Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WikiLeaks: "stateless news organization" or "Piggy-like super-ego"?

By  Olivia Lang, BBC website, July 27, 2010
As the Wikileaks website says itself, "with technological advances - the internet, and cryptography - the risks of conveying important information can be lowered".

The site, born in December 2006, now boasts more than a million documents.
Described on one blog as the "first stateless news organisation", Wikileaks has servers in countries which include Sweden and Belgium, where it benefits from press secrecy laws.
The idea behind the site is the need for transparency, with the basis being that it allows anyone to upload content, which will then be looked at by a group of volunteers, all journalists, who decide what to publish.
On submission of a document, which is encrypted, Wikileaks promises to prevent it being "technically traceable to your PDF printing program, your word installation, scanner, printer" and to make the contributor anonymous from an early stage.

By Kristen Shorten, Herald Sun, December 2, 2010
"Whether you agree with what Julian does or not, living by what you believe in and standing up for something is a good thing," she (his mother) said.

"He sees what he's doing as doing a good thing in the world, fighting baddies, if you like."
But she conceded she feared her 39-year-old son had "gotten too smart for himself".
"Of course, I'm his mother, he's my little boy," she said.
"I'm just a normal mother. Whatever a normal mother would feel is what I would feel about all of it.
"I'm concerned it's gotten too big and the forces that he's challenging are too big."

It seems the world is, once again, divided over the "ethics" of the wikileaks "dump" of some quarter million diplomatic notes. Those on the inside, including diplomats and political leaders, insist the acct has made it difficult if not impossible to carry on their various assignments because of the danger of disclosure and the lack of trust that results from that exposure. Those on the outside, or rather on the inside with wikileaks, prefer a metaphor that make Julian Assange and his "crew" a king of modern day David attempting to slay the evil Dragon of the various deceptions, innuendo and prevaracations that attend much of the world's diplomacy and conflict.
As a former diplomat, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Yemen at the time of the attack on the U.S. Cole, put it on NPR's On Point yesterday, "We were always trained to operate from the premise that whatever we did could end up on the front page of the New York Times." If that is correct, and there is no reason to doubt her veracity, then all diplomats work from such a premise and this is an extension of such exposure, albeit from anonymous, and multiple and 'encrpyted' sources who are not accessible  for "backgrounders".
And while the rules of the game may have changed, and the protection of secrecy taken on new parameters and  perhaps even new protocols, that may have a potentially positive impact on how the world's statesmen and women do business.
In the short term, (and both the media and Wikileaks are really focussed on immediate publicity and ratings for their own separate and symbiotic interests) this kind of "dump" is just another bump in the road for an already extremely bumpy ride through the diplomatic channels of geopolitical relationships. Brinkmanship, threats and enhanced military power have been, and seem to continue especially among rogue states, to be the levers of influence in bilateral relations between countries that are less than allies with each other.
The terrorists, in all shades and stripes, have demonstrated the power of "stateless operatives" to wreak havoc among innocents. And Wikileaks, as the blogger above dubs it, the new "stateless news organization," will have a "run" at demonstrating the power of trumping the traditional news sources like Reuters, and the various newspapers and media outlets, all of which operate within national and international laws. And in both cases, we, the ordinary folk, represented by our political leaders, run the risk of giving these interlopers too much power, and too much coverage, and too much venom.
I recall a conversation with a former secondary school principal who had just been harrassed by a very blustery history department head, a graduate of the London School of Economics, about some school policy or other. The principal was preparing for a March break trip with his family to relax and wind down from the pressure of all the minutiae that crossed his desk hourly, and was beside himself with anxiety because of this latest "tempest". I recall attempting to "dampen" his anxiety by reminding him that much of this was sheer "bravado" and theatrics and that there was nothing venomous in the bluster except a kind of "Piggy-like" (from the character in Golding's Lord of the Flies) super-ego trying to enact his excessively high standards and expectations. The same history 'head' had demonstrated a similar kind of bluster in a public forum while asking then Prime Minister Trudeau about some international situation, to which the PM responded, "I'm not sure what all the anger in your question is about," in an understatement that ripped all the helium from his question.
And there is a similar kind of "theatrics" in this latest global dust-up. Remember that Assange's parents travelled about presenting "theatre" as their livlihood while their son was growing up. He may have a keen intellect, and a combative personality that likes to prick the balloons of the 'powerful' for his own, and he would argue the world's enhancement. And there may even be some laws that his organization has broken. I really don't know.
However, if both the terrorists and the Wikileaks dumps have demonstrated nothing else, they have shown how immature and frightened and therefore vulnerable the establishment seems to be to 'unusual threats' from unusual sources. And, like the principal above, attempting to 'do a good job' and attempting to 'act responsibly' and to 'prevent embarrassment' from the school board and it officials, and from the state departments of various countries, the Hillary Clinton's of the world are expected to "react" and to condemn the kind of rhetoric that falls way outside the normal whisper of diplomatic "speak". And that is as it should be.
And when we have just recently learned that for eighteen minutes on April 8th, 2010, much of the world's internet traffic was funnelled through China, making it feasible for the Chinese to record, save and study all of the information coming from such sources as the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon and who knows what other 'important' and official and presumably 'encrypted' sources, it would seem relevant and pertinent for all countries and official organizations to take extreme measures to protect the security of their (our) technological systems. And this latest 'dump' may yet prove to be a similar kind of stimulus to act in ways that really do take such threats as the  Aptil 8th China "siphoning" seriously.

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