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Tech Culture: Reporters' Roundtable 53: Can you trust Wikileaks?

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Tech Culture: Reporters' Roundtable 53: Can you trust Wikileaks?

33:40 /

The mainstream press has certainly used a lot of material that's been collected by the whistle-blower site Wikileaks. But can you trust it? Today we talk with our political correspondent, Declan McCullagh, and John Young, founder of Cryptome and an early contributor to Wikileaks itself.

So don't don't don't. Hi everyone this is -- -- and welcome to reporters roundtable. Our deep dive into a single tech topical leak in this week that topic is. Wiki leaks and sites like it Wiki leaflet which was launched in 2006 with the stated goal of being an open repository for documents the governments are trying to keep buried. Has become interestingly much more of -- simple repository of US military secrets. The site became notorious in 2007 when it released graphic US military video of a helicopter attack on Iraqi civilians. It's released two other big caches of US military documents on Afghanistan and Iraq and despite its name it's done so not. Purely as a Wiki but rather directly to the media first and then to the rest -- the world through its Wiki later. The site's main founder Julian songs it's nearly as much press -- the site itself and has been described as on the run. By the New York Times in an unflattering story this weekend. That ran alongside a major feature. You which used Wiki leaked documents about a current military ventures to say that it's such as an -- easy relationship. With mainstream is that massive understatement. So today we're gonna be talking about what you weeks and another site that is similar in some ways to it. Creek -- and the effect of sites like these on the government on governments and on journalism. Our guests are 21 of all here in studio with us our political reporter for CNET news that when McAuliffe thanks for -- and absolutely we're gonna we're going to be talking about that and the background -- on on the stuff and then later in our show we're going to be bringing in John Young. The man who registered with few weeks dot org and the founder -- -- one of the web's first repositories leaked documents and top secret information. So it depth -- let's get started. Here you give us. You've been covering this stuff for -- while -- -- -- a bunch of stories on this give us a little primer on what is we -- -- -- the history of it and its infamy. Well this their two questions what is with -- and what was we helix or hasn't changed initially it was. Envisioned it as a collaboration. Sort of an -- -- global collective of mathematicians and programmers. At that existed to. -- Or behavior in. But it's it's really not first world countries but sub saharan Africa and Asia. And so on and it would in those also over -- -- via Wiki that is. Quote the entire global community interpreting documents and explaining irrelevance of the public. And what's happened in the last few years is that it's -- changed the focus that's now exclusively focused on. At the US in the last few months -- -- expect this to change but right now the only thing you can find them with he would -- organs them. US military files night and even submit anything this mission mechanism is down. At the moment and it's also a change in focus from this of the sort of from the collaboration of like minded geek side to. And operation is dominated by one person and it also. -- and instead of this. -- key. Software that was originally used this himself for the powers Wikipedia. It's instead vehicle for sort of program announcements as opposed to let's collaborate. -- Have had that happen how -- that mission drift into something that. So Cingular as opposed it compared to the -- collaborative -- that it's harder. I mean 10 way to look at it is now working with helix and make the most impact mean if they're releasing the documents about say political corruption in Zimbabwe and -- and nobody. Outside -- Zimbabwean few of them sub saharan African countries might might really care -- but it does not mean a much of an impact. Especially -- -- Moby -- block access with -- dot org but. Now what once we can expect that their hands on the -- trove of information that memory out of it passed to them by rightly demanding now the intelligence. Analysts now facing charges. I think they have figured out while this is -- this is a way that we can have a tremendous impact and that almond and he did. The flip side is that they also. Limited what they're doing in every other area and those has become as single purpose organizational and the last few months and and what. How did the documents come their way -- who did -- key -- the design and and people working on this project. Solicit these documents are repeat were these documents looking for now and they found what you. That it. We we don't know and we -- never know I mean we we have for the charges pending eakins -- demanding if if he pleads guilty. We we just this this may never become public we do know a few things. And I'm the but the for instance logs from and conversations with Bradley demanding them. Were leaked by Adrian -- our hacker in the Sacramento area and a critic of -- -- The end of those. May or may not be reported in and a completely their name they might have been. Altered or forged we we just don't know but I'm if you if you believe those logs into -- mother documents have come around -- that looks like. Which -- -- who worked with that mending. Add to release the the information and so or