Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Wikileaks conspiracy

A couple of days ago I posted an article asking what is the real motivation of Wikileaks. That was because, like most people, I was ignorant about what Wikileaks is trying to do.
Today, thanks to a comment on the blog (from someone who, ironically, chooses to keep his full name and address a secret), I know the answer.
That might sound a tad arrogant. How can I possibly claim to ‘know’ such a thing, given the complexities of the situation itself, to say nothing of the intricacies of human motivation?
The answer is quite simple: Julian Assange has told us himself, in a couple of quite short pieces which are on the internet (here and here) for anyone who cares to read them.
Actually these pieces (it is inappropriate to call them essays) are two versions of the same thing, and are both incomplete. Nevertheless, they tell us all we need to know of the motivation for Wikileaks.
Assange’s thesis is that, left to their own devices, governments (and “neocorporatist” bodies) tend to act in authoritarian ways, and therefore become ‘conspiratorial’ since they need to conceal the plans which maintain their authoritarian power.
Essential to this is communication between the ‘conspirators’ — the various parts of the government or other body. Therefore disrupting communication between the parts of conspiracy will bring down the conspiracy itself:
“If all links between conspirators are cut then there is no conspiracy.”
This, Assange understands quite clearly, is the basis of recent Western attempts to combat Islamic terrorism. But in his own words,
“We extend this understanding of terrorist organizations and turn it on the likes of its creators where it becomes a knife to dissect the power conspiracies used to maintain authoritarian government.” (Emphasis added)
Note, the government which produced this counter-terrorist strategy is actually itself authoritarian, and therefore conspiratorial. According to Assange, “the US Democratic and Republican parties” are “two closely balanced and broadly conspiratorial power groupings”.
If they could not communicate internally, however, and if they specifically had to give up,
“... their mobile phones, fax and email correspondence let alone the computer systems which manage their subscribes, donors, budgets, polling, call centres and direct mail campaigns ...” (emphasis added)
... then ...
“They would immediately fall into an organizational stupor and lose to the other.”
The group (or government) that communicates least effectively is the loser. Thus his second, and still incomplete, piece concludes that,
“... new technology and insights into the psychological motivations of conspirators can give us practical methods for preventing or reducing important communication between authoritarian conspirators, foment strong resistance to authoritarian planning and create powerful incentives for more humane forms of governance.” (Emphasis added)
The motivation of Wikileaks, therefore, is clear: it is to change the way governments in general, and the government of the United States of America in particular — ie bad governments — operate. And the strategy is quite simply by the act of leaking since, again according to Assange:
“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.” (Emphasis added)
This is why, however, it does not matter in the least that so much of the information released by Wikileaks is, in fact, trivial. One website analysis favourable to Assange’s aims and strategy has it precisely right:
“In this sense, most of the media commentary on the latest round of leaks has totally missed the point. After all, why are diplomatic cables being leaked? These leaks ... seem to simply be a broad swath of the everyday normal secrets that a security state keeps from all but its most trusted hundreds of thousands of people who have the right clearance. [...] But Assange is not trying to produce a journalistic scandal which will then provoke red-faced government reforms or something [...] Instead, he is trying to strangle the links that make the conspiracy possible, to expose the necessary porousness of the American state’s conspiratorial network in hopes that the security state will then try to shrink its computational network in response, thereby making itself dumber and slower and smaller.”
Assange is, quite literally, seeking to bring down the government of the United States. And this is not conjecture — it is his declared intention.
The interesting thing in all this, however, is that (as the comment above observes) the media, even those made party to the Cablegate leaks, seem not understand this. Thus an editorial in today’s Guardian (one of the papers privileged by Wikileaks) asks rhetorically, “Should diplomats be able to speak confidentially with their governments and sources?” It continues,
“The answer is, clearly, yes. Without secret communication there could be no meaningful diplomacy and textured communication between countries.” (Emphasis added)
One cannot help wondering how long and hard Mr Assange must have laughed at this (assuming he currently has access to the Guardian).
Like Hitler when he wrote Mein Kampf, Assange has previously made his attitudes and intentions abundantly plain to those who would care to read. Yet like so many throughout the subsequent war years, it seems that those who ought to be most aware of what is going on have not cared to read.
Certainly nothing I have read or heard from media outlets in the last few days has done anything to clarify the Wikileaks agenda as much as my own brief explorations on the internet. Moreover, what has been said generally reflects a view that Wikileaks is basically about exposing bad behaviour so that it can be put right — which we can plainly see is not the case at all.
As the website quoted earlier puts it,
“... the point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective. Wikileaks does not leak something like the ‘Collateral Murder’ video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire ...”
Indeed, given the current media interest, revealed in the kinds of details appearing in the national press, one may go so far as to wonder whether the media themselves have not been duped, insofar as they are publishing what they clearly believe will ‘sell’ to their own audience, without apparently realizing that, as far as Assange is concerned, they would achieve his aims if they merely published the embassy laundry lists (or lists of sites regarded as vital to US security).
And this leads me to ask whether, in a sense, there is not actually a Wikileaks conspiracy, whereby Western media have become useful allies in a game which they themselves have not fully understood — and certainly have not revealed by fully explaining it to their public — whilst Julian Assange and his associates understand precisely what they are doing through this.
There is, however, one last important element to Assange’s thesis, written as a footnote to his second piece:
“Everytime (sic) we witness an act that we feel to be unjust and do not act we become a party to injustice. Those who are repeatedly passive in the face of injustice soon find their character corroded into servility. Most witnessed acts of injustice are associated with bad governance, since when governance is good, unanswered injustice is rare. By the progressive diminution of a people’s character, the impact of reported, but unanswered injustice is far greater than it may initially seem. Modern communications states through their scale, homogeneity and excesses provide their populace with an unprecidented deluge of witnessed, but seemingly unanswerable injustices.”
In other words, in the modern communications era, we are all of us, by the sheer amount of information we receive about injustice, being rendered increasingly passive to more bad governance and increasing injustice.
The only way out (salvation?) is by acting in response to perceived injustice, and the only way of eliminating injustice is through eliminating “bad governance”, since (he asserts) “when governance is good, unanswered injustice is rare”. We must act or become mere ‘drones’.
For Assange, this is, ultimately, a battle for the human soul, and this should induce a certain caution in all of us who know how dangerous such battles can become. 
One comment on Assange’s early ‘blogging’ rather naughtily describes it as being, “like Adrian Mole discovered the web after an A-level course in sociology and Hunter S Thompson”. Julian Assange is clearly a ‘man with a plan’, and in the last few days we have all become part of it. That being the case, it surely vital that we should all know exactly what the plan is and also something of the man behind it.
John Richardson
8 December 2010
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  1. Change Obama cannot imagine

