For Julian Assange, truth really is a weapon

The U.S. government spent 10 years trying to capture Julian Assange, exerting pressure on the governments of Britain, Sweden, Ecuador and other countries in humiliating ways.

A British judge’s decision Monday, denying a U.S. request for extradition, may be the beginning of the end of Assange’s ordeal.  Let’s hope so.

What made Julian Assange such a theat?

It was his insight that truth can literally be a weapon, and a dangerous one.  He explained his philosophy in a blog post in 2007, shortly he and friends launched Wikileaks.

His insight was that conspiracies—whether criminal, terrorist, corporate or governmental—require the ability to communicate in secret.  A conspiracy, in his definition, is any action that requires secrecy in order to succeed.

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.

Only revealed injustice can be answered; for man to do anything intelligent he has to know what’s actually going on.

Source: IQ.ORG.

Criminal and terrorist conspiracies fall apart when conspirators fear that anyone they talk to may be an informer.  Corporate and governmental conspiracies fall apart when conspirators fear that anyone they talk to may be a whistle-blower.

The result of fear of leaks is that the conspirators either stop doing anything they fear being made public (unlikely) or that they become so concerned with not incriminating themselves that they stop communicating effectively.

Later on, in an interview, he presented a more hopeful view.  He said the fact that governments and powerful institutions persecute whistle-blowers is an indication that they are reform-able or at least vulnerable.  If they weren’t reform-able or vulnerable, they wouldn’t care what the public knows or thinks.

I have said before that censorship is always an opportunity. The signal that censorship sends off reveals the fear of reform, and therefore the possibility of reform. In this case, what we see is a clear signal that those structures are not merely hypocritical, but rather that they are threatened in a way that they have not been previously.

From this, we can see, on one hand, extraordinary hypocrisy from the entire White House with regard to the importance of the freedom of speech, and, on the other hand, a betrayal of those statements—an awful betrayal of the values of the US Revolution.

In spite of this, when such a quantity of quality information is released, we have the opportunity to rattle this structure enough that we have a chance of achieving some significant reforms. Some of those, perhaps, are just being felt, while others will take a while, because of the cascade of cause and effect.

Source: In Conversation with Julian Assange Part II

The third aim of Wikileaks was to create a unofficial historical record so journalists and historians would not have to rely on official sources.

Orwell’s dictum, “He who controls the present controls the past, and he who controls the past controls the future,” was never truer than it is now. With digital archives, with these digital repositories of our intellectual record, control over the present allows one to perform an absolutely untraceable removal of the past.

Source: In Conversation with Julian Assange Part I

When people like U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designate Wikileaks as a “hostile non-state intelligence service,” there’s something to it.  Assange and his friends really did try to disrupt the existing power structure, alone.  What was distinctive is that Wikileaks was facilitating spying not for a government or a political movement, but for we the people.

Julian Assange started challenging secrecy at a young age.  He was born on July 3, 1971, in Queensland, Australia. 

He joined a group of hackers at age 16.  In 1991, he was discovered hacking into the Melbourne master terminal of Nortel, a big Canadian telecommunications company.   He pleaded guilty in 1996 to 24 counts of hacking and related charges, and was let off with a small fine and promise of good behavior. 

Later he claimed in an interview he was one of an elite group of hackers that had penetrated the Pentagon itself.  Maybe he was; there’s no way to know for sure.

As a young man, he worked at different jobs involving computer security and encryption and announced the formation of Wikileaks in 2006.  It was a system that allowed whistleblowers to leave information without disclosing their identity to anyone, including Wikileaks itself.

Since then, the idea has been copied by most big news organizations, but at the time Wikileaks was the pioneer. 

Its first disclosure was a message by a Somali rebel leader calling for hired gunmen to assassinate government leaders.  During the next three years, Wikileaks made a huge number of disclosures, including the secret internal of the Scientology cult, corruption in the Arab world, unrest in Tibet, bribery in Peru, a nuclear accident in Iran, operations of the U.S. detention facility at Guanantamo Bay and confidential e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

In 2007, Wikileaks published a confidential Kenyan government report indicating that former President Daniel arap Moi and other government officials had sent hundreds of millions of pounds out of the country to shell companies and trusts.  Assange said the disclosure swung the Kenyan elections against Moi’s party.  There were riots in which 1,300 were killed.

In 2009, after a bank failure in Iceland had crashed that nation’s economy, a TV reporter told his audience that a court injunction forbid him to publish his expose of the bankers’ wrongdoing.  Instead, he said, they’d have to consult Wikileaks.  That made Assange and his friends heroes in Iceland for a time.

