New Orleans Contrary to many published stories, the reports of Wikileaks’ death and demise seem exaggerated, and despite the tedium the mainstream media has developed for Julian Assange and his antics, suddenly he seems relevant again, and Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, seems, surprisingly, to have ignited exactly the kind of high level national and international privacy and spying debate that he had hoped to inspire with his info dump. How did this come to pass?
Recently I read Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy by some of the team of Guardian newspaper reports about the run-up to the multi-media publication of the original Iraq and Afghanistan documents from Bradley Manning via Wikileaks. They are not uncritical, but give a semi-objective look at the process and Assange’s motivations and philosophy. It was helpful to be reminded of the international awards Assange and Wikileaks had won before they kicked the US hornet’s nest for their work on transparency. There were perhaps too many lurid details on Assange’s Swedish legal problems and sexual accusations, though it was a helpful education on how crimes are defined differently by different nations. The other book I’ve gone through is Cypherpunks which is a conversation between Assange and some of his hacker colleagues from around the world. In one great line he calls cellphones “a tracking device that also makes calls,” which recent information seems to confirm. Reading this book before the Snowden revelations, I would have thought some of their concerns were perhaps true, but overblown, but now they might seem modest compared to what has emerged. As a footnote it was also fascinating to find that Assange was learning from his buddies information that they had gotten by reading the Wall Street Journal, which he had not realized about the attacks against Wikileaks. These guys don’t know everything of course and how could they, so why are we surprised that geeks with sometimes less than proficient social skills can also be naïve and left footed on political and organizational matters.
But, just as Assange gets bottled up indefinitely in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, here comes this Snowden fellow with all of his NSA spying information, and here’s the irony, Wikileaks is back in the mix, because acting as a source for dumps of information from leakers was precisely the reason why Wikileaks was created and the cause it was designed to serve. Furthermore in a world adverse to conflict, these dudes have proven that they can handle the heat. Say what you may about Assange, he may be running in some stunt for a political position in Australia, but he’s not running for prom queen. He can carry weight.
And, Snowden despite the hue and cry and endless debate that we could all have on tactics and strategy and what makes him tick, had a story to tell that would categorically not have been told without him taking the risk and pushing it out to the world, and, arguably he could not have done so without the battle-tested skills of Wikileaks.
A story in the Journal tries to use the report of a 2-hour encrypted skype-like call between Snowden and his father to cast aspersions on the motivations of blogger Glenn Greenwald who also facilitated this affair and the fundraising by Wikileaks in support of the Snowden work. Who knows, but I would be careful about being herded anywhere on this. Wikileaks’ Sarah Harrison flew with Snowden out of Hong Kong to Moscow and hung with him for 5-weeks in the transit zone in real life not in some Tom Hanks movie, and that shows some organizational commitment no matter how haphazard the organization, and no doubt cost some big time cash as they facilitate Snowden’s asylum, so unless pops is willing and able to pay the whole bill, Snowden, Assange, and Wikileaks seem to be taking some heat for performing a service in a very small niche that turns out to be vital in modern life and politics for citizens trying to live in the new globalism of nation states specializing in secrecy by any means possible.