How “cablegate” actually works in America’s favor and its rollout quite possibly may have been sanctioned by pro-US interests
WikiLeaks is down again-likely the result of multiple denial-of-service cyber attacks. All week it’s been on and off. Amazon stopped hosting the site and PayPal dumped their account. The latest has the website adopting a new domain in Switzerland, found at wikileaks.ch or http://188.8.131.52. It’s pretty much a case of cyberspace whack-a-mole.
Pitch forks come out
Calls for the scalp of WikiLeaks founder and spokesperson Julian Assange have crowded the airwaves. Sarah Palin wonders why we don’t go after Assange and his org like Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda-Huckabee smells treason for whoever leaked and, “anything less than execution is too kind a penalty.” On Sunday, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell called Assange a “high-tech terrorist”, while Newt Gingrich proclaimed that Assange is engaged in “information terrorism and warfare” and should be treated as an enemy combatant. Tough, tough, talk.
Assange has also been hit with an Interpol arrest warrant for an alleged sex crime committed in Sweden during, “consensual, but unprotected sex”, possibly due to a condom malfunction. Assange says it’s a smear campaign and has claimed being “set-up” by enemies of WikiLeaks.
Amid the international manhunt and calls for assassination, Assange revealed the existence of an encrypted and compressed 1.4 gigabyte “insurance” file as a sort of dead man’s switch. He said 100,000 people have downloaded this file, and if WikiLeaks is blocked, the trigger will be pulled on this unredacted chunk of joy guaranteeing the mission of disclosure no matter what strategies are employed to shut Assange’s operation down.
Disclosure hall of fame
WikiLeaks Iraq War logs and “cablegate” have been called this generation’s “Pentagon Papers”:
•Cablegate : 251,287 leaked US embassy cables (only 931 available as of 12/6/2010)
•Iraq War logs : 391,832 United States Army field reports from Iraq War (2004-2009)
WikiLeaks intends to release the entire trove of embassy cables in the coming months, in addition to insider documents from a major US bank. After instigating tens of thousands of unique press reports and articles covering the latest material, WikiLeaks has clearly risen to top the disclosure hall of fame.
It’s important to note that WikiLeaks and Assange did not steal the diplomatic cables per se, but were provided the classified documents by a whistleblower-much like what had occurred during the Vietnam War.
Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers
In 1969, Daniel Elsberg was an analyst working for RAND and the DoD, and leaked a top secret report on the Vietnam War-information that became known as the “Pentagon Papers”. The Pentagon Papers clearly showed purposeful deception leveled at Congress and the American people by the Johnson Administration to further prosecute the war. The Nixon Administration attempted to block publication, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the disclosure in New York Times Co. v. United States, citing First Amendment protection (viz., freedom of the press).
The Pentagon Papers-on one hand-led to criminal pushback from Nixon resulting in the downfall of the Presidency through Watergate. On the other hand, the Pentagon Papers made a significant contribution to ending the war.
Ellsberg’s whistle-blowing counterpart in today’s WikiLeaks controversy is the alleged leaker, US Army analyst, Bradley Manning-not Assange, nor WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks, like the New York Times 40 years ago, is a media venue releasing information it received, and in as much, is protected by the First Amendment.
So, why the pitch forks?
Maybe in the big picture the WikiLeaks phenomenon is good?
A dissenting perspective
Now I know to some this may seem like a radical notion, but let me explain. First of all, I sympathize with those in Government feeling distraught that confidential communications have been cast into the wind for the entire world to see-I’m sure I would feel just as upset if I were in the State Department. However, I’m not at State, nor work for the government, so my observations are relatively neutral in examining the more over-arching implications of what WikiLeaks represents.
Information and knowledge are the lifeblood of democracy
America and the West are open-societies built on a foundation based upon the free flow of information. Founder, framer, President, James Madison said, “knowledge will forever govern ignorance”, and if a people intend to be their own self-governors, they must wield the power that knowledge brings.
Largely, we have a tradition of celebrating democratic, fact-based, and scientifically sound decision making processes-the product of age of enlightenment principles. The decomodification of information is our heritage and America’s birthright.
In contrast, secrecy is a form of government regulation that is particularly vulnerable to abuse due to lack of oversight. The overreaching application of secrecy shuts down the free flow of information. There is a role for privacy and confidentiality-but when it becomes a humongous institution generating millions of documents each year on autopilot-secrecy builds a bulwark against democracy, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan says in his book Secrecy: An American Experience, “a hidden metastasizing mass within government itself.”
Information-based democracy: power’s legitimacy is directly proportionate to its transparency
In 2004, I delved into the subject of Alvin Tofler’s Third Wave (the information and communications revolution) and explored its transformative impact on global politics, national security, and the evolution of democracy. I had learned that technological and scientific discoveries throughout history compound over time and once new standards are established, they rarely revert.
Information technology is like an accumulative arms race, and once people become accustomed to new ways of doing things, the cat’s out of the bag, so-to-speak.
