Wikileaks

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Wikileaks = site for open government whistle-blowing


URL = http://www.wikileaks.org

See also: Wikipedia article


Description

1.

From the Washington Post (copied via the Cooperation Commons mailing list, source URL not known)


"Wikileaks.org is a Web-based way for people with damning, potentially helpful or just plain embarrassing government documents to make them public without leaving fingerprints. Modeled on the participatory, online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the site is expected to go live within the next two months.

Organizer James Chen said that while its creators tried to keep the site under wraps until its launch, Google references to it have soared in recent days from about eight to more than 20,000.

"Wikileaks is becoming, as planned, although unexpectedly early, an international movement of people who facilitate ethical leaking and open government," he said.

The site, whose FAQs are written in flowery dissident-ese -- "What conscience cannot contain, and institutional secrecy unjustly conceals, Wikileaks can broadcast to the world" -- targets regimes in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but not exclusively. It was founded and partially funded, organizers say, by dissidents, mathematicians and technologists from China, the United States, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa. The site relies on a worldwide web of volunteers and contributors to post and vet the information, and dodge any efforts to shut it down. To protect document donors and the site itself, Wikileaks uses its own coded software combined with, for the techies out there, modified versions of Freenet and PGP."


2. From a profile by Raffi Khatchadourian in the June 7, 2010 issue of The New Yorker:

"Assange is an international trafficker, of sorts. He and his colleagues collect documents and imagery that governments and other institutions regard as confidential and publish them on a Web site called WikiLeaks.org. Since it went online, three and a half years ago, the site has published an extensive catalogue of secret material, ranging from the Standard Operating Procedures at Camp Delta, in Guantánamo Bay, and the “Climategate” e-mails from the University of East Anglia, in England, to the contents of Sarah Palin’s private Yahoo account. The catalogue is especially remarkable because WikiLeaks is not quite an organization; it is better described as a media insurgency. It has no paid staff, no copiers, no desks, no office. Assange does not even have a home. He travels from country to country, staying with supporters, or friends of friends—as he once put it to me, “I’m living in airports these days.” He is the operation’s prime mover, and it is fair to say that WikiLeaks exists wherever he does. At the same time, hundreds of volunteers from around the world help maintain the Web site’s complicated infrastructure; many participate in small ways, and between three and five people dedicate themselves to it full time. Key members are known only by initials—M, for instance—even deep within WikiLeaks, where communications are conducted by encrypted online chat services. The secretiveness stems from the belief that a populist intelligence operation with virtually no resources, designed to publicize information that powerful institutions do not want public, will have serious adversaries." (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/06/07/100607fa_fact_khatchadourian)


Governance

The Wikileaks Oversight Process

Wikileaks:

"We use traditional investigative journalism techniques as well as more modern technology-based methods. Typically we will do a forensic analysis of the document, determine the cost of forgery, means, motive, opportunity, the claims of the apparent authoring organisation, and answer a set of other detailed questions about the document. We may also seek external verification of the document. For example, for our release of the Collateral Murder video, we sent a team of journalists to Iraq to interview the victims and observers of the helicopter attack. The team obtained copies of hospital records, death certificates, eye witness statements and other corroborating evidence supporting the truth of the story. Our verification process does not mean we will never make a mistake, but so far our method has meant that WikiLeaks has correctly identified the veracity of every document it has published." (http://wikileaks.org/About.html)



Context and Status

Taken from what is probably the best essay on the topic, by Finn Brunton:

"WikiLeaks is a preliminary solution, an initial sketch of a world in which the potential within these technologies has been unlocked. In cryptography, ‘keyspace’ is the realm of possible solutions for the keys to an encrypted message. If we can construe the problem, the question, of how we are to use these machines and algorithms we have built, WikiLeaks is a narrowing of the keyspace, clarifying some borders, edges and areas of possibility.

It is far from the only solution. WikiLeaks is more a model than it is some irreplaceable object. There are already diverging approaches. Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who was one of the crucial facilitators of the release of the ‘Collateral Murder’ video, has expressed concern with the emphasis on ‘megaleaks’: leaking as a high-visibility international media event, as opposed to the targeted release of information to relevant activist campaigns and organizations best positioned to make use of it.2 A related critique has lead to OpenLeaks, run by an ex-WikiLeaker, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, which separates the submission of documents from their publication, providing secure drop boxes for anonymous submissions to websites, so any group can have their own channel for leaking. Country- and region-specific WikiLeaks-inspired organizations are proliferating: IndoLeaks (for Indonesia), BrusselsLeaks (the EU), Rospil (Russia), ThaiLeaks (Thailand), BalkanLeaks (the Balkans generally), PinoyLeaks (the Philippines – with the spectacular slogan ‘Those who engage in Monkey Business should beware of the Monkey-Eating Eagle’), PirateLeaks (the Czech Republic), TuniLeaks (Tunisia).

The copying and reinvention of the *Leaks structure (to use an asterisk as programmers do with ‘*nix’ for any flavour of operating system similar to Unix) will be far more significant than any specific disclosure on the part of WikiLeaks itself – though for now the latter has the benefit of a core team of highly skilled programmers and administrators, working relationships with major publication outlets and a few trustworthy ISPs and governments, an articulate public face, and a number of unexpected allies, like the roving volunteer band of activists and troublemakers that constitutes Anonymous. WikiLeaks is a single organization, with a number of visible flaws, and more undoubtedly apparent to insiders, but encrypted drop boxes and distributed digital publishing are powerful and established technologies only now beginning to find the extent of their purpose. (It will be interesting to see if the local/national model in *Leaks projects so far is supplemented by more domain-specific groups – devoted to leaks concerning banks and the financial industry, universities, pharmaceuticals, or agribusiness, for example.) WikiLeaks is not the last word but the first, and it demands analysis as such.

Similarly, Assange is not the sum of the *Leaks project – there is deep concern within the ranks of WikiLeaks about his leadership, and indeed concern about the role of ‘leaders’ generally in such an organization – but he remains a vital figure for understanding the political role and the possibilities embedded in the current technological infrastructure. In his writings, which include a blog, papers and drafts of papers, a book for which he did much of the research, and postings to various mailing lists (primarily concerned with cryptography), we can find a set of ideas to illuminate the present event of WikiLeaks: the application of computational thinking to politics, a sustained consideration of the relationship between secrecy and publicity, a strategy for automatically rewarding open organizations relative to closed, and, perhaps most surprisingly, a philosophical engagement with logic and phenomenology that becomes a model for a politics that compensates technologically for human cognitive deficits. To understand the trajectory of these ideas, we must also understand the culture and the ethics of hackers and cryptographers in which they were nurtured – a culture that prizes elegant solutions to complex problems, transparency for organizations and privacy for individuals, and the free circulation of knowledge, all of which we find embedded in WikiLeaks." (http://www.radicalphilosophy.com/default.asp?channel_id=2187&editorial_id=29463)


History

Alistair Davidson:

"Wikileaks also has roots in an influential 1990s discussion group, the Cypherpunk mailing list. “Cypherpunk”, formed from the words “cipher”, or code, and “cyberpunk”, a science fiction genre full of rogue hackers fighting corporate tyrants, indicates the members’ loose ideology - that the anonymity and security provided by computerised cryptography (“crypto”) could create a new society free from coercion, a system know as crypto-anarchy.

