Uncensorable donations

Donations governments cannot stop

Open government is strongly correlated to quality of life. Open government is compelled to answer injustice rather than causing it. Plans by an open government which are corrupt, cause injustice or do not alleviate suffering are revealed and so opposed before implementation. If unjust plans cannot reach implementation then government will be a force for justice.

In the last two chapters we looked at the issues with digital payments, but when you think about donations you wouldn’t assume they have the same problems as payments have. For example when donating money to a charity, like Charity Water, they don’t have to be worried of charge back fraud because you’re voluntarily giving them money.However even charities can be prosecuted for not fulfilling their promises, it’s an experience the founder of Charity Water writes in his book Thirst. So charge backs isn’t a completely irrelevant worry. But the same problem with third-party censorship is relevant here as well.

Imagine a country doing something really horrible, like purging intellectuals and political opponents, that would put the government in a bad light. Journalists trying to report on this event may find it difficult or impossible to accept donations so they can continue their work. A payment processor (which are necessary for digital donations)—perhaps under pressure from the government—might block donations or break the journalistic anonymityCryptocurrencies also gives better privacy than other digital payment systems., making donations for truth-seeking journalists very difficult or outright dangerous.

Censorship is real

A powerful example of censorship is the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China 1989. It was a student led protest which was forcefully suppressed by hundreds of thousands military troops, killing large numbers of demonstrators and bystanders.Some have drawn parallels between then recent protests in Hong Kong and Tiananmen. But with smartphones everywhere it would be close to impossible to cover up a similar massacre.The Hong Kong Free Press, an independent news source in China, accepts Bitcoin donations.

“This gun-happy soldier, he’s firing indiscriminately into the crowd and three young girl students knelt down in front of him and begged him to stop firing,” she says quietly, gesturing with her hands in a praying motion.

“And he killed them.”

China has gone to great lengths to cover up these events. Twitter is censored by default in ChinaThe censorship in China is absolutely massive. They try to scan and filter all internet traffic in China, often called “The Great Firewall of China”, and they’re doing a pretty good job. For example they completely ban Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Google, Youtube, Wikipedia, WikiLeaks, Netflix and many others. It might be possible to work around the restrictions using a VPN, but many don’t work in China either. and anyone caught tweeting about Tiananmen might get arrested.You’ll probably be placed in a “re-education camp”, they’re quite similar to camps in Stalin’s Soviet or Hitler’s Germany. On the anniversary they have police escorts for the victim’s families who wants to visit the graves—to keep them away from journalists.

Censorship is a global problem and is a big problem in for example Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. A more modern problem is manipulation on social media, with the goal to control public opinion. One way is to use trolls (fake user accounts) and another is to censor opinions that don’t fit your narrative.

A short history of WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks is a relevant example for illustrating the importance of uncensorable payments as it shows the influence powerful actors have over payment processors, and in turn the funding for WikiLeaks. We will focus on the Chelsea Manning leaks and the aftermath, where WikiLeaks got their donation channels shut down for exposing government atrocities.

I will bring up the events surrounding Julian Assange, because they give context and might be relevant to the story of government abuse, but it’s not about him or any other person in particular. Even if Julian Assange is guilty of rape it does not change the importance of the leaks or WikiLeaks as a concept, which goes above individuals.Trying to discredit WikiLeaks by discrediting Assange is guilt by association—a logical fallacy.If we think that good deeds can only be done by perfectly good people then it follows that only Superman can do good. But in reality people are flawed like Iron Man, who’s narcissistic and alcoholic but also a hero.

This is not a glorification of WikiLeaks—they have endangered individuals via their leaks. Instead I hope to show that uncensorable donations are important, because exposing government atrocities can lead to your donations being blocked (and government atrocities should be exposed).

Beginning

Oct 4, 2006

WikiLeaks was launched as a news site for collaborative editing, similar to how Wikipedia is edited by volunteers. Despite their similar names the sites aren’t related. In 2010 WikiLeaks stopped being a wiki, but the name remained the same.