Established technologies are built upon and improved by additional innovations over time. An example of this process would be the thousands of inventions and innovations that have come together to make the cell phone you hold in your hand. Thousands of inventors and developers, over the decades and centuries, did not speak with one another directly, and yet, through additive synthesis, collaborated with each another to bring us new state-of-the-art technologies. From a million miles away, this extremely effective and penetrating cooperation-beyond the boundaries of time and space-might appear to be an almost hive-like intelligence. 10,000 people made your computer possible, yet never spoke with one another.
How would people’s ability to instantly communicate with one another impact the old, artificial, and comparmentalized constraints upon information dissemination? With the presence of these new tools, political or corporate power could not be preserved cloistered away in hidden chamber. It becomes a question of provable trust-and a vibrant information network, comprised of a plugged-in electorate, would eventually demand new levels of accountability, in real time. Hence, “power’s legitimacy is directly proportionate to its transparency.”
In other words, in an information-based society, where power accumulates, transparency must also. This principle should apply to governmental or corporate entities alike. The larger the potential impact an institution or corporation has, the greater the responsibility to publically fully vet its programs and procedures. Our future success as a society and global community is directly related to the quality of information people have access to-to wit, corruption unseen, is unfixable; and institutional secrecy in the info-age is a force in opposition to progress and the healing properties of cultural evolution. Secrecy is anti-democratic-and according to some scholars-anti-constitutional.
Hidden government and the Cold War national security apparatus
American institutionalized secrecy has grown to massive proportions since the National Security Act of 1947 creating a myriad of intelligence agencies and the current Department of Defense. With billions appropriated in the dark, numerous black-ops, covert acts-all removed from any thorough scrutiny-we quite possibly started down a very unconstitutional path.
From the Constitution, Article 1 Section 9 Clause 7 says,
“No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.”
To quote recently passed Chalmers Johnson in his book “The Sorrows of Empire”,
“This article is the one that empowers the Congress and makes the United States a democracy. It guarantees that the people’s representatives will know what the state apparatus is actually doing and it authorizes full disclosure of its activities. It has not been applied to the Department of Defense or the Central Intelligence Agency since their creation.”
WikiLeaks slogan-“we open government”-suggests a different, yet, very constitutional way of conducting the people’s business. Open-source government is a new, and perhaps, inevitable future stage of democracy only made possible through the technological revolution of our digitally interconnected world-ironically, a technology originally created by the United States Department of Defense.
The Intergalactic Computer Network
The internet was created following a vision laid out in a series of memos by J.C.R. Licklider working for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). One memo addressed to “Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network”, described the principles behind packet switching, and interestingly was opposed by industry stakeholders as pointless and an inefficient use of computer resources. Licklider’s point was to make information and knowledge accessible all around the world. He had this epiphany in the early 60s and imagined connecting the user to, “everyday business, industrial, government, and professional information, and perhaps, also to news, entertainment, and education.”
Fast-forward to today and we see entire economies, communities and governments transformed by Third Wave technology-I submit, these cultural changes, engendered by the DoD, are inherently based on enlightenment principles, and in essence, operate as the new “arsenal of democracy”. And WikiLeaks is actually part of that arsenal.
The Emperor has no clothes
The reality of new media working to unpack totalitarian regimes in a classic “emperor has no clothes” narrative is well-established. The recent civil unrest in Iran saw cell phone cams and creative web workarounds penetrate the veil of suppression. Sites like Twitter and Facebook were thrust into a historic role raising the bar on transparency and carrying forward, the political ramifications are profound. These technologies have proliferated around the world, including into totalitarian-leaning nations, and as a result, amplifying the voice of the people. Is it any wonder China blacked-out coverage of the uprising in Iran, or why they’ve domestically shut down access to certain ideas, political concepts, or even whole sections of the internet?
Moving past the impasse in Iran and North Korea
The WikiLeaks phenomenon has opened up new possibilities for what many consider intractable foreign policy challenges. Revelations about where certain Chinese officials stand vis-à-vis North Korea (they could see a reunited Korean peninsula under the South’s leadership), or where the King of Saudi Arabia stands vis-à-vis Iran (urging US military action to address Iranian nuclear ambitions), have broken open a diplomatic logjam by engaging the court of world opinion.
The leaked diplomatic cables paint the US as less of a lone wolf in regard to its involvement in the Middle East and relatively consistent in what State department officials are saying in private and in public. Indeed, the disclosures are so pro-US, some have speculated that WikiLeaks could be a CIA conduit. Hands-on or hands-off involvement by CIA, NSA is irrelevant; fact is, all possible scenarios of open-source government have been gamed out. These are important possibilities to contemplate when trying to unpack what’s really transpired here with WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
Open societies (the West) will ultimately benefit from open-source government. Yes there is corruption in the Empire that needs to be rooted out, the folly of endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the unholy tryst twixt Washington & Wallstreet-but foreign nations lead by strongman thugs, monarchies, theocrats, narco-neocommunists, will never thrive under sunshine. The West possesses the cultural infrastructure to best metabolize this new “sunshine paradigm” and morph itself into a productive vessel for pier-to-pier democracy. The celebration of knowledge, human ingenuity-not to mention the DoD-have made it possible for billions of people all around the world to be connected with one another, making all this disinfectant (WikiLeaks) possible.
“Singing our space songs on a spider web sitar… Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in…”
~ from the musical Hair