Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
James Dolan, co-creator of SecureDrop, has died (freedom.press)
461 points by uptown 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments

Does anyone know if James had taken a short hiatus between jobs to travel by motorcycle for a while in Southern California? I ran it someone one day at The Rock Store that had worked with Aaron Swartz and a friend and I had a great conversation with him and I’m now wondering whether it was James.

Yes, indeed he did! After leaving FPF, he unplugged for a while, taking a road trip on his bike. He spent a lot of time working on that bike.

The road trip was a great excuse to unwind after a lot of stressful security work. He ended up rejoining the industry—good luck stopping that guy from anything—and continued for many years helping other projects.

So, yes, it does sound like you were fortunate enough to cross paths with a terribly interesting individual. Cheers, in his honor.

Just when I clicked https://securedrop.org/, my company's corporate firewall blocked it. I can't start to imagine how much adversity the world has imposed onto these brave warriors.

Very nice tribute.

There was another piece* posted to HN today about how psychologically traumatic and life altering it can be to kill someone accidentally under circumstances where you couldn't have predicted it nor prevented it. Veterans are often deeply scarred by their wartime experiences and may not share them in order to protect other people from the horrors of war.

My father fought in both WW2 and Vietnam. He died in his late 80s. Only after his death did it occur to me that he told humorous stories about Vietnam, but never spoke of WW2. I infer that if Vietnam was joke worthy in his eyes, WW2 was unspeakable.

I wish we had a better track record for helping veterans with the mental health issues that so often grow out of serving their country.

* https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16105745

Is there any more information about this? I can't even find an article which says where he lived.

Good lord this is chilling. It makes me terribly sad to think about the mental torture some people go through that leads them to such an act.


wow, succinct but profound!

Now we have two suicides of people working in this facet of human right activism. At what number should we start thinking about foul play? There are ways to push people to such extreme acts.

> foul play

I'm sure you didn't mean it that way, but this is bottom of the barrel stuff: off topic, disrespectful, and way below the quality line. Please don't bring it in here.

dang, nobody understands what you are talking about.

I understood perfectly what he's talking about, and I agree with him.

I am not nobody. And I suspect I'm not alone.

Or two people, one being a known sufferer of depression and the other being known a a sufferer of PTSD, decided to kill themselves like an alarming number of people do who suffer from those problems. Maybe instead turning this into a story about government conspiracies and secret plots to kill citizens we try to turn this into a story about getting people with mental health issues the help they need.

Suicide is very common. Suicide is more common in people who are male, and who are middle aged. There are also elements of "contagion" around suicde.

Two? Who's the other one?

Aaron Swartz, the other co-creator of SecureDrop.

I'm really not familiar with SecureDrop or James Dolan's activism. Does anyone familiar with him want to summarize for me/us?

The article itself is a good summary of his work on SecureDrop.

Okay, I thought there was something more that I didn't know about! Thank you

really horrible, sorry to hear. awful loss for us all.

It’s terrible that he served our country and was thrown away. He is a true American and patriot.

Can any of the HN Admins set the title bar to black? IIRC, thats the custom for a "death in the family".

First Aaron Swartz, now James Dolan. Sad to see good people like them leave us. Hope they inspire some other wonderful people to follow their steps.

EDIT: Well, obviously not all their steps.

Let us not forget Ian Murdock, and all the others lesser well known.

Len Sassaman

oliv__ 11 months ago [flagged]

Well... maybe not all the steps.

Anything can be funny given the right person saying it at the appropriate time in the right context

Seeing a suicide joke from a person I don't know in the Hacker News thread about the death an individual I respect an hour after it's been released is not my idea of funny.

I see it as a word of caution for the bright eyed. Fighting for your ideals wears on you, and some are more resilient to its demands than others.

I wonder if the personal trait to see problems and act is because the problems seem bigger or because the "activation threshold" of that person is lower. If the former, I could see that the same trait also makes it more likely that the problems feel overwhelming.