- Many of us see strong crypto as the key enabling technology for a new economic and social system, a system which will develop as cyberspace becomes more important. A system which dispenses with national boundaries, which is based on voluntary (even if anonymous) free trade. At issue is the end of governments as we know them today. ... Strong crypto permits unbreakable encryption, unforgeable signatures, untraceable electronic messages, and unlinkable pseudonymous identities. This ensures that some transactions and communications can be entered into only voluntarily. External force, law, and regulation cannot be applied. This is "anarchy," in the sense of no outside rulers and laws.

The cypherpunks were ahead of their time, clearly anticipating Wikileaks’s use of anonymous, encrypted internet drop-boxes by 15 years or more - but then Julian Assange was a regular poster to the list. The hacker community has created the future it used to speculate about.

In one notorious incident, cypherpunk Jim Bell published an essay entitled “Assassination Politics”, which discussed the creation of a completely anonymous site where users could sponsor the assassination of corrupt politicians. Bell was later jailed for spying on federal agents, themselves sent to spy on him for writing the essay.

Assange laid the philosophical groundwork for Wikileaks when he replied to Assassination Politics in his State and Terrorist Conspiracies:

- How can we reduce the ability of a conspiracy to act? … We can split the conspiracy, reduce or eliminating important communication between a few high weight links or many low weight links. Traditional attacks on conspiratorial power groupings, such as assassination, have cut high weight links by killing, kidnapping, blackmailing or otherwise marginalizing or isolating some of the conspirators they were connected to. ... 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.

With a single mechanism, Assange demonstrates the political implications of the new economics of information. If all information is can be copied freely, then organisations may be faced with no choice but to conduct the majority of their dealings openly. He has simply carried Eric S Raymond’s conclusion about Linux - that its open organisational model would always be more efficient than Microsoft’s closed model - into the political realm.

Wikileaks is the first concrete realisation of the crypto-anarchist dream: completely anonymous leaking, dealing blows to tyranny. However it has also highlighted the weak points in the free internet, surviving dangers to freedom of speech and the new mode of production." (http://www.libertyandsolidarity.org/node/104)


Discussion 1

An extensive critique of Wikileaks editorial policy by Jon Garfunkel of Civilities at http://civilities.net/Wikileaks

Wikileaks' Place in the New Networked News Ecology

Felix Stalder:

1.

"WikiLeaks is one of the defining stories of the internet, which means by now, one of the defining stories of the present, period. At least four large-scale trends which permeate our societies as a whole are fused here into an explosive mixture whose fall-out is far from clear. First is a change in the materiality of communication. Communication becomes more extensive, more recorded, and the records become more mobile. Second is a crisis of institutions, particularly in western democracies, where moralistic rhetoric and the ugliness of daily practice are diverging ever more at the very moment when institutional personnel are being encouraged to think more for themselves. Third is the rise of new actors, 'super-empowered' individuals, capable of intervening into historical developments at a systemic level. Finally, fourth is a structural transformation of the public sphere (through media consolidation at one pole, and the explosion of non-institutional publishers at the other), to an extent that rivals the one described by Habermas with the rise of mass media at the turn of the 20th century."


2. The Super-Empowered Individual

"There is a vast amount of infrastructure - transportation, communication, financing, production - openly available that, until recently, was only accessible to very large organisations. It now takes relatively little - a few dedicated, knowledgeable people - to connect these pieces into a powerful platform from which to act. Military strategists have been talking about 'super-empowered individuals' by which they mean someone who


is autonomously capable of creating a cascading event, [...] a 'system perturbation'; a disruption of system function and invalidation of existing rule sets to at least the national but more likely the global scale. The key requirements to become 'superempowered' are comprehension of a complex system's connectivty and operation; access to critical network hubs; possession of a force that can be leveraged against the structure of the system and a willingness to use it.

There are a number real weaknesses to this concept, not least that it has thus far been exclusively applied to terrorism and that it reduces structural dynamics to individual actions. Nevertheless, it can be useful insofar as it highlights how complex, networked systems which might be generally relatively stable, posses critical nodes ('systempunkt' in the strange parlance of military strategists) which in case of failure that can cause cascading effects through the entire systems.2 It also highlights how individuals, or more likely, small groups, can affect these systems disproportionately if they manage to interfere with these critical nodes. Thus, individuals, supported by small, networked organisations, can now intervene in social dynamics at a systemic level, for the better or worse.

This picture fits WikiLeaks, organised around one charismatic individual, very well. It is both its strength and its weakness. Its strength because it has been able to trigger large-scale events quickly and cheaply. If WikiLeaks had required multi-million dollar investment upfront, it would not have been able to get off the ground. Yet, it is also its key weakness, since it remains so strongly centred around a single person. Many of the issues that are typical of small groups organised by a charismatic leader seem to affect WikiLeaks as well, such as authoritarianism, lack of internal procedure, dangers of burnout and internal and external attacks on the credibility of that single person (if not worse). Such charismatic leadership is often unstable and one must suspect that all of the issues - positive because of the super-empowerment, as well as negative because of the pressures baring down on it - are multiplied to an unprecedented scale in the case of WikiLeaks and its leader, Julian Assange. It's hard to imagine how this can be sustainable." (http://remix.openflows.com/node/149)


Impact on Networked Journalism, two years after

Charles Beckett:

"Here are three of WikiLeaks' lessons.

Firstly, the WikiLeaks revelations of 2012 did have a material impact in lots of places. It is always difficult to quantify media effect,s but around the world people tell me that the "embassy cables" especially have played directly into local politics. Journalists continue to dig out items from them to illuminate current controversies (see, for example, Matt Kennard, "Haiti and the shock doctrine" [14 August 2012]). The security classification of the cables was actually relatively low, but their volume makes them useful far beyond this.

It is also important to bear in mind the increased impact that a relatively minor disclosure can have in a closed media environment such as Iran or Saudi Arabia. Even where the information was not revelatory, it had the effect of confirming widely held suspicions. A good example is the Tunisian cables confirming that the United States thought the then president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was both corrupt and politically vulnerable. There were far more important factors in the Tunisian uprising of than WikiLeaks, but these cables were another catalyst for activists by providing evidence to support their revolution.

