Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

How Wikileaks Works

with 63 comments

Great post from zunguzungu on Julian Assange’s actual goals for Wikileaks, which lie less in exposing already-known misdeeds than in impeding the ability of conspiratorial state and military actors to communicate reliably amongst themselves:

…while an organization structured by direct and open lines of communication will be much more vulnerable to outside penetration, the more opaque it becomes to itself (as a defense against the outside gaze), the less able it will be to “think” as a system, to communicate with itself. The more conspiratorial it becomes, in a certain sense, the less effective it will be as a conspiracy. The more closed the network is to outside intrusion, the less able it is to engage with that which is outside itself (true hacker theorizing).

[…]

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. The point of Wikileaks — as Assange argues — is simply to make Wikileaks unnecessary.

Written by gerrycanavan

November 29, 2010 at 12:22 pm

63 Responses

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  1. There’s something that sits ill with me about the Assange as hero of the left trope. Namely, I see no problem with secrets. Are we all Kantians, that we believe the requirement for universal peace is the absence of dishonesty? It’s a weird politics that focuses all its energy on revealing liars to be liars. Why should we have any faith in the idea that more transparency will lead to a better world? Seems very un-Marxist to me. God knows how this is going to play out. Somehow “more power to the people” doesn’t seem to be in the offing, especially when it’s governments like China who keep very tight lids on information and repress any attempts to break into it who remain immune to the Julian Assanges of the world. The Zapatista uprising took the Mexican gov (and many governments) by surprise – the formation of a global network to support the Zapatistas was unprecidented. But states learned their lesson: they created organizations to shut down networking, they cracked down much more stringently on Internet usage, they broke the links… As Jameson said, “The Rote Armee faction wanted to prove that the German government was fascist and create an uprising against it. Well, they proved that the German government was fascist…”

    Alex

    November 29, 2010 at 11:02 pm

  2. Are we all Kantians, that we believe the requirement for universal peace is the absence of dishonesty? It’s a weird politics that focuses all its energy on revealing liars to be liars. Why should we have any faith in the idea that more transparency will lead to a better world?

    But did you read zunguzungu’s piece? Assange *isn’t* pro-transparency as some universal ethic; he’s pro-disruption-of-the-circulation-of-US-state-secrets as a tactic of resistance specific to this situation. He wants to make it harder for the U.S. diplomatic-military nexus to function by making actors within the network distrust each other.

    Obviously Wikileaks itself depends on internal secrecy for its own ability to function.

    As for China, well, no one said Wikileaks-style leaking is the only tactic anyone could ever use.

    gerrycanavan

    November 29, 2010 at 11:18 pm

  3. I still feel like Alex has a point. I was more wholly in favor of the Afghanistan leaks because the context is specific; the goal is specific, and its one whose downsides I can’t as readily see. If Assange wants to generally “make it harder for the U.S. diplomatic-military nexus to function by making actors within the network distrust each other,” this will inevitably be some sort of scattershot that has repercussions well beyond the obviously bad aspects of US foreign policy. In other words, even US military secrets can be good for us as leftists at some level, right? I mean, is every US military secret a problem for us? I hardly think so. Aren’t there some foreign policies that you like? Literally all such policies depend on state secrets and the information network that wikileaks puts in its crosshairs.

    Now, the forthcoming corporate leaks, on the other hand– that’s another story.

    Tim

    November 29, 2010 at 11:58 pm

  4. In other words, even US military secrets can be good for us as leftists at some level, right? I mean, is every US military secret a problem for us? I hardly think so. Aren’t there some foreign policies that you like? Literally all such policies depend on state secrets and the information network that wikileaks puts in its crosshairs.

    Hmm. Being honest, I’m really not sure of any U.S. foreign or military policy I like that would require secrecy for its operation. Perhaps a limited number of humanitarian operations — negotiating releases for prisoners of conscience, that sort of thing — but (1) I’m not sure if even those couldn’t be effected under a transparent standard (2) if we’d be training those for no more Iraq wars it might still be a good trade.