Ignorance is bliss.

I am all about dark humor, and it's true when dealing with death, there's no accounting for taste, but thanks for posting this. It's a very clear and sober comment, it doesn't admonish the parent, but shares how the comment made you feel. That is completely and totally appropriate and HN could use a lot more of this.

People cope with death in different ways. Avoid taking things strangers say very seriously.

Why did you immediately assume the post was a joke about suicide, rather than a clever and witty remark about the dangers of following your passions/ideals in the face of enormous opposition and psychological torment?

Because the post was a joke about suicide.

Humor is how many people cope with loss/sadness/etc.

I'll admit I thought this was a repost from years ago - this is just incredibly similar.

Heroes die young.


But there is value compared to these you list. I respect them but I also think they are foolish to disregard their lives. What was once a person becomes rotting meat. Some people will grieve, others will write eulogies, some will will glorify them to serve some agenda, and others who don't care for such things will treat this for what it is probes and sensors that gave one more piece of hard won information that can maybe be somehow utilized -- maybe it's bad to think like this, so it's important to keep going with good humor.


That is so cheap, smug, and uncivil a comment as to be a bannable offence on Hacker News. I'm not going to ban you because you've posted good comments as well, but please don't do it again. If I could sentence you to a moment's self-reflection, though, I sure would.

Taking the occasion of someone's death to smear him like this is staggering—or would be if it weren't so trivial. One expects nothing better of any internet forum, but please don't drag this one down.

I can't respond to a dead post, but I thought it would be good to note out of respect and contextualize the Iraq experience as something that James Dolan didn't trivialize:

"We don’t know why James took his own life; we do know, however, he long suffered from PTSD from his time serving in the Marines during the Iraq War. It was an experience that affected him in multiple ways. He often cited the Iraq War as his inspiration for wanting to help journalists and whistleblowers; it made him realize governments needed to be much more transparent and accountable."

>It turns out he helped to invade Iraq.

Respectfully, I don't think this is the right thread to bring this up.

thank you for your comment


Suicide is the easiest cover, especially in the U.S. In Russia, for example, suicide is harder to believe, so they instead do assaults, muggings. But yeah, you might be onto something here.


First, would you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to HN?

Second, your insinuation is groundless, uncivil, and gross. Please don't sink to this level if you want to keep commenting here.

Respectfully, why is it gross? Why is it gross to question suicides in the case of political dissidents? I think it's necessary. Even if wrong, or baseless, it's a task that needs to be done and I would be afraid to live in a state where it is unacceptable to question such.

Because there's no substantive basis for it, it's merely using someone's death for a cheap hit of excitement. There's nothing politically serious about that—it's just adolescent, and frankly a litmus test of low-quality commenters.

Because of that and the other slop that has been posted here, I haven't been this ashamed of an HN thread in quite a while. It pains me that HN would be an example of how low the internet sinks when someone dies.

Edit: tptacek said it better than I did btw: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16110384

After MLK's death, conspiracy theorists were disparaged. Turns out, there were, in fact, multiple government conspiracies, going so far as trying to get him killed.


Here's the line of reasoning I use that keeps me in the game. Sorry if this is way off the deep end! :)

"The impediment to action advances action. The obstacle is the way." - Marcus Aurelius

In the face of overwhelming despair, there's always a choice you can take that is hope. Right action is training yourself to habitually choose that, and continue with it, regardless of the circumstances.

Those deepest moments of self-doubt, those are when you're able to have thoughts from that context that you couldn't when you're all happy and stuff. Those moments themselves are intrinsically valuable to be present in, and pay attention to. And by inducing them in yourself and choosing to behave properly against them, you can train yourself before the big moment comes.

I feel like this might be crazy and overly intense, but I can't really conceive of any other aspirational way of existing, so I hope its somewhat helpful!

I like to think of it as integrating with the shadow, both hands serve the same master

Hope can lead you to a dead end if you're on the wrong path to begin with.