Secondly, WikiLeaks was a breakthrough as an act of journalism. Much of WikiLeaks was not at all new. There is nothing novel about leaking. Politically-motivated journalism is as old as the craft itself, and there have long been charismatic editorial figures. But the scale and immunity of WikiLeaks was unprecedented. Thanks to the internet, WikiLeaks was able to receive and distribute a vast cache of information with incredible speed and reach (in practice this took time and was not a one-off "data dump", but the principle is still valid). Its diffuse organisation meant that its editorial team and its informational hardware were not located in one place and so not subject to the same legal, commercial and political constraints faced by mainstream media. It was effectively immune from censorship. Assange is being pursued legally on a personal matter and WikiLeaks has been subject to a barrage of financial and infrastructural assaults, but these have not stopped it publishing.

Thirdly, for me the most substantial innovation of WikiLeaks is that it acted as a network in collaboration with mainstream media. WikiLeaks was never a Wiki. It evolved from a tightly-controlled platform for secure information disclosure that published a variety of secret documents. Then with the "collatoral murder" video it moved into a more traditional journalistic phase, editing and broadcasting material. This, however, was not having much impact. There were a lot of clicks on the website but no real effect on political or media agendas. This is why Julian Assange decided to team up with mainstream media. He needed their help to process the information, but his main motive seems to have been to exploit their brands and the audiences they commanded. It worked. At last the leaks were getting the attention they deserved. Despite the focus on him personally and some very hostile reaction, the information was now creating debate about critical issues.

So WikiLeaks in combination with its mainstream partners achieved a new kind of networked journalism. It was able to exploit the scale, reach and immunity afforded by the network of the internet. It was also able to tap into the mainstream-media networks of organisations such as the New York Times with all their links into a mass audience, but also their connections with networks of powerful and influential people. As a publisher of last resort WikiLeaks was a marginal wholesaler of revelation. By collaboration with the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the others it became editorially powerful, feeding into some outstanding journalism that has helped inform understanding of the way that military and diplomatic power works." (http://www.opendemocracy.net/charlie-beckett/wikileaks-and-network-era-news)

Six Anti-Theses on WikiLeaks

Following "Twelve theses on WikiLeaks" by Geert Lovink & Patrice Riemens


By the "Faculty of the College of Ontopoetic Machines":

1. Wikileaks exposes the slippery moralism of global capital.

"The corporate abdication of non-discrimination prefigures more scrutiny of online activity. Visa, Amazon, Mastercard, Tableau, PayPal, PostFinance, and EveryDNS: each severed their relationship with one or more aspects of the WikiLeaks organization due to technicalities. None were served with legal documents requiring that they stop supporting "illegal" activity; rather, some caved due to vague public and private requests by functionaries within US government offices. Yet, these business have no moral qualms as to provide similar services to the Ku Klux clan, homophobic sites and just about anything else. As to the decision to cut Wikileaks off they justified their actions via the legalese of their Terms of Service (ToS) or Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), contracts that we all accept as the necessary evil of using free services online. AUPs, once the interest of legal scholars or small actors who fell afoul of them, now become the prime means for ending of services to the undesirable. (Recall, for example, Facebooks' threat of legal action against the seppukoo project. This is a refrain that continues to haunt the online space; however it was never seen with such vehemence as with WikiLeaks.) Yet in a truism, this does not only eliminate the possibility of online activity, for the actions of Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal prevent the flow of electronic currency to WikiLeaks, requiring the organization to ask for either bank transfers (that are prohibitively expensive for people in the US) or paper money orders sent to a physical address. These actions by financial institutions foreground the linkage between online activities and their real reliance on forms of money that are still tied to large corporations. As well, the use of contractual language to engage in corporate censorship enables what is prohibited by US Constitutional guarantees, among other legal safeguards elsewhere in the world. Given the tiered nature of the internet---in that a hosting provider purchases bandwidth from a separate company, that probably purchases DNS service from a separate company---means that any activity can be forced offline by any intermediary if found to be in violation of the ToS. While you may have legal recourse via a civil suit, such an undertaking is oftentimes impossible due to the legal costs involved and the vastly unequal power differential.


2. Wikileaks draws on the tense affair between the antiauthoritarian ethos of hacker culture and the authoritarian logic of capital, also known as neoliberalism.

WikiLeaks found a characteristically computational way around their hosting problems, drawing on an unorganized group of volunteers to provide mirrors of the site (http://wikileaks.ch/mirrors.html). This strategy of providing mirrors for content hearkens back to 1990s internet culture, where the practice of setting up FTP mirrors was commonplace (hacker culture itself is situated in the 1940s, see Steven Levy). Mirroring mitigates the impact of corporate censorship somewhat, but is likely to be impractical on a large scale in the long-term, especially for all of the worthwhile projects that can be removed by intermediaries. Nevertheless, this example of mirroring is an interesting case of hackers relaxing their security mindset for what they perceive as a greater good. Setting up a WikiLeaks mirror requires the administrator to allow a member of WikiLeaks remote access to their server in order to upload new files as needed; this is made possible using public-key encryption techniques, the focus of much hacker attention in the 1990s. Usually system administrators would never open their servers for unknown people to upload files. But there seems to be a belief here that the sysadmins of WikiLeaks, whomever they are, will not abuse their power and will only upload what they say they will upload. There is something here that deserves greater scrutiny, especially in light of what Mathieu O'Neil calls "hacker charismatic authority". Most studies consider this as a form of authority _over_ people; in this case, however, the authority is exercised _amongst_ sysadmins, enabling them to open their machines to the unknown WikiLeaks administrators.


3. Wikileaks shows that any system is vulnerable to infiltration.

WikiLeaks is highly collaborative, and not only as a result of the recent mirroring activity. Indeed, the project is only possible due to their collaboration with the individuals and groups providing the content to be leaked. Throughout the recent consternation over "Cablegate", the hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who have put their lives on the line to pass documents to WikiLeaks have unfortunately been forgotten, Bradley Manning excluded. To ignore these people is to make a grave analytical error. Be thankful that we do not know their names, for if we did, they would be in immediate danger.


4. Wikileaks demonstrates that the human 'factor' is the weak spot of networks.

The "Cablegate" release also shows the importance of having collaborators within governmental and military institutions. If we assume that Manning is the source of the diplomatic and military cables---and this has not been proven yet---then we can see how individuals within these organizations are disgusted with the conduct of the war. This is of a piece with other projects such as Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Veteran's Book Project that aim to present the personal side of the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as a way of organizing public outrage. Do not discount the power of solidarity with disgruntled soldiers. We only have to recall the Abril Revolution in 1974 in Portugal, where the military supported the peaceful transition from the Salazar dictatorship, to understand how important it is to have military forces on one's side. Recall as well that the main technical tool used to anonymize submissions to WikiLeaks, Tor (The Onion Router), came out of a US Naval Research Laboratory project to protect clandestine activities overseas. In fact, members of the military are some of the most vocal opponents of current attempts in the US to require person-level attribution of data packets online.


