Open Letter to Amazon.com

by Daniel Ellsberg on December 3, 2010

To Customer Service and Jeff Bezos,

I’m disgusted by Amazon’s cowardice and servility in abruptly terminating its hosting of  the Wikileaks website, in the face of threats from Senator Joe Lieberman and other Congressional right-wingers. I want no further association with any company that encourages legislative and executive officials to aspire to China’s control of information  and deterrence of whistle-blowing.

For the last several years, I’ve been spending over $100 a month on new and used books from Amazon. That’s over. I have contacted Customer Service to ask Amazon to terminate immediately my membership in Amazon Prime and my Amazon credit card and account, to delete my contact and credit information from their files and to send me no more notices.

I understand that many other regular customers feel as I do and are responding the same way. Good: the broader and more immediate the boycott, the better.I hope that these others encourage their contact lists to do likewise and to let Amazon know exactly why they’re shifting their business. I’ve asked friends today to suggest alternatives. I’ve removed all links to Amazon from my site, and I’ll be exploring service from Powell’s Books, IndieBound, Biblio and others.

So far Amazon has spared itself the further embarrassment of trying to explain its action openly. This would be a good time for Amazon insiders who know and perhaps can document the political pressures that were brought to bear—and the details of the hasty kowtowing by their bosses—to leak that information. They can send it to Wikileaks (now on servers outside the US), to mainstream journalists or bloggers, or perhaps to a site like antiwar.com, which has now appropriately ended its book-purchasing association with Amazon and called a boycott.

If you’d like to read further analysis of your cowardice, I suggest you see this excellent article by Glenn Greenwald.

Yours (no longer),

Daniel Ellsberg

{ 32 trackbacks }

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{ 122 comments… read them below or add one }

Bud February 24, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Poetic Justice:
Bradley Manning wins the Nobel Peace Prize. He is freed. He becomes president (at age 35). He then has Bush and Obama prosecuted for war crimes.

Peter Jemley February 19, 2011 at 2:26 am

Dan,

I do agree with your general point, but blaming Amazon is almost as much of a red herring – and out of proportion – as trying to take down Wikileaks. (I have no financial, or other, ties with Amazon, whatsoever.)

You can easily inform yourself about the nature of DDoS (distributed denial of service attacks) by reading some reading entirely accessible blog entries by Ross Anderson, a security researcher at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, who helps to maintain Tor (used by Wikileaks).

The paper for which I’ll post a link below has as its subject “Censorship Resistant Systems,” and I’ll think you’ll find that, objectively, DDoS attacks are one mirror-image response to the “removal” of digital material.
(http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/eternity/eternity.html)

Ross Anderson begins the paper by reference to our inheritance from Gutenberg, and how mass publications of the work of Wycliffe and Tyndale were simply so numerous as to be indelible: all copies could not be rounded up and burned. This inheritance from Gutenberg was a major factor leading to the Reformation.

Contrast this inheritance with our current context and you may come to the conclusion that the erasure of digital data is akin to book burning, and that our digital age has in fact empowered by orders of magnitude those who would previously burn books or conducted other forms of extreme censorship. DDoS attacks are one of the responses to making digital information disappear.

Moralising about whether DDoS attacks are okay or not requires a context that seeks to address new and novel imbalances of power inherent in the Amazon story. I don’t think it’s an easy good-bad dichotomy. Your books are still for sale by Amazon through electronic distribution, for example, and I don’t think boycotting them will change anything. I’m far more disappointed with Apple working with the Pentagon, which is a far more active role than Amazon’s by most any measure. I’d like to hear you ask Steve Jobs about what he’s doing providing hardware to the military. I’ve written to him and got no response.

Speaking of which, I’m reading your “Secrets” book right now (I was in military intel, and quit without at all regretting losing my high clearance – unescorted access in the Pentagon, for example – or very high salary during the late Bush Administration period).

And in the spirit of your book, although the Amazon problem is very important, I’ve yet to find, either in your book or in your other works, a criticism of the GS and Military side of policy making such as takes places in the Pentagon.

Clearly high-level civilians are contributing to foreign policy, but they are also clearly unelected. It seems to me that something like the vetting of officers above, say O5s (and their GS equivalents), ought to take place, and their input really ought to have limited impact on policy because military advancement can also be corrupt (I’ve seen it. You have, too). The records of military advisors are not available to the public, but perhaps they ought to be. This subject strikes me as far more relevant than whether Amazon, a business, hosts Wikileaks data or not.