Today many equate WikiLeaks with Julian Assange, but he’s only one of many people involved. Sometimes he’s described as the founder, editor-in-chief or director.

The Chelsea Manning leaks

July 5, 2010
First I must caution you: it’s very easy to become numb when you read about these leaks. The sheer amount of horror is enough to overwhelm you and might cause your brain to suppress your emotions, maybe out of self-defense. But try to remember that this happened to real people—it’s not just a mass of text and numbers. Please don’t relegate this as just another forgettable statistic.

Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) is a former soldier of the United States who provided WikiLeaks with nearly 750,000 military and diplomatic documents. They were released in batches and spread out over a period of time. Some of the content was absolutely shocking and caused global outrage, I’ve tried to pick out some notable leaksIt’s hard to do justice as there are many more leaks, I find it overwhelming. See for example:1. Torture and abuse in the Guantánamo naval base
2. How the U.S. avoided the U.K. cluster bomb ban
3. The Abu Omar abduction
4. Political corruption in Tunisia
5. Saudi urged U.S. to attack Iran
:

  1. WikiLeaks uploaded a video of a Baghdad helicopter attack in July 12, 2007 with the title “Collateral murder”. It’s a video of how an attack helicopter kills a dozen (innocent) people, including two Reuters news staff.

    Here are some transcriptsAt 2019-08-28 the transcript timestamps are slightly off compared to the full video, I’ve tried to match them up better. of the full video:

    02:34He’s got an RPG [Rocket Propelled Grenade]?
    02:35All right, we got a guy with an RPG.

    Except now we know it’s not an RPG but a camera held by a Reuters journalist.

    03:45All right, hahaha, I hit [shot] ‘em…
    04:55Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards.
    05:00Nice.
    06:57Come on, buddy.
    07:01All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.

    After killing a bunch of people they’re looking at an injured person crawling on the ground wanting him to pick up a weapon—so they’re allowed to kill him.

    07:59Picking up the wounded?
    08:01Yeah, we’re trying to get permission to engage.
    08:04Come on, let us shoot!

    Then a van enters the scene and they’re rushing in to help the wounded. But now the rules aren’t that important anymore—they want to shoot!

    10:35Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield!
    10:37Ha ha!
    10:39All right. There were uh approximately four to five individuals in that truck, so I’m counting about twelve to fifteen.

    There were two children behind that windshield who got seriously injured. Their father was killed for trying to help the wounded on the street.

    When Reuters tried to get answers for how their reporters died the U.S. military claimed they didn’t know how they got killed, and that all dead were insurgents. They also didn’t know how the children got injured, despite them having the video footage.

    Afterwards the military investigated the issue and concluded that the actions of the soldiers where in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own “Rules of Engagement”.

  2. In 2006, a group of U.S. soldiers entered a house in Iraq where they executed at least 10 people (9 civilians). Including an infant and four other children—all five years or younger—and elderly women. They then called in an airstrike to cover up the evidence, but postmortems showed they had been handcuffed and shot in the head.Even the infant was shot in the head.A photographer captured pictures of the bodies. (WARNING FOR GRAPHIC IMAGES)

    We’re quick to call them terrorists, but viewed from another angle the U.S. soldiers are the terrorists. Just imagine foreign soldiers entering your neighbour’s house and executing everyone there, including the children…

    The soldiers were cleared of any wrongdoing by the U.S. military, after the military initially denied the events happened at all.

    One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter

    Unknown
  3. While U.S. officials had previously said no logs existed of civilian deaths in Iraq, leaked cables told another story. 66,081 civilian deaths had been logged out of a total of 109,000 deaths between 2004 and 2009, that’s 60.6% innocent people—a horrifyingly bad ratio.66 thousand innocent people dead in six years. That’s like 22 World Trade center attacks (where 2,977 people died), more than three a year. Or 31 innocent people dead every day during the six years.

