John Young and Deborah Natsios (Cryptome.org) Interviewed in DOMUS

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The founders of Cryptome.org, architects John Young and Deborah Natsios, are interviewed in Domus magazine as part of their open source themed issue:

How did Cryptome begin?

Deborah: Our collaboration started some time late in 1993. We went online in the Internet's early infancy, its seminal moments. Quite quickly we became involved in these new online environments and communities that were positioning themselves on the front line of the politics of information. John's involvement with the Cypherpunk Listserv was a transformative moment—Cypherpunk was dealing with issues of cryptography and freedom of information, and was way more advanced than anything that architectural practice was interested in at the time. For a long time we were the only architects in a milieu of technologists, cryptographers, hackers—we experienced a very peculiar kind of isolation in those years.

John: Cypherpunk was completely different from anything that existed at the time. It was all about taking over the world by undermining institutions and authorities. Cypherpunk did not have any interest in design, or had never heard of it, or possibly just didn't care. On the other side, we were surrounded by architects and designers who were not interested in anything that might disturb the opportunity of getting work, anything that might hinder their careers. It was then that it started to dawn on us that the Internet was going to become an advertising medium, as it has become for designers and architects. Even today, there are thousands of websites about getting work and showing portfolios, but nothing even remotely disruptive. Cypherpunk was out to undermine precisely that.

What made you perceive the disruptive potential of the Internet in relation to the politics of information as something necessary at that time?

Deborah: I think the politics of these "new technology" people in the design world is very problematic. Architects are by and large engaged in a kind of ornamental politics—a telegenic, photogenic and glossy politics that is unerringly safe. They won't put their careers on the line, they won't be visited by the authorities, they won't be subpoenaed for a federal criminal trial—all of which has happened to us. Is your work pulling the tail of the tiger? Are the authorities appearing at your door with warnings? Very few architects can say that. There is a certain abdication of engagement in the circles of mainstream production as tools of change—exhibitions, magazines and so on play their own role in this game.

John: We are not aware of anyone else in the design world who is engaged in the sort of practice we are engaged in. And even if they were, you would never find out about them through the architectural and design media—they would be too bizarre to be associated with. What the architecture world does have is a particular breed of architects who are highly practised at being embraced for their "outsiderness". Being a professional outsider as a promotional schtick: they are welcome and there are budgets for them. So one option is to be mildly controversial, and get invited to places to give talks and do museum shows. The other is to actually do something that will really piss people off, to the extent they will never want to invite you again or have anything to do with you

via Adrian Chen

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RECOMMENDED READING: Hans Ulrich Obrist In Conversation with Julian Assange II, e-flux

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HUO: Do you think the Western world as a whole is being Putinized?

JA: The Western world is slowly being Putinized. It has progressed the most in the United States. But there is a rivalry with the banking sector, and it’s not clear who is going to win. It’s not even clear, as time goes by, that these will even be two separate, rival systems. Rather, the privatization of the national security sector means that, as time goes by, the connections between Wall Street and the national security sector are starting to disappear, because you have shared ownership of, say, Lockheed Martin or Boeing. And then you have cross investments and portfolios and credit default swaps, and so forth, on the functions of these intelligence contractors and military contractors. So, they are actually starting to merge at critical points. But, looking at the behavior of the White House, it’s clear that still within the White House—and in influences upon the White House—that there are still some distinctive differences between these two groups. Obama’s backers are from Wall Street. They are from his banking sector, his big money. And he does not actually have a handle on the intelligence and military patronage network. So it’s like he’s sitting on some cake mix, which is this military intelligence patronage network. As it grows stronger, he just has to sort of rise up with it as it moves in a particular direction. He has to move with it, because he doesn’t have a handle on it. He doesn’t have any spoon he can stick into it to move it around, because his family doesn’t have anything to do with this system. They’re not meshed with the system, so he can’t control it, whereas Hillary has significant connections within that system. And we can look at something like when it was announced that Knopf had signed an 800,000 dollars deal for my book to be published in the US, and I stated that I would use a portion of this money to keep WikiLeaks afloat. Peter T. King, the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee—a powerful position in United States Congress—wrote to Timothy C. Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, and personally asked him to add Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as an organization to the US Specially Designated Nationals List, which is the US embargo list. So in the way that Cuba is embargoed from all economic interaction with any US citizen under penalty of criminal action, I, personally, would be embargoed from any economic interaction with any US citizen, and so would WikiLeaks. Timothy C. Geithner then smacked this request back within 48 hours and denied it. It’s very unusual. Geithner is right from the elite of the Wall Street patronage network. And as US Treasury Secretary, he’s remained there. In terms of a diplomatic signal, that was very interesting. As a purely technocratic response, Geithner could have sat on it for two, three weeks, to then reject or accept it for technical reasons. To knock it back so quickly is to say, no, we’re deliberately sending a signal that we don’t want that to happen. And it’s very easy to understand, because the national security, government, and private sector in the United States flourishes from its lack of accountability, from its secrecy. That’s how it’s able to gradually increase its power. But WikiLeaks is holding that power to account. To generate or to encourage the adoption of a position where publishing or revealing information about the national security sector is illegal—or will result in being added to the US Specially Designated Nationals List—is to foster the power and expansion of that national security patronage network at the economic and power expense of the Wall Street network.