    But is the real problem both of you have with this is that you don’t think it will actually work? Maybe the state conspiracy will find workarounds to do the really shady crap it wants to do, and that Wikileaks will have in essence just made things worse by creating an even stronger information network. That’s a stronger objection to me than the idea that maybe U.S. military secrecy has some unacknowledged upside.

    gerrycanavan

    November 30, 2010 at 12:04 am

  5. As for China, well, no one said Wikileaks-style leaking is the only tactic anyone could ever use.

    That seems like you’re skirting the issue. If China demonstrates that its immunity to this kind of stuff comes at the expense of all kinds of civil liberties, then that’s the model that’s going to be adopted in the future.

    Alex

    November 30, 2010 at 10:17 am

  6. If China demonstrates that its immunity to this kind of stuff comes at the expense of all kinds of civil liberties, then that’s the model that’s going to be adopted in the future.

    Well, I don’t think that causal link is quite so inevitable. The Enlightenment “free speech” tradition is pretty overdetermined; I don’t think it’s going to be tossed over entirely just because Wikileaks published some slightly embarrassing diplomatic cables.

    Also, I’m not sure that China’s “immunity” to Wikileaks-style leaks is so obviously due to a lack of freedom of speech; it seems to me they’re not being targeted in large part because they’re not a bad international actor in the way the U.S. currently is.

    gerrycanavan

    November 30, 2010 at 10:23 am

  7. I mean, I guess I took your bait at the beginning when I didn’t dispute the “hero of the left” thing. (I’ve clearly been interpellated.) I don’t think Assange is some hero, or that Wikileaks is some unadulterated good — but I think Wikileaks is better for the international Left than it is bad.

    gerrycanavan

    November 30, 2010 at 10:27 am

  8. My question is, “Is it?” Can this kind of thing be equated with liberatory practice? Or is it just spying for other nations? After all, the people who can most effectively make use of all this info are other nation states.

    Alex

    November 30, 2010 at 10:36 am

  9. They say 3 million US citizens were cleared to access the info from this particular dump; I bet other nations probably had most or all of this stuff already. Right or wrong, the leak was for us.

    gerrycanavan

    November 30, 2010 at 10:41 am

  10. After all, the people who can most effectively make use of all this info are other nation states.

    Also, this *still* assumes exposure is the important part. Assange says disruption of communication channels is the point, and exposure of particular secrets just the mechanism.

    gerrycanavan

    November 30, 2010 at 10:44 am

  11. In re: 3 million citizens. I’ve seen clarification of that claim: 3 million citizens have privilege to access documents classified “Secret,” but it’s on a need-to-know basis, i.e., you only have access to the Secret documents that are deemed relevant to you.

    “Right or wrong, the leak was for us.” There’s a fundamental difference, for us and for other states, between classified information and public information. Here, I’m totally in agreement with Zizek: everybody can know something to be the case, but if it gets said, then that’s a different story. The Iranian government can know that the U.S. sponsors terrorism on its borders, but the work of international diplomacy and give-and-take can go on without leading to full-blown warfare. I’m not so sure about that anymore.

    Back to my other point, I’ll paraphrase the Jameson quote above: “Assange wanted to create disorder in the diplomatic channels in order to undermine a global hegemon and lead to a more just world. He created disorder in the diplomatic channels…” What’s the theory of power operative here? States are fascist? The U.S. state is fascist? Marx on crude communism is worth quoting here: “Just as woman passes from marriage to general prostitution, so the entire world of wealth (that is, of man’s objective substance) passes from the relationship of exclusive marriage with the owner of private property to a state of universal prostitution with the community.” Marx made the point that abolishing private property did not abolish the property relationship. Nor does undermining the state do away with power. This is why, I think, David Harvey calls Foucault a Marxist, because Foucault understood this better than anyone else.
    Somebody compared this event to the Bolsheviks releasing European diplomatic documents in the beginning of the 20th c. The only problem with that analogy is that Assange has no party and no movement behind him. Like a good anarchist, he doesn’t “want” power. The question is, who’s going to take the power that Assange opens up?

