad to know that you’re on the Standford libtech group which I *JUST* reached out to try to clear up questions out of a desire to be more transparent with people I respect. Instead of contacting me when you had my contact info, you just ran on assumptions. I appreciate how some members of libtech were mature enough to say things like:

“I was too hasty in drawing conclusions from the incomplete information I had access to at the time.”

I like how I ended my e-mail to the group soliciting feedback and questions re: Haystack with:

“For those individual(s) on this list who have a history of being confrontational in order to grab attention, I won’t be responding to your emails. Grow up.”

Didn’t even have you in mind at that point!

To me, it seems like a no-brainer: if you want to distribute technology that may endanger lives, make sure that the technology is secure.

It *is* a no-brainer. That’s why we’re taking our time to make sure we do things as safe as possible. We don’t *ever* want to put anyone at risk. The last thing I want is blood on our hands.

For what it’s worth, the most popular anti-censorship tool in the world, Freegate, is also closed source and does not invite outside experts to review their code. They’ve done a pretty amazing job in China. I look up to them on a lot of issues.

Second – and here I’m only speaking from my own Belarusian experience – it’s naive to believe that the human networks that Haystack supposedly relies on to distribute the software won’t be penetrated and compromised by the Iranian authorities.

No one said that — again, source? We don’t think Haystack’s security is based on a person-to-person trust network, we’re just using that to control growth and our network of testers. There’s no efficient way to test everything we’re doing with the general public. When Haystack moves to mass-market release, this will be different and we will not be relying on a human network. That’s just the stage we’re at in our growth plan — not a long term strategy like you’ve assumed/implied.

Again, I would like to know why you think our security plan is hinged on this or where you got that impression so I can correct it.

Yeah right. Maybe he should go work for the DOD – they need such people to deal with all those leaks.
For someone that bitches so much about trite press, you’ve mastered it. :-)

the argument that the software needs to be hidden from authorities at all costs strikes me as untenable

As it should. And that’s why no one said that.

Haystack, as all intelligent anti-censorship tools, are built with *full knowledge* that it will one day fall into the hands of the opposition. We do not make that argument, so I’m confused as to why you’re insinuating I or someone involved in our organization did.

This may seem like unnecessary moralizing – but it’s hard to react otherwise when lives are at stake.

It’s the Nancy Grace approach! I was waiting to read “but what about the children” in your article.

And what kind of world are we living in when we expect technology expertise to be concentrated in US Treasury anyway?

You, sir, are the Fact Fairy. Where did you come up with just Treasury granted our entire license? It was Treasury Dept, State Dept and Commerce Dept. A little reading into sanction laws would have made that clear to anyone who can understand legalese. (Not that I could have 12 months ago, to be fair.)

And who gets to pay for all these? Bingo: the Iranians.

This, again, is why we’re taking our time to make sure we’ve crossed our Ts and dotted our Is — we don’t want to put people at risk. At this point, we’re not happy with the total state of the software, which is why we’re not putting *endless* people at risk.

So your point is well taken, but misguided and lacking understanding of how we’re moving the project forward.

…around the needs and demands of the US foreign policy.

Now you’ve got me pegged! I deal with all this bull shit because I want to push US foreign policy. My life has been taken over trying to make people like you happy. Trust me, I’d much rather go back to “fighting dragons” (I love how you make every dig you can, it’s really cute and shows tons of integrity) and not have to deal with this every damn day. But it’s something I believe in, and something I intend on seeing through.

Once again: I’ve got nothing against Haystack or Austin Heap per se.

So why didn’t you reach out and ask the questions you raised instead of babbling off factually incorrect nonsense? Just had a bad day and decided to do zero research?

What irks me is the way in which the limitations of the current discourse on Internet freedom - and the bizarre, completely non-transparent policies that it conceals – end up conferring unneeded legitimacy to Haystack’s flawed – for my taste, anyway – approach to fighting censorship.

Can you tell me or others what organizations you *do* support?

You can agree or disagree with how we run our project and our non-profit, that’s fine. What’s not okay is not having the facts and acting like you know what you’re talking about.

I don’t expect you to publish anything but your one side (because you clearly have no interest in doing that) but I thought it was at least worth it to respond directly to you out of professional courtesy.

I’d be glad to answer any questions you have about Haystack or Haystack conspiracies. Oh, did I tell you we have UFOs hidden in our basement? I also have Jesus Christ cryogenically frozen in my freezer; I keep him next to my Ben & Jerry’s. True story.

All bests,
  Austin
Trolls, couldn’t exist without them.
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