The New Yorker has a fascinating new profile of Julian Assange, the mastermind behind WikiLeaks. Raffi Khatchadourian's piece is full of revelations about the enigmatic hacker-turned-"open-government activist", from details of his peripatetic childhood to an exclusive glimpse of Assange at work on the "Collateral Murder" video of an American Army helicopter shooting journalists and civilians in Baghdad.
Check it out—but also check out MoJo's controversial profile of Assange by David Kushner, which has just been updated and expanded. Like Kushner, Khatchadourian concludes that Assange's attempts to shine light on evildoers while lurking in the shadows is deeply contradictory: "The thing that he seems to detest most—power with accountability—is encoded in the site's DNA, and will only become more pronounced as WikiLeaks evolves into a real institution."
Perhaps the most interesting tidbit in the New Yorker story is its discussion of how WikiLeaks got its start. When WikiLeaks was in the planning stages in 2006, Assange said that he had more than 1 million documents; a claim that convinced Cryptome founder Jon Young that Assange was either exaggerating or up to no good. But now it seems that Assange did have his hands on a large, questionably obtained, cache of material. Khatchadourian reports that one WikiLeaks activist had access to a "tranche" of secret government documents obtained by Chinese hackers. The documents had been pulled off of Tor, the anonymizing network that WikiLeaks now encourages its leakers to use to stymie "internet spies." According to the New Yorker, WikiLeaks posted only a few of those swiped documents. If it's accurate, this anecdote raises some serious ethical and technical questions about how WikiLeaks operates. Does WikiLeaks condone this kind of online snooping? Has it relied upon it since its launch? Just how many of the senstive documents it's posted were genuinely leaked and how many were hacked?
Is Fort Knox secretly empty? Did Glenn Beck—or perhaps aliens—move the gold to an even more secure location? Yes, it's time for another installment of Conspiracy Watch, our ongoing collection of wonderfully weird (and totally whack) conspiracy theories.
THE THEORY: The federal government keeps more than half of its gold—some 5,050 tons—stashed inside the bullion depository in Ft. Knox, Kentucky. At least it says it does, since it won't let anyone in there to check. Why all the secrecy? Because much—or all—of the gold has disappeared.
THE CONSPIRACY THEORISTS: Fears that Ft. Knox is being emptied date back more than half a century (see "Gold Bug Variations"). Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) says his measure to audit the Federal Reserve, which passed the House last December, would force the first open audit of Ft. Knox in decades. The Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee, a nonprofit that promotes "the liberation of thee precious metals markets as a matter of international human rights," suspects that the gold has been raided to manipulate commodities markets in an effort to sink gold prices and bolster the dollar. Some gold bugs go even further, claiming that Ft. Knox's gold bars have been replaced with fakes filled with super-dense tungsten.
MEANWHILE, BACK ON EARTH: Mint spokesman Michael White says the Treasury conducts a "comprehensive audit" of Ft. Knox annually, and the gold's all there—you'll just have to take its word for it. And Ron Paul's plan to open the Fed's books might not penetrate the vault: The US Mint and the Federal Reserve say that Ft. Knox is not even part of the Fed.
Kookiness Rating: (1=maybe they're on to something, 5=break out the tinfoil hat!)
As hopes of a Hollywood ending to the BP oil disaster have all but faded, AP reports that Avatar director James Cameron has met with federal officials to offer his help in terminating the leak. No, he's not proposing a junk shot of useless Avatar merchandise. Rather, according to the UK Telegraph, Cameron has already offered BP use of some of his private submersibles, big toys inspired by his big-budget bathtub epics The Abyss and Titantic. Meanwhile, Waterworld survivor Kevin Costner has gotten a surge of positive buzz for his Ocean Therapy device, a centrifuge that cleanses oil-contaminated water; BP is reportedly testing the invention. Who's next, Sting?
Certainly, BP could use all the help it can get. Beyond the failed top kill and flimsy containment barriers, there have to be more ideas out there for a last-ditch effforts to stop, contain, or clean up the spill. BP says it's already received more than 7,800 ideas via its suggestions hotline and a special page on its disaster response website. InnoCentive, a crowdsourcing project linked with NASA and the Rockefeller Foundation, has issued a challenge to innovators to come up with bright ideas ASAP. Even if the vast majority are worthless or wacky (like the notion of nuking the leak into oblivion), there ought to be a couple solid ideas in there. Let's see what happens—and then figure out why these plans weren't on oil-industry and regulators' drawing boards years ago.
A lot has happened in the month since BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, sunk, and caused the worst oil spill in US history. To help keep track of the events, we've put together a handy timeline of the disaster and some of the history behind it, from BP's green rebranding effort to the Mineral and Management Service's record of lax oversight. It's a work in progress, so check back for the latest developments and more background info in the days ahead. Slide along the timeline using the scroll bar on the bottom; zoom in and out using the slider on the left side. Or view a full-screen version of the timeline here.