Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wikileaks, Julian Assange, and the Right's wrong response

“To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally we must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action.”

Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, “State and Terrorist Conspiracies

So that's what he's up to. OK. But why leak cables?

These leaks are not specifically about the war(s) at all, and most seem to simply be a broad swath of the everyday normal secrets that a security state keeps from all but its most trusted hundreds of thousands of people who have the right clearance. Which is the point: Assange is completely right that our government has conspiratorial functions. What else would you call the fact that a small percentage of our governing class governs and acts in our name according to information which is freely shared amongst them but which cannot be shared amongst their constituency? And we all probably knew that this was more or less the case; anyone who was surprised that our embassies are doing dirty, secretive, and disingenuous political work as a matter of course is naïve. But Assange is not trying to produce a journalistic scandal which will then provoke red-faced government reforms or something, precisely because no one is all that scandalized by such things any more. Instead, he is trying to strangle the links that make the conspiracy possible, to expose the necessary porousness of the American state’s conspiratorial network in hopes that the security state will then try to shrink its computational network in response, thereby making itself dumber and slower and smaller.

But doesn't this endanger national security? Not according to Dr. Richard Stoll at the Baker Institute for Public Policy:

Let me begin by saying two things:

1. The U.S. government classifies too much information.

2. While a number of the leaked documents are embarrassing, they probably do not damage U.S. national security.

But there are dangers to these disclosures.

Candor in conversations among diplomats in the course of their responsibility of foreign relations is one of the dangers he identifies.

Pshaw, I say.

In a world where privacy is being both quickly relinquished and usurped -- by Facebook, by the flash drives implicated in these Wikileaks disclosures, by online data mined by corporations and sold to advertisers, by TSA scans, by ubiquitous security cameras watching even to see if we run a red light -- indeed, in a world where the documents regarding the Kennedy assassination still remain hidden from public view, the idea that state secrets must remain so is only the case for those whom the secrets would implicate by nefarious intent.

Executives and managers in and out of government believe they must have some right or guarantee to frank and candid discussion without the possibility of those conversations becoming public.

I call BS.

That's where the plots against the people who elected them, who are managed by them, who guarantee their authority and their compensation are hatched.

And in an era when politicians are increasingly held to little account by the former watchdogs (the press), and the politicians as a result show little deference to any media that doesn't fit their POV (FOX), Wikileaks is providing an important check and balance on the corrupt, the scheming, and the dishonest.

And that's important for our democracy. Or our republic, if you prefer.

Of course that's not stopping Sarah Palin, or an advisor to the Canadian prime minister from insinuating or just outright calling for Julian Assange's murder. A collection of right-wing blogging goons only want to kill him, naturally, after they figure out how to use his data against Obama.

Assange in his own words again:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

And back to zunguzungu for the wrap-up:

Julian Assange is trying to do something else. Because we all basically know that the US state — like all states — is basically doing a lot of basically shady things basically all the time, simply revealing the specific ways they are doing these shady things will not be, in and of itself, a necessarily good thing. In some cases, it may be a bad thing, and in many cases, the provisional good it may do will be limited in scope. The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets. The point of Wikileaks — as Assange argues — is simply to make Wikileaks unnecessary.

This post from the Newswatch blog at the Chron has several updates to the Wikileaks developments, including its next targets -- a major US bank, pharmaceutical companies, financial firms, and energy companies.

Other related articles:

-- Amazon has turned off Wikileaks' servers. This comes after they had moved to Amazon over the past weekend as they faced denial-of-service attacks to their network.

-- Interpol is after Assange on a sex crime charge.  Moscow's secret agents are also on his trail.

-- Congress may soon pass legislation strengthening the protection of whistle-blowers (ironically, to prevent them from going to Wikileaks).

-- Robert Scheer mocks Hllary Clinton:

Instead of disparaging the motives of the leakers, Hillary Clinton should offer a forthright explanation of why she continued the practice of Condoleezza Rice, her predecessor as secretary of state, of using American diplomats to spy on their colleagues working at the United Nations. Why did she issue a specific directive ordering U.S. diplomats to collect biometric information on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and many of his colleagues?

1 comment:

Rey Abisan said...

I remember the last time there was a "Wikileaks," and it very much like this time.

Now, as then, I encountered very strong but differing opinions/perceptions about it. Some/many people explicitly support "Wikileaks" and regard it/Julian Assange as good, and others explicitly condemn it/him -but I've yet to see anyone clearly identify much less defend their reasoning. This seems strange to me, and almost makes me suspicious. What exactly is the issue here? For disclosure, I'm undecided on the issue -because I simply do not know enough to know if Wikileaks is good or bad. I'm aware that JA is accused of a sexual crime in Europe. I will say that as someone who values truth and honesty, I have at least a little suspicion and/or skepticism of advocacy of GOVERNMENT secrecy (although I understand it it necessary at least sometime). What exactly is going on with WikiLeaks and why exactly is it wrong or right? And HOW is this information being obtained? It confuses me that I hear people harshly condemning it and saying "this person should be tried for treason and executed, etc."IF a serious law has been broken, I'd expect it to be cited and used as the basis for advocating the pursuit of formal charges.Was the information leaked acquired by consent (shared/sold by those who controlled it) or stolen? I haven't seen this clearly established anywhere, which seems weird as it is clearly a significant consideration. If anyone can clarify this, I'd be grateful, thanks. I'm also VERY curious why I've yet to hear it clearly identified.

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