wikileaks: roundup

The War on WikiLeaks: John Pilger’s Investigation and Interview With Julian Assange

Regardless of the threats to his freedom and safety, he says the US is not WikiLeaks’ main “technological enemy.” “China is the worst offender. China has aggressive, sophisticated interception technology that places itself between every reader inside China and every information source outside China. We’ve been fighting a running battle to make sure we can get information through, and there are now all sorts of ways Chinese readers can get on to our site.”

It was in this spirit of “getting information through” that WikiLeaks was founded in 2006, but with a moral dimension. “The goal is justice,” wrote Assange on the homepage, “the method is transparency.” Contrary to a current media mantra, WikiLeaks material is not “dumped.” Less than one percent of the 251,000 US embassy cables have been released. As Assange points out, the task of interpreting material and editing that which might harm innocent individuals demands “standards [befitting] higher levels of information and primary sources.” To secretive power, this is journalism at its most dangerous.

On 18 March 2008, a war on WikiLeaks was foretold in a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch.” US intelligence, it said, intended to destroy the feeling of “trust,” which is WikiLeaks’ “center of gravity.” It planned to do this with threats to “exposure [and] criminal prosecution.” Silencing and criminalizing this rare source of independent journalism was the aim: smear the method. Hell hath no fury like imperial Mafiosi scorned.

Following is a point that’s occurred to me more than once, and really makes me cringe at the overbearing, blustering image the U.S. must be making for itself even among normally sympathetic allies:

As the US Justice Department, in its hunt for Assange, subpoenas the Twitter and email accounts, banking and credit card records of people around the world – as if we are all subjects of the United States – much of the “free” media on both sides of the Atlantic direct their indignation at the hunted.

Honestly.

This is as succinct a summary of the “Swedish Problem” as I’ve seen:

“So, Julian, why won’t you go back to Sweden now?” demanded the headline over Catherine Bennett’s Observer column on 19 December, which questioned Assange’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct with two women in Stockholm last August. “To keep delaying the moment of truth, for this champion of fearless disclosure and total openness,” wrote Bennett, “could soon begin to look pretty dishonest, as well as inconsistent.” Not a word in Bennett’s vitriol considered the looming threats to Assange’s basic human rights and his physical safety, as described by Geoffrey Robertson QC, in the extradition hearing in London on 11 January.

In response to Bennett, the editor of the online Nordic News Network in Sweden, Al Burke, wrote to the Observer explaining, “plausible answers to Catherine Bennett’s tendentious question” were both critically important and freely available. Assange had remained in Sweden for more than five weeks after the rape allegation was made – and subsequently dismissed by the chief prosecutor in Stockholm – and that repeated attempts by him and his Swedish lawyer to meet a second prosecutor, who reopened the case following the intervention of a government politician, had failed. And yet, as Burke pointed out, this prosecutor had granted him permission to fly to London where “he also offered to be interviewed – a normal practice in such cases.” So, it seems odd, at the very least, that the prosecutor then issued a European arrest warrant. The Observer did not publish Burke’s letter.

This record straightening is crucial because it describes the perfidious behavior of the Swedish authorities – a bizarre sequence confirmed to me by other journalists in Stockholm and by Assange’s Swedish lawyer Bjorn Hurtig. Not only that, Burke cataloged the unforeseen danger Assange faces should he be extradited to Sweden. “Documents released by WikiLeaks since Assange moved to England,” he wrote, “clearly indicate that Sweden has consistently submitted to pressure from the United States in matters relating to civil rights. There is ample reason for concern that if Assange were to be taken into custody by Swedish authorities, he could be turned over to the United States without due consideration of his legal rights.”

Lengthy, but this whole interview (which covers numerous other subjects) is well worth the read.

And about those twitter court orders (correction: not subpoenas): WikiLeaks Twitter spying may break EU privacy law

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) will today pose an oral question to the European Commission, seeking clarification from the US on a subpoena demanding the micro-blogging site hand over users’ account details.

ALDE members want to know why US investigators demanded the information when they hadn’t yet provided evidence that any crime has been committed.

Wow. Politicians taking the privacy of their constituents seriously. Can I get some of that over here?

Good Manners in the Age of WikiLeaks offers a perceptive analysis of what the struggle between Wikileaks and governments, especially the U.S. really entails. First he goes through two common, simplistic, views of the organization: one often held by its detractors and the other by its supporters:

According to this way of seeing things, the enemy is those US diplomats who conceal the truth, manipulate the public and humiliate their allies in the ruthless pursuit of their own interests. ‘Power’ is held by the bad guys at the top, and is not conceived as something that permeates the entire social body, determining how we work, think and consume. WikiLeaks itself got the taste of this dispersion of power when Mastercard, Visa, PayPal and Bank of America joined forces with the state to sabotage it. The price one pays for engaging in the conspiratorial mode is to be treated according to its logic. (No wonder theories abound about who is ‘really’ behind WikiLeaks – the CIA?)

The conspiratorial mode is supplemented by its apparent opposite, the liberal appropriation of WikiLeaks as another chapter in the glorious history of the struggle for the ‘free flow of information’ and the ‘citizens’ right to know’. This view reduces WikiLeaks to a radical case of ‘investigative journalism’. Here, we are only a small step away from the ideology of such Hollywood blockbusters as All the President’s Men and The Pelican Brief, in which a couple of ordinary guys discover a scandal which reaches up to the president, forcing him to step down. Corruption is shown to reach the very top, yet the ideology of such works resides in their upbeat final message: what a great country ours must be, when a couple of ordinary guys like you and me can bring down the president, the mightiest man on Earth!

