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Did CIA Block Michael Hastings’ Book Salon at FireDogLake?

Today’s FireDogLake Book Salon with Matt Farwell, discussing  Michael Hastings and The Last Magazine was canceled because of technical difficulties. 

FDL had to cancel my Book Salon on May 25th with Richard A. Clarke on his book Sting of the Drone because of technical difficulties.  There have been other technical difficulties that have shut down FDL recently around some posts by CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou.

Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”

– Auric Goldfinger, Ian Flemings’ Goldfinger

So who is behind this? What was their goal? Were they successful? Short term, yes. But longer term we can turn this into a case of the Streisand effect, bringing greater attention to what they are trying to block. How? Purchase The Last Magazine from your favorite independent book store or online via the Penguin site, You can also support FDL by sharing this link and story and donating to cover the mitigation costs of attacks.

To answer my own questions:

Who? The attacker is:

  • A CIA contractor
  • An O-bot who hates “Firebaggers” 
  • A RWNJ who wants to stick it to liberals
  • Someone who has a personal grudge against Michael, Jane or a disgruntled former employee 
  • Someone who hates whistle-blowers, journalists and book salons
  • A contractor for the intelligence/defense industry who is tasked with griefing left-wing sites using multiple methods like trolls, sock puppets or DDoS attacks. A site rises to the top of the “to-hit” list when it addresses certain key word topics.

I’m telling your right now, it’s one of the above. But only two of these would be news to the various press entities who might write about this. I know because I talked to them. The media would also cover it if was:

  • Rahm Emanuel (a spurned democratic political authority figure!)
  • Arianna Huffington (a bitter female competitor!)
  • The Ghost of Andrew Breitbart (a crazy person trapped in cyberspace!)

Would a politically motivated attack on the media traced to an contractor working for the CIA be of interest to The Intercept? The Guardian? Der Spiegel? The Huffington Post? The New York Times? Washington Post?  Sure! What would it take to make it happen? Two sources for the data, the scenario explained to them by two computer experts and a standard denial from the accused agency. The Washington Post would also require a comment from someone at Red State so they could say it happens to both sides, even if it doesn’t.

What are their goals? To piss me off ? Or to decrease book sales?

How do I know what it would take to make a story on this? Following the canceling of my book salon with Richard Clarke I did some research on attacks and what got the media’s attention.   What a lot of people don’t know is that the DDoS “business” is a real problem that is hard to stop.  The reason for an attack can be financial, political or ideological. It also is a big money maker, both for the attackers and the people mitigating the attacks.

One of the people I talked to explained how some DDoS attacks are personal, started out of spite. They are launched just to piss off the target and to show the target they can.  Because of the personal nature and topic of the attack it is sometimes easier to figure out the source based on the context and timing of the attack. Three attacks related to the CIA and drone programs? Probably just a generic RW nut job or Brietbart’s ghost. Don’t over think this folks!  The government’s intelligence service wouldn’t attack the websites of citizens who disagree with their policies, would they? This isn’t GCHQ in the UK!

Asynchronous Attacks Aided by a Low Cost to Damage Ratio. 

The tools to start attacks are easy to find and cheap to buy. If you work with a corrupt financial institution in another country they can’t be compelled to trace the money. 

For about $200 bucks an anonymous person in Russia can hold a website hostage for 24 hour or until money is transferred into a untraceable account. Let’s say you are a retail site, it’s the holiday season and unless you pay up you’ll miss the revenue window. This time you pay up then go to a company that has services and tools to deal with these attacks. It’s not as costly as the ransom, but it’s a higher fixed cost you didn’t have to pay before. 

But at least with a ransom note you can get an idea of who is doing this and why. Law enforcement can point to a reason, an individual and a potential way to trace the perpetrator. But how law enforcement responds to reports of attacks also changes depending who is behind it and how they prioritize the case.  What are they looking for?

  • Is someone in physical danger?
  • Is it a national security issue?
  • Are rich powerful people involved?
  • Was property destroyed?
  • Was money stolen?
  • How big were the financial damages?
  • Was someone’s ability to talk about important issues on a political website delayed for a few hours or days?

But what if nobody claims credit, you can’t explain to them the damage in dollar amounts and the attack has stopped? Are they going to give this case the same attention as another?

No Sting of the Drone Book Salon today Spocko, maybe when the book comes out in paper back

I was very disappointed when my Book Salon was canceled. One reason was just plain ego, I was excited to host this Book Salon and lost the opportunity to have a public discussion with Clarke.  I was a fan of his ever since he apologized to America for having failed them, something that Bush and Cheney should have done, but didn’t.  

I had prepared a lot of questions for the salon including one based on a comment one character makes to another, “we are war criminals now” (Page 22 Burrell to Bowman). But I never got to ask it.  Later that week on Democracy Now Clarke said this,

“I think things that they authorized probably fall within the area of war crimes.” which got the headline “Former Counterterrorism Czar Richard Clarke: Bush, Cheney Committed War Crimes” at Huffington Post

Now wouldn’t it have been swell if Richard had said that first in the FDL Book Salon? In the industry that is called a “Scoop” and it might just have driven page views. I would have been damn proud to elicit that response to my question.

The loss of page views and ad review from a missed scoop is the kind of damage that people can easily measure. The other damage that you could measure but is hard to put a number on, is an out of control intelligence service with no oversight attacking anyone who even slightly ticks them off.

In preparation for The Last Magazine I was sent a list of  Michael Hastings’ work in the Rolling Stone.  The one that caught my attention and dragged me into a scary reality was The Rise of the Killer Drones: An inside look at how killing by remote control has changed the way we fight. Did you know that the Pentagon has a fleet of 19,000 drones? Hastings also covers the secretive CIA drone program and how they see people who care about these issues.

Many who oversee the drone program, in fact, seem to have little but contempt for those who worry about the poten­tial dangers presented by drones. At a human rights seminar at Columbia University last summer, John Radsan, a former attorney for the CIA, admitted that the agency has no interest in debating the legal niceties of drone strikes. “The CIA is laughing at you guys,” he told the assembled human rights lawyers. “You’re worried about international law, and the CIA is laughing.” A White House official I spoke with is even more dismissive. “If Anwar al-Awlaki is your poster boy for why we shouldn’t do drone strikes,” the official tells me, “good fucking luck.”

I’m sure the CIA contractor, or RWNJ or the ghost of Andrew Brietbart is laughing at us–and me. They think they will never get caught, that they quashed the story with pocket change and a handful of bots. But a funny thing about people, sometimes when you try to hide something, you make it interesting to them. It’s a mystery, a puzzle to solve. Who wanted this? Why? What were they covering up? Maybe that is something important we should look at more closely.  Let’s just pull on this thread and see where it leads.

In the meantime purchase The Last Magazine from your favorite independent book store or online via the Penguin site,  Tweet this story around, read the book, come back when the Book Salon is rescheduled.  

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