Generally, the law recognizes that when one of two parties to a transaction has information the other would probably consider material in deciding whether to agree to it, and the party possessing the info fails to disclose it, and the other party complains, such failure by the party with the info to disclose it to the other party is deemed a fraud. There's no need to prove that the party that had the info had any actual intent to cheat the other party, because the effect is the same regardless: the party lacking the info has in fact been manipulated into something to which s/he would probably not otherwise have agreed.
The potential to help restore the balance of knowledge and thus the balance of power between us and our governmental and corporate overlords constitutes what I've regarded as the most important effect of Wikileaks' revelations.
Assange states a second benefit in the Swedish documentary I've mentioned previously: that "[e]very release that [Wikileaks does] has a second message: if you engage in immoral, in unjust behavior, it will be found out." I.e., exposure of past bad acts tends to deter future bad acts [at least, that is, if such exposure results in bad consequences to the bad actors; otherwise, it may just increase the "moral hazard"].
Some of the most fascinating writing I've read is Assange's own texts, "State and Terrorist Conspiracies" and "Conspiracy as Governance" (2006). In a nutshell, he argues that authoritarian governments are inevitably conspiratorial because their efforts to exploit people and interfere with their liberties tend to inspire resistance; so in order to maintain their authority, such regimes must try to keep the nature of what they're doing secret, restricting certain information to those inside the regime or otherwise in on the exploitation.(If they were maintaining their power legitimately, there'd be no need for secrecy; the more secrets there are, the more likely the regimes that want to keep them have something to hide.) But as the flow of information is throttled down, the regime as a whole – as a "computational system" – becomes less intelligent, in that those within the conspiracy become less able or willing to share all the info and ideas needed in order for the regime to exercise its power as effectively in its own behalf as it otherwise could (i.e., as he notes, "garbage in, garbage out"). Accordingly, provoking the regime to tighten security accomplishes a degradation of its organizational I.Q. that should ultimately hasten the regime's downfall. (Additional analysis here and here.) (UPDATE: I was accordingly interested to see this at Fox News: "Davos expert says hiding less information is best." Also, there's a fascinating new piece at colayer re- what Volatility's called, Wikileaks' "secrecy tax.") Oh, what a tangled web we weave.
This is of course exactly the US State Department's complaint: that governments that aren't telling their own citizens what they're really up to will also stop telling our government – will, in fact, stop conspiring with our government, at least insofar as secret-sharing constitutes conspiracy. [Basically, i.m.h.o., the oligarchs of the planet – those who have accumulated enough wealth and/or weapons and/or p.r. facilities to subdue their local populations – are like kids cheating at Monopoly: I'll help you maintain your power at the expense of your peons if you'll help me maintain mine.]
[Also note, this is also why Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, was such a godsend to the oligarchs – because p.r./propaganda help them manipulate populations through their basic instincts and emotions, rather than through secrecy; i.e., for too many people, the facts actually don't matter any more, because their own fear, anger, or cupidity, have been successfully enlisted against them, to the point that they're immunized against truth; see Adam Curtis's most excellent Century of the Self, here or here. Thus, revelations in recent years of US propaganda illegally directed at its own citizens (see here and here) have had little effect. Assange does not discuss p.r./propaganda (presumably because it doesn't help him to do so), but he might agree that it tends to help oligarchs maintain control without compromising their own systems' computational power.]
Thus, per Assange, generally, the strategy of leaking secrets is effective against authoritarian regimes in three related yet distinct ways: (1) it tends to restore the balance of power between authoritarian governments and those they govern by investing the latter with the power that attends knowledge of the injustices disclosed; (2) it tends to deter unjust actions with the threat that such actions may be revealed; and (3) it tends to provoke authoritarian governments to throttle the flow of information down further, thereby impairing their effectiveness and possibly hastening their own demise.
[And I agree with Assange; and I suspect he'd acknowledge such complicating factors as p.r./propaganda. Indeed, that may be partly why he may have believed it necessary for a infowar to be begun more or less now. Because the oligarchs do not yet control the non-traditional media, but they're making good progress on it (they already control most traditional media). And once they've got control of non-traditional media too, it's not just that they'll be better able to keep their secrets; it's also that there will be no escape from their p.r./propaganda; we'll be immersed, as in Altered States. For Assange, a key consideration may have been when to trigger the infowar: it would be best for it to occur when the internet has grown to reach the greatest possible number of people but before it's been converted into the most powerful instrument of mass mind control ever created.]
[And I gather it may have been disagreement re- the timing/manner of publication of leaked info that gave rise to the split between Assange and those defecting to form OpenLeaks (see the Swedish documentary) – that Assange wanted to publish the info sooner and in a more provocative manner. Indeed, one might wonder whether the "split" is real – whether the WL people may have decided the best strategy would be for the colorful Assange to use WL to draw off the oligarchs' fire and maximize attention to the story, while OpenLeaks continues WL's original, less sensational operations. (Assange's "rape" complainants could even be in on the strategy.) In a fine irony, the WL people would be deploying one of the oligarchs' own favorite tactics against them: when one organization gets in trouble, senior managers just form a new one and carry on business as usual (similarly, Assange has stated that Wikileaks has "us[ed] every trick in the book that multinational companies use to route money through tax havens – instead we route information"; see his speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum 2010).