    Alex

    November 30, 2010 at 11:02 am

  12. You have some really good points. My (somewhat kneejerk) approval of Wikileaks is genuinely shaken. But isn’t the answer to your last question that the antiwar Left and its allies should take the power that Assange opens up to discredit, disrupt, oppose U.S. military hegemony wherever and however possible?

    The unstated premise of your hesitancy here seem to be that all alternatives to the current form of U.S. military-diplomatic dominance are either impossible (“The Rote Armee faction wanted to prove that the German government was fascist…”) or undesirable (China, “other nations”). If that’s true, then yeah, I guess we’re stuck with U.S. military hegemony and ought to just stop poking the beast. But do you really think that this is true, and that no good can ever come of disrupting the smooth functioning of the U.S. military-diplomatic apparatus? Your critique seems to lead us not to other modes of resistance but to the impossibility of resistance as such.

    gerrycanavan

    November 30, 2010 at 11:13 am

  13. That’s a little premature, I’d say. I’d like us to actually think about what we want, think about the “military-diplomatic apparatus,” (is it one apparatus? that seems like a strange claim to me). When I start seeing religious apocalypticism disguised as revolutionary logic (we have to tear down the system in order to build it anew), I question the foundations of our approach. I begin to feel like the whole movement is predicated on pulpit logic. To me, Assange gives off the same feeling of self-righteous fervor without self-reflection that I get from his enemies. The project of self-critique – which may have never actually existed – now amounts to leftists asking why the revolution hasn’t come yet and what they’re doing wrong. I think what I’m asking for is a bit more fundamental self-critique: what do we want to bring about? what kind of world would the better world we imagine be? is our revolution (the one that will cure all the injustice in the world) just snake oil? unlike a dialectician, I don’t think history will answer these questions for us unless we force them out.

    Alex

    November 30, 2010 at 11:44 am

  14. alex, assange’s theory of state power is that it is based on conspiracy, i.e. that its primary component is information processing (“Conspiracies are cognitive devices. They are able to outthink the same group of individuals acting alone”). international relations for assange constitutes a global conspiracy contrary to the interests of those outside of its networks – those who can’t play the game on equal footing. there could conceivably be states without secrets, but they wouldn’t be the ones we have. and i’m entirely in agreement with assange that “international diplomacy and give-and-take” as currently conducted – and let’s not forget PR – justify warfare, if not always “full-blown.”

    what power are you suggesting assange opens up? his activity seems basically negative to me. i also don’t understand the relevance of the marx quote – wikileaks doesn’t go after legal frameworks like private property, its actions are materialist; it targets methods of encryption. which is not to say they’re marxists either.

    lastly, if you’re basically agree with what he’s doing why not call assange a hero? he’s risking an awful lot to do what he’s doing.

    traxus4420

    November 30, 2010 at 11:58 am

    • Well, to quote Marx: “Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man -– and I’m talkin’ about the Dude here -– sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.” Maybe he’s a hero. I just don’t really use that word.

      gerrycanavan

      November 30, 2010 at 12:01 pm

      • I think it was also Marx who said “I’m no hero, that’s understood. All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood.”

        gerrycanavan

        November 30, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    • “Conspiracies are cognitive devices. They are able to outthink the same group of individuals acting alone”

      Which is why I happen to think they’re actually worthwhile. So does Assange, apparently – he knows more about encryption than any human alive, and he’s certainly part of his own conspiratorial network.

      More fundamentally, basing your entire theory of the state on the idea that a state is a conspiracy misses about six hundred years of world history. Yeah, a state is a gang. Now that you’ve introduced that insight, how about asking yourself what a state does.

      As for the state conspiracies promoting warfare, that’s precisely the moment to return to the Marx quote from above, the point of which is to say, just because you abolish/undermine a juridical form or an apparatus doesn’t mean you’ve abolished/undermined the relations that underly it.