5. WikiLeaks is a classic example of using media as a tool for de-dehumanizing.

The actions of Anonymous on the websites of Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, PostFinance, and others are in a lineage with the FloodNet by the Electronic Disturbance Theater. While many mainstream media sources see these as "attacks", others, such as the editors of The Guardian, realize them to be "non-violent action or civil disobedience". We do not want to discount how easy it is for the media and authorities to misconstrue these actions as illegal denial of service attacks, as a 16-year old Dutch teenager is finding out right now, or as the EDT and b.a.n.g. lab found out earlier this year. Nevertheless, we are seeing a certain maturation of this technique as acceptable to others outside of the net.art community.

Furthermore, the deliberation process of Anonymous prefigures future forms of activist collaboration online, subject to the caveats mentioned above. Discussions happened across a diversity of networked media, both old and new (IRC, Twitter, Blogspot, PiratePad, etc.). Orderly discussion under the control of a leader was not the norm, as individuals simultaneously put forth their own suggestions to have them edited into or out of existence. As Gabriella Coleman wrote in her analysis of their planning, they appeared to be "seasoned political activists", not simply "script-kiddies" as they are described by both the mainstream media and other hacker organizations such as 2600. Maybe there is something those of us interested in new forms of organization can learn from these predominantly 16-24-year olds.


6. Wikileaks suggests an understanding of a notion of networks as media assemblages.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the recent Wikileaks phenomenon has to do with what it portends for future networked tendencies. Given what we stated in anti-thesis 1, we ought to pay more attention to the movement of information outside of Internet-based networks. There is a tendency to conflate network sharing of data with the Internet proper, but this is not a necessary condition. Indeed, there are multitudinous methods of arranging networks of humans and things that do not rely on corporate or government controlled conduits for the passage of bits. Consider, for example, the host of artistic projects in this space just from the past couple of years: netless, Feral Trade, deadswap, Dead Drops, Fluid Nexus, Autonet, etc. These projects rely on assemblages of humans and infrastructure in motion. And, they rely in part on a prior agreement among participants with respect to protocols to follow. This is already at work in the Wikileaks project with respect to their main members. Only they know who they are; we are in the dark, and rightly so. This is an application of Hakim Bey's concept of Immediatism, updated to take into account a certain mongrel of immediate contact and networked activities.

Additionally, the projects just mentioned foreground a certain notion of slowness that works to counteract the notions of "information overload". If data transport relies on the motion of humans from one location to another, this will require a particular patience, producing a form of slowness. Nevertheless, this should not be understood as a pastoral call as voiced by certain proponents of, for example, the Slow Food Movement. Rather it is a way to reinvigorate thought and practice regarding human-scale machinic assemblages. What remains is the difficult and challenging work of producing long-term, permanent ad-hoc networks." (nettime december 2010)


Clay Shirky: A Right Balance on Transparency vs. Secrecy

Clay Shirky:

"Like a lot of people, I am conflicted about Wikileaks.

Citizens of a functioning democracy must be able to know what the state is saying and doing in our name, to engage in what Pierre Rosanvallon calls “counter-democracy”*, the democracy of citizens distrusting rather than legitimizing the actions of the state. Wikileaks plainly improves those abilities.

On the other hand, human systems can’t stand pure transparency. For negotiation to work, people’s stated positions have to change, but change is seen, almost universally, as weakness. People trying to come to consensus must be able to privately voice opinions they would publicly abjure, and may later abandon. Wikileaks plainly damages those abilities. (If Aaron Bady’s analysis is correct, it is the damage and not the oversight that Wikileaks is designed to create.*)

And so we have a tension between two requirements for democratic statecraft, one that can’t be resolved, but can be brought to an acceptable equilibrium. Indeed, like the virtues of equality vs. liberty, or popular will vs. fundamental rights, it has to be brought into such an equilibrium for democratic statecraft not to be wrecked either by too much secrecy or too much transparency.

As Tom Slee puts it, “Your answer to ‘what data should the government make public?’ depends not so much on what you think about data, but what you think about the government.”* My personal view is that there is too much secrecy in the current system, and that a corrective towards transparency is a good idea. I don’t, however, believe in total transparency, and even more importantly, I don’t think that independent actors who are subject to no checks or balances is a good idea in the long haul.

If the long haul were all there was, Wikileaks would be an obviously bad thing. The practical history of politics, however, suggests that the periodic appearance of such unconstrained actors in the short haul is essential to increased democratization, not just of politics but of thought." (http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/12/wikileaks-and-the-long-haul/)


Christian Fuchs: A Critique of the Liberal Bias of Wikileaks

Christian Fuchs:

"WikiLeaks can be seen as an alternative media project: it tries to provide information that uncovers the misuse of power by powerful actors, it is an Internet-based medium that enables critiques of power structures.

Power is based on a dialectic of visibility and invisibility: powerful actors want to make their enemies and opponents visible, while they want to remain themselves invisible. They engage in surveillance in order to make visible and in order to keep their own operations and gathered information invisible. Power is always related to making information about enemies and opponents visible, while at the same time making and keeping the collected information intransparent, inaccessible, and secret. WikiLeaks cuts into the power dialectic of visibility of the surveilled and invisibility of the powerful by helping to make invisible power structures visible. This is itself a process of power-making and power-generation because these are processes that try to force visibility on the powerful. WikiLeaks engages in watching the powerful by making their operations and the information gathered by surveillance operations of the powerful visible. During the Vietnam war, television made visible the horror of the killing fields that would have otherwise remained invisible. In a similar fashion, WikiLeaks has made visible hidden and secret realities of warfare today.

WikiLeaks is not politically value-free and neutral in its operations, but no journalist and no medium is neutral, but rather always politically biased because how things are reported, what is not reported, which priority is given to certain stories, which quotation by which person is mentioned first in a story, how often a certain opinion is mentioned in a story, how advertising and funding influences the basic framework of a medium, etc are all political biases. Therefore the publication of the Afghanistan documents on WikiLeaks is certainly a political move intended to help putting and end to the war in Afghanistan. It is political in the same sense that any news article and any TV news report about the Afghan report carries political messages, interests, and intentions. It is politically honest when Julian Assange talks openly about his anti-war motivations in an interview with Der Spiegel: “This material shines light on the everyday brutality and squalor of war. The archive will change public opinion and it will change the opinion of people in positions of political and diplomatic influence. […] There is a mood to end the war in Afghanistan. This information won’t do it alone, but it will shift political will in a significant manner. […] The most dangerous men are those who are in charge of war. And they need to be stopped”. Political honesty is a virtue that many politicians and newsmakers are all too often missing.

Of course it could happen that WikiLeaks publishes fake material. But this can happen and does happen in any mass medium. There are no reasons to assume that it should happen more often on WikiLeaks than in corporate mass media. To the contrary, WikiLeaks does not have the advertising and financial pressure characteristic for the corporate mass media that Chomsky and Herman have characterized as propagandistic filters that distort news reporting. Therefore one should be less concerned about manipulated information on WikiLeaks than one should be concerned about media manipulation in the corporate mass media.

