Every time we witness an act that we feel to be unjust and do not act we become a party to injustice. Those who are repeatedly passive in the face of injustice soon ﬁnd their character corroded into servility. Most witnessed acts of injustice are associated with bad governance, since when governance is good, unanswered injustice is rare. By the progressive diminution of a people’s character, the impact of reported, but unanswered injustice is far greater than it may initially seem. Modern communications states through their scale, homogeneity and excesses provide their populace with an unprecedented deluge of witnessed, but seemingly unanswerable injustices. –Julian Assange
I’ve been putting off laying out my thoughts on Wikileaks, because, honestly; the situation evolves so often that It’s hard to really assay from a high altitude. First of all, I believe it is absolutely imperative that, if you want to really have an idea of Assange’s likely agenda and why Wikileaks is releasing “unimportant things”…
…though be sure my blood boils every time I hear someone call something like the US warning Germany to not pursue the CIA kidnapping and torture of an innocent German citizen “unimportant” or “gossip”…
…and why the paranoid over-reaction of the US and their allies – especially their corporate allies is probably part of that agenda as well — then you need to read this: “State and Terrorist Conspiracies” and “Conspiracy as Governance”. After that, you’ll probably want to just go ahead and read Aaron Bady’s excellent breakdown of those essays. I really feel that these documents are they key to actually exploring the Wikileaks phenomenon with any accuracy.
The short version is that yes, Assange does seem to want to use Wikileaks’ form of journalism as a weapon.
Y’see, they say journalism is the art of controlling your environment, but that’s all wrong. I can’t control anything with this typewriter, all this is, is a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world… – Spider Jerusalem, Transmetropolitan
He is, by his own admission, using journalism as a tool to create systems disruption in conspiratorial forms of government in the style of 4G Warfare. His conspiracies are not those of the Alex Jones and David Icke type, but the simple banal ones that drive what passes for government in many parts of the world. The shameless collusion of corporate interests and governments, the systems and structures that rule by secrecy – quite often because the truth of how they move in the world would be horrifying to the people that they claim to represent or govern. The goal, aside from exposing real crimes, is to disrupt the systems by which those conspiracies do business. This is why the diplomatic cables leaked contain a high degree of innocuous fluff as well as seemingly TMZ-worthy gossip – not because those particular factoids in and of themselves have value, but because the availability of them causes systems disruption.
Or, as Bady put it:
In this sense, most of the media commentary on the latest round of leaks has totally missed the point. After all, why are diplomatic cables being leaked? 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.
And, as anyone can see from the news, so far the reaction of Wikileaks’ targets has been just that. The US discusses new interpretations of the Espionage Act to cover more forms of journalism, introduces the information-protecting SHEILD act and bullies private companies to cease their tacit support of Wikileaks. Meanwhile, credit card companies react to the leaking that they were in collusion with the US government in international affairs by removing avenues of fiscal support for Wikileaks and… colluding in government affairs! The over-reaction and internalized self-inflicted systems disruption is the point. In the face of the threat of real transparency, systems that thrive on secrecy will make their natures known and also make their own ability to operate more difficult. It is, sadly, very similar to the reaction that Al Queada was attempting to – and did – provoke with their 9/11 attacks and the failed and threatened attempts thereafter.
However, wanting to provoke disruption in the kind of systems that interpret transparency/lack-of-secrecy/public action/journalism as some kind of damage or a threat to their existence isn’t Terrorism, unlike Al Queada’s own take on 4G war. And if it is, then I find myself in the strange position of finding myself and most of the people I know and love, suddenly cast as terrorists.