If this is in fact the WL people's strategy, it would seem to be working like clockwork. And it would mean that on this level, too, the strategy is triple-pronged – the third prong being Assange's insurance file. Okke Ornstein notes other evidence of "grand strategic thinking."]
[And as this story unfolds, we'll likely learn something about the extent to which this infowar is really a p.r. war.]
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KERA Dallas's excellent Think program aired an interview today with Tim Wu on "The Rise and Fall of Information Empires," including who owns the Internet? Says Wu, "[t]o say it's impossible for the Internet to be controlled is simply wrong." The program is or will be available by podcast soon.
In case you weren't able to see the Swedish documentary on Wikileaks mentioned in yesterday's post, at present, it's also available here.
Greg Mitchell confirms The Guardian and The NYT are cutting back on coverage of Wikileaks news. The NYT in particular seems to have made an editorial decision to simply not publish such stories, despite the fact that they filled half of the paper's front page just a few days ago. Hey NYT, it's a little late to pretend you don't publish leaks!
Here's a great interview with The NYT's Scott Shane on the challenges of sifting through the volumes of leaked material. To date, Wikileaks has shared the entirety of the US Embassy cables with just a handful of the world's major newspapers; but even they don't have the staff to even come close to reading them all. In order to identify the more important cables, they've basically had to rely on search terms and dates. Per the interview,
The rain of criticism that Wikileaks has received from members of the media has been “somewhat hypocritical,” according to Shane, because “[Wikileaks is] doing almost literally exactly what we’re doing at this point.”The prestigious writers' organization, PEN, has issued a statement in support of Wikileaks:
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With allies like Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame, one would imagine that Wikileaks would find more allies in the press. . . . But with even bigger enemies – the United States, French, Australian, Russian and Chinese governments the most active and vocal among them – the ability of Wikileaks to continue running may seriously be in jeopardy.
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The New York Times and The Guardian have been redacting cables before posting them to their own sites, and have then shared their suggestions with each other and Wikileaks. Wikileaks has consistently posted the more conservatively redacted version, according to Shane.
[Speculating about the reasons for the "rain of criticism" from the media et al. in the US,] “[t]he government really got out ahead of this,” with their PR attack, said Shane. “They shaped the reception to this leak before people even read the story.”
[I]t is important to acknowledge that while the leaking of government documents is a crime under U.S laws, the publication of documents by Wikileaks is not a crime. Wikileaks is doing what the media has historically done, the only difference being that the documents have not been edited. . . . In a world where journalists are regularly physically attacked, imprisoned and killed with impunity, calling for the death of a journalist is irresponsible and deplorable.(Emphasis supplied; more at the link.) Go, PEN! – one of the world's many Cassandra's.
PEN International is also concerned by reports that some web sites, fearing repercussions, have stopped carrying Wikileaks, and that individuals, under threat of legal action, have been warned against reading information provided by the organization. PEN International condemns such acts and calls upon corporations and states to avoid breaches of the right to free expression. Governments cannot call for unlimited internet freedom in other parts of the world if they do not respect this freedom themselves.
Australian journalists have also declared their support for Wikileaks:
We, as editors and news directors of major media organisations, believe the reaction of the US and Australian governments to date has been deeply troubling. We will strongly resist any attempts to make the publication of these or similar documents illegal. Any such action would impact not only on WikiLeaks, but every media organisation in the world that aims to inform the public about decisions made on their behalf. . . . To aggressively attempt to shut WikiLeaks down, to threaten to prosecute those who publish official leaks, and to pressure companies to cease doing commercial business with WikiLeaks, is a serious threat to democracy, which relies on a free and fearless press.More in a piece by Dan Gillmor at Salon. The article goes on to contrast the US media's "collective abdication at a time of unprecedented peril."
Peter Singer has an excellent essay asking, "Is Open Diplomacy Possible?":
[I]t isn’t always the case that openness is better than secrecy. Suppose that US diplomats had discovered that democrats living under a brutal military dictatorship were negotiating with junior officers to stage a coup to restore democracy and the rule of law. I would hope that WikiLeaks would not publish a cable in which diplomats informed their superiors of the plot.It's official: Assange is the people's choice for Time's "Man of the Year." Time editors will reveal announce whether they agree on Wednesday.
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. . . . If governments did not mislead their citizens so often, there would be less need for secrecy, and if leaders knew that they could not rely on keeping the public in the dark about what they are doing, they would have a powerful incentive to behave better.
It is therefore regrettable that the most likely outcome of the recent revelations will be greater restrictions to prevent further leaks. Let’s hope that in the new WikiLeaks age, that goal remains out of reach.
The Guardian has a good article on the Anons today. Unfortunately it starts off with a likely inaccuracy, referring to attacks on Amazon, notwithstanding that both the Anons and Amazon have denied such an attack. For what it's worth, however, the writer's main source is quoted as confirming, "[PayPal] met our demands [to release funds to Wikileaks]. The reason the attack [on PayPal] took place was because they froze Assange's funds. They have unfrozen them due to Operation Payback."
There's also a new Anon video re- Operation Leakspin here; if you haven't caught their other publications re- this operation, this is a good intro.
Here are some good sources for additional info:
For previous posts with my own selection of highlights re- this story, click here.