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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

WikiLeaks: the whole world is watching

Let's get a few things straight before we move in to the core of the matter. WikiLeaks is an organisation. Its figurehead is a fairly unlikable creature. Being a prick is not illegal. WikiLeaks approached the US government, requesting that they assist them to redact the information they were going to release. The US government refused. They then approached experienced, established media outlets, who did assist them. Nobody has been show to have died from what's been released so far. A lot of people who are used to being in control have been embarrassed. Mr. Assange stands charged in Sweden for something which is not recognised as a crime in any country I've ever visited. And that's "charged", not "convicted". He's been refused bail as "a flight risk" even though he's turned himself in. Several public figures have called for his assasination (which is illegal). Within the leaked documents is information that shows illegal, immoral, and risky behaviour inside the US government which far outstrips anything that WikiLeaks has perpetrated. Mr. Assange is not a US citizen, so not subject to any US laws. Also, "International Law" pertains to "state actors", not non-state actors such as Mr. Assange. It has not been shown or suggested that Mr. Assange has actually transgressed any existing laws. Mr. Manning (the leak), has likely broken some pretty heavy laws, and is rightfully locked away in an oubliette somewhere awaiting due process.

So, what is at the heart of the matter? Information. It is very difficult to separate the particulars of this situation from the generalities, because the particulars are so emotive. Was it irresponsible of WikiLeaks to release all this info? Is Julian a rampant rapist of Swedish maidens? Should all world citizens be held to US laws? If we just let them publish anything, won't the terrorists win? If we don't let them publish anything, haven't the terrorists won?

One of the things we can do to separate the emotion and nationalism from the situation is to address the nature of "information". My favorite definition of information is "a difference which makes a difference". This is sort of a Shannon definition, or a thermodynamic definition of information, but I think it applies here. I don't think the released cables have yet made much of a difference. The ability to disseminate any data is the difference which makes a difference here. And what we're seeing done to Mr. Assange is an organized response designed to cool that hot channel of communication (a free and neutral internet). Mr. Assange is being made a scapegoat for an idea - that non-state actors can disseminate vast quantities of any data.

I would also like to take a moment to point out the poor step-cousin of information, data. A lot of what was released by WikiLeaks was more like "data" than "information". While the leaks are taken as genuine diplomatic cables, the veracity, the intention, the providence of those cables has not been nailed down. These leaks are raw data - inforamtion without context. The leaks are in need of good investigative journalists to stitch them together into coherent stories with actual sources, with outcomes, with history and present. The leaks are easy/meaningless, the journalism which will come from them is the difficult/valuable work. The "information" will come in the form of well researched and sourced journalism augmented or inspired by the content of the leaks.

So, while I'm not a "fan" of Mr. Assange personally, I believe he's entitled to the due process of law. I have grave fears that he's not going to be afforded that luxury. I don't believe that publishing the truth is worthy of prosecution. I believe a great deal of the theatre around Mr. Assange is designed to draw attention away from two things which I'd like to highlight here:
1. The lack of actual investigative journalism going on related to leaked information (the story is "play the man")
2. The government's own liability in collecting and storing this type of information ( they stuffed up royally in the security dept.)

Just a quick "for instance"

One of the leaks clearly shows what we all knew about Saudi Arabia. They fund terrorism. I, for one, believe there's not only a story here, but an entire Plan for a New American Century. From my great distance it seems beyond comprehension that the American public is so resistant to a non-petrol-burning future. I think I mentioned this before the second Gulf war, and I'm sure I mentioned this during the first Gulf War, but the most patriotic thing America could do is to move to fuel alternatives which could be derived inside US borders. That this idea hasn't caught fire, I believe, is due to the malaise of the middle classes.

Are non-petroleum based fuels viable right now? No, but neither was a trip to the moon in the 1960's. America made that happen. Make this happen. Make something happen. There's really not a lot of money left in an America which continues along the status quo. New things, new ways, make money. Anybody can copy doing old things in the old ways. This currently describes half of China's newfound success. The other half resides in China's ability to innovate. If the US does not lead...

Instead of the Saudi/Terrorist story walking on its own legs, it's been mentioned, but eclipsed by the Assange story. America trundles on, not leading into new industries or economies, but borrowing upon the futures of its children. The American story has traditionally been one of liberty, innovation, self reliance. Have a look in the news these days and tell me how much of this you see. I see a paranoid empire on the wane, attempting to use force to bully its way on the world stage. There's a real feeling going around that the US has lost its way (I think this is Palin's catch-call), but I've heard nobody willing to point the finger at the American people or the American system. It always seems to be somebody else's fault (the terrorists, the immigrants, the Chinese, the bankers, the guv'mint).

Be warned that America will be judged by how it treats WikiLeaks. As the balance of power drains away from the US, that judgment will go a long way towards how America is treated (by China and others). I would also predict that the degree to which America is able to abide by its core values (truth, justice, the American Way) in the face of the challenge posed by the likes of Assange/WikiLeaks, will determine the trajectory of the American experiment. The more the US deviates from "rule of law", "due process", etc. the quicker will be the decline. Think long and hard about the difference between the US and China. How much faith can you muster in your ideals? How much security are you willing to wager on freedom? To the person, that will prove America's future.

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