      Alex

      November 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

      • Which is why I happen to think they’re actually worthwhile. So does Assange, apparently…

        Right, so who are you arguing with? Assange has no problem with secrecy as such.

        gerrycanavan

        November 30, 2010 at 12:35 pm

      • Yeah, but there’s more.

        Alex

        November 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm

      • Also, despite nominally wanting to attack the conspirators, there are signs (in the essay) that he doesn’t see himself as one, and there are also signs that he equates secrecy and injustice. A few quotes:

        Since a conspiracy is a type of cognitive device that acts on information acquired from its environment, distorting or restricting these inputs means acts based on them are likely to be misplaced. Programmers call this effect garbage in, garbage out. Usually the effect runs the other way; it is conspiracy that is the agent of deception and information restriction. In the US, the programmer’s aphorism is sometimes called “the Fox News effect”.

        Usually the effect runs the other way: i.e., those breaking up the conspiracy are not conspirators themselves.

        The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie.

        He seems to (linguistically) adequate secrecy and injustice. (I would add that this assumption – the more secretive/unjust an organization is, the more paranoid it is – is simply pulpit logic. The unjust suffer in their sleep; we may not know, but God knows. The only difference is that the preachers don’t believe it when they say it. For them, it’s just a shaming device.)

        Alex

        November 30, 2010 at 12:57 pm

  15. Assange says something that zunguzungu quotes at the beginning of his essay, and which I think everything else in Assange’s strategy ignores: “Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove.” That’s precisely the point that seems to be completely ignored throughout the rest of the essay and in many (although by no means all; the entire left is not my target) of the projects of liberatory practice: what do we want to change and what is the good alternative?

    Alex

    November 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    • Assange says something that zunguzungu quotes at the beginning of his essay, and which I think everything else in Assange’s strategy ignores: “Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove.”

      I disagree completely: he’s quite clear that the aspect of government/neocorporatist behavior he wishes to remove is reliable state-conspiracy information networks. He’s very focused on that. I think he’d say it’s you who isn’t focused on “aspects,” but is instead trying to turn the cow inside-out in one go…

      gerrycanavan

      November 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm

      • the aspect of government/neocorporatist behavior he wishes to remove is reliable state-conspiracy information networks.

        Yeah, that occurred to me. But see my response to Traxus that I just wrote.

        Alex

        November 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm

  16. I don’t basically agree with what Assange is doing. And I don’t agree with his theory of the state.

    The relevance of the Marx quote is that indeterminate negativity repeats the structures it claims to oppose (Marx is talking about property there, but he’s also talking about structures).

    Alex

    November 30, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    • I thought the hero thing was directed at me.

      gerrycanavan

      November 30, 2010 at 12:08 pm

      • gerry, yes it was — sorry for the confusion.

        traxus4420

        November 30, 2010 at 12:10 pm

  17. “I’d like us to actually think about what we want”

    i think if well-funded marketing agencies, evolutionary psychologists, and election campaigns can’t figure out what ‘we’ want, we probably can’t either.

    which is a snarky way of saying all politics are realized in theoretically informed practice, not prepositional theorizing. which is also to say they’re experimental — we can figure out ‘what we want’ by e.g. discussing wikileaks in a conscientious and well-informed manner.

    what is assange doing that’s contrary to what you (alex) want? besides being un-marxist (which i agree it is)?

    traxus4420

    November 30, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    • what is assange doing that’s contrary to what you (alex) want?

      He’s acting as though the whole point of leftist activity is to undermine the state and completely ignoring the question of a good world. I may change my tune about Assange when the corporate documents leak, but for now, making states more eager to launch missiles at one another doesn’t strike me as particularly good leftist politics (which, more than anything else, seems to have been the effect of the current crop of leaks, if I’m reading between the political lines correctly).