Ross has also recently written about Wikileaks. (http://www.lightbluetouchpaper.org/2010/12/08/wikileaks-security-research-and-policy/)

Best,
Peter

Colin January 30, 2011 at 1:17 am

Hi Mate, we are holding peaceful rallies in Brisbane Australia where our own government supports the USA. I too have stopped with Amazon, Paypal and will never use any credit cards.

MK January 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I heard Mr. Ellesberg last week on NPR, and when asked whether he thought the DoS attacks on Amazon et. al. constituted a legitimate form of protest, he said he did not possess enough technical knowledge to decide whether to consider these “non-violent”.

DoS attacks are not intrinsically destructive. Richard Stallman, an MIT programmer, founder of the free software movement, and well-known for his opinions on “hacking” and other techno-political topics, recently discussed this in a Guardian article and compared the attackers to those protesting outside store fronts to disrupt business and draw attention to corruption:

http://stallman.org/articles/kettling-wikileaks.html

I recommend everyone give it a read.

gsgs December 19, 2010 at 9:42 am

oops, i said this already here 10 days ago

gsgs December 19, 2010 at 9:40 am

typical American revanchism thinking.
Let’s not use _their_ methods.
Critisize Amazon but don’t cancel accounts.
You will better be heard by keeping them
and including a critics in each future order.
Or requiring a guarantee that they won’t do the
same with your account or such.

Adrianos Dadis December 18, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Nice move Mr. Ellsberg.
The truth must be always available and free.

Adrianos.

Democracy requires Free Software.

steve December 16, 2010 at 1:18 pm

I’m only keeping my Amazon account open to post reviews where I think it will do the most good for true patriots. They’ll never get another dime from me.

Barbara Eickhoff December 13, 2010 at 3:59 am

I admire what you have done for our country. We have a friend in common – Bud from the Nixon White House.

Gordon Anderson December 12, 2010 at 5:22 am

Antiwar.com

sirs

I am sharing abrief letter with you (below in blue) to show my support for the boycott called for by Mr. Daniel Ellsberg. I have ( by chance) had conversations just today with others who have taken the same step of resigning from patronizing Amazon – in writing (and in dollars…).

There has been – long ago – a line of demarcation drawn between the state apparatus of most (if not all) countries around the issue of secrecy against the governed of the world. The reason given for this secretiveness – which is framed as being “in the interest of national security” – is a straw man, used (among other reasons…) to take advantage of the lack of information necessary for informed citizens to make rational decisions about government and the roles it should play in their lives.

The withdrawal of the patronage of Amazon.com is one of many incremental and varied yet important steps that are a part of a growing awareness by more and more that the state apparatus – in collusion with global individuals and global institutions – are willfully undermining the individual civil and economic liberties of both the American people and others around the globe.

This effort by these institutions will necessarily result in increasing and more determined actions by ordinary citizens who are beginning to wake up to the awareness that the structures we have believed and relied on for so long are failing us – with no intentions of even a facade of facilitating an improvement in our civil and economic lives. Why would they… the line of class demarcation has been drawn and fortified.

Gordon Anderson

My letter to Amazon.com..

Sirs…
I am satisfied with the quality of the products and service I have received over the time I have used your service.

I must however discontinue my patronage of your services due to the disappointing action you took against Julian Asange in general and Wikileaks in particular.

It is obvious that the actions Wikileaks have undertaken are not illegal under current laws in this country or else the U.S Justice Dept would have asserted and acted upon this assertions by now.

This attack against Wiileaks (with the collusion of Amazon)is an affront against anyone who choses to stand against the secretive activities of any country in the world.

I personally stand against authoritarian and draconian measures of any sort that are intended to suppress, subvert and/or eliminate the ability of any person or any collaborative group of people to bring forward information that is well within the public interest to be informed about.

History will show that Amazon stood on the wrong side of this seminal issue (alongside the State Department) when there was no good reason to do so.

Thank you for all you have done for me as a consumer in the past.

sincerely

Gordon Anderson

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” — Patrick Henry

Evan December 10, 2010 at 11:34 pm

I was once a BIG BIG fan of Amazon. Did much of my shopping with them, owned 2 Kindles, and on and on. I am so disapointed with Jeff B. To think I amdired him more than S Jobs. Jeff, you’re a weak, weak, balding spineless coward.

CMC December 10, 2010 at 5:35 am

This can be a great time for growth. Why do Americans rely on just a few monopolies to control our lives. It’s obvious that we need more payment processing companies and books sellers. We need more individuals providing us with the goods and services that we use daily. We need more news outlets. We vote with our dollars and we’re giving so much power to so few as to imprison ourselves under the control of those who take our contributions and use that money and power against us. Mr. Assange isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know. That our government is corrupt and we allow it to be that way.