He astutely points out that

WikiLeaks cannot be seen in the same way. There has been, from the outset, something about its activities that goes way beyond liberal conceptions of the free flow of information. We shouldn’t look for this excess at the level of content. The only surprising thing about the WikiLeaks revelations is that they contain no surprises. Didn’t we learn exactly what we expected to learn? The real disturbance was at the level of appearances: we can no longer pretend we don’t know what everyone knows we know. This is the paradox of public space: even if everyone knows an unpleasant fact, saying it in public changes everything. One of the first measures taken by the new Bolshevik government in 1918 was to make public the entire corpus of tsarist secret diplomacy, all the secret agreements, the secret clauses of public agreements etc. There too the target was the entire functioning of the state apparatuses of power.

What WikiLeaks threatens is the formal functioning of power. The true targets here weren’t the dirty details and the individuals responsible for them; not those in power, in other words, so much as power itself, its structure. We shouldn’t forget that power comprises not only institutions and their rules, but also legitimate (‘normal’) ways of challenging it (an independent press, NGOs etc) – as the Indian academic Saroj Giri put it, WikiLeaks ‘challenged power by challenging the normal channels of challenging power and revealing the truth’.[*] The aim of the WikiLeaks revelations was not just to embarrass those in power but to lead us to mobilise ourselves to bring about a different functioning of power that might reach beyond the limits of representative democracy.

Of course, if you bother to go through and read what Julian Assange himself has written about the aim of Wikileaks, that’s exactly what he was (and is) aiming at. To return to a source I quoted last year (and which remains every bit as perspicacious an analysis now as it was then: Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government”:

[Assange] decides, instead, that the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make “leaks” a fundamental part of the conspiracy’s  information environment. Which is why the point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective. Wikileaks does not leak something like the “Collateral Murder” video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire:

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.

The leak, in other words, is only the catalyst for the desired counter-overreaction; Wikileaks wants to provoke the conspiracy into turning off its own brain in response to the threat.

Finally, from Greg Mitchell who has been tirelessly live-blogging the Wikileaks story for six weeks now (currently at The WikiLeaks News & Views Blog day 48), is an article detailing what exactly Wikileaks has revealed to us in this article Why WikiLeaks Matters. Not so much about the meta but the meat:

For balance, then, it’s important to review a small sample of what we have learned thanks to WikiLeaks since April and the release of the “Collateral Murder” US helicopter video, which showed the killing of two Reuters journalists, among others. It’s necessary to do this because most in the US media, after brief coverage, provided little follow-up. Consider the scope of even this very limited list of revelations:

§ The Saudis, our allies, are among the leading funders of international terrorism.

§ The scale of corruption in Afghanistan tops even the worst estimates. President Hamid Karzai regularly releases major drug dealers who have political connections. His half-brother is a major drug operator.

§ The Pentagon basically lied to the public in downplaying sectarian violence in Iraq. Our military handed over many detainees they knew would be tortured to the Iraqis. US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of torture and abuse by Iraqi police and military.

§ After the release of the Iraq logs, new tallies put the number of documented civilian casualties there at more than 100,000. The Afghanistan logs similarly showed many more civilians killed there than previously known, along with once-secret US assassination missions against insurgents.

§ The British government assured Washington that our interests would be protected in its “independent” public inquiry into the Iraq War.

§ The Pakistani government has allowed its intelligence unit to hold strategy sessions with the Taliban. Despite longstanding denials, the United States has indeed been conducting special ops inside Pakistan and taking part in joint operations with the Pakistanis.

§ The Yemenis have lied to their own people, taking credit for air attacks on militants in that country—but it was the United States that did the job. The Yemeni president gave us an “open door” to combat terrorism. Washington has secretly shipped arms to the Saudis for use in Yemen.

§ The Saudis, contrary to their public statements, want us to bomb Iran. So do some other countries in the region—or so they say in private.

§ Our State Department asked our diplomats at the United Nations to spy on others, including the secretary general, even aiming to retrieve credit card numbers.

§ At last we got to read in full the historic 1990 memo from US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie before Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf War.

§ The Obama administration worked with Republicans to protect Bush officials who faced a criminal investigation in Spain for alleged torture.

§ Pope Benedict XVI impeded an investigation into alleged child sex abuse within the Catholic Church in Ireland.

§ Bribery and corruption mark the Boeing versus Airbus battle for plane sales. “United States diplomats were acting like marketing agents, offering deals to heads of state and airline executives whose decisions could be influenced by price, performance and, as with all finicky customers with plenty to spend, perks,” the New York Times reported early this month.

§ Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.

§ US diplomats have been searching for countries that will take Guantánamo detainees, often bargaining with them; the receiving country might get a one-on-one meeting with Obama or some other perk.

§ Among several startling revelations about control of nuclear supplies: highly enriched uranium has been waiting in Pakistan for more than three years for removal by an American team.

§  The U.S. embassy in Paris advised Washington to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country which opposed genetically modified (GM) crops.

§ The British have trained a Bangladeshi paramilitary force that human rights organizations consider a “government death squad.”

I have reproduced the entire list here, because I think it’s very important to keep in mind what Wikileaks is actually telling us. I note with a modicum of irony that Tunisia’s leaks weren’t listed here — this was published before its Jasmine Revolution got underway — OTOH, this is not a comprehensive list, either. His question is an important one, though. Why do we not have an investigative media digging more deeply into each of these issues and reporting back to us?

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