to transit or to acquire the information. As diamond being a little careful look as at a woman accused within weeks of violating US Lama if if if it was it is a big difference between. This sort of standing there with your -- -- I'll take. Information verses I'm collaborating with someone -- -- and that is rights to the credential program of conspiracy and -- and what has been the impact if you can stated. Briefly on the existence of which -- weeks. And the documents that is and disseminating -- and the biggest impact. In the last few months now once it's started posting Afghanistan. War logs a few months ago in -- -- -- and then. Do more recently -- about a week ago. At the Iraq -- files that those who 400000 of them and even the initial release back in July after after a week or so. It turned out -- that public opinion about the war room was smokeless favorable this loses this is actually could it change public opinion and -- let us or. I'm prompted the US public it to be a little more skeptical about it going toward features I think it actually has had a political impact -- one reason why you have so many. A conservative commentators calling for everything from a thinly veiled threats for -- on -- that assassination that to. -- engaged in the cyber attack them with its ports now -- is. As a said that the times that he's on the run he's. Check into hotels as reported changing their colors that are there -- why has the story so much become about this one man and what was supposed to be a collaborative venture among. Hackers and and pro transparency people alive tonight and tried to interview for an article that program are so yesterday morning titles limited amid criticism -- -- the shifts focus. Andy you don't apply so I don't really know the answer -- the -- and so -- without him -- chatting I think we have to go speculated that and that's speculation would be. That. He's. That's -- an outsize personalities -- colorful character and today he. -- was the one who instead of just responding to clear queries actually went out and made an effort to talk to journalists and so. -- -- it came the public the public face the public voice of a we -- and especially because lot of other folks just would prefer to stay in the shadows that don't get harassed and airports that so that they don't have. Their laptops. Misplaced when you think -- -- on -- -- -- checked luggage and another was fellow who is working on which -- weeks who when he came in I believe was. In transit in the US had his laptop's momentarily -- and has this mobile phones confiscated right this was some did it take -- Apple Baum who. Was in transit from -- from Europe and was coming in to. The US he's -- US citizen was going to the Defcon hacker conference in Las Vegas and he was. I entered died Amadou intercepted. Let's say and and Newark Airport and harassed for a few hours and interrogated for -- them. In -- he's still doesn't have as. Phones back this up pops the question I think it to be fair or interrogated him as -- from worth -- if if you them. If it were just -- that'll be one thing but from what I remember him saying. -- -- spoke about the speed briefly during a spot them there is -- US army officials some. And -- -- -- have the army involved interrogation sounds of more accurate. Documents are gonna be talking with one of the early people on the with -- project John Young. Who's the founder -- which was another site designed to. Released. Documents that were wanted to be -- to the public. Telesis a little bit before we bring them on how that site that's -- came before with you right. Yes that capsule it's been -- I remember running to John on the sucker punch list in the mid 1990s and so does I'm -- -- -- -- by about a decade. And what has of the effect of -- -- Well I mean added and John does he -- to tell you better than I can in -- moment has. We're. Releases documents of people send him he also goes through. Federal government web sites and scours them before interesting information -- wouldn't be highly -- and he does that tell piloting and making public yankees. A -- legal threats or from criticism from Microsoft after posting. So some leaked documents nineties and annoyed that the UK government after disclosing what appear to be the name of the names of spies and also night drew fire from Homeland Security here in the US four disclosing. As the information about the Democratic National Convention security measures and so I he's have a bunch of run and so with the of the house but he's still going strong even I think he got it. Taken notice from a city and group earlier today but we should range on and he lets -- -- that will do that right now John thank you for sitting by while we talk about -- Carry with us. Yes I -- -- your comments are pretty good. -- Nothing jail yet so anyway I appreciate you coming in tell us your -- in launching -- and when did you launch it and why. We're -- to publish information that people had access to. That want to make it public but did not want to be identified with -- and that came from decipher -- -- quite a number verdict capable people who wanted to reduce information. About what was coming under American society technologically speaking. As a Cold War wound down -- going to be converted from military and espionage uses to commercial uses. And so they want to get this out to Republicans so we sort of despite the published information. Going to be between big production we don't know duels and stereo but we certainly willing to set up -- and and publish other people's material so that was our first exposure to this whole world -- problem. Of