    We NEED proper steering mechanism to survive the global society we created with technology. Transparency/involvement is needed. It's urgent, at this moment our society has an obsolete 200 years old steering mechanism. How can a few wise leaders understand these complex global issues pending ?

    Would we have gone to Iraq over Weapons of mass destruction is we were part of the diplomatic cable discussion ?
    Better of with more transparency ? Credit Crises / Cable gate shows governments are not so much in control of the global society. Wasn't it work of the press to tell us the truth ?

    Can the government be specific what is so threatening, because NO ONE DIED by the cables released. People did die because the same amount of money did go to Foreign Affair as to public health care.

    At least the cork out of the bottle. Fact is that secrets are harder to keep anno 2010. Shutting down is naive. Discuss it is the only option.. If democracy fails, the only solution is MORE democracy!. Fill the streets and discuss where the press fails.

  2. Hi John -

    You certainly have my name and address - given that I emailed you a few days back, hardly the act of a shadowy anonymous figure.

    I agree that there are dangers in the strategy outlined - and indeed it is hard to see how it could be permanent state of affairs. On the other hand, in the medium term perhaps something like wikileaks is necessary.

    We are currently in two wars, one of which we went into on false pretenses, one of which we stay in even though senior politicians privately agree that it is unwinnable. We have had a financial bailout in the western world, with significant details hidden from the public who are expected to pay for it - we have corporations writing policy in areas like energy, agriculture, IP etc. that are in their interest rather than the interests of civilisation as a whole.

    I think it's unlikely that wikileaks will collapse the government - it may on the other hand make cosy arrangements of this sort a bit harder to carry out in the future, which can only be a good thing.

  3. Chris, the idea is to put the name and address on (each) comment. As the policy says, "Comments without this information may be deleted."

    Additionally, I can't find that e-mail, but apropos the current discussion, I wouldn't feel that being sent the information would allow me to divulge it unless you asked me to!

  4. A very similar analysis to my own above can be found at the Australian ABC website.

    It does raise the interesting prospect that the articles purportedly written by Assange, quoted above, are not genuine - but that does, at present, seem to me inherently unlikely, not least given their brevity and 'naivety'.

    Nevertheless, Assange gives a very different justification - far less in line with the declared intention in the earlier articles - here in an article for The Australian.

  5. Hello John

    Sadly I think you're wide of the mark on this one.

    When the printing press was invented, it was deemed a threat to princes and popes - not immediately, but as soon as information could be distributed and dispersed in an organised manner. I don't need to remind you of its significance for the Reformation.

    Assange is an objectionable character, but the 'Mein Kampf' comparison is risible. You're right however that focusing on Assange is a distraction. The internet revolution is as significant as the printing press, and until now the people's use of it has been relatively benign as far as governments are concerned (China and other repressive regimes obviously excepted). The massive significance of Wikileaks (which this article highlights) is not Assange, but how it illustrates the latent ability of the net to create powerful global direct action protests very quickly.

    I don't believe Assange wants to bring down a government, or attack democracy per se, but he is quite right to provoke the system into reform. My children's generation are totally disengaged from politics, and direct, instant reaction by governments to shifting opinion, channelled via the internet could get them engaged again. That is surely the future of democracy - the equivalent of 17C political pamphleteering. I stand by my assertion that governments and institutions should have nothing to hide. In step with the Reformers we would have claimed that for the vernacular Bible in the face of opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, wouldn't we?

    So we need to be careful that our objections are not just the 21st century equivalent of objections to the printing press. And while we're on the subject, 13 years since dial-up connections I still can't direct people to a clear, compelling website which introduces someone to the gospel. Why? We still seem to be illuminating manuscripts in the church...

    John, Manchester

  6. Very impressive article Rev. Richardson. I happened upon your article as I was doing my own research on Assange seperate from what the media is telling me... You are undoubtedly on the right track. I wondered what Assange was really up to and my own suspicions are confirmed. Now I am left pondering the possibility that another person, entity, group or "organiziation" will use Assange's tactics in a more pronounced or destructive manner. I personally believe that America is The New Babylon and will need to be destroyed to fulfill prophecy. I am American...born and raised but, this is what I believe. I don't think Wikileaks or Assange or his group is totally capable of destroying America but I foresee the possibility that another will use Wikileaks example and Assange's ideas as a template. My name is Keith my email is

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