Inside Cryptome, the website the CIA doesn't want you to see:
"Why should I believe you?"
John L. Young asks that question a lot. When he poses it to me, leveling his intense, glassy blue eyes at mine across a barroom table on a muggy evening in late May, it is less a direct attack on my credibility than a cruel epistemological riddle. Over the previous week, I had exchanged e-mails and spoken on the telephone with Young, a 71-year-old architect, spy buff, and proprietor of a strange and engrossing website called Cryptome, to set up an interview. In doing so, I supplied him with certain data: my name [John Cook], occupation [reporter], employer [Radar magazine], location [216 E. 45th St.], e-mail address [redacted], telephone number [redacted]. Young craves data. He covets it, collects it, triangulates it, and uploads it to Cryptome—an online repository of forbidden information—where it collides with more data, gig after gig sloshing around in chaotic digital clouds. There are high-resolution satellite photos of President Bush's Crawford ranch, technical documents detailing how the National Security Agency spies on computer traffic, even the home addresses and telephone numbers of government officials, including former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte.
But Young knows that raw data is suspect. Before it is loosed on the Internet, scrubbed, cross-referenced, and interrogated by the hive mind for inconsistencies and cracks, it can be used to deceive. People lie. Misinformation is everywhere. People will use you; they will try to get you to believe things that aren't true in order to advance their own agendas. It is, as Young likes to say, "standard tradecraft." I could hand him a business card, show him a magazine, look him firmly and earnestly in the eye, and swear up and down that I am who I say I am. "But," he'll reply with a caustic smile, "that's how liars talk."