      Alex

      November 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm

      • making states more eager to launch missiles at one another

        I don’t agree that this is the likely outcome of this leak. If it is, it’s bad, but I don’t think it is. If anything the U.S. will be less likely to embark on secret missile attacks if it knows it risks being exposed.

        gerrycanavan

        November 30, 2010 at 1:12 pm

  18. I feel like with this last post you’re really struggling to find some reason why Assange is bad.

    For instance, you write “Usually the effect runs the other way: i.e., those breaking up the conspiracy are not conspirators themselves.” But read the paragraph again — he’s nowhere talking about breaking up conspiracies. What it actually says is “Conspiracies are usually the liars (the usual effect), but they also manage to lie to themselves (the Fox News effect).”

    On

    The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie.

    you write “He seems to (linguistically) adequate secrecy and injustice.” I think that’s a decent criticism, even if “or” doesn’t mean “and” like you seem to want to think. In any event, I don’t see why this is “pulpit logic,” except insofar as you don’t like Assange and you don’t like pulpits, and for some reason you want us to think they’re bad in similar ways.

    gerrycanavan

    November 30, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    • I feel like with this last post you’re really struggling to find some reason why Assange is bad

      Then you missed the entire point of the post.

      I picked a bad quote, perhaps, but throughout Assange’s essay – indeed, in the very assumption that the behavior of states he wants to curb is its secretive, conspiratorial nature – there’s the assumption that secret=bad and the very fact that something is secret proves that badness. Hence my parenthetical remark at the end of that paragraph about the pulpit logic behind Assange’s thinking.

      The staggering self-confidence in quotes like this make it even more evident:

      Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

      Behind his systems talk, Assange relies on faith in the triumph of good over evil:

      “Unjust systems by their nature induce opponents” Just systems don’t?

      “and in many places barely have the upper hand” But just systems clearly have moral authority and the support of the people.

      “mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance” Which have the will of the people and therefore operate in complete transparency with no need to defend themselves [!!!!].

      There is not one statement there that I find even remotely compelling. Seeing justice as naturally supported by openness and human desire reminds me of the Dogberry quote (which Marx cites to mock political economists) from Much Ado About Nothing: “To be a well-favored man is the gift of fortune, but to write and read comes by nature.”

      Alex

      November 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm

      • I picked a bad quote, perhaps,

        Not “perhaps.” The quote you picked didn’t mean anything like what you said. You’re so eager to disprove Assange that you’re not reading carefully.

        indeed, in the very assumption that the behavior of states he wants to curb is its secretive, conspiratorial nature – there’s the assumption that secret=bad

        Again, I think this is a fairly decent criticism as far as it goes. But I think it’s more like “bad, therefore secret,” than “secret=bad”; the state uses its conspiratorial means of communication to orchestrate injustice it couldn’t otherwise get away with.

        and the very fact that something is secret proves that badness.

        You keep asserting this, but it’s demonstrably untrue; Assange runs Wikileaks as a secret conspiracy but does not think Wikileaks is bad. In fact, the rest of your post is predicated on the belief that Assange thinks Wikileaks is *too good.*

        The staggering self-confidence in quotes like this make it even more evident: [quote snipped]

        First, I don’t see how the self-confidence in that quote is “staggering” or even how it really exhibits self-confidence. You’re the one moralizing here, attacking his supposed tone over the content of what he’s saying. All he’s doing here is putting forth the theory of resistance that a culture of leaking disproportionately disadvantages unjust conspiracies like the US state. You can agree or disagree with that, but the attempted ad hominem about his arrogance is completely beside the point.

        But if we’re talking about tone, your close reading here is built entirely out of sarcastic sneering rather than counterargument. You’re resorting to sarcasm in lieu of disproof.

        “Unjust systems by their nature induce opponents” Just systems don’t?

        Why would just systems by their nature induce opponents? Who are the natural opponents of a system that treats everyone involved equally?

        “and in many places barely have the upper hand” But just systems clearly have moral authority and the support of the people.

        Is this an argument over what constitutes “many”? There are certainly places where U.S. imperial hegemony “barely” has the upper hand over alternatives that have both moral authority and the support of the populace. Do you disagree? Notice again that your scope slips incorrectly when you paraphrase Assange; he says “some,” you transmogrify it into “all.”