WikiLeaks defines itself in its self-description first of all as a liberal project that protects freedom of speech and tries to strengthen democracy by making government corruption visible: “WikiLeaks is a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public. […] We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies. All governments can benefit from increased scrutiny by the world community, as well as their own people. We believe this scrutiny requires information. Historically that information has been costly – in terms of human life and human rights. But with technological advances – the internet, and cryptography – the risks of conveying important information can be lowered. […] We believe that it is not only the people of one country that keep their government honest, but also the people of other countries who are watching that government. That is why the time has come for an anonymous global avenue for disseminating documents the public should see” (WikiLeaks self-description).

The problem of the WikiLeak self-description is that in the first third of the text, only documenting government corruption is mentioned, whereas documenting corporate irresponsibility and corporate crimes is not. This creates the impression that corrupt governments are the main problem of our world, but not also or not even more corrupt and criminal corporations. The document in its first third conveys a liberal impression that talks about the problems of big government and at the same time – or even by doing so – ignores the problems of capitalism. Fortunately the self-description then takes a twist in a section titled “Does WikiLeaks support corporate whistleblowers?”, where the need for documenting corporate crimes and corporate irresponsibility is discussed:

“It is increasingly obvious that corporate fraud must be effectively addressed. Corporate corruption comes in many forms. […] The number of employees and turnover of some corporations exceeds the population and GDP of some nation states. When comparing countries, after observations of population size and GDP, it is usual to compare the system of government, the major power groupings and the civic freedoms available to their populations. Such comparisons can also be illuminating in the case of corporations. […] While having a GDP and population comparable to Belgium, Denmark or New Zealand, many of these multi-national corporations have nothing like their quality of civic freedoms and protections. This is even more striking when the regional civic laws the company operates under are weak (such as in West Papua, many African states or even South Korea); there, the character of these corporate tyrannies is unobscured by their civilizing surroundings. Through governmental corruption, political influence, or manipulation of the judicial system, abusive corporations are able to gain control over the defining element of government — the sole right to deploy coercive force” (WikiLeaks self-description).

So WikiLeaks fortunately finally makes clear that it explicitly is not only a government watchdog, but also a corporate watchdog. But the first time that corporations are mentioned at all and at the same time mentioned as governments comes relatively late in the document, namely in the passage which says that the “power of principled leaking to embarrass governments, corporations and institutions is amply demonstrated through recent history” (WikiLeaks self-description).

The problem that remains is that in the WikiLeaks self-description, corporate crimes and corporate corruption are only mentioned late, whereas government power is mentioned in the second paragraph. Another problem is the assumption that it is possible to civilize corporations:

“WikiLeaks endeavors to civilize corporations by exposing uncivil plans and behavior. Just like a country, a corrupt or unethical corporation is a menace to all inside and outside it” (WikiLeaks self-description). One can hear daily stories about corporate irresponsibility: stories such as the one that British Petrol caused one of the worst ecological disasters are in all news, that iPods and iPads are produced in China under inhumane conditions by workers who commit suicide because they cannot stand the working conditions, etc cannot be overheard in the media, there are daily stories about child labour, precarious labour conditions, etc. The problem is that such a multitude of stories, and WikiLeaks here is no exception and directly admits this in its self-description, makes us believe that corporate irresponsibility and corporate crimes against humanity are the exception from the rule and can therefore be fixed within capitalism by “civilizing corporations”. But what if corporations are uncivilized as such, if their behaviour is always exploitative and irresponsible? Then capitalism and corporations cannot be civilized, and exposing uncivil plans and behaviour should be aimed at transforming and civilizing the whole.

I applaud the critical political potential of WikiLeaks as corporate and government-Internet watchdog, but think that WikiLeaks’s self-description and self-understanding should be changed as soon as possible." (http://fuchs.uti.at/418/)


Wikileaks as Hacktivism

"Wikileaks-enabled activism is quite different from the types of cyber activism and hacktivism that were prominent in the last decade. The latter, let’s call it hacktivism 1.0, “breaks down into two broad streams of actions: 1. Mass virtual direct actions, which use cyberspatial technologies of limited potential in order to re-embody virtual actions, [and 2.] digitally correct actions, which defend and extend the peculiar powers cyberspace creates. […]Whereas mass action hacktivists look to networks to do things for them, to be a place in which protest can occur just as roads are places in which demonstrations can occur, digitally correct hacktivists attempt to form the nature of the roads and passages of cyberspace. In doing this they generate actions directly focused on the codes that make cyberspace the place it is” (Jordan and Taylor 2004). Hacktivism 1.0 offers few opportunities for political action. They can be complex technological stunts, committed by highly skilled computer programmers. The results of this type of activism are either the disruption of the infostructure of the target organization or some specialized software tool to aid activists. Such actions are costly and time consuming, therefore relatively rare. On the other hand, hacktivism offers individuals the chance to participate in electronic civil disobedience, like virtual sit-ins, where, along with thousands of others one can try to overload the public web services of the target organizations. In this sense electronic disobedience is closely related to the earlier, non-electronic civil disobedience movements. These attacks – Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks as they are called now – require no technical skills, and beyond making a website inaccessible for the time of the attack, they yield little more than the attention generated by the news of the attack. Hacktivism 1.0 is torn between highly effective but rare instances of hacking, and relatively frequent cyber-protests with little more than symbolical value.

Wikileaks marks the beginning of Hacktivism 2.0. Wikileaks is first and foremost an infostructure provider, with the immense potential to empower mass-scale cyber-activism. Wikileaks offers three crucial factors through which the effectiveness of hacker attack can be merged with the ease and openness of mass actions. First, it offers a highly resistant, autonomous content distribution network, which so far has been able to survive even the most aggressive attacks against its infrastructure.[2] Second, it has all the attention of the world, including key media organizations which participate in the verification[3] and publication of the disclosed information. [4] And what is the most important: it promises anonymity.

