But until a time when the fate of Julian Assange and his organization is yesterday's news, feel free to discuss all the rapey details!
So, what do we know about Wikileaks?
- - Cablegate: The ongoing release of diplomatic cables intercepted from US embassies all over the world. So far, people like to shrug them off as petty gossip and "nothing new." And to a large degree they're not wrong, but there are a few gems in there that highlight injustice and corruption. I've read a couple rather amusing ones from the Ottawa embassy, pretty trivial but they do say a lot about culture and the image of the US to the rest of the world. I'll post that later.
- Military Leaks: Afghanistan docs, damaging video. Many people talk about how this could endanger our troops as well as afghan civilians, and that's a fair criticism to make. Sometimes the leaks are obviously harmless, and sometimes it's more complex than that, harder to discern what effects they may have. I think it's important to weigh the benefit of knowing the truth about an issue, compared to the benefit of prolonging an futile war (which we know for a fact endangers the lives of troops and civilians). I'm glad that Wikileaks opens up these questions. Remember that US law defends the press's right to publish secret government documents. This was firmly decided after the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, which helped to shed new light on the extent and history of the US' involvement in Vietnam. Courts at that time decided that it was in the spirit of liberty and democracy that when the truth is exposed, it was worth publishing the damning documents. In cases like these, the person who runs the risk is the whistleblower themselves, NOT those who publish the material. Fortunately, Wikileaks admitted that they do filter and evaluate whether docs are safe/newsworthy to publish, the same way a more tradition news org would (and remember, Wikileaks is made up of journalists working for papers all over the world).
- Sex Crime Charges: While it's no surprise that powerful forces might use rape to smear an inconvenient person's reputation, any rape charge should be dealt with properly. No one except Assange and his lovers/victims know what really happened, and the fact is he hasn't been charged for it yet. Those who represent the victims are free to actually charge Assange and they haven't, they only wanted to "meet with him." The case had already been thrown out once by a judge back in August. But for all I know, Assange was a pervy douche who was a jerk about condoms with these women. In which case, that ought to be dealt with accordingly, which the law seems to have done for the most part.
- Dead-man switch: Next to their James Bond server bunker, this is one of the coolest things about Wikileaks. Assange has mentioned several times about how he's already released an encrypted trove of documents from a range of corporate/government documents, with a 256-digit encryption key that has not been released. In the event that Assange is jailed (for reasons relating to Wikileaks), convicted, or assassinated, that key will be released and people everywhere will have access to that file and its contents. Apparently this includes dirt on Guantanamo, BP, Fox News, just to name a few. Naturally, if he never needs to use this "insurance" file, I think he'll eventually get around to publishing the important stuff within.
- Bank Docs: This is the part that makes my balls tingle. Early this year, Assange plans to release docs from a 5-Gb hard drive intercepted from a major US bank (and it looks like it will most likely by Bank of America). He said that these docs will highlight not only this particular bank's unethical behaviour, but an entire "eco-system of corruption" that allows banks to get away with this, which will likely include highlighting regulators who are bought by the companies they are supposed to be policing. Bank of America's stock took a tumble when it was first speculated that they're probably the target, and they have even been found buying up domains like BrianMoynihanBlows.com, BrianMoynihanSucks.com, BrianTMoynihanBlows.com, and BrianTMoynihanSucks.com. Brian Moynihan is the CEO of BoA, and there are equivalent domains bought for other top BoA figures' names as well. This suggests to many that they have something specific to be worried about. I have to admit, seeing those who took the risks nearly crashed the world economy (and continue doing so) pissing their pants over this is delightful. Everyone wants to see them punished (no one has been held accountable for derivatives trading, credit default swaps, etc), and Wikileaks presents an avenue by which they can be held accountable.
I find the whole subject of Wikileaks fascinating. I think when people in the future look back and talk about the information age, they will talk about the advent of digital whistleblowing, and how it leveled the playing field between those in power and the those who aren't. I think this is the internet coming into its full potential.
But I think the authorities might be wise to leave Assange alone... I think we can all appreciate how easily he could become a martyr for free speech should anything happen to him. The support for him and his organization is huge, and very tech-savvy as well. Similarly, his supporters should be careful not to lionize him too much. We all know the dangers of that. Like I mentioned before, it's what Wikileaks represents that is the important part.
But here's one of the main reasons why I like Julian Assange... When asked in a Forbes magazine interview, what advice he has for companies in a world where their activities could easily be leaked to the press, he answered with this:
Julian Assange wrote:Do things to encourage leaks from dishonest competitors. Be as open and honest as possible. Treat your employees well.