RSheafer December 10, 2010 at 1:52 am

The day I heard what Amazon did was the last day that I would spend a penny to a company that doesn’t believe in the rights of others, they have become a willing censor to the governement and I encourage my friends and family to cease doing business with them until such time that they change what is a wrongheaded decision.

Gerry December 10, 2010 at 12:25 am

I too am boycotting Amazon because of Wikileaks and have written to Jeff Bezos to explain why. I’ve spent $6,000 on Amazon’s web site in the past twelve months (books, CDs, electronics, etc) and I have told Mr Bezos that he can expect no more business from me until he invites Wikileaks back onto his servers.

gsgs December 9, 2010 at 9:30 pm

closing Amazon accounts is just demonstration of solidarity
without argument. Typical American.
Don’t use _their_ methods to “resolve” things.

Prove them wrong instead by debating their arguments.
Wikileaks people are smarter than
US-politicians, aren’t they ?

No hackings or boycotts required.

Federico Capoano December 8, 2010 at 11:58 pm
Federico Capoano December 8, 2010 at 11:58 pm

There is a facebook fan page to organize a mass boycott against some companies.

I would like to invite you all to join, if we reach a critical mass we will make a web site to list all the companies who support violation of internet freedom and not only.

Tom December 7, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Imagine for a moment that Wikileaks Doomsday File is released. It contains proof that 9/11 was an inside job. The banks did commit crimes. And other proof.

Now, consider the continuing rampant apathy of much of the Stateside public. If more evidence is placed in front of them, will they act? Nobody’s done anything up to this point. Also, in several ways more’s being done abroad then here. John Pilger’s leading a U.K. based movement to help Assange and to hold the Australian govt. accountable.

How come the same isn’t happening here? Also, is this slightly embarassing to anybody?

Mooniac December 7, 2010 at 2:24 pm

The fact that they are calling for Assange’s assassination, more than hunting down the leak in the State Department, makes me believe the REAL objective is to prevent the announced future releases, rather than deal with the aftermath of the releases that came out now. It’s more about Assange and Wikileaks and the future, more than anything else. That gives further credence to the fear of the releases about the “big US bank”, and possibly the biggest of all: the 911 conspiracy. Imagine someone who has dealt with this matter sending Wikileaks evidence of the fact that 911 was a government conspiracy. It would redraw the world map. Even Democrats are in on this. Obama has already made it illegal for the media to publish the Abu-Ghraib pictures, claiming “security of American lives” as a “reason”, although that is b/s and publishing these pictures would strengthen the Dems and weaken the Reps, something he’d really have needed this summer. And Obama and Lieberman were making a push earlier this year to give the US president the right to shut down the US part of the internet at any time (and it was Lieberman, head of the security committee, who made the push with Amazon). As if Obama and Lieberman were knowing already at that time what was going to come (maybe the State Department knew about the leak, after it was already done, and briefed them, and now O/L were trying to make sure they could shut down the US part of the web?). Obama and Lieberman will fight tooth and nail to keep the 911 conspiracy a secret, and Wikileaks, and other such websites, are their biggest danger. We are living in a time where the web democratizes the world much more than the US, which tries to fight that. I believe the web will win.

Sergi December 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm

I felt lucky some years ago when I started to heard news about chinise web censure. Many of my colleagues said : “Oh, look at those guys in china, they cannot visit many websites because chinise government block them”. It happens that China has a government more similar to a dictatorship, and we clearly see the tyranny and oppression that drown those poor chinise guys.
Now I’m seeing exactly the same in a “supposedly” democratic country as US and France, expelling a group of people that expose the truth to everyone. So, my question are:
Are those governments REALLY supporting freedom expression as they claim ?
I don’t see differences right now between China and US or France governments policies, do you ?

Amazon, you will also be punished by my account cancellation. You are supporting a dictatorial way of government too. Put that in your ad, please.

EllsbergFan December 7, 2010 at 2:13 am

Mr. Ellsberg–I have watched and learned about peaceable demonstrations and doing the right thing by watching you for 40 years. I stand alone, sometimes, but never regret it. Thank you for always showing us the way, and for being a leader to so many. You might not have meant to be, and the price you paid was probably higher than any of us will know. But know how much you are appreciated and esteemed, and I, for one only hope to accomplish what you have.

Thank you many times over, and BOYCOTT AMAZON!! (and BP, and the war in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and George W. Bush, and WMDs, and…..!!)

Penny

Oliver December 7, 2010 at 12:13 am

Thank you for your open letter.
My Paypal and Amazon accounts are history.

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