    Leaked cables also indicated that U.S. authorities had failed to investigate hundreds of reports of torture, rape, abuse and murder by Iraqi security officials.

Countless of civilians killed—while soldiers are laughing—and systematic cover-ups to hide it all.You just can’t help but wonder—for what purpose? Imaginary nuclear weapons, bringing “democracy and peace” to Iraq, securing oil supply, helping U.S. allies or simply needing a purpose for their massive war machine?The value of non-American lives in this war is ridiculously low.

To me Chelsea Manning is a hero for bringing this to light. Yet how was she thanked? Like all whistleblowers she was made an example of: she was court-martialed and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Sexual assault allegations against Julian Assange

Aug 2010

Shortly after the massive leaks Julian Assange was accused of sexual assault in Sweden. The timing might be a coincidenceLike the saying goes: “truth is stranger than fiction”. or if you’re a conspiracy theorist you might say they’re manufactured by the U.S. government, in a way to reach Julian Assange.

In November, when Assange had already traveled to London (the charges were dropped to be picked up again after he left Sweden), an international arrest warrant is issued by the Swedish police via Interpol.

PayPal freezes WikiLeaks donations

Dec 4, 2010

Later PayPal freezes WikiLeaks donations with the reason:As far as reasons for shutting down services, PayPal doesn’t have a good record. This is at least believable.

Our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity.

Even if you don’t like conspiracy theories, it’s not a stretch to say the U.S. government put pressure on PayPal in their effort to shut down WikiLeaks.

Banking blockade

Dec 7, 2010

This further developed into a Banking Blockade which the Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard and Western Union also joined. WikiLeaks claim this destroyed 95% of their revenue and they had to resort to cash reserves.

The blockade was later found to be illegal and today WikiLeaks again accept donations via PayPal and credit cards, but they suffered large damage at the crucial time when the world was in uproar over the leaks.If the goal was to divert attention and to put breaks on WikiLeaks until the whole thing blew over, you might say it was a success.For instance today, in 2019, the torture and abuse still continues in Guantánamo, despite ex-president Barack Obama’s promise to close it.

WikiLeaks accepts Bitcoin

Jun 14, 2011

After being shunned by banks and payment processors WikiLeaks turned to Bitcoin, because nobody—not even the U.S. government—can block Bitcoin transactions.

Why did it take almost a year before WikiLeaks started accepting Bitcoin? Satoshi made this appeal in the de-facto discussion forum at the time:

Basically, bring it on. Let’s encourage Wikileaks to use Bitcoins and I’m willing to face any risk or fallout from that act.

No, don’t “bring it on”.

The project needs to grow gradually so the software can be strengthened along the way.

I make this appeal to WikiLeaks not to try to use Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy. You would not stand to get more than pocket change, and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage.

Which Assange cites as the reason they held off introducing Bitcoin donations.

Assange applies for political asylum from Ecuador

June, 2012

A couple of weeks after the Supreme Court’s final ruling in U.K. that Assange should be extradited to Sweden he walked into the Ecuadorean embassy in London and applied for political asylum. The stated reason was fears that Sweden would send him to the U.S. where he would risk the death penalty under espionage charges.The fears of Sweden extraditing Assange to the U.S. might not be unfounded. In 2001 the Swedish police watched CIA forcefully detain two Egyptian refugees on Swedish soil, later facing torture in Eqyptian prison.

Assange was granted asylum August 16th and his stay at the embassy would be longer than anyone would have thought.

Chelsea Manning’s sentence is commuted

Jan 17, 2017
President Barack Obama commutes Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence. Important to note it only reduces her sentence, it doesn’t change the fact that she was convicted.In contrast a pardon would completely absolve her of any wrongdoing. She spent almost 7 years of her original 35 year sentence in prison.

Chelsea Manning is jailed again

Mar, 2019
Chelsea Manning is jailed again for her refusal to testify against Julian Assange. She objected to the secrecy of the grand jury process and says she has already revealed everything she knows at her court martial.