Even in those days, Wikileaks came in for criticism.  Its reporting on Kenyan corruption resulted in riots in which 1,300 were killed.  Its East Anglia Climate Research disclosures were used by climate change deniers.  Assange’s response was that Wikileaks’ duty is to verify the accuracy of its information and let the public decide whether it is significant.

He did partner with news organizations and time releases in order to achieve maximum impact, but so far as I can tell, he was not aligned with any particular faction, unless you think opponents of torture, assassination and high-level lying and corruption are a faction.

The powers that be began to regard him as a threat with the publication of the Collateral Murder video, which was part of the information leaked by Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning, in April, 2010.

This was footage from a helicopter gunship whose crew killed a group of civilians they had assumed were carrying weapons, but in reality were Reuters journalists carrying cameras and other equipment.  It also showed an attack on a passer-by who tried to render aid.

There was another video that was even worse, to my mind.  The helicopter gunship has been assigned to destroy a building in which terrorists were supposedly hanging out.  The footage showed a passer-by walking in front of the building. They didn’t even allow him to get by before they opened fire.

Next came the Afghanistan war logs, the Iraq war logsthe Cablegate files and the Guantanamo Bay files.  This was when Wikileaks became a target.  This 2010 documentary tells the story up to that time.

In 2011, Assange visited Sweden, which he assumed was friendly territory.  Many of Wikileaks servers were located there.  He was a celebrity, like a rock star, and took advantage of his opportunities to have sex with pretty young women.

Two groupies contacted police about whether Assange could be compelled to take an HIV test.  He was questioned, let go without charges and allowed to leave Sweden.

A new prosecutor demanded Assange come back to Sweden for questioning.  He smelled a rat.  He said he would be willing to return to Sweden if he could be assured he would not be extradited to the United States.  Alternatively, he would be willing to be questioned under oath in Britain.

The Swedish prosecutor refused both conditions.  A British court ruled he should be extradited to Sweden.  While awaiting appeal, under house arrest, he fled to the Ecuadorian embassy and asked for political asylum, which the friendly government of President Rafael Correa granted.

There are two important things to remember about this case.  One is that neither Assange’s sex partners nor the Swedish prosecutor accused him of rape.  The other is that the reaction of the Swedish and British courts was all out of proportion to the seriousness of the allegations.  What happened in Sweden was never the issue.

In 2016, Wikileaks published e-mails of the Democratic National Committee and then of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, both embarrassing to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The result was that many liberals who admired Assange for exposing the wrongdoing of the Bush administration turned against him.

Clinton charged that the e-mails were hacked by Russian intelligence agencies, and she was backed up by the FBI.  But the FBI never examined the computers themselves.  They took the word of the DNC and Clinton campaign’s computer company, CrowdStrike.

Assange said the information came not from a hack, but a leak of someone working for the Clinton campaign.  His friend, Craig Murray, said he knew for a fact that was true.  Some outside experts said that for technical reasons, it had to be a leak.

I don’t claim to know the truth of this matter.  But the FBI failed to do due diligence to determine the truth.  They did not interview either Assange, Murray or Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity about their claims, which indicates they were not really interested in discovering the truth..

Just a few more observations in closing.

Under the Espionage Law of 1917, it is a crime to disclose information that the U.S. government has designated as secret.  The Obama administration was relentless in using this law against whistleblowers, but hesitated to use it against Assange because, in publishing classified information, he had not done anything that the New York Times, Washington Post and other news organizations do all the time.

The Trump administration had so such inhibition.  The problem is that the law makes no distinction between whistleblower and publisher. 

You could argue that the whistleblower, who has signed a confidentiality agreement or sworn an oath of secrecy, has different obligations than the journalist, but that is a thin reed on which to base a legal argument. 

What’s needed is a new law that allows defendants in whistleblowing cases to argue that they did not undermine national security and that all they did was to reveal lawbreaking, incompetence or harm to the public.

Also, Assange is not out of the woods yet.  It is not certain that he will be released from prison anytime soon.  Even if he is released, he still bears the mental and physical scars of his 10-year ordeal.  We the people owe him a lot.

LINKS

IQ – Julian Assange’s old blogCryptome link.  Conspiracy as Governance.

In Conversation With Julian Assange – Part One by Hans Ulrich Obrist for e-flux. (2011)  Wikileaks copy.

In Conversation With Julian Assange – Part Two by Hans Ulrich Obrist for e-flux. (2011)  Wikileaks copy.

What’s new about Wikileaks? by Julian Assange for the New Statesman (2011).

40 rebuttals to the media’s smears of Julian Assange by FIdel Narvaéz, a former diplomat who worked in the Ecuadorian embassy.

Debunking all the Assange smears by Caitlin Johnstone.

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