[This was originally published on attrition.org. This is a rebuttal piece to “Shame on Attrition.org” (2011-07-11) and subsequent tweets by Matthew Hughes. (Update: After reading this piece, Hughes has posted his own rebuttal to this page.)]
Earlier today, Matthew Hughes released a libelous and irresponsible post scolding Attrition.org for the “leakage of Gregory D Evans’s psychiatric documents”. He refers to an anonymous pastebin dump (now removed, reposted at least three times since) that included a link to a PDF titled “Psychiatric Evaluation” from the Bureau of Federal Prisons California. The document appears to be a pre-intake psychological evaluation of prisoner # 13432-112, Gregory D. Evans, dated February 14, 2002.
The document has been called a hoax by many people, as it exhibits many odd qualities that suggest it may be manufactured. For example, the uniform “crumpled” look of the paper, the template used and the wording (e.g., “No signs of psychomotor retardation from brain injury or use of any controlled substances”). Through our contacts as a part-time journalist, attrition.org was able to ascertain the provenance of the document and establish the chain of custody to some degree. While there is one outstanding question regarding how it was obtained, and despite the manner of presentation, we feel that it is a legitimate document.
Last night, we sent out a single tweet linking to the pastebin dump. That led to Hughes claiming that we leaked the document, despite a long history of linking to a variety of documents that we had no hand in obtaining or publishing. In fact, attrition.org has a reputation of posting original material and citing our source. In short, if we were going to “leak” a document, we would do so on this site and stand by our decision to do so. For this document, we had no part in obtaining, leaking or distributing the document. We only posted one link to the already published document, like we have done hundreds of times before.
From Hughes’ write-up:
“There’s something intimately wrong about distributing the medical records of an individual, especially one who has shown himself to be inherently vulnerable and broken as Gregory D Evans.
Hughes went on to use the term medical records several times on Twitter, and we called him on it. That term has a certain bias to it, as it implies a full medical record (e.g., including detailed health information, conditions, medications, etc). In this case, it was a medical document, which we understand can make up part of a medical record. If the document were given directly to us, we likely would write an article about the document, but we would not publish it for the same concerns Hughes has.
As we have previously cited, the Supreme Court ruling on Bartnicki v. Hopper (99-1687) ruled in favor of Vopper, holding the First Amendment does protect speech that discloses the contents of an illegally intercepted communication.” This document may not have been “illegally intercepted”, but we feel that it fits the same criteria as leaked e-mails or other media that has been intercepted. As a group of journalists, attrition.org has linked to this document and will be writing a commentary on it, quoting the document only as much as needed to convey the points we want to make. In keeping with the Supreme Court, we feel that their conclusion adequately reflects that we have not broken any law or committed any civil offense:
“We think it clear that parallel reasoning requires the conclusion that a stranger’s illegal conduct does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield from speech about a matter of public concern.”
That said, I think it is important to clear up a few facts that demonstrate why we not only acted ethically, but with a lot more responsibility than Hughes has demonstrated.
- As journalists, we used our contacts to determine who we believe to have leaked the document, and got confirmation to our satisfaction that the person is truthful.
- We asked questions to resolve the outstanding issues that suggests the document is a hoax. The answers provided make sense and explain the concerns that many people have expressed in the last 24 hours.
- We asked about the provenance of the document, the chain of custody and tried to establish how the document leaked.
- We spoke with an 15+ year veteran jail manager and asked if that document would be subjected to a FOIA request. The former manager said no, that type of document would be protected as part of a medical record. We asked further questions to determine the scope with which that document could have been circulated in the prison and court system. The manager replied that a high-level jail administrator and medical staff would have access. In a prison system, the parole board would additionally have access to such a document. Within the court system, as related to handling the case of the specific inmate, the judge, court ancillary services and the lawyers involved in the case have or could have access. In addition, a person responsible for filing or archiving such court documents could reasonably obtain this type of document, should they desire. Finally, the inmate could opt to have released the document to anyone they please.
What did you do, Matthew? You wrote a reactionary three paragraph blog that libeled us, accused us of criminally leaking and publishing a document that we had nothing to do with and didn’t stop to ask us a single question. Worse, you go on to write:
I’m no fan of Greg. My previous conduct towards him on Twitter, Disaster Protocol and Exotic Liability is evidence of that.
Lest you forget, you were an advocate of the release of Evans’ mail spool (aka “LIGATT Leaks”) in Februrary. You go on to naively and incorrectly state Ligatt Leaks disseminated company information, not personal medical data. The leaked mail spool had a wealth of personal information about Evans, his employees, his family and his relationships that had nothing to do with company information. I’m sorry Matthew, you don’t get to advocate the wide release of that data while condemning us (or anyone) for leaking other personal information. That level of hypocrisy needs to be reconciled, as you say.
When we asked “So you are 100% sure there was no medical documents in that mail spool? =) Will you go on record saying that?”, you replied “No, I won’t. I don’t know. However, if there was, I wouldn’t publicize it. What the fuck are you people. The Infosec Enquirer?” Nice try Matthew, but don’t deflect your hypocrisy here. I am asking the simple question if you are certain the almost 12 GB mailbox of Gregory Evans does not contain medical information, since you advocate the release of that but not a single five page medical document. As you said, our “commitment to integrity, honesty and ethics has been a beacon for the industry”. We have done this by citing sources, getting accurate quotes from people and comparing what they said at different times. This is no different. If you feel that this one question is Enquirer-esque, then our entire Errata Project could be considered the same. So again, quit deflecting and realize the gaping hypocrisy here.
Shortly after our initial exchange on Twitter debating this subject, we were asked “How has ligatt managed to turn you two against each other?” I answered succinctly; “simple. he libeled us. we don’t take kindly to that.” Even after I pointed out some of the above, and after you agreed twice about our point regarding linking vs leaking, you still did not issue an apology or correction to your blog piece. Instead, you opted to go to bed and offer to debate us later. Again, who is being professional and ethical here?
Quit kicking puppies, Matthew. The poor little animals don’t deserve your wanton cruelty.
After Hughes issued an apology / correction, our own research indicated that he does not, in fact, kick puppies. We apologize for this slight error.