I think the worst part of any depressive phase is that it makes you feel you are the only one deep down this hole. Everyone around you has a perfect life. Every stranger on the bus seems to be happy.

But the truth is you are not looking hard enough. There is more depression (medical or not) than we think and like to admit. Most likely all the people around you have a reason to be depressed one way or the other. You are not the only one who fell into a hole. Some people have financial trouble, others have sick parents. Look hard enough and you will see you are not the only one.

But you might still think that all these people look happy! You need to remember that you only see another person but you can't feel their feelings and read their thoughts. If you met yourself would you really be able to tell that you are depressed? I doubt it. We learned to cover it up.

So my tip to you and everyone is to understand that being in a hole is ok and you are not as alone as you might think.

Two bits from one of John Updike's _Rabbit_ books always come to mind: upon looking through his host's medicine cabinet, Rabbit muses, "people are always a little sicker than you think." And there's a description of looking down on cars from the window of an airplane in flight--how smoothly, from a distance, the cars seem to travel. Almost everyone has troubles that disappear from a distance.

Hang in there man. Even for people who don’t know you, you can still do so much good while you live. There’s a lot of people struggling around the world whose lives would be made better with only a tiny drop of your help/knowledge.

The decade feels grim, lots of tension, lots of mayhem. I try not to succomb to the surrounding darkness; not easy at times, nostalgia is strong in me, but I also know that this is transient.

I find talking about it helps. The feelings pass if you allow yourself time to heal, and talking to a coach, a therapist, deep diving with others going through similar stuff helps pass/break through it.

But this life we live and all the struggles are all part of the journey. there's no end-destination free of inner conflict.

It's recognizing that human suffering is universal, and having compassion for yourself. Through awareness of knowing what you're in, when you're triggered, and how - that awareness itself is HUGE. next part is to have compassion for yourself or else you will overwhelm.

Having compassion for yourself is so important, and so hard to do. When my therapist first mentioned this concept to me, it felt so foreign. It hit me like a ton of bricks that even though my personal issues are far from my fault, and there's no possible way I could have been at fault (childhood abuse that I've struggled with my entire life), I was blaming myself for every aspect of my problems.

I'm still struggling, a lot, but realizing that I was my own worst critic was a huge step in starting to deal with my issues.

For me, I had been stuck in the struggle because I was in my head trying to strive for a place of perfection where my flaws would be fully healed/corrected and never again repeated.

thats an incredibly high standard and pressure to put on ourselves. You're right that we are our own harshest critic.

Have compassion for the human who can still fuck up but fuck up with knowing, because then at least you can see it and be aware of it.. and through time you can correct it.

Self compassion allows you to go through this journey without giving up.

You would be missed. Stay strong. If you need to talk please reach out to me or anyone.

This too shall pass

I know you mean well but this sort of comment really upsets me because for many of us that means "when we die" as there is no obvious realistic hope.

I have been suffering for 15+ years since medical mistakes took my life and future. I have the whole cocktail of physical and mental pain as a result and every day is hell just surviving. I have lost everything including my means to meet even the basic needs of life independently and have fallen in nearly every crack when it comes to assistance as system after system failed me. I have only survived this long due to a large savings at the time of insult and a partial pension from my job. Friends and family have nearly all abandoned me. Despite my efforts haven't been able to "create" a path either.

This post is timely as I've been working on a draft for an AskHN last ditch post I intend to make soon to see if anyone has a plan or idea I have not already heard of for someone with so many limits to earn and survive. The things most people think are facts about options just don't work that way in reality. We are fighting the same issues everyone else in life is on TOP of the unimaginable physical and mental pain. Many people are left behind and many systems are broken. My life is filled with seemingly insurmountable barriers...my physical condition, access to needs, finances, age...and ending things is a daily consideration. I don't WANT to die but my wants don't pay the bills nor reduce pain. I have one option to live...start over and compete with every healthy person who is also trying to survive. I don't see how I can...