communications security and espionage technology. Which is now spread throughout the world notably -- -- commerce just -- public. Now one of the things that I was reading about you is that you make no efforts to verify the accuracy or the source of your documents could you talk about that little bit. You know everyone was about that in -- was a particular as a whole notion of replication open invitation and responsibility interest rates. Just cynical and it -- between your Q do to get people can't believe your product. We keep -- course a certain form more than anybody goes so this kind of authentication thing -- a -- long running scam. People should make up your own mind just given the material from the copper -- but this laying on of editorial. Commentary and interpretation. That's friction -- typical fiction. We practical over a program (%expletive). And of course we decrease is -- -- -- sure. Now you were involved with a few weeks in the early days there you register that we can -- that -- -- site and in a feature you were saying that your departure was. And less than smooth into. Why did you get involved with with Unix and just in a nutshell what happened there. Well we've we've server role for a number of people -- its sights set up but no one did not want beat up you're done and we've we've. We practice as the owner of -- and at least a dozen pieces. So it's just part of our servers to -- people open ports are doing. So we just saw this is another example there was nothing special about it and so were happy to do it we and we still -- we -- for -- inspection. The site mean you meaning register sites and protecting the identity of the only addition -- -- I see so you have fund to run crypto -- to help -- -- It started out -- it takes about twenty dollars a week to do all that -- a lot of people could do potential cost is never an option in -- -- -- police them (%expletive) about that too. It's not part of setup so it's it's very easy. In his. It is this why you left -- weeks over questions of financing. Absolutely bet someone will in this province militants -- -- to discuss what he explained it expected to. According -- a target of reaching five million dollars or -- and that's at all -- farm bills and made. Because so I have you know that no one can reach about million dollars for pure emotion or but if -- -- Someone like Donald crop and that's my paper model before we complete -- -- including the hair. It's it's just took it. -- -- -- -- By the way they're not alone in the ocean and I think that -- -- -- -- that could be just decided racial leakage into a kind of probably more product. And it -- very successful. Nonetheless though. I I think one of things that we are kind of tacitly agreeing on -- the shows that the concept of a site. That takes documents that may -- are trying to be either buried through obscurity or act out -- -- class -- hidden some of these documents. The release can serve the greater good. Can we talk more about how these sites are important in and how you make the decision as to the difference between. Transparency. Sunshine and patriotism and things that are out now dangerous to. Individual governments let's test on this that John have you ever. The said no I'm I'm not going to publishes something maybe it has personal information I'm nine and osmond's you reject email addresses. Interpret that the most common question aren't as well so -- we're not changing that and that we're not publish although big -- the hypothetical. This continent raise -- so for an appears calmer way and pinprick that we don't think it will. We think this actually as the red Herring that -- that. And obviously nothing would release is probably has been dangerous the but the attracted as much including their opponents apart it is much but that's back mutual back scratching. So sites like these don't actually get really dangerous information. Correct me from wrong here because I am operating under the I think the general public knowledge that there are. Classified or secret documents pertaining to the -- -- wage being published in a public format. How is that not dangerous to our. Military. Well the -- -- and this is standard. Thus scare tactic should talk about war plan to talk about names of agents but those are actually the exceptions and those things don't. Come our way and will not calmer way those actually are -- -- committed to at all really -- information. Like -- published on Krypton and like we can -- but this stuff it's not that important the really important to as much better -- -- will not appear on the website. Cover newspapers exaggerate magnetic exaggerate. Web such eccentric. And Russia to withdraw -- and so of the -- -- to it is not going to appear. For example we've been told a number of time to -- we're publishing would be put lives at risk what turned out we found out later that. And we were told this by -- -- know that's just been around for years don't believe precious standard sympathy creating techniques. Now there have been leaks in the past -- the biggest I think pre Internet US document leak was the Pentagon papers. Now that have an effect or or Nolan Batman -- it. Yet but they've just been exaggerated and mister at the time it happened there's criticism was there that too much was made of it. -- was a generated and is being read surgery and again he you -- look at auto squander our retirement what was available. Even Goldberg is said he did not release from your recent student to be careful not to release release -- -- -- -- he surprised it happened terms bloated. Voted out of proportion -- out of proportion. And so that's been around and don't forget that what -- -- support so about a proportion. -- -- that but. Well I -- maybe John has appointments respective live and. It's not comparing it to scholarship. Does it would also do a little -- -- a scholarship it is not new news but it does not do journalism. And so wickedly so -- nothing but journalistic tool and that is always generated. So that's a big difference between us we prefer to put out information that is not -- distorted and -- -- let people stop and think about it over time. And so -- you're putting out information as opposed to giving your spend your analysis. -- -- -- leaving then the read the audience the readership. To -- through what in in the case -- with few weeks maybe. Thousands upon thousands of documents and do the job that one could argue is the top of -- scholar or journalist and find the nuggets in there so. Complete the -- Well -- completely different animals journalists and scholars are not destroying. And so on but you're -- they each have their own role but don't I don't know where at them because that's -- been done by both sides. Shuttle scholars pretend to be -- and -- terms pretend to be scholarship. Nonetheless there is a role for somebody to be a -- -- -- for curator. Or an editor of documents in order for the public understand this mass information which they are not going to spend the time poring over. -- -- And that's what journalism is a form of entertainment. And -- I'm not -- and I enjoy it. But I don't enjoyed as a source of a rock solid. Patiently apart information or protection on reprimand but I do read the newspapers and -- -- -- TV and toward -- but. That's different. From the partnership that you've got national patient study. So so John had to tell -- tell us what's in it what what your predictions are for a Wiki leaks and maybe to a lesser extent crypto on the we have. A Republican US senator saying. -- I'm entries in this legislation that's going to restrict. Make it a criminal offense two. Release information that could lead to identifying someone and so you were to publish that information. Assuming -- public in law. You'll be -- committing a crime. And then there's also these threats is now on centrum -- of cyber attack death threats against which -- I don't think it's there who are going to come to anything but -- like your opinion. Well -- all the people should. That's a technical term which means that it's exaggerated threats and they -- use -- an extra treasury -- wickedly for the use them to exaggerate its. Importance so this is this is what's this is the cycle much going on -- there are you can buy an event or you can go do some homework Clinton in the library or read some stuff and not. Get -- internalized by our get over to analyze buyers'. Can be stretching -- threats. This is not news it's been around for long term this is -- -- -- -- and monitors her. Funded and and the news industry has grown part of the media entertaining industry is gone from being acidic about -- on the fingers of -- there's an alternative handling this kind of information. But you bet these congressman will export this that's what they do to. And so you just taken with a grain of salt now our progress -- mine to be made by treating this just -- curious -- but term I don't. So -- have some -- Back back back in the -- it to get it. Well of their that is not I just -- minor editorial comment here I do not lead to journalists who got it is necessarily at an oxymoron fifth. Not universally applied let's put it that -- By the way aren't -- -- to -- different ones sitting in your studio. Yes so I'm told at least for now. And interviews and over you -- that's right. So let's keep -- moving united these sites now call them what you want that the we -- script on. A site that come along in the future site that have been here in the past. They. They. Are not having no effect they are not pure entertainment are -- changing the way governments our government a particular deals with secrets and information. Let's talk little that that. The effect the existence of these sites on the Internet as a whole is having on the way we fight and the way we wage. Wars. In the technology. Couldn't do some storyline to jump there. None of that is happening. That's just -- and there's been picked written I don't mean to get to gauge because. -- around. Is that it's not. -- an -- -- what we do wars it's not potentially reduce government what will happen is that over time they'll be more variety shall we keep an extra current term individuals and through groups. And they'll be -- slow gradual process or distribute information. In a variety of ways and these -- -- well you know as well like fireworks. But when their bond shelling could encrypt -- -- shall be orchestrated functional in a Wiki geeks did this on purpose when they went broke. They sit down -- -- when they sit up and notice we're shutting down. Because they were broke. -- -- -- -- -- and the cooked up Montreal when they came back with it and an album -- -- practice is what. Victim was mentioning how and so on became restore onshore. And so -- out how to generate funds and they're gonna do it that way but that doesn't mean that they victors not a lot of good so that we -- -- -- people are doing and I hope it's going on in the background I assume that it is beneath this. Diverting. -- stuff. -- -- -- Beat the concept of wickedly chocolate concept for an organization and there's this -- and -- reluctant supported and hospitable sprint and become. Inspirational to not lot of people but this kind of bombshell stuff -- really hard and deceptive. And draws off a lot of energy that -- go into something more constructive. But on the short term that's what you do. That's -- I'm gonna ask you about this -- because you've been covering cryptography. Secrets and politics for quite awhile. Your your background is both as. Something under stance to the extent in journalism and journalists can. Politics as well as. Photography I are they're not effects of the open the transparency of the Internet and the way that. Government institutions are are changing their approach to communication. -- perhaps some I'm not sure it's. Just. -- come through this back in my emotional words of which he leaks and the one of the first things is that I think Jennifer and calling it a concept as most of which you weeks or in particular we're gonna right a dumb I mean that one of the first things that the President Obama -- -- when when he took office. Was to sign a bunch of executive -- saying and now information -- free and the and the default will be open for. Under the terms of respond to for your requests for instance and in practice and nothing's changed if if anything that I've been I think -- -- government officials. The being less willing to put things down -- being less willing to put things on an email and now -- -- telephone calls in person meetings so as -- and so. And government governments and generally do not like openness they don't like transparency and so and so in the absence of an organization. -- -- the government that that is pushing for this and it doesn't really exist. Then is it's going -- it's it's going to be or ratchet effect that's we've been seeing so -- and the one of the plan on with helix the only thing that. I would what was topic cyber attacks the only thing that the Pentagon has done as far as we we knows. I too did two things the first is that if at a press release saying shame -- shame -- you Wiki leaks in the second thing is that. At -- chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff admiral Mike Mullen. So not on Twitter as saying this is an irresponsible posting of stolen classified documents that -- As so there's been no hole has been -- bluster but I am must live action with you considerate -- from the admiral. -- so. What the government. The big and Putin of funding with -- little orchestrated. From. I you know this whole thing about funding is really getting under my skin -- trying to understand the motivations. John I I believe after talking I'm beginning to understand that your your character your motivation in doing. Crypto my trying to understand the motivation of the people behind with few weeks what is behind so they trying to change the world are trying to get rich is it just for fun and games I mean what. Why do people do this. Well is that -- based on mine he pointed out what's -- -- -- the intent is to make as much money as possible over leakage. Either openly or through criminal range. Now there is a huge underground marketing and contraband information and you know private companies do it governments do it. And so the stated goal of making -- million dollars is one thing but however what's being done is to use a kind of problem noble purpose to -- to recruit volunteers to work for free. Now this is an evil capitalist scheme you know just to get a lot of people working for free -- and you take the money and run into that apparently what has happened that's why they can't find them -- You know us on brag about making a million dollars in donations -- -- helicopter video was there but no one can explain where it went. And that apparently is internal dissent is going on -- holding monitors -- -- are we getting screwed. Don't want -- bragging about this money that no one can find -- could be developed problems. Struck just to brag about the money to get more to come -- and so we don't know but right now. Not just say the only thing that I've got to go on is their claim that they wanna make a lot of money. And I think that they'll make it underground update make him make it above ground and -- more on the consequences it was unique will be that this will be done underground or rather an openly. And so that's for the -- -- has -- model mr. I think page and they don't want it to be opened. And that they're using to security being to make it hidden. -- witnessed by as to what we can tell you what we're doing because you know we put ourselves in danger. So too is yours -- parallels -- between which leaks and undercover operation -- including criminal undercover operations. -- -- Just take a look at the mountain and -- where -- being part of the of the bombast. These along -- not -- on the web shot about who they -- and what -- up to take a look at it region like the realistic prospect. If you go to the website you'll you'll see that you can't submitted need anything -- a submissions link is down. Quote at the moment we're not accepting new submissions. But of the support wrestling -- where you can do bank transfers and I credit card payments and a PayPal payments and postal no payments that's. That's up and running -- There's but I mean -- I am willing to give them the benefit of of the of the doubt is now. Well Republicans or who will we hear your point is that they've become -- English organization and. Did you -- mr. Bernie -- And I mean people gave him the benefit of the doubt I'm trying to -- undertake a little hard look at this benefit of the doubt of this noble venture. Read their -- sites. It pixel part of read it. And compare to other. Bombastic. For investment and other things. But no backing. Initially run around this is not a Wiki leaks that it was six months ago. In. Particular. So