No lives have been lost due to Wikilleaks (though the life of whistleblower Bradley Manning certainly hangs in the balance) and contrary to what a lot of media-wonks have stated they have redacted information with the cooperation of several newspapers – but not the US government whose aid they’ve solicited, repeatedly. If anything the greatest flaw in Assange’s master plan is Assange himself — both in his highly questionable actions regarding Swedish rape charges but also in his apparent bouts of unchecked ego and the cult of personality that has formed up around him. To quote anarchist writer Magpie:
The second reason I’m fine with Assange having been arrested is that no revolutionary organization should be so top-down structured that removing the head destroys the body. I can’t believe I would have to even worry about that in the internet era, when dealing with tech-savvy folks. Decentralization is clearly the only useful way to run an organization that will run into conflict with the state or capitalism. When I heard Assange was arrested, I was sad, but I figured it wouldn’t really affect Wikileaks at all. If Wikileaks is/was something worth supporting, it will function just as smoothly without its founder.
Assange, to the detriment of Wikileaks, has become a cause célèbre to the kind of folks who can’t wait to jump into a cult of personality with very little information, while Bradley Manning – the man who put the bullet in the gun for Assange and Company to aim at the world – sits in solitary confinement in a military prison with the very real specter of capital crimes and lethal injection hanging over his head. Suddenly half the story of wikileaks has become the story of how various celebrities make fools of themselves when faced with the idea that someone they champion is also wanted for questioning regarding rape.
What good has wikileaks done? It’s shown that government transparency is possible even if it’s not wanted. They’ve shown that a small group of volunteers can fight a war against the most powerful forces on earth without ever firing a shot or raising a fist in violence. They’ve given the tools to do the same to many, many other people and organizations. They’ve forced governments and their allied entities to once again show their true nature and to damage their own ability to act. They’ve given any number of people who “know” their masters do horrible crimes in their name more solid proof of those crimes and their weight in human lives, as well as the tools to actually do something about them. They, like so many other journalists and whistleblowers before them, have put an actual price tag on the futures we’ve sold for a slick AT&T phone and no health care.
There are many problems with Assange’s master plan, however much I support it in theory. It makes the (logical) assumption that the degradation of signal within a conspiracy to act, and its inability to function with anything resembling efficiency will be interpreted by the systems around it as damage. What he’s not taking into account is the ability of these same systems to spin “damage” as “efficiency and security”. Look at the recent TSA regs, or almost any bit of Homeland Security legislation since the Patriot Act. Look at the banking industry failure. Look at how the “Transparency President” has upheld the Patriot Act and strengthened wiretap laws. America in particular has a deeply ingrained tendency – thanks to the very systems Assange seeks to break down – to interpret cultural, societal, and infrastructural damage as “progress” and “security.” His view of systems as wanting to embrace radical transparency fails on contact with the current state of the human element much in the way that Mark Zuckerberg’s attempts to get Facebook users to embrace personal transparency have.
The irony there is that Assange, himself, exemplifies the tendencies that allow this to happen. We, as people, tend to like Leaders. Just as Assange, the current “leader” of a “leaderless network” has become the focus for a cult of personality that has made it easy for the Heihachi cybercrime ring to hijack Anonymous in his name, call down celebrity support that muddles the issue with rampant fan-worship and rape apologisim, and for detractors to write the whole event off as the machinations of a terrorist rapist – the American Culture of Fear allows ex-comedians, Australian billionaires, ex-war heroes, religious pundits, Muslim-hating IRA supporting Representatives, Secretaries of State, supposedly progressive Presidents, and charismatic soccer moms from Alaska to reassure vast swathes of people that institutional damage is not damage, or censorship – it’s normal and good.
The real problem is that the rest of the “work” of Wikileaks relies on us. It relies on the concept of Wikileaks – no matter the name – still existing when their current directors are in obscurity or holes in the ground and Assange is just a punchline on next-month’s late night TV. If people don’t act on what they reveal, or don’t continue to campaign for transparency, then Wikileaks will just be a 3 minute blip on some “I Love the Oughts” retrospective show and their sacrifices – especially Manning’s, a soldier who knowingly put his life on the line for an ideal – will be for naught.