Assange arrested at the embassy

April, 2019

After almost 7 years at the Ecuadorien embassy, Julian Assange finally leaves the embassy and is arrested.Confusingly he was actually arrested twice. First for skipping a U.K. court warrant and a second time at the request of the U.S. seeking his extradition.

While he was immediately indicted on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act by the U.S. his release was news for the Swedish prosecutors. When Assange first sought asylum many people said it was only to avoid the Swedish charges and he used fears of the U.S. as a pretext, but in hindsight the fears might’ve been real.

At the moment, the Swedish investigation is open once again and Assange is waiting for the U.K. to rule on extradition requests from both Sweden and the U.S.

Hiding skeletons in the closet

There’s a minor theme in the WikiLeaks story: How the U.S. government instead of admitting these horrible events, punishing the responsible and making sure they never happen again, seem to do everything to cover them up.

This idea that American soldiers are unconditionally heroes, regardless of they’ve done, makes me both angry and sad. Donald Trump has for example expressed concerns over soldiers being prosecuted for war crimes, and considers pardoning them. This includes a Navy Seals soldier who (allegedly) killed a 15-year old defenseless kid with his hunting knife and shot unarmed civilians. Those aren’t the actions of a hero.

But of course covering up or rationalizing events isn’t a U.S. only phenomena. Here are other examples:

  1. As previously mentioned the Chinese cover up of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
  2. How Genghis Khan is looked up to.

    Maybe you’ve heard that 1 of 200 people of all people alive today are related to Genghis Khan? That’s because he raped young girls wherever he went.Dan Carlin, creator of the excellent Hardcore History podcast, brought up an interesting question:How long will it take for people to celebrate Hitler?It seems absurd to us now, but remember that Genghis Khan did similarly awful things yet there’s a song in the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest about him and how “all women fell for him”.

  3. In Scandinavian countries we talk about us being Vikings with pride.

    But the word Viking originally refers to actions of a group; “to viking”, “to pirate” or “to pillage”. And pillaging means killing, stealing, raping and taking people as slaves. Not unlike the actions of the U.S. soldiers who executed children—which we find so revolting.

  4. How leaders like Ceasar and Kim Jong-il were glorified.

    It was even forbidden to talk about them negatively.

  5. How Soviet tried to cover up the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.I recently finished watching the Chernobyl TV-series and I think it lives up to the hype. Among other things it captures the feeling of the cover-ups very well.

Unfortunately it seems like a human thing to try to hide your misdeeds instead of coming clean, even when they’re exposed.

No mom, it was not me!

A fidgeting child

Burying the truth will allow it to continue

… if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ … ‘Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink’.

George Orwell, 1984

I know what some of you might say and what we others might feel: “I don’t want to know about these horrible things”. It’s true that you’ll feel better if you’re unaware and you’ll probably personally be better off if you act like these never happened.

But if we practice collective ‘forgettance’, where we all pretend these never happened, they will continue to happen. This is why what Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks revealed about the Iraq war is so important: we’re forced to confront the truth.I’m not so naive to say the leaks will prevent future atrocities—they won’t. But knowledge of what actually happens is a necessary first step for change to be possible at all.

Cryptocurrency donations cannot be prevented

While the U.S. government was able to coerce payment processors and banks to drop WikiLeaks, they could never prevent Bitcoin donations. Even China, with the world’s largest internet censorship, cannot censor cryptocurrency transactions.China does have most of the Bitcoin hashrate inside their country. They could theoretically take majority control of Bitcoin’s hashrate and censor transactions that way (this is the worst attack possible against a cryptocurrency, called a 51% attack). If this happened the Bitcoin community would most likely recognize it as an attack and a chain split would happen, making existing miners worthless. The best they can do is force some exchanges to cooperate—but that can be worked around, for example by selling bitcoins in person for cash or by avoiding fiat altogether.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, you can always accept donations digitally via cryptocurrencies. Even the most powerful nations in the world cannot prevent them, this is something unique for cryptocurrencies.