what is next in. I -- brings back to. Too little bit a little forward looking nearly what it what is next for sites like these for. The nature of whistle blowing. Is Wiki leaks -- -- gonna goes and anything's going to go on crypto Marie going to be accepting documents burden must some other. Avenue for these things emerge. -- premiered at either who want to tackle. Oh well -- is that of -- making you know I don't normally. -- much -- beautiful crypto but haven't put a few things up. And they're wanting to I think is there's there's gonna happen there's going to be occurs. Iteration shall Wiki late flexed up bewildered to have to abandon the term -- becoming more and more tainted. Because of what's happened to a and that will have to find a deterrent for. And in that process was born may get treated as they try to exploit that was blowing. Mentality you know there are some of the global organizational whistle blowers which is a dead giveaway that something not right about it. -- there's an industry now what's going. A little bit and -- -- just capitalize on that and then reduce your daughter in people like Ellsberg to -- for them. If you're gonna take a look that was blowing industry is not what it used to be -- -- -- become fairly sorted. And so fair enough that's what happens people gonna make a living. So but they'll be other versions of information distribution but I think more more Woolsey individuals doing it -- not groups because I think we're all getting paranoid about the groups who organize. Whistle blowing. What UN -- both in him. Hinting at the error or other implying is that. After these sites -- beneath the -- become so big it -- the whole concept will collapse upon itself. People will. Not because these are sites that when you you say that governments that itself may become more personal because. People governments try to keep information off of the Internet and out of the sunshine -- more more secretive but. But even physically here's a question John have them back and a cipher on its list -- in the ninety's. We -- who live discussion was that was about. The ways to use strong encryption ways to use anonymity added to publish documents and this was. Tim may choking back in 1987. That. That combination. Of technologies with a let you oppose something things stealth bomber blueprints for sale -- -- offered include public he. -- -- It and so. Is that a mistake four organizations like encrypt home -- to which he leaks it to be public rather than anonymous and certainly possible for. -- in groups to remain anonymous while still doing a lot of what. Crypt home for instance is has accomplished now. Well I Norton is a figure at this panel there was a review of the history for populist back. And there -- -- comments made by committee and green and others who were. That keep people chart for poems and they talked about the fact we can access listed a number or of their ideas. But actually have not there on on the right way and I know they feel the same way about crypto because you are certainly not at -- -- capability. But there aren't there lament was that there's a belt mirage version a -- that -- compact. -- Second -- -- and other concepts being used but which Unix has accomplished or what to will be doing. And they were somewhat. A major frustrated that there -- for being abuse and not and I agree with an epic which he speaks to introduce songs poems are part of the time and he has taken those that is. And appeared and claims that they're applying and the inspector not to look at their security system and -- -- amateur like me conceivable within it. I'm also talks some very expert in security people -- -- we don't know -- they're getting away with this cynical approach. But most people of the public don't know any better terms -- don't know about -- question -- of course you gotta be pretty good at. So it again -- back to the Bernie murdered all version or of the Donald property in this city it's a pretty good at reaching the public at all what you need actually. And that you can blow away all the technician just being nit pickers and -- -- and they don't really know how to communicate to the public so. With Unix is a master publicity. -- did -- John I inquiry or getting towards the end but but. One last question for you what what's next in the -- for crypto might give us a preview. Gosh I don't know something breaks all the time we don't have a plan you know. Around but I'd agree that crypto and there's also -- a concept is not organization or group -- national legal existence. There's no there's got a boat people who -- -- and things turn -- so we're trying to keep an open mind. And not develop a board of advisors and agenda -- the principles along rationale for what we do. But that means you if you run out I guess if you have to do that. Well electorate just remain open its report comes. John I really do appreciate your time. -- -- -- talk with you. Thanks McIntyre pressing -- look with the crypto -- and and the mission such as it is. It definitely final words for -- is that gonna thank you John for making time today. Asia Europe Asia. All right gentlemen four and audience thank you for listening to report roundtable if you like to know markets show notes on this and other shows it's. CNET dot car it's reporters roundtable dot cnet.com you can send email to me roundtable at cnet.com -- -- Twitter it's FE for news on what is on the next show. -- thank you John thank you -- -- thank you for producing. Everyone have a great weekend and read carefully okay thanks -- -- And I just.

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