— EXCERPT FROM "IN CONVERSATION WITH JULIAN ASSANGE, PART II BY HANS ULRICH OBRIST, E-FLUX JOURNAL. Assange also responds to questions posed to him by artists Goldin+Senneby, Paul Chan, Metahaven (Daniel van der Velden and Vinca Kruk), Martha Rosler, Luis Camnitzer, Superflex, Philippe Parreno, and Ai Weiwei. (Part I)

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RECOMMENDED READING: Hans Ulrich Obrist In Conversation with Julian Assange, e-flux

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Metahaven

JA: ... We have never unpublished something that we have published. And it’s all very well for me to say that, but how can the public be assured? They can’t. There are some things that we have traditionally done, such as providing cryptographic hashes of the files that we have released, allowing for a partial check if you have a copy of a specific list of cryptographic hashes. But that’s not good enough. And we’re an organization whose content is under constant attack. We have had over one hundred serious legal threats, and many intelligence and other actions against us. But this problem, and its solution, is also the solution to another problem, which is: How can we globally, consistently name a part of our intellectual history in such a way that we can accurately converse about it? And by “converse” I don’t mean a conversation like we’re having now, but rather one that takes place through history and across space. For example, if I start talking about the First Amendment, you know what I mean, within this current context of our conversation. I mean the First Amendment of the United States. But what does that mean? It’s simply an abstraction of something. But what if the First Amendment was only in digital form, and someone like Nadhmi Auchi made an attack on that piece of text and made it disappear forever, or replaced it with another one? Well, we know the First Amendment is spread everywhere, so it’s easily checkable. If we are confused in our conversation and unsure of what we’re talking about, or we really want to get down to the details, it’s in so many places that if I find a copy, it’s going to be the same as the copy you find. But this is because it’s a short and very ancient and very popular document. In the cases of these Nadhmi Auchi stories, there were eight that were removed, but actually this removal of material as a result of political or legal threats, it’s happening everywhere. This is just the tip of the iceberg. And there are other forms of removal that are less intentional but more pernicious, which can be a simple matter of companies going under along with the digital archives they possess. So we need a way of consistently and accurately naming every piece of human knowledge, in such a way that their name arises out of the knowledge itself, out of its textual, visual, or aural representation, where the name is inextricably coupled to what it actually is. If we have that name, and if we use that name to refer to some information, and someone tries to change the contents, then it is either impossible or completely detectable by anyone using the name...

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Jill Magid and Trevor Paglen in Artforum

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Jill Magid, My Sensitivity, 2007

Pamela M. Lee writes about Jill Magid and Trevor Paglen as artists who "interrogate and dramatize what could be called the mechanisms of contemporary secrecy," in a long essay in this month's Artforum:

The past several years have seen the development of a certain kind of practice, represented by artists such as the late Mark Lombardi (with his diagrams of the systemic and insidious connections that link the protagonists of global power networks) and the Web-based initiative They Rule (with its own cladistic representations of American elites), that visualizes those covert relationships of power that obtain among corporations, government agencies, and private citizens. But the focus of this essay is the work of Jill Magid and Trevor Paglen, whose distinct practices converge around the logic of the open secret. Both artists interrogate and dramatize what could be called the mechanisms of contemporary secrecy. For her part, Magid’s practice literally performs the rituals of concealment and exposure. In “Authority to Remove,” her 2009–10 exhibition at Tate Modern in London, Magid charted her long involvement with the Dutch secret service, or AIVD (Algemene Inlichtingen—en Veiligheidsdienst), which culminated in a novel based on years of interviews with intelligence agents. Large portions of the novel were then redacted. Paglen’s work in experimental geography has produced powerful insights into the photographic calibrations between the visible and the invisible, homing in on the sub rosa installations of the American military both on the ground and in the air. His latest show, at San Francisco’s Altman Siegel gallery earlier this year, continued in the vein of what Rebecca Solnit aptly calls “visibility wars” while mining new territory in the history of photography.

Both artists assiduously unpack the secret’s organizational and performative logic, its murky procedural techniques, and the alternations between the open and the hidden that sponsor its occasional emergence into public view. But perhaps what Magid and Paglen ultimately disclose, if in very different ways, is that lies and truth claims occupy surprisingly proximate territory on the spectrum of redaction and disclosure; and that the very notion of evidence as fact undergoes a radical mutation where the blurred interests of transparency and secrecy are concerned—now more than ever, given that the politics of information has taken on a startling urgency.

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