        “mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance” Which have the will of the people and therefore operate in complete transparency with no need to defend themselves [!!!!].

        “more open” is not the same thing as “complete transparency” which makes your hyperbolic conclusion here irrelevant. He also doesn’t claim that Wikileaks will singlehandedly defeat U.S. militarism such that “more open” systems will have no future need for defense.

        There is not one statement there that I find even remotely compelling.

        Sarcastic sneer in lieu of argument: Really? Not one?

        gerrycanavan

        November 30, 2010 at 2:55 pm

      • In this last response, it feels like we’re speaking different languages.

        You’re the one moralizing here, attacking his supposed tone over the content of what he’s saying.
        I’m attacking his logic of “just systems don’t need secrets; just systems have no enemies.” So content.

        You keep asserting this, but it’s demonstrably untrue; Assange runs Wikileaks as a secret conspiracy but does not think Wikileaks is bad. In fact, the rest of your post is predicated on the belief that Assange thinks Wikileaks is *too good.*
        It’s both demonstrably true and demonstrably untrue, because Assange implies it at certain points and revokes it at others, which is the point I was making.

        Why would just systems by their nature induce opponents? Who are the natural opponents of a system that treats everyone involved equally?
        They don’t, “by their nature.” Nor do unjust systems, “by their nature.”

        Is this an argument over what constitutes “many”? There are certainly places where U.S. imperial hegemony “barely” has the upper hand over alternatives that have both moral authority and the support of the populace. Do you disagree? Notice again that your scope slips incorrectly when you paraphrase Assange; he says “some,” you transmogrify it into “all.”
        Again, missing the point. I wasn’t disagreeing with whether “many” unjust systems barely have the support of others. I was questioning the implied opposite – that “many” just systems exist that are not frequently embattled and in danger of being annihilated.

        “more open” is not the same thing as “complete transparency” which makes your hyperbolic conclusion here irrelevant.
        My hyperbolic conclusion is not a “conclusion” but a reductio ad absurdam demonstration intended to reveal the logic behind this idea that openness is the “natural” result of information leaks (and that openness “naturally” leads to justice).

        There is not one statement there that I find even remotely compelling.

        Sarcastic sneer in lieu of argument: Really? Not one?

        In the three claims I reviewed, no, not one.

        Alex

        November 30, 2010 at 3:27 pm

      • And when I say, “in this last post,” I really mean, “in this last post,” not, “in our entire argument,” which I think has been mostly on a level of understanding one another at the denotative and connotative levels. I’m often misinterpreted, when I say things like that, as referring to a larger context than I actually am or of speaking more generally than I actually am.

        Alex

        November 30, 2010 at 3:33 pm

  19. isn’t assange just doing what journalists are supposed to do? how is anything that’s been released making war more likely? it seems to me the most dangerous states are more interested in reaffirming the ‘international community.’ the only sort of surprising thing is that the big arab governments want to bomb iran. but quality journalism could have and probably should have (and has, maybe?) revealed that already.

    greenwald:

    Like all organizations, WikiLeaks has made mistakes in the past, including its failure to exercise enough care in redacting the names of Afghan informers. Moreover, some documents are legitimately classified, probably including some among the documents that were just disclosed.

    Nonetheless, our government and political culture is so far toward the extreme pole of excessive, improper secrecy that that is clearly the far more significant threat. And few organizations besides WikiLeaks are doing anything to subvert that regime of secrecy, and none is close to its efficacy. It’s staggering to watch anyone walk around acting as though the real threat is from excessive disclosures when the impenetrable, always-growing Wall of Secrecy is what has enabled virtually every abuse and transgression of the U.S. government over the last two decades at least.

    joe lieberman weighs in here:

    Designating Wikileaks as a terrorist group would greatly widen the scope for possible legal action against it by the US.

