Older, quieter than WikiLeaks, Cryptome perseveres

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 9, 2013 at 11:05 am •  Published: March 9, 2013
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Another exchange with the FBI came in November 2003, according to Young, when two agents paid him a visit to discuss recent Cryptome postings intended to expose national security gaps. The postings included maps and photos of rail tunnels and gas lines leading toward New York's Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention was to be held the next year.

The agents were polite, Young said, and made no assertion that he had broken any law.

Another confrontation occurred in 2010, when Cryptome posted Microsoft's confidential Global Criminal Compliance Handbook, outlining its policies for conducting online surveillance on behalf of law enforcement agencies. Contending that the posting was a copyright violation, Microsoft asked that Cryptome be shut down by its host, Network Solutions. Criticism of Microsoft followed, from advocates of online free speech, and the complaint was withdrawn within a few days.

Young acts as gatekeeper for Cryptome — and material that looks "nutty," he said, won't make the cut. But he balks at editing the material that he does post, and doesn't like to provide online commentary.

"We have an editorial role in selecting files, but we don't tell people what to think about them," he said. "It's up to you to decide."

Moreover, Young urges Cryptome's patrons to be skeptical of anything placed on the site, given that the motives of the contributors may not be known.

"Cryptome, aspiring to be a free public library, accepts that libraries are chock full of contaminated material, hoaxes, forgeries, propaganda," Young has written on the site. "Astute readers, seeking relief from manufactured and branded information, will pick and choose..."

Young is adamant that Cryptome will resist threats aimed at getting certain postings taken down. However, he says he sometimes accedes to requests from individuals to remove postings that they consider personally damaging.

Some of the material on Cryptome is visually powerful — for example a series of 4,200 photos of soldiers and other people killed and maimed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Another series displays photos and videos of political protests, ranging from the 2004 Republican convention and the more recent Occupy Wall Street movement to incidents in Mexico, Tibet, Greece, Russia and the Middle East.

Natsios has created a distinctive series of her own — intricate multimedia narratives tracking the evolution of modern-day security regimes. One looks at Greece in the Cold War era (http://www.cryptome.org/irredenta/ ) while another, titled Ring of Steel (http://bit.ly/NbVczX ) examines the expansion of surveillance and anti-terrorism activity by the New York Police Department in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Her father, Nicholas Natsios, served in the CIA for three decades, and she grew up overseas as he shifted from post to post, including stints in Vietnam, South Korea and Greece. Young, for all his interest in national security, recalls that his father-in-law, who died in 2004, would never discuss the CIA with him.

The joint Young-Natsios architecture business remains active; Young says it's profitable enough to underwrite Cryptome's operations. And the couple pursues an array of other interests, encompassing literature, philosophy, history and other fields.

As a scholar, Young has tackled topics ranging from water power systems to the link between mental health and architecture. One of his papers at Columbia was titled "Furniture and Ideology."

Beyond academics, Young's Columbia experience influenced his later avocations in other ways. In April 1968, he was among a group of graduate students who occupied the architecture school's Avery Hall during campus-wide protests inspired by anti-war sentiments and opposition to a proposed gymnasium project.

In "Across the Barricades," a book about the Avery Hall occupation, Young is depicted as playing a key role — after initially keeping so quiet that some students thought he was a police spy. In a brief speech to his comrades, four days into the occupation, Young urged them to embrace their communal strengths and capitalize on their individual skills.

In the space of five minutes, writes author Richard Rosenkranz, Young "had induced us to relax, restored our morale, and reintroduced us to the power of positive thinking."

The occupation ended with police intervention and dozens of arrests. But Young said there was a positive legacy — the launch of an initiative called Urban Deadline, by him and other Avery veterans, that became a precursor for Cryptome with a mix of social activism and architecture projects.

In an epilogue to Rosenkranz's book, Young describes himself as a staunch believer in participatory democracy, "where each man participates in the decision processes that affect him."

To Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that belief is embodied by Young's commitment to Cryptome.

"It's a very bare bones website, and I don't think he cares that it's run on a shoestring," she said. "He thinks of it as a small, important thing that he does for the world. I think of it as old-school public service."

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Online:

http://cryptome.org/

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Follow David Crary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CraryAP