Hacktivism 1.0 was the activism of outsiders. Its organizing principle was to get outsiders into the territory of the other. Wikileaks, on the other hand, is an infostructure developed to be used by insiders. Its sole purpose is to help people get information out from an organization. Wikileaks shifts the source of potential threat from a few, dangerous hackers and a larger group of mostly harmless activists — both outsiders to an organization — to those who are on the inside. For mass protesters and cyber activists anonymity is a nice, but certainly not an essential feature. For insiders trying to smuggle information out, anonymity is a necessary condition for participation. Wikileaks has demonstrated that the access to such features can be democratized, made simple and user friendly. Easy anonymity also radically transforms who the activist may be. It turns a monolithic, crystal clear identity defined solely through opposition, into something more complex, multilayered, and hybrid by allowing the cultivation of multiple identities, multiple loyalties. It allows those to enter the activist scene who do not want to define themselves – at least not publicly – as activist, radical or oppositional. The promise – or rather, the condition — of Wikileaks is that one can be on the inside and on the outside at the same time. Through anonymity the mutually exclusive categories of inside/outside, cooption/resistance, activism/passivity, power/subjection can be overridden and collapsed." (http://www.warsystems.hu/fokuszban/wikileaks-and-freedom-autonomy-and-sovereignty-in-the-cloud/)


Wikileaks as an exploit

Excerpted from Alison Powell:

“Galloway and Thackeray argue that the network is merely a condition of possibility for the operation of protocol, which can direct control around the network. Using the exploit (if I understand this correctly) is the way of disrupting the management system that is associated with the network. Discovering holes in existing networks can thus be a way of creating change. This is one thing that WikiLeaks has effectively done; by identifying the logic of control underlying both secrets and their media representations. The exploit in this case occurs on several levels at once. First, it facilitates the power of the swarm by hosting leaked information. Second, it takes over the mass media by slowly and dramatically leaking information which is subject to editorial control both by WikiLeaks itself and by mass media journalists. The mass media is still fulfilling its function, but its logic of control has been undermined – perhaps this is something like the way a zombie computer is mobilized by a botnet – or an organism that has suffered a neurological virus (gesturing at my previous attempt to frame WikiLeaks as a parasite).

The WikiLeaks’ “exploit” is thus more effective than it would be were it less well integrated with the mass media’s networked forms of power. Indeed, WikiLeaks is not itself rhizomatic. It is organized, and with a carefully planned interventionist strategy. It has a figurehead who has acted as a focal point for the media while the real work of undermining state control of information carries on. With the complicity of newsrooms, WikiLeaks intervenes in the power structures behind international news.

The exploit, if this is what it is, disrupts the existing logic of networked control and allows the swarm to intervene in the protocols underpinning news production. This is precisely why it has been so effective. It is a hack – in the non-technical sense. It uses the rules of journalism to break journalism.

As I’ve been thinking about this more, I am more taken by how the exploit, or hack, (yes, the noise in the system) has disrupted several things in several different ways. It’s disrupted the pretense of secrecy around government information. It’s exploited the same network of influence that is normally responsible for filtering government scandals and transforming them into headlines. And the DDoS attacks by Anonymous, whether pointless or amplificatory or dramatic also exploited protocol systems established to govern the web. So there is an exploit within the technical governance level as well as an exploit within the media system. Of course, WikiLeaks’ own resilience through its web presence is also the result of an exploitation of the network, and of the reproducibility of digital content.” (http://www.alisonpowell.ca/?p=366)


Wikileaks as Liquid Politics

By Nathan Jurgenson and PJ Rey:

1.

"WikiLeaks is more broadly engaged in what we might call liquid politics (i.e., the struggle to either erect or remove barriers to the flow of information). In fact, WikiLeaks has a twofold relationship with liquidity. By enabling leaks, liquidity facilitates the WikiLeaks agenda and the organization, in turn, undermines the solid institutions that act as barriers to greater liquidity. This relationship with liquidity is quite deliberate, and an examination of Assange’s rhetoric reveals a nuanced (and somewhat Utopian) ideology that liquidity is antithetical to corruption. This is because liquidity produces involuntary transparency, and transparency, Assange believes, causes actors to behave virtuously. Indeed, Assange has even been called “the prophet of a coming age of involuntary transparency” (Greenberg, Forbes, 29 November 2010). This broad political agenda is evident in the imagery of the Wikileaks logo, which is designed to valorize fluidity by drawing on the classic light/dark, good/bad trope. Perched atop the logo is a dark, dangerous, solid globe; it melts like a liquid away into a lighter, happier globe that remains partially unformed. At the bottom, the word “WikiLeaks” is written in the same color scheme as the lighter, liquid globe, as if to announce “we’re on the side of this new world order.” It is important to note, however, that liquid politics are not monolithic. Adam Thierer and Berin Szoka (2009) identify two distinct ideologies that emerge in contemporary political discourse surrounding freedom/control of information on the web: cyber-collectivism (which argues that the Internet should be regulated to best conform with our values) and cyber-libertarianism (which focuses on minimizing government regulation). In examining the WikiLeaks agenda, we believe it is pertinent to add a third category, cyber-anarchism (which views the Web as a tool to weaken or dissolve [unnecessary] institutions). Because Assange’s focus is on using the Internet as a mechanism to regulate institutions (through enforced transparency) and not on regulating the Internet, few would argue that Assange is a cyber-collectivist. Most often, Assange is described a cyber-libertarian, but The Wall Street Journal (Crovitz, 2010), for example, has labeled him an “information anarchist” (though this may only be because it sounds more sensational)." (http://www.pjrey.net/documents/Liquid%20Information%20Leaks%2011.15.2011.pdf)


2.

"Are the liquid politics of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange best described as cyber-libertarian or a cyber-anarchist? Assange speaks positively of markets and seems to favor minimal interference in the relationship between supply and demand. In fact, he (Greenberg, 2010) states “So as far as markets are concerned I’m a libertarian.” However, contrary to typical libertarian position, Assange (Greenberg, 2010) is skeptical as to whether private ownership of the means of production (as opposed to collectivist or government ownership) is the best means of accomplishing this goal: “I have mixed attitudes towards capitalism, but I love markets.” He (Greenberg, 2010) explains the thinking behind this nuanced position of supporting markets, while being skeptical towards capitalism: “I have enough expertise in politics and history to understand that a free market ends up as monopoly unless you force them to be free.” That is to say, like government, businesses are inclined to form conspiracies whenever possible. Assange’s primary objective in seeking a more liquid world is not to create a system that better rewards innovators (as the cyber-libertarians hope); instead, Assange’s aim is to disrupt what he views as the conspiratorial practices of solid institutions (i.e., institutions with strong barriers against the flow of information). Assange (November 2006; see also: Sklar, 2010) has unusual and quite specific understanding of the word “conspiracy,” which he describes as a property of networks. Basically, a conspiracy is a dense cluster of individuals who rapidly exchange information to the mutual benefit of the in-group, but to the detriment of the out-group. In such an arrangement, the in-group is motivated to erect barriers between themselves and the out-group in order to further consolidate their mutually beneficial arrangement. In fact, using Bauman’s metaphor, a conspiracy is a solid structure within a network. Assange argues that the appropriate tactic for disrupting a conspiracy is not attack the actors, but to breach its boundaries and divert the flow of information. Without exclusive control over the flow of information, the conspiracy loses its advantage. Assange (December 2006, his emphasis) elaborates upon his tactics: We can deceive or blind a conspiracy by distorting or restricting the information available to it. We can reduce total conspiratorial power via unstructured attacks on links or through throttling and separating. A conspiracy sufficiently engaged in this manner is no longer able to comprehend its environment and plan robust action. This antagonism to solid, conspiratorial institutions positions seems to be Assange’s driving principle. This, paired with his professed skepticism toward capitalism, seems to indicate that Assange better fits the ideal-type of the cyber-anarchist than with the cyber-libertarian barons of Silicon Valley. Assange (Emmett, 2011), in fact, has little sympathy for these figures, saying in one interview: Facebook in particular is the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented. […] Facebook, Google, Yahoo – all these major US organizations have built-in interfaces for US intelligence. It’s not a matter of serving a subpoena. They have an interface that they have developed for US intelligence to use. In many ways, Assange is more ideologically aligned with the Internet community / hacker collective known as “Anonymous.” (http://www.pjrey.net/documents/Liquid%20Information%20Leaks%2011.15.2011.pdf)


3.