I have never talked to a suicidal person who WANTED to die when you drill down...they just wanted their pain to end (whatever that pain is) and there was no way in this life they could find to do that. For them it did pass...when they did. So that phrase brings me no comfort as intended.

I am deeply saddened by your suffering. I cannot imagine what you are going through, and have nothing but empathy and a glimmer of understanding to offer you.

My small insight as a lifelong depressive is that well-meaning people who give advice and encouragement often do so from a position of limited understanding, hopefully because they have never had to endure similar torment.

It can seem inconceivable to them that sometimes people are so destroyed that it is effectively impossible to take their advice, or derive comfort from their words.

I truly hope you find some relief that avoids the need for self-liberation.

This post is timely as I've been working on a draft for an AskHN last ditch post I intend to make soon to see if anyone has a plan or idea I have not already heard of for someone with so many limits to earn and survive.

You can email me. I have a serious medical condition and have gradually gotten healthier, created a flexible income and paid down debt. I may be able to point you in the right direction.

Thanks for the succinct summary. I feel much the same.

The role model I think about the most is David Foster Wallace. from all viewpoints but his own, a hugely successful author, journalist, and professor. Always precocious, He stuck his head through a window and got a view of marketing/consumption/entertainment/addiction/education/the direction of life in modern America that he just couldn't come back from.

He committed suicide 10 years into writing "The Pale King", a book on the IRS/tax system that explores in his words "the deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all of our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from".

Keep fighting the good fight - you never know who might end up reading or hearing your words, what new ideas might come into existence from another meeting your mind, or what tomorrow might bring.

What cost, personal or public, is worth fighting the good fight for? This seems to happen far too often: our best minds and best hearts pushing themselves to the brink in their fighting the good fight.

Why is the date of the post "Tomorrow"?

Probably a buggy publishing system that rounds date/time, or something similar. It says "Today" for me.

Or a major conspiracy. My money's with Occam's razor, though.

Says today for me, maybe something to do with timezones?


It happened over the holidays. It's over.

I had to research a bit as I recall an identical story about JStor and a computer programmer from a few years ago.


Seems incredibly similar to this situation and on both accounts this is terribly sad to see.

Yes, Aaron Swartz is mentioned 6 times in the article above.

Yeah I guess I just couldn't believe what I was reading that two people so closely related to each other could have the same outcome. It's just staggering news and quite hard to comprehend.


People write these things because on a message board, other human beings are just an abstraction. Please, though, try to remember that to family and friends and even acquaintances, victims of suicide are not abstractions. I don't know James Dolan, but I know other well-known people in the industry who've died, and their families and friends did not take comfort in this kind of fantasizing. Rather, it was deeply upsetting to them.


> something more objective

You mean like rampant, baseless speculation with no knowledge of any surrounding facts?


> The fact that both Aaron Swartz and James Dolan committed suicide does, indeed, smell. In the past, our government has shown itself capable of [grabbing people off the street for mind control experiments](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_MKUltra).

Or maybe it's that there's a high incidence of mental illness among particularly intelligent humans, and even more particularly cryptography/privacy engineers?



The problem isn't some secret nefarious government mind control program. The problem is that we, as a society, are still very bad at caring for our most vulnerable people.

More importantly, the timing here is suspect: Many HN users are just now finding out about his death, and need time to mourn. Bringing up conspiracy theories-- even if they were true-- is poor form.


You aren't honoring them. You're using them to create an exciting narrative to break up the monotony of your day. The fact that you don't have enough information to distinguish between possibilities doesn't mean the family doesn't. You aren't entitled to that information and may never get it.

> If you need time to mourn, then take it. But do not denigrate those who would honor those fighting for all of us by making sure that there isn't more to the story.

I would think people who care so much about online privacy would be capable of shutting their mouths for a short bit of time to give the friends and family of the deceased a chance to mourn. But what do I know?

It is, at least on face value. However gathering enough evidence to show some relationship or cause... that's a whole different ballgame that we probably won't get to ever watch.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact