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On The Wikileaks Manifesto

[ 83 ] December 8, 2010 |

I hope most of you following the Wikileaks story read Aaron Bady’s essay at zunguzungu last week, in which he examines two early essays attributed to Julian Assange and provides his explanation of Assange’s broader theory. It’s a sophisticated read with at last glance 567 comments – the sort of blog post political theorists will (or should) assign to their graduate classes.

I also think Bady makes some mistakes in his interpretation of Assange’s essays – or at least glosses over some of the more disturbing implications in his zeal to paint Assange as smarter and less objectionable than might be assumed by those not familiar with his writings.

Let’s begin with what Robert Baird at 3QD argues is the central insight of Bady’s essay: “the recognition that Assange’s strategy stands at significant remove from a philosophy it might easily be confused for: the blend of technological triumphalism and anarcho-libertarian utopianism that takes ‘information wants to be free’ as its gospel and Silicon Valley as its spiritual homeland.”

In Bady’s words:

According to his essay, Julian Assange is trying to do something else. Because we all basically know that the US state — like all states — is basically doing a lot of basically shady things basically all the time, simply revealing the specific ways they are doing these shady things will not be, in and of itself, a necessarily good thing. In some cases, it may be a bad thing, and in many cases, the provisional good it may do will be limited in scope. The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets.

Baird usefully describes Bady’s argument analytically as follows:

For Assange in 2006, then, the public benefit of leaked information is not the first-order good of the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world (free information is its own reward), nor is it the second-order good of the muckrakers* (free information will lead the people to demand change). What Assange asks of leaked information is that it supply a third-order public good: he wants it to demonstrate that secrets cannot be securely held, and he wants it to do this so that the currency of all secrets will be debased. He wants governments-cum-conspiracies to be rendered paranoid by the leaks and therefore be left with little energy to pursue its externally focused aims.

Here are my reactions. First of all both Bady and Baird, who seem in agreement about Assange’s “clearly articulated vision” and offer a very helpful analytical typology to situate his ethics in relation to others like Mark Z, both discount the inconsistencies with which he has articulated that vision. If Assange truly fit the “third-order” mold when he wrote those essays, his thinking today seems to draw on all three discourses to fit his audience and the moment. He has said third-order types of things, but he has also said on the Wikileaks site  ”transparency creates a better society for all people” and that “all information should be free” (ala Zuckerberg); he has argued at times that his goal is reform, not revolution; and as Baird acknowledges in a footnote, Assange’s Time interview reflected the second-order position.

If he has a consistent position, I’m not sure even Assange knows what it is. And considering that he is using the nuclear threat of releasing his entire archive (presumably irrespective of any harm minimization tactics the organization would otherwise claim to employ) as a bargaining chip to deal with his legal troubles, I have a hard time agreeing with Bady’s claim that Assange always emphasizes ethics.

But let’s suspend disbelief for a moment about whether Assange’s 2006 essays provide a useful road-map to his current position or political behavior, and simply examine his writings. What surprises me most is that Bady, and to some extent Baird, seem to accept many of Assange’s central claims. Here are several I find very troubling – even moreso if they indeed tell us something about his current agenda.

1) Assange Discounts the Importance of Secrecy For Good Governors, and Overstates the Impact of Leaks on Bad Governors.

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.

I have already spoken to the value of discretion in good governance here, a set of points which I think weighs against Assange’s assertion that if you care about discretion, you must have something to hide.

But even if this weren’t true – even if eliminating the ability for the state to think discreetly were definitely a public good – there is another problem with Assange’s worldview: he believes that leaks will serve this goal.

“We can deceive or blind a conspiracy by distorting or restricting the information available to it… if an authoritarian conspiracy that can not think efficiently, can not act to preserve itself against the opponents it induces…”

“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.”

I am actually unconvinced, for what digital leaks do is encourage the state to avoid leaving a digital paper-trail, not to stop communicating entirely. Links can mean many things besides leakable documents. And what we know from studying genuinely authoritarian states is that they can think quite easily and behave quite murderously without a paper trail of any sort. This is in fact what makes it so difficult to prosecute the crime of genocide.

Therefore, I would imagine, in fact, that massive leaks actually do the reverse: make it impossible for those organs of government most willing to document their activities, within certain boundaries of discretion, to function. The true conspiracies to commit atrocious acts will simply go offline. Transparency of the type that would meet Assange’s goals would require a massive reverse panopticon inflicted upon civil servants that could capture their non-written activities and speech acts as well. This doesn’t strike me as a libertarian ideology – any more than the notion that those who value privacy must be hiding something and deserve what they get.

2) Assange’s Uses the Terms “Authoritarian” and “Conspiracy” in a Sweeping and Circular Way. Relatedly, Assange seems not to understand or even acknowledge the difference between authoritarian governments and democratic governments: for him, authoritarian is less a descriptive term and more a pejorative – one in terms identical to those of any powerful agent:

Authoritarian regimes give rise to forces which oppose them by pushing against the individual and collective will to freedom, truth and self-realization. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial.

Note the circular reasoning. I guess my husband and are conspiring as “successful authoritarian powers” when we meet privately to discuss our differences on parenting strategies, because we know that airing those differences in the open will encourage resistance.

If you suppose that I am using the parenting analogy to blithely make a point, consider the examples of “conspiracies” that Assange himself uses in his papers: the Democratic and the Republican parties.

Now, Assange does define “conspiracy” as making “secret plans to commit a harmful act; working together to bring about a particular result, typically to someone’s detriment.” (In the second of his two essays, nearly identical to the original, he expands on the paragraph cited above with a modifier “working to the detriment of a population,” which suggests he realizes that it is only bad secrecy that is conspiratorial.)

But he does not define what to what kind of harm or detriment he refers, assuming (I gather) that to his readers it will be obvious. The consequence of this however is that just about anything and everything – families, firms, NGOs he doesn’t like, or entire political parties for example – could be labeled a conspiracy. He is also unable to distinguish the conspiratorial elements of large political groupings like parties or states from those elements attempting to bring about a positive result.

In short there is nothing in his essay that discusses the scope conditions for targeting a particular actor: presumably the fact that they are operating secretly and to someone’s dissatisfaction is enough to prove they are both authoritarian and conspiratorial.

This means Assange can tell us what a conspiracy looks like, but unfortunately he can tell us nothing about how to know something is not a conspiracy. It’s ironic that he uses the image of nails to describe conspiracies (see below), given what we know about people with hammers. Assange’s reasoning leaves anything dangerously open to justification, since anyone he doesn’t like can be a conspirator, and the aim is apparently to exterminate all conspirators:

If all conspirators are assassinated or all the links between them are destroyed, then a conspiracy no longer exists.

This is a far cry from the clearly-articulated ethical vision Bady claims. Rather it smacks of the same sort of circular, paranoid double-speak usedby the Bush administration in the war on terror.

3) Assange’s Supposedly Brilliant “Theory” of Conspiracies is Simply a Rudimentary Theory of Networks, in Which Any Network Counts As A Conspiracy. Fascinatingly enough, Assange draws on counter-terror language and models in developing his theory against the state:

“We extend this understanding of terrorist organizations and turn it on the likes of its paymasters, transforming it into a knife to dissect the conspiracies used to maintain authoritarian power structures.” [Read: all power structures]

Now, if you’ve have a basic course in social network analysis, you will recognize his model of “connected graphs” – which he articulates using a metaphor of nails in a board connected by string – as nothing more than a description of any network – a set of links among nodes.

“[Connected graphs] are easy to visualize. First take some nails (‘conspirators’) and hammer them into a board at random. Then take twine (‘communication’) and loop it from nail to nail without breaking. Call the twine connecting two nails a link… Information flows from conspirator to conspirator.”

Sure. And this logic also describes any group of individuals who shares any information at all. In other words, just as authoritarianism is described synonymously with all power relations  in these essays, “conspiracy” is described synonymously with all social relations.

This notion that opaque connectedness is by definition conspiratorial is dangerous. It could be applied to members of Human Rights Watch as easily as to the State Department. It could be applied to professors who wanted to preserve freedom of discretion among their “friends” on Facebook and limit their connections to students. It could apply to families, who keep most of their dirty laundry private.*

It would certainly apply to Wikileaks itself, an organization that does not disclose its sources nor its methods nor its method nor its location nor its financial records – though this may soon change.

If Wikileaks as an organization meets Assange’s own criteria for being an authoritarian conspiracy, does that mean this is the best terminology with which to understand the organization? Not necessarily, because we don’t have to accept Assange’s description of those terms.

But I’ll tell you what does give me pause in reading these essays (aside from his terrible spelling and grammar): Assange’s blindingly circular thinking, his readiness to engage in guilt by association and demonize all civil servants as members of a conspiracy, his unwillingness to define his terms in a manner that would allow him to refute his own argument, and his radically transformative political views – he wishes to completely overturn the existing system, not simply reform it.

These – along with a righteous belief in his own power to change the world – are traits he shares, incidentally, with many of the worst dictators of the 20th century as well as a number of cult leaders.

Now does this mean everything he’s doing is wrong? Not at all, as I’ve previously said. But what is missing from Assange’s essays, from the Wikileaks mission statement, and from his public statements is a clear set of ethical guidelines to answer the question the Bady claims is the most important:

The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about.

Whereas Bady gives Assange high marks for doing precisely that, I see no evidence in his essays of such thinking. (Baird makes a similar point.) I see a dangerously generalizable yet flawed causal argument based on network structure, but no ethical judgments about consequences even if the causal argument were fully accurate.

I cannot do better in articulating this point than a fellow named Matt in a comment on the 3QD post:

What if, by trying to disrupt a system that unquestionably produces a certain amount of badness, I actually strengthen the resolve of the bad actors? Or allow a still worse system to flourish in the chaos caused by destruction of the first one?

What if I knew for a fact I wasn’t in possession of all the facts I needed to make that kind of analysis in the first place?

This is why a few volunteer, self-appointed regents-in-exile are not better than the devils we know, no matter how sophisticated their philosophical underpinnings. Accepting at face value this pretty charitable analysis of Assange’s motives, he’s as unaccountable and opaque as any of the “conspiracies” he’s tilting at.

Why should I trust him just because he’s convinced he’s figured out a winning plan? The absolute lack of any evidence of doubt or humility is terrifying in and of itself.

I will continue to call for consideration of these broader ethical questions.

*Would the world be safer without such opacity? If families, for example, had a panopticon observing and documenting their behavior, they might scream at each other less, commit adultery less frequently, and battery and incest might all but disappear. Would this be a better world? Maybe. A less authoritarian world? It’s not – at all – clear to me that that follows.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

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  1. ajay says:

    I guess my husband and are conspiring as “successful authoritarian powers” when we meet privately to discuss our differences on parenting strategies, because we know that airing those differences in the open will encourage resistance.

    I note without comment that when searching for a parallel for “the relationship between a people and its government” the first simile that comes to the author’s mind is “the relationship between small children and their parents”.

    These – along with a righteous belief in his own power to change the world – are traits he shares, incidentally, with many of the worst dictators of the 20th century as well as a number of cult leaders.

    In other words: You know who else believed in guilt by association? Hitler!!!

    There’s a lot else wrong with this post, but that’ll do for a start.

    • I note without comment that when searching for a parallel for “the relationship between a people and its government” the first simile that comes to the author’s mind is “the relationship between small children and their parents”.

      Your ‘note’ implies that I use this analogy to argue that the government is a parent and we are children. But the analogy I’m drawing is simply that there is a power relationship here, and to illustrate that in the way Assange is describing “authoritarian conspiracy” it could describe any power relationship. The problem with his theory is he gives us no basis for distinguishing just power from corrupt power, which has to be a basis for ethical reasoning.

      These – along with a righteous belief in his own power to change the world – are traits he shares, incidentally, with many of the worst dictators of the 20th century as well as a number of cult leaders.

      I did not say he was Hitler (or Jim Jones). I am calling attention to the parallels between his circular, demonizing rhetoric and the kinds of thinking that are behind abuses he is presumably trying to stop.

      • ajay says:

        But the analogy I’m drawing is simply that there is a power relationship here, and to illustrate that in the way Assange is describing “authoritarian conspiracy” it could describe any power relationship.

        It could describe any antagonistic and non-consenting power relationship. You’re using words like “resistance” to describe the disagreement between ruler and ruled, and you’re implying that it’s in the interest of every government to display a united front – even if this is a false front – in order to discourage “resistance” to its orders from the population it rules.

        Now, the whole “age of responsibility” concept means that it’s acceptable to us, as a society, that children should be in this sort of relationship with their parents – they’re not considered mentally capable of handling their own affairs.

        But it’s a big leap from that to the conclusion that the government/governed relationship should work the same way. Why is it bad, for example, that I, a citizen, should know about the discussions on policy going on within my government? Why is it bad that I should learn things – secret, true things – that might make me cease to support my government?

        It’s true that this sort of secrecy should apply in the area of government-to-government negotiations – just as a matter of good negotiating practice. But the citizen/government relationship is fundamentally different from the state/state relationship.

    • Mac says:

      It’s true that this sort of secrecy should apply in the area of government-to-government negotiations – just as a matter of good negotiating practice. But the citizen/government relationship is fundamentally different from the state/state relationship
      Repair Mac
      How to Repair Mac

  2. ajay says:

    If Assange truly fit the “third-order” mold when he wrote those essays, his thinking today seems to draw on all three discourses to fit his audience and the moment.

    The accusation of inconsistency only applies here if you think that it’s inconsistent to believe in all three orders of benefit at once: that it is illogical to think both that “information should be free” and that “leaks will lead to pressure for change” and that “leaks will lead to the undermining of the belief that immoral behaviour can reliably be kept secret”. I see no reason why all three beliefs can’t be held at once.

    Similarly, you could support, say, US efforts to vaccinate kids in Nigeria because a) it would be morally good (first order) and b) it would improve the image of the US in Africa and help public diplomacy (second order) and c) it would stimulate rival powers such as China to invest more in African aid as well in order to keep up (third order) – without being inconsistent at all.

    This notion that opaque connectedness is by definition conspiratorial is dangerous. It could be applied to members of Human Rights Watch as easily as to the State Department.

    What’s the very important concept here that’s been completely ignored? Power imbalances.

    • Emma in Sydney says:

      That’s the tell, ajay, sure enough. Were you not aware of the invasions, bombing, torture, spying and suborning of sovereign nations’ justice systems that has been perpetrated by Human Rights Watch? Shame on you!

      • ajay says:

        he is using the nuclear threat of releasing his entire archive (presumably irrespective of any harm minimization tactics the organization would otherwise claim to employ)… I have a hard time agreeing with Bady’s claim that Assange always emphasizes ethics.

        Ooh, I like the “presumably”.

        If he is using the threat of releasing his entire archive (presumably written on parchment made from the hides of innocent kittens and puppies, using ink prepared from the blood of kidnapped cheerleaders) then I think it’s pretty clear that Assange is actually HISTORY’S GREATEST MONSTER.

        • Emma in Sydney says:

          Wasn’t it only days ago that Ms Carpenter was saying that there was nothing new here, nothing to see, move along. Now suddenly it’s ‘nuclear’. Remarkable.

          It slays me to think of the wickedness of Wikileaks’ lack of ‘harm minimisation tactics’ and ‘ethics’ when Assange’s adversary is the United States Government. What’s the death toll in Iraq now? 600,000?

          Has anyone grepped the Wikileaks site for ‘Carpenter, Charli’?

          • Wasn’t it only days ago that Ms Carpenter was saying that there was nothing new here, nothing to see, move along. Now suddenly it’s ‘nuclear’.

            Emma, I don’t understand the relationship you’re drawing between these two comments. One had to do with specific news stories drawsing on a specific set of documents. The other has to do with a process and rationale by which Assange has threatened to release a great many different documents, about which we know little.

    • Ajay, I want to thank you for this thoughtful comment and promise to get back to it in a few hours. You raise a very good question about whether these three “orders” are really inconsistent.

      Let me say quickly before I must run for a few that it is precisely the absence of theoretical attention in his essay to differences between “conspiracies” like HRW and “conspiracies” like the State Department – in terms of power imbalances, normative ends, means, outcomes, etc – that I find problematic. By focusing only on how groups are organized and how to disrupt that organization Assange has, it seems to me, evacuated a vital ethical component from his reasoning.

      More soon. I wonder if you’ve read his essays and if you interpret them differently and would be interested to hear.

      • ajay says:

        Thanks – here’s another interesting point:
        it’s difficult to imagine that a document dump of this type, if responsibly filtered in the same way that Wikileaks has filtered previous releases, would cause HRW any problems at all. If it released donor bank details or source names, then it obviously would be a problem. But Wikileaks hasn’t done that with previous document dumps – no sources were blown by the Afghan document dump, for example.

        What else could Wikileaks reveal, from a massive dump of (say) HRW’s email archive, that would seriously harm HRW? My guess: nothing. Maybe some steamy personal emails between HRW staff or something, but that’s it. Nothing that would really undermine HRW’s mission.

        That’s because HRW, like the UEA climate research unit (previously the subject of a Wikileak email dump, remember, which had similarly null results), is basically an open and transparent organisation anyway. What it really does is pretty much exactly the same as what it tells everybody it does.

        The State Department isn’t. Its stock in trade is deceit and obscurity. That’s the key difference; that’s why HRW doesn’t feel the need to have vast amounts of effort devoted to keeping its internal documents secret, any more than the University of East Anglia does.

        • OK Ajay – this comment will respond to a number of different themes of yours above:


          What else could Wikileaks reveal, from a massive dump of (say) HRW’s email archive, that would seriously harm HRW? My guess: nothing. Maybe some steamy personal emails between HRW staff or something, but that’s it. Nothing that would really undermine HRW’s mission.

          Without giving specific answers, I would argue that you underestimate the extent to which confidentiality (of informants, of data and of internal correspondence) is crucial to HRW’s mission. The organization not only works hard to protect its sources whose lives may be at risk, but also has an organizational interest in timing the release of its reports to suit the political climate, its leverage with governments, and its market share in the human rights sector. Undermining its ability to do these things would arguably affect this or any other NGO’s mission – but this doesn’t mean it’s a authoritarian conspiracy.

          It could describe any antagonistic and non-consenting power relationship.

          Many young adults have such relationships with their parents or guardians.

          Now, the whole “age of responsibility” concept means that it’s acceptable to us, as a society, that children should be in this sort of relationship with their parents – they’re not considered mentally capable of handling their own affairs.

          I reject this claim. People in society actually differ on this view. As a child rights activist I actually find it quite demeaning and arbitrary, particularly as applied to young people above about the age of 8-10. It is true that our legal system enshrined this view, and that many members of society yourself included share it, but that doesn’t invalidate my claim to the contrary.

          Also, one last thing on power imbalances. Power is a relative concept; it’s all who you’re comparing it to. HRW may seem powerless compared to the State Department, but compared to other organizations in the human rights network or to human rights victims HRW is extremely powerful. So the appropriate question is what kind of power imbalance is relevant and how to an analysis of whether a certain groups of individuals constitutes a conspiracy best addressed through leaks? Assange offers no clarity on these fundamental questions.

          It’s true that this sort of secrecy should apply in the area of government-to-government negotiations – just as a matter of good negotiating practice. But the citizen/government relationship is fundamentally different from the state/state relationship.

          If you concede the former, it’s hard for me to understand your argument for the latter. I see the distinction you are making, but surely you realize that in today’s global information economy, what is available to citizens about their government is also available to other states. So certainly there are cases in which the best interests of the citizens are not for them per se to be kept in the dark, but for everyone to be kept in the dark, about certain things, for a certain amount of time. All I’m saying is Assange doesn’t seem to draw these very important distinctions.

          • DocAmazing says:

            I reject this claim. People in society actually differ on this view. As a child rights activist I actually find it quite demeaning and arbitrary, particularly as applied to young people above about the age of 8-10. It is true that our legal system enshrined this view, and that many members of society yourself included share it, but that doesn’t invalidate my claim to the contrary.

            Yeah, but your claim to the contrary is irrelevant under the law. I, as a pediatrician, cannot treat (or even interact meaningfully with) kids under 18 without their parents’ consent (except in very narrow circumstances), regardless of the wishes of the child. When you cast the state in the role of the parent, that leaves the citizens at a very profound disadvantage in terms of power. It’s good that you advocate for the rights of children, but the law is the law, and we’re stuck with it.

          • ajay says:

            I would argue that you underestimate the extent to which confidentiality (of informants, of data and of internal correspondence) is crucial to HRW’s mission.

            If you are not even going to read my comments before replying to them, it is very difficult for me to believe that you are arguing in good faith. This sort of sloppiness – and I’m being as charitable as possible by describing it as mere sloppiness – has blighted your commentary on Wikileaks before. I regret wasting my time on this.

  3. Spiffy McBang says:

    I read his definition of conspiracy as being purposely loose, thus the wording: “This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial.” If you questioned him as to whether or not almost anything could be considered a conspiracy under his terms, it would not be at all surprising if he said yes. I’m sure he would then point out that WikiLeaks only targets conspiracies with the ability to do grave harm. You can argue that the leaked cables are not specifically indicative of such a conspiracy, but certainly the U.S. government is capable of doing grave harm to just about anyone.

    Also, regardless of anyone’s opinion on Assange’s ethics, I don’t believe his threat to release troves of data should serve as a shadow on those ethics. He’s had death threats from major American political figures and a widespread attack against his organization’s support structures (the pressure that led to Paypal, Amazon, etc. cutting ties with WikiLeaks). Unreleased leaks are a possible trump card that he would be silly not to play if they might help ward off threats to his freedom or survival. (If it turns out he did commit rape and has the documents released in retaliation for a proper conviction, then he’s a rat bastard of the highest order.)

    I realize Assange has not shied from the spotlight, but it still surprises me to see so much attention paid to his inner workings. WikiLeaks exists because of him, but the role it’s currently playing in America only exists because of massive journalistic failures over the last decade. If anything, the focus on Assange should have made it clear that the “problem” has a much longer shelf life than its creator. He’s not irrelevant, but his relative importance is like the President’s- currently high, eventually nil, representing something that may long outlive him (if not WikiLeaks, then at least the concept of widespread, internet-based spills of secrets).

    • Emma in Sydney says:

      He may have put himself in the spotlight entirely as a self-protective measure. Had he stayed an anonymous person, do you honestly think we’d all be debating what might happen to him now? No. He’d have disappeared, like many others, Australians, Americans and all, who have been silenced under terrorist laws. And who would even have known? Given what he knew would be the result of Wikileaks disclosures, I don’t see what other option he had, for survival.

    • JJ says:

      If anything, the focus on Assange should have made it clear that the “problem” has a much longer shelf life than its creator. He’s not irrelevant, but his relative importance is like the President’s- currently high, eventually nil, representing something that may long outlive him (if not WikiLeaks, then at least the concept of widespread, internet-based spills of secrets).

      I know several of his former colleagues have already branched off to do something similar.

  4. Spiffy McBang says:

    By the way, now that I’ve seen your post where you point out he’s not being charged with rape, I’ll alter my point to “if he’s convicted of whatever charge has been brought against him, which isn’t rape, although the description of what happened is certainly something that could count as rape as Beyerstein points out in her article, and has the documents released etc.”

  5. ajay says:

    what we know from studying genuinely authoritarian states is that they can think quite easily and behave quite murderously without a paper trail of any sort. This is in fact what makes it so difficult to prosecute the crime of genocide.

    The link here does not support the argument – which is on its face ridiculous anyway; are we supposed to believe that Nazi Germany and the Stalinist USSR were paperless bureaucracies? Has Carpenter ever been to Russia?

    The link describes difficulties in prosecuting Sudanese genocide because of disputes over definitions, not because of a lack of paperwork. It also describes problems in prosecuting Yugoslavian genocide because “ICJ judges did not read and did not seek to investigate a huge range of materials from Belgrade that were used as evidence by the UN-sanctioned Yugoslavia Tribunal”. In other words, the documentary evidence was there; ICJ just apparently didn’t use it.

    There’s also the massive (and ignored) point that just because the Sudanese government hasn’t handed over the documents doesn’t mean the documents don’t exist.

    Wars, and warlike operations such as slaughter, are massively complex tasks and you just can’t carry them out to any degree of effectiveness without paperwork.`

    • Emma in Sydney says:

      And in any case it’s irrelevant even if it were true. Wikileaks is about revealing what can be revealed. Now. How is the paperless genocide of the future diverted by failing to reveal the orders for the last one? That just means that neither genocide is revealed. How is this better?

      Assange is genuinely trying to change the world. He is not in control of where that change will lead, true, but at least he is not actively trying to preserve and prettify the status quo, where governments lie, invade, murder and impoverish without hindrance.

      • ajay says:

        Quite. There’s a pretty easy thought experiment here: the CIA (to pick one at random) has been repeatedly harmed by leaks of its secret documents, both to the public and, more seriously, to foreign governments. If it were feasible for it to switch to document-free operations, it would have done so. The fact is that it’s simply impossible to run a large complex organisation of any kind efficiently without records. At the very least, if these authoritarian conspiracies are forced to go offline, they will be considerably less effective. Good grief, imagine trying to run the Bay of Pigs invasion without writing anything down.

      • Emma, my only point is that the logic of Assange’s ‘model’ is that in the future government will be less transparent but still able to commit abuses, whereas his claim is that by making it less able to communicate on paper you will reduce abuses potentially to zero.

        • ajay says:

          his claim is that by making it less able to communicate on paper you will reduce abuses potentially to zero.

          Well, inasmuch as governments are concerned about covering up their misdeeds, I think this is fair enough. It’s conceptually difficult to imagine any sort of serious government abuse that wouldn’t leave some sort of paper trail. Of course, if a government doesn’t give a damn who knows, then there’s not much Wikileaks can do. But history implies that governments, even the most evil, tend to like their abuses to remain secret.

          And I think it’s also fair to argue that making it impossible to put anything in writing about abuses will cut down abuses so much that the remaining number of undocumented and obscure abuses (if any) will be, if you like, a small price to pay.

  6. Graham Crumb says:

    I think you might be misrepresenting Assange’s understanding of conspiracies. The issue is not that all human networks are conspiracies, but that all conspiracies are human networks.

    The problem with secrecy is fundamentally one of balance. Any interaction between groups involves withholding information. This only become a problem when scarcity of information becomes the stock in trade of small groups within larger organisations who abuse their limited monopoly to act with impunity, often in pursuit of goals divergent from their organisation’s mission.

    Much of the apparent confusion in American foreign policy becomes clearer when filtered through this lens.

    I wrote a brief summary here.

    • Any interaction between groups involves withholding information. This only become a problem when scarcity of information becomes the stock in trade of small groups within larger organisations who abuse their limited monopoly to act with impunity, often in pursuit of goals divergent from their organisation’s mission.

      Ah, nicely put. I can agree with this. And so one way to enrich Assange’s understanding of ‘conspiracy’ would be to consider the behavior of a small number of ‘conspirators’ against the wider goals of the organization in which they are embedded. This not only enables you to distinguish the corrupt individuals from the wider organization and its mostly well-meaning civil servants, but also implies at least one metric for defining “harm.”

      I buy this. It’s not what Assange argues in his essays. He seems to treat entire organizations (“the state” or “the Democratic party”) as inherently conspiratorial and detrimental.

      The implication of what you’re saying for social change is that we need a theory of how leaks could be used to target only those networks of bad governance within an organization, without undermining the wider organization or its goals. Ideas on this?

      • Graham Crumb says:

        I don’t know if Assange has explicitly stated that all human organisations ultimately contain conspiracies (a valid but practically useless statement). It is easily inferred from his writing, though.

        What’s to be done? Take a look at some of the turmoil in the world of software in the decades since Richard Stallmann created the Free Software Foundation. The sudden and, yes, occasionally illegal opening of software code was met by significant resistance. Dirty tricks campaigns were conducted. Free Software was called ‘a cancer’ by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. International standards processes were subverted and in one case, simply bought out wholesale. Governments were convinced to use their influence to drive businesses into the arms of its proprietary friends. But FOSS continues to win simply because the technological landscape favours it. It’s infinitely easier to copy something than to hide it.

        In short, although the stakes are wildly different, the pattern is much the same. Those who treat information as an economy of scarcity will go to inordinate lengths to stop the flow of information. But they will not -cannot- succeed, except in very limited domains.

        So no, I’m not arguing for ‘targeted’ leaking. I’m not really arguing for anything at all, except that people should recognise that, as author William Gibson recently said, we have become defined by our technology. We are no longer led by our morality or philosophy; we are led by technology and we adapt ourselves to it as we go.

        Cliques who thrive on secrecy are largely doomed, no matter what we do. The only thing special about wikileaks is the only thing special about Facebook: They were the first ones to get a handle on the process.

        • sophist75 says:

          I don’t think a “conspiracy” should be defined purely in terms of information. Even Assange quickly encounters the limitations of this approach, as he goes on to distinguish between significant and less significant information (the “thick” and “thin” wires connecting the nodes of the network). And as you point out, by itself the restriction of information doesn’t explain why conspiracies are a problem.

          I think the basic assumption here is that conspiracies lead to injustice. I take it this is what Graham is getting at, but injustice as the unequal distribution of information is only one dimension of the problem. The other, crucial dimension which often gets overlooked in the debate is that the means for redressing social injustices, a means which must above all reside in open (non-coercive) forums for reaching consensus (elections, academia, the media, the law), can also be usurped by conspiratorial forces.

          Let me put my point this way. Modern societies must rely on social systems in which the actors engage in strategic (quasi-conspiratorial) behavior – I’m thinking in particular of the political, economic, and state security systems. These systems interlock, of course. Now strategic action per se – making a profit, winning an election – need not entail a conspiracy. But the advantage of forming an effective conspiracy is massive for strategic actors, because it gives them an unfair advantage relative to the other actors in the system. What’s bad from the point of view of society is that it forces all the other actors in the system to either engage in similar conspiratorial behavior or else go out of business. This inevitably leads to pathological behavior on the part of the system as a whole, in the sense that it no longer functions to the benefit of society (e.g. resulting in inefficient markets rather than efficient, political corruption rather than representation, war rather than peace).

          Assange argues that in this situation, leaking information should hit those actors engaged in conspiracies a lot harder than non-conspirators. And indeed exposing conspiracies is essential to restoring the proper functioning of a system. But this won’t happen just because one conspiracy is rendered ineffective by the release of information. The result might just be that some other conspiracy becomes more powerful and so the system’s dysfunction persists. What has to happen is that a consensus be reached by non-strategic actors about how to re-regulate the failing system, thus diminishing (at least temporarily) the pathological effects of all conspiracies within the system. I fear the blindspot of Assange’s philosophy is a situation in which the conspiracies reach into and “colonise” (Habermas’ term) the very consensus forming mechanisms needed to regulate social systems. In that case, and I think that’s the situation we find ourselves in today, there’s no guarantee that leaks will have an globally positive effect, as opposed to the local weakening of one conspiracy to the advantage of another.

  7. witless chum says:

    But I’ll tell you what does give me pause in reading these essays (aside from his terrible spelling and grammar): Assange’s blindingly circular thinking, his readiness to engage in guilt by association and demonize all civil servants as members of a conspiracy, his unwillingness to define his terms in a manner that would allow him to refute his own argument, and his radically transformative political views – he wishes to completely overturn the existing system, not simply reform it.

    This seems like kind of a stupid vision, but I wonder if you have to be a little stupid to change the world. If you were smart, you’d know you had no chance of success.

  8. Ms. Carpenter,

    Before committing too strenuously to a critique of Bady’s thinking about Assange/wikileaks, you might want to read his follow-up posts, in particular his critique of Scott Griffin’s attack on wikileaks which directly addresses some of the diplomatic secrecy/harm arguments.

  9. John F says:

    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.

    It’s pretty clear that the exact opposite is true- in fact the opposite is so clear;y true I have hard time believing that anyone can believe the above in good faith- the relatively more open/just systems are and are going to be disproportionately affected, not the “unjust” authoritarian systems

    • ajay says:

      See my comment above re: HRW, John F. An open and just system has fewer secrets anyway (because it’s open) and far fewer embarrassing secrets (because it’s just, and is therefore doing what it says it’s doing).

  10. DocAmazing says:

    Assange seems not to understand or even acknowledge the difference between authoritarian governments and democratic governments

    When regulatory capture has advanced to the point that government is routinely carrying water for financiers, petrochemical corporations and other profit-making entities, without regard to the will or the well-being of the public; when numerous actions are undertaken by appointed individuals and bodies that have little or no input from the democratic process (the Federal Reserve, the intelligence community), and when already-exposed conspiracies and crimes committed by the well-connected go without punishment (authorization of torture, crashing investment banks), then what separates authoritarian governments from democratic ones gets pretty thin. It becomes a distinction without a difference.

    • Daniel Nexon says:

      Even with everything you’ve described, do you really believe that there is a “distinction without a difference” between the political regimes of, on the one hand,the US, UK, Sweden, South Korea, Germany, and Spain and, on the other, Iran, China, Uzbekistan, North Korea, and Burma?

      • ajay says:

        Do you really believe that there’s so close a similarity between the governments of Iran, China, Uzbekistan, North Korea, and Burma that they can all be put in the same category?

        If there’s a spectrum of authoritarianism from, let’s say, the Fictional Completely Liberal Democratic Republic of Narnia at one end to Oceania-under-Ingsoc at the other, I would argue that the distance along that line from the US to Iran is significantly smaller than the distance from Iran to Burma, let alone Iran to North Korea.

        • genjirama says:

          Let me guess: you’re a straight male.

        • djw says:

          this argument seems pointless without significant further elaboration of criteria. A point on a line is a quantitative value, and to figure out a score we’d need to agree on what the relevant components are, how they should be measured, how they should be weighted, and so on. Along the way, we’d invariably make numerous controversial value judgements about what to include and not include in your calculation.

          For the record, Freedom house does all this, and their results don’t agree with ajay’s assessment. Here’s their scores, in political rights/civil liberties:

          US 38/56
          Iran 7/13
          Burma -3/5
          NK 0/1

          I’ve peaked under the hood of freedom house’s scoring system and I suspect a pretty solid case can be made that they’re scoring system isn’t sufficiently reflective of some of the kind of anti-democratic politics found in advanced democratic societies. I’m skeptical revisions to account for this would bring the scores into alignment with ajay’s claim, though.

          (I do agree pretty strongly with ajay that for the vast majority of analytic purposes ‘democracy’ and ‘authoritarian’ should be understood as scalar, not sortal concepts.)

          • Emma in Sydney says:

            At this moment, sitting in a British jail, with American leaders calling for his assassination, with his enterprise shut down by the US state department telling financial institutions and web hosting companies not to deal with it, with his own government talking about withdrawing his citizenship, and with respectable liberal academics and journalists baying for his blood, perhaps the difference between autocracies and democracies isn’t looking like such a bright line for Julian Assange?

            I have to say recent events have muddied it up a bit for me.

          • hv says:

            djw, measurements turn me on, too!

            It helps all of us avoid premature hand-waving tainted by confirmation bias.

            Just curious, have you noticed a distinct lack of measuring things from any of your fellow bloggers? Hint: she considers herself a pedagogical model for her students.

            • djw says:

              In this post, Charli is primarily engaged in a critical reading of an essay by Assange, arguing that the in the essay Assange fails to specify certain key concepts clearly, fails to think through the full range of implications of his argument, and engages in tautological reasoning.

              One of the larger ongoing arguments of Charli’s posts on this subject in this post and others regards the likely consequences of the kind of leaks we’re seeing.

              The latter isn’t a good candidate for measurement of this sort, because it’s a speculative argument about what’s likely to happen, not what has happened. The former–critical reading of a manifesto–isn’t the type of thing that can be quantified at all; it’s a different kind of activity.

              What sort of measureable, quantifiable data do you think Charli is overlooking?

              (Don’t presume I’m defending Charli’s position here; my own views on wikileaks/assange are still in the process of being formed. I get the most out if these comment threads when Charli’s critics are precise, pointed and specific, rather than overbroad, hand-waving, moralistic, and dismissive; that’s why I’m pushing you on this.)

              • hv says:

                djw, thank you for your reply! I will attempt to presume very little, and all pushing is welcome. Also, please allow me to warn you that I am probably an “anarcho-libertarian utopian” of some variety.

                =====

                First of all, you ask me what data I think Ms. Carpenter is overlooking, and this makes me fear you misunderstand my criticism. I think there is data she is missing; I am not asserting if the data exists, I only know if I would like to see it before assessing some of her claims. I assume we can move beyond this and explore which of Ms. Carpenter’s claims in this item are measurable? I would propose we begin discussion with:

                1) Assange Discounts the Importance of Secrecy For Good Governors, and Overstates the Impact of Leaks on Bad Governors.

                (Please note that the emphasis is in the original, this is one of Ms. Carpenter’s principal headings and I am not resorting to any underhanded rhetorical techniques in choosing this claim.)

                (Quick salvo: is Ms. Carpenter’s use of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ here Assange’s voice or did we switch to hers?)

                I argue that this is a measurable claim to a degree not appreciated by Ms. Carpenter. How far is Mr. Assange’s vision off? Are there actual numbers? How much does good governance suffer without secrecy? Even if we can’t have exact numbers, surely political scientists have some idea of which sub-areas of governance would suffer. (Then we could compare that to Assange’s vision to assess his ethics.) How would distribution of unemployment benefits possibly be harmed? And on the other side of the equation, how much worse can bad governors be? Historically, what kind of movement can we expect from “bad governors”? (I bet Freedom House has some idea!)

                My intuition, admittedly tainted by a bias in favor of openness, is that if we had a table detailing what governance activities are harmed and what are not harmed… that in liberal democracies, most of the policies I like would not be endangered; and lots of things like Iran/Contra, Bay of Pigs, and propping up Pinochet would be in trouble at least a little tiny bit. And I take the specter of the federal government going documentation-less to be as convincing as conservative pundits going Galt.

                Whether you prefer Ms. Carpenter’s intuition or mine, I feel confident many reasonable academics might agree that this can be measured to a degree that certainly would impact Ms. Carpenter’s thesis. We can know more about how good governance is affected and we can know more about the risks of inflaming bad governors. We could weigh these costs against potential benefits.

                Most especially, we can certainly examine some of the textbook institutional barriers to avoiding a document trail on a massive enough scale for Assange’s enterprise to have a reverse effect on liberal democracies.

                For rigorous academic effort, Ms. Carpenter should of course extend her speculation to the counter-measures that any rational society might employ when encountering the dilemmas that Ms. Carpenter fears. Her counter-factual is that the entire society sits around glumly accepting how terrible life is?! Instead of passing laws against destroying documentation? (Or whatever.) Let’s at least discuss the top 3 textbook responses.

                Please let me know if this satisfies your request for specifics. I fear I am at risk of belaboring things.

            • Thank you for your carefully-thought-out response to DJW. I agree with your framework for evaluating the likely costs and benefits of these forms of action, and I also agree with you that I’ve not done that analysis myself effectively enough in the blog post to which this thread is attached.
              Nor would I have: that’s another post in itself, one in development. What I’ve done here is criticize Assange for also clearly not doing that prior to actually engaging in direct action against the sovereign states system . In fact, my critique of Assange goes far beyond your critique of me (failing to measure costs/benefits empirically): my critique of Assange is failure to adequately consider those costs/benefits at all. Assange is looking at the costs of the current system (which are measurable) against the benefit he imagines in changing that system (which are hypothetical and, I argue, poorly reasoned) while ignoring the benefits of the current system (which are also measurable) and the costs of changing that system, one of which might be to forgo many of the current system’s benefits (though again that’s hypothetical).

              Your comment is inspiring me to complete a post I’ve been marinating on how we might evaluate those costs/benefits empirically given the hypothetical nature of the counter-factual world toward which he’s steering us. I can provide a good, empirically informed answer to the costs v. benefits of the current system that he’s trying to undermine, and my concerns about his agenda mostly have to do with the loss of the benefits of that system. I’m not sure if you will be satisfied with any effort I make to guess about the costs v. benefits of his imagined system, since after all it’s a counter-factual, but I appreciate the challenge and will give it a shot when I’ve had time to think it through.

              All of that’s beyond the scope of this post, however. My argument is that the responsibility is Assange’s to have delineated these ethical tradeoffs before he acted, and I’m disappointed to see the shallowness of thinking on these points.

  11. zunguzungu says:

    Thanks for the kind words!

    Three quick points:

    1. I intended to use the word “emphasize” simply in the sense that it’s a word he uses a lot; whether or not wikileaks actually behaves in an ethical matter is up to those who feel like moralizing to decide. I’m more interested in just starting from the fact that *he* thinks he’s an ethical person, values those ethics highly, and then moving on to figure out what they consist of.

    2. The idea that one could “encourage the state to avoid leaving a digital paper-trail” without fundamentally altering how that state functioned seems wrong to me; the point of his analogy to the Democratic and Republican parties was simply that if you have two more or less similar organizations and one of them suddenly loses much its ability to communicate internally (because leaks causes it to clamp down on its paper trail), the other organization will tend to win out. And I agree. His point is not that you *destroy* the state by degrading its communication, but that by making the conspiratorial aspect of it function less well (which is the part that leaks will disproportionately hinder), you thereby enable competing elements within the state and civil society to exert themselves.

    3. Comparing the American military-security complex to the janjaweed in Sudan seems misleading to me. Napoleon’s army may have run on its stomach, but a modern state’s army runs on paperwork. To the extent that the janjaweed don’t, it has more to do with the ways they’re very different than our military apparatus; the Sudanese state is, in fact, extremely *weak,* which is why it has to use indiscriminate militia violence against disaffected regions like Darfur to keep them from breaking away. The whole point of the janjaweed is that they *aren’t* direct arms of the state; they might be loosely “authorized” by the Sudanese state, but they’re basically just vigilantes roaming around randomly (which is to say, the state doesn’t *want* direct “authority” over them in the way our central commanders do). Most authoritarian conspiracies — and certainly the type Assange is thinking about — are not nearly so disassociated from each other as the janjaweed are; he presumes the opposite, in fact (which may be a different flaw in his argument: his theory works not at all well on conspiracies that don’t function like a modern state).

    So if we put that one aside, what genuinely authoritarian states run without paperwork? I’d like to know examples.

    • Aaron, thanks for the comment and questions! I am really enjoying digesting your essays on this topic. Quick and insufficient reply now; more later:

      I’m more interested in just starting from the fact that *he* thinks he’s an ethical person, values those ethics highly, and then moving on to figure out what they consist of.

      Fair enough. But my critique of Assange’s essay is that he doesn’t actually tell us what his ethics consist of – only what his causal logic is. Besides some vague commitment to “justice” and against “authoritarianism” (values that the US government would also espouse) it’s hard to identify questions about right or wrong in his thinking at least in these essays.

      I like how your more recent posts are pulling together his public statements into some kind of coherent narrative to try to fill these gaps: he key question is how he handles ethical concerns about the conditions under which he would go how far and why. And my point about the essays is that they seem more about the how. Not that that also isn’t terribly interesting and insightful.

      • Aaron,

        On your other question – I think you’re asking it wrong, if you want me to develop the point I’m making. I’m not saying ‘genuinely authoritarian’ states don’t run on paperwork. Most currently do – but then so do all modern states. What I’m saying is if you disincentivize documentation, particularly of abuse, regimes that want to commit abuse will find a way to commit that abuse outside of their normal bureaucratic process.

        You’re largely right about the janjaweed, but that proves my point exactly. It is precisely to create plausible deniability for genocide and crimes against humanity that Khartoum (which I would characterize as authoritarian, though not totalitarian) has outsourced these atrocities to the janjaweed. And it has worked, which is one reason why the crime of genocide has been such a hard sell to the UN and the ICC – Bashir is not like Hitler, carefully documenting and even advertising his intent.

        Instead of “name a modern authoritarian state that does not run on paperwork” I think the right question is “name an abusive regime that was not a modern authoritarian state running on paperwork.” (For that, simply read Chalk and Johnnasen’s History and Sociology of Genocide or Rummel’s Death by Government). Because what I’m saying in that paragraph is not that Assange is necessarily wrong about his methods destroying the authoritarian state (though I do think that’s naïve) but that even if this were true, it wouldn’t necessarily spell an end to the kinds of corruption and abuses he wants to stop.

        I have more on this in the equivalent comment thread at Duck of Minerva, where we’re also great fans of your essays. Keep it up!

  12. Bart says:

    Charli: “If he has a consistent position, I’m not sure even Assange knows what it is.”

    I’m OK with that, since few know the extent to which our corporate-govenment complex has screwed us all.

  13. scott says:

    Really disheartened that so-called liberal bloggers spend a disproportionate amount of time defending the right of governments to hide information from the governed and anyone else affected by their actions.

  14. Aaron says:

    Disregarding the wider ideological debate, I don’t think this post goes very far in criticizing Assange’s ideology. Really? The fact that he’s using network theory to make his point without explicitly calling it that is shady? Half of these points are taken out of context and not relevant to the overall argument (the assassinations thing, which just proves that he wants to illustrate the functioning and implications of the model he uses to describe conspiracies). Basically the only real argument is that 1. secrecy can be beneficial and 2. states can survive on non-trackable/leakable communications. And we’ve heard those points before.

    • Daniel Nexon says:

      Liberalism has always had significant strains that are uncomfortable with mass democracy. Much of what makes liberal democratic thought distinctive is precisely its insistence on checks against majoritarianism. Among my many problems with this discussion is the idea that the public would somehow check militarism, when it is often publics that demand more belligerent responses.

      • Daniel Nexon says:

        Not to mention that the overwhelming use of classification in USG cables is to protect sources. But whatever.

      • DocAmazing says:

        In the present case, we can’t really put that idea to the test, can we? After all, the current conflicts were the product of a great many lies, distortions, untruths, and propaganda. The public might well check militarism, were it informed about what was being fought over and why, and if it were involved meaningfully in the process.

  15. Brad Potts says:

    Throwing an off-topic question, has anybody read any analysis that attempts to relate the Wikileaks drama with net neutrality?

  16. Sebastian Dangerfield says:

    I once again come to a Carpenter piece on Wikileaks in the vain hope of finding some fair-minded critique, and I once again play Charlie Brown to Carpenter’s Lucy.

    To take but one glaring problem: Carpenter takes the existence of the “insurance file” as dispositive evidence that Assange has no ethics. But what she really means is that Assange’s ethics are not to her liking. That’s a very different critique, and it would assist Carpenter’s credibility immensely if she had enough intellectual honesty to admit it. Unless she simply lacks the capacity to distinguish the two; frankly I’d rather assume she’s intellectually dishonest than assume she’s too dim to perceive the difference, but I have to acknowledge the possibility, particularly given the facile analogy between the parent-child relationship and that which obtains between a government and its citizens (which ajay rightly pounced upon).

    For my part, I find Assange’s theory places way too much faith in the idea that large-scale leakage — irrespective of the fact that some of the leakage is “newsworthy” or not — will cripple the ability of evil organizations to do evil, though I do agree that evil organizations thrive on secrecy in ways that non-evil actors do not, and that imposing a “secrecy tax” does look like at least a mildly effective line of attack. But the theory is fascinating, and it explains why Wikileaks does not do a whole lot more filtering of the information it receives. (And it’s clear that Wikileaks is not insensible to the values of particular leaks; it didn’t bury the Apache attack on non-combatants in a mass document dump, and it routinely trumpets leaks that have exposed particularly serious acts of official wrongdoing (as with the material about extra-judicial killings in Kenya).

    At all events, notwithstanding my doubts concerning the hacker-ethos theory that making more evil organizations more paranoid will significantly curtail their evildoing, I nonetheless applaud the effort. Assange is trying something new. Given that the old ideal model — a robust press that has incentives to expose official wrongdoing and enjoys constitutional protection — has broken down (and never really worked that well anyway), you can’t blame folks for trying a new model, particularly since there’s been no showing of innocent bystanders’ being hurt in the process. (Please refrain from any further unsupported propagation of the “OMG he endangered out Afghan quislings”; and no, the sacking of a German government official who was in fact acting as an agent of the United States does not count as injury to an innocent bystander.)

  17. Stag Party Palin says:

    Arguing over whether Assange has a consistent, or logical, or ethical personal world view, is only of use to PhD candidates. Although interesting, it is of no more practical value than discussing Wagner’s anti-semitism. It’s merely a high-class way of clutching one’s pearls. The value is the work, not the person.

    • Emma in Sydney says:

      Absolutely, SPP. I think it is true that Assange is fairly reckless about the consequences. And they are not just American consequences. The Australian papers are reporting this morning that a minister in the Labor government here has been an American spy for years. The fact is that it is not just American democracy that is being undermined by American actions. As Assange is from a small lapdog state, as I am too, perhaps he notices that more than some of the commentators, too.

  18. Daniel Nexon says:

    That’s interesting. Can you link to one of these stories? My concern is that this might reflect a misunderstanding of the way USG cables talk about “sources,” which can make people look like spies when they’re not. In fact, I’ll go further: if the individual was a spy, that fact would not he mentioned in the cables, which are not high enough classification to disclose the identity of a genuine spy.

    • Emma in Sydney says:

      Here’s one Yank in the ranks. Here’s another using the word ‘informant’. Ugh, I’ll have to wash my hands after linking to Murdoch’s Australian. Of course it is possible that some strict definition of the word ‘spy’ is not completely fulfilled. However, telling the US embassy about the internal deliberations of Labor Cabinet meetings, which would most certainly not be revealed to the Australian public, counts in my world. Arbib is a disgusting creature for a number of reasons, but this is icing on the cake. If Wikileaks destroys his political career, I’ll be well pleased.

      (I wait for a rousing chorus of OMG he endangered our Australian quislings!)

      • Actually I think both stories confirm Nexon’s concern that this is a confusion over terminology employed in the cables. I can’t see anything in these stories or the cables quoted beyond ‘the Ambassador/Official of Some Sort/Whatever had a chat with a key Labour politicians who gave us a feel for what his party is up to and said that he’s pro-US. Seems a nice guy.’

    • Cyrus Hall says:

      Dan-

      I seems to me that the act of spying can be seen rather asymmetrically. The USG likely did not see Helmut Metzner as a spy, but rather as just another source of information. But from the German perspective, he was certainly engaged in the act of spying: regularly reporting confidential German discussions to the State Department.

      You can find some information on the case here:
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/dec/03/wikileaks-first-scalp-german-aide

  19. wengler says:

    This thing is a lot bigger than Assange. Unless someone is trying to turn Assange’s theories into the new Marxism, I don’t see the point in analyzing whether or not what he says is the gospel truth.

    Just keep the cables coming. I’m learning new things and confirming old rumors every single day.

  20. [...] of the cablegate leaks, and I question the logic of Assange’s manifesto (excellent discussion here). But if I’m forced to choose between those who want WikiLeaks to continue, and those who [...]

  21. Richard Gay says:

    Seems that the reverse panopticon regulating the proverbial family’s behavior has always been there — one’s concept of God (the infinite parent) always watching, and waiting to punish. Clearly this hasn’t worked too well in history.

  22. [...] is very interesting stuff. However, Charli Carpenter over at Lawyers, Guns and Money has a number of apt responses: But I’ll tell you what does give me pause in reading [Assange's] [...]

  23. [...] To Read More… « In Praise of WikiLeaks [...]

  24. [...] The War Diaries, at least in their redacted form are a public good, but the release of diplomatic cables is a far more mixed bag. I’m also unclear as to what end the cables were released, at least if understood separately from Assange’s former  essays. [...]

  25. [...] Murder video I’ve been thinking (and sometimes blogging) about what kind of actor it is, what kind of politics it represents, what this means for global governance. But I could never for the life of me figure out how to [...]

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