"Assange’s complicated position on secrecy and openness highlight a larger theoretical point regarding Bauman’s liquidity thesis. Just as liquidity helps theoretically situate WikiLeaks, the theory can also be further refined in light of this example. Assange and WikiLeaks’ nuanced position on secrecy and openness betrays a larger point with respect to the political economy of transparency. Assange’s primary goal is to end government secrecy. And he acknowledges the seemingly contradictory point that the government response to WikiLeaks is very likely a long-term move towards becoming more secret. And this, perhaps counter-intuitively, is exactly the point. Assange states that, “in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems.” Simply, what Assange is arguing is that old structures will further solidify, become less porous in response to the threat of liquefaction. The effect will be that already-too-solid structures in our liquid modernity will become even further out of step with the contemporary world. To take the liquid-solid metaphor further, we might imagine how one builds a literal structure to withstand a flood: the structure, perhaps a house, is built on stilts; not only to keep the rooms above the water but also because the stilts, poles or pilings can withstand the same torrent of water that might push over a solid wall. The stilts might be said to be more porous and as such less solid. Assange (December 2006) offers an additional metaphor: When we look at an authoritarian conspiracy as a whole, we see a system of interacting organs, a beast with arteries and veins whose blood may be thickened and slowed until it falls, stupefied; unable to sufficiently comprehend and control the forces in its environment. Drawing from these literal examples, we argue that, theoretically, in an increasingly liquid world, old, heavy structures need to become more porous else they will be washed away in the rising wave of liquidity. Assange’s strategy is precisely to make what he supposes to be corrupt institutions unwilling to reform (e.g., the U.S. government) more secretive and, therefore, less porous. As a consequence, these institutions will be less effective at communicating both internally and diplomatically to others—Assange describes this effect as a “secrecy tax.”

Discussion 2: Sovereignty

Wikileaks as a threat to Sovereignty

"Sovereignty, in its strictest definition is the supreme authority within a territory. The three components of sovereignty: being supreme, having authority and territoriality have all been transformed by the rapid rise of supranational, supra-governmental political, economic, legal institutions, the formation and the consolidation of global networks of information, telecommunications, finance, logistics, extraterritorial corporations, and (private) justice systems. Since such external authorities limit or determine state actions in the fields of finance, economics, social policy, foreign and internal politics, military, or human rights, globalization was seen as a threat to the traditional concept of post-Westphalian sovereignty. Such external authorities made state sovereignty to be less and less absolute. But as Saskia Sassen argues, the interplay between sovereignty and globalization is more complex than that. “The strategic spaces where many global processes take place are often national; the mechanisms through which the new legal forms necessary for globalization are implemented are often part of state institutions; the infrastructure that makes possible the hyper-mobility of financial capital at the global scale is situated in various national territories. Sovereignty remains a feature of the system, but it is now located in a multiplicity of institutional arenas: the new emergent transnational private legal regimes, new supranational organizations (such as the WTO and the institutions of the European Union), and the various international human rights codes”(Sassen 1996). The institutions that override sovereignty build upon the land and the institutions of nation-states. But Sassen’s observations about the transformation, rather than the diminishment of national sovereignty only hold true because the supranational frameworks are always legitimized and authorized in one way or another by the sovereign states[6], and some key elements of sovereignty are kept intact.

Wikileaks poses a new, so far unprecedented threat to sovereignty. Its power rests on three pillars: on the immunity to intervention, on the authority its supporters vest in it, and on its ability to interfere with the internal affairs of others.

As the ineffective actions against its infrastructures have shown, Wikileaks is immune from technological, financial, infrastructural, and legal interventions. There have been several attempts to cut Wikileaks of the financial network, weaken its physical infrastructure or curtail its accessibility. None of these efforts could render Wikileaks inaccessible, and there is no sign of a more effective method to erase a service from the web other than those already used. States and governments, just like corporations, are as defenseless and exposed to Wikileakistan as much the entertainment industry is exposed to Kazaastan and Torrentia.[7] I do not wish to underestimate the intellectual power behind the Wikileaks infrastructure, but from a government perspective one of the most frightening aspects of the whole Wikileaks affair is that it is so easy to set up a network that is so difficult to take down or to engage with. At the moment it seems Wikileaks cannot be woven into the complex web of institutional inter-dependencies. „In light of this redistribution of power, what would the solution for conventional/”atomic” power’s reassertion of hegemony? This would be to contain the rise of informatic power by containing its means of distribution. This would be by the means of national firewalling, and trunk-line disconnection or limited Internet disabling, disrupting infopower, but also crippling the flow of digitized material capital as well. This is problematic at best, as conventional power and informatic power are in symbiotic, the latter being more nimble and a step ahead of the former, and to attack a symbiote always means to cripple its partner as well. The logical result of such actions would be the elimination of net neutrality (the free and open flow of data across the Internet) or even the severance of typologies and flows of information across the networks. The symbiotic effect is that conventional power/capital is also hobbled, as the physical is dependent on the same flows of information across the distributed nets, disabling itself in the process. It is for this reason that it cannot engage in this means of retaliation, as it would be the digital suicide of the First World nation-state.” (Lichty 2010) As long as Wikileaks exists on thousands of mirrors and in thousands of copies circulating on p2p networks, the debate on whether Wikileaks is a terrorist organization[8] or a group of freedom fighters, and whether such a quest for total transparency is misguided[9] or a necessary step in the development of information society remains academic. Until the point where it can be proved that Wikileaks can be controlled – and if that happens, it ceases to exist altogether – Wikileaks is free to follow its own agenda and as a consequence is the utmost authority of the information era.

The second source of Wikileaks’ power is the authority its supporters vest in it. States do not enjoy the supreme and ultimate authority over their territory anymore, because their citizens as the source of that authority now enjoy multiple citizenships — one being that of Wikileakistan –, and have the potential to act upon multiple loyalties.[10] If citizens and corporate employees decide to break the laws of the land and follow the laws of their conscience and leak the secrets entrusted upon them to Wikileaks, it means that in the given situation they deny the supreme authority from the state and subscribe to the abstract ideals of Wikileakistan in order to preserve what loyalty they feel towards the ‘nation’, the ‘country’, the ‘constitution’, the ‘democratic ideals’ or any other notion which they think Wikileaks represents and which they hope to regain by turning to it. If Wikileaks would be Wikileakistan, another territory-bound sovereign, there would not be any problems: it could be bombarded or sanctioned into submission. But that lawless fringe, that barbaric kingdom, that pirate utopia is not somewhere else. It is exactly where we are. Confrontational, non-conciliatory action against such idealists hardly yields anything else but more disenchantment, alienation and ultimately disloyalty. By turning against such double citizens the state turns against, and ultimately eliminates itself.

Third, immunity and authority is now coupled with an unparalleled might to interfere with the internal affairs of states and corporations alike. External sovereignty is exercised “with respect to outsiders, who may not interfere with the sovereign’s governance.” (Philpott 2010) Wikileaks poses a different kind of threat to the external sovereignty than the internet, in general. (Boyle 1997) It seems possible to exercise authority with an aterritorial entity like the internet in place, but it does not seem possible to exercise any authority if the sovereign cannot control its internal processes, data and communication. Within the core of any sovereignty there is the ultimate capability to control the internal communications, information collection and interpretation processes. Assange describes the effects of exposing internal communications in his essay dating back to 2006: “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.”(Assange 2006)

The ability to place the state under surveillance limits and ultimately renders present day sovereignty obsolete.

It can also be argued that it fosters the emergence of a new sovereign in itself. I believe that Wikileaks (or rather, the logic of it) is a new sovereign in the global political / economic sphere. If everyday citizens have an autonomous zone (Bey 1991), a safe haven, hiding in the discontinuities of cyberspace, from where they can oversee and control the state apparatus; if such an organization is safe from interventions and can continuously enjoy the ethical and ideological support if its “citizens”; if the information it distributes cannot be filtered by any country, then such an organization is a new sovereign, not in cyberspace but in the real world, even though it lacks the territorial dimension.

But as it stands now, Wikileakistan shares too much with the powers it wishes to counter. As The Economist’s commentator put it: „To get at the value of WikiLeaks, I think it’s important to distinguish between the government—the temporary, elected authors of national policy—and the state—the permanent bureaucratic and military apparatus superficially but not fully controlled by the reigning government. The careerists scattered about the world in America’s intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America’s unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it.”(W. 2010) This is against what Wikileaks has risen. But the hidden power structures and the inner workings of these states within the state are exposed by another imperium in imperio, a secretive organization, whose agenda is far from transparent, whose members, resources are unknown, holding back an indefinite amount of information both on itself and on its opponents. The mantra of Wikileaks supporters and the mantra of state and corporate executives are shockingly identical: “We share no information on ourselves; we gather information on everyone else. Only our secrets are valid secrets.” The Eye of Providence on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States, surrounded by the words Annuit Cœptis (He approves our undertakings), and Novus Ordo Seclorum, (New Order of the Ages) could very well be the seal of Wikileaks as well.

This leads to the question of who the parties in this conflict are. Is it the state against Wikileaks? Or maybe what we are seeing now is a battle between different secretive organizations for the control of the state and through it, the body politic? With Wikileaks the state has finally entered the Panopticon. But within, the freedom of those who are under surveillance is lost, whether they be individuals or states.

It is not more secretive, one sided transparency which will subvert and negate the control and discipline of secretive, one sided transparency, it is anonymity. The subject’s position of being “a multiplicity that can be numbered and supervised”, its state of living in a “sequestered and observed solitude” (Foucault 1979) can only be subverted if there is a place to hide from surveillance. There are two types of Anonymity, that of the observer, and that of the subject, both immensely empowering. The true potential of the cyberspace is not that it enables anonymous observation of the state power, but that it offers its citizens the chance to hide from observation. In other words the identity-protecting side of technology has more emancipatory power than its capability to obtain and expose secrets. Maybe less, and not more transparency is the path that leads to the aims of Wikileaks.

We have also seen how Anonymous can turn into a “stampede of coked-up lemmings”. But how to be truly free in the age of ubiquitous surveillance? Is it enough if we put the observers under surveillance? Maybe we need to leave the oppositional power relationships behind, and be what Anonymous really means: invisible. Invisible in its strictest sense: being beyond the determinations that define the identity and the discourse. Because, as Pozorov (2007) so aptly said: “freedom is not a guarantee for the fulfilment of any desire but rather the condition of possibility of its pursuit.” Wikileaks, the latest manifestation of cyberspace offers this freedom for individuals, but its proposition on how to act upon it is disturbingly similar to what it defined itself against in its Declaration of Independence. I salute Wikileaks as the first – and potentially only – truly independent sovereign of the information age. “May it be more humane and fair than the world […] governments have made before.” (Barlow 1996)" (http://www.warsystems.hu/fokuszban/wikileaks-and-freedom-autonomy-and-sovereignty-in-the-cloud/)


The End of Westphalia?

Adam Elkus, in Rethinking Security, on WikiLeaks and Sovereignty:


"WikiLeaks represents the idea that states have no inherent authority to hold onto vital national secrets. Because information is fundamentally boundless and unlimited by the “oldthink” of national borders and politics, state control over proprietary information is irrelevant. WikiLeaks and other radical transparency advocates believe that they-an unelected, transnational elite-can pick and choose which states are good and bad and whose secrets deserve exposure. And if information deserves to be free-and the only people who would keep it from being so are those with something to hide-then it is fine for non-state networks to arrogate themselves the right to receive and expose state secrets.


While WikiLeaks is often positioned as a champion of digital democracy, it is actually wholly anti-democratic. It transfers power and security from national governments and their publics to unelected international activist organizations and bureaucrats. While this may seem like a harsh interpretation, there is no check on the likes of Julian Assange. Governments-even autocratic ones-still must contend on a day-to-day basis with the people. Even China had to face a reckoning after the Wenzhou train crash. WikiLeaks and other radical transparency organizations mean to replace one group of elites-which at least nominally can be called to court-with another who are accountable only to their own consciences." (http://rethinkingsecurity.tumblr.com/post/9745451564/wikileaks-and-sovereignty)

More at http://wenewsit.com/2011/09/zenpundit-com-%C2%BB-blog-archive-%C2%BB-elkus-on-wikileaks-and-sovereignty/

More Information

"many regional WikiLeaks clones or variants are appearing: IndoLeaks (for Indonesia), BrusselsLeaks (the EU), Rospil (Russian, devoted to the crowdsourced analysis of publicly available budgeting documents), ThaiLeaks (Thai-related material on WikiLeaks), BalkanLeaks (the Balkans generally), PinoyLeaks (the Philippines; their superb slogan is “Those who engage in Monkey Business should beware of the Monkey-Eating Eagle”), PirateLeaks (the Czech Republic), TuniLeaks (Tunisia-specific materials from the WikiLeaks cable releases)" [[T