    But the proposal did not get the support of Joseph Lieberman, who chairs the Homeland Security panel in the Senate:

    “Normally, we reserve that designation for groups that fit the traditional definition of terrorism, which is that they are using violence to achieve a political end. While it’s true that what Wikileaks did may result in damage to some people… it’s not al-Qa’ida.”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/pressure-on-us-as-clinton-faces-flak-at-summit-2146973.html

    traxus4420

    November 30, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    • isn’t assange just doing what journalists are supposed to do?

      So now he’s just a journalist? I thought he was a tactician.

      It’s staggering to watch anyone walk around acting as though the real threat is from excessive disclosures when the impenetrable, always-growing Wall of Secrecy is what has enabled virtually every abuse and transgression of the U.S. government over the last two decades at least.
      And there’s the rub: you think it’s secrecy that’s justified crime; I think it’s power. The funny thing about this growing wall of secrecy is that nothing has been secret – none of it. We know what’s up, well in advance; we’re perfectly aware of the kinds of technologies being invented, the kinds of plans being concocted, the kinds of claims being made. And yet…
      I’m also not sure that a shamelessly exploitative government is preferable to a secretly exploitative government (the Zizek claim, although I am aware that that’s not the only antithesis available).

      It’s staggering to watch anyone walk around acting as though the real threat is from excessive disclosures For me, it’s staggering to watch leftists going around as though the only type of agency they have is liberatory agency and that they’re just cogs in the machine, and if anything bad happens, the state is to blame. We’re treating the state as a fetish object – a demonic one, but a fetish object, nonetheless.

      Alex

      November 30, 2010 at 1:51 pm

      • I really don’t understand the point of those Zizek anecdotes to be that we’re all supposed to go along with the Stalinists when they refuse to acknowledge the things that are under their nose. His claim is that this is how ideology works, not that the smooth functioning of ideology is a good to be protected no matter what the situation. It’s a critique, in other words, not an endorsement.

        gerrycanavan

        November 30, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    • how is anything that’s been released making war more likely?

      I commented in an earlier post about the difference between information that everyone knows to be true and information that is public.

      Alex

      November 30, 2010 at 2:01 pm

  20. i didn’t say he was a journalist — i said he’s doing what journalists are supposed to do.

    “As for the state conspiracies promoting warfare, that’s precisely the moment to return to the Marx quote from above, the point of which is to say, just because you abolish/undermine a juridical form or an apparatus doesn’t mean you’ve abolished/undermined the relations that underly it”

    this is like saying blowing up an enemy tank doesn’t necessarily mean you win the war. i mean i get it – this isn’t a magic bullet, it’s not based on an adequate theory of the state or of international relations – but how is it not a positive for humanity if the global ruling class has a harder time conspiring? is it his fault there’s no single international left party that can swoop in and take over?

    “you think it’s secrecy that’s justified crime; I think it’s power.”

    ok i think i get it now, you’re hypostasizing power like foucault does from time to time – wikileaks targets the apparatus of secrecy that demonstrably has created the conditions for war. this is something that exists between states but is not an official part of the state – which invalidates your claim that wikileaks defenders are treating the state as a fetish. assange is not anti-state in the abstract, nor is he anti-capitalist for that matter.

    “we’re perfectly aware of the kinds of technologies being invented, the kinds of plans being concocted, the kinds of claims being made. And yet…”

    i direct you to your own zizek paraphrase:
    “Here, I’m totally in agreement with Zizek: everybody can know something to be the case, but if it gets said, then that’s a different story.”

    which i would elaborate by arguing that we “know” things ideologically (as “kinds” of technologies, plans, etc.) — actionable knowledge (what “gets said”) is ‘mainstream.’ a situation in which more inter-governmental communication is ‘mainstream’ instead of the subject of ‘left wing conspiracy theory’ is one in which conspiratorial tactics for promoting war will be more difficult. obviously that doesn’t mean war will end, the ruling class won’t adapt, the revolution will come, etc.

    traxus4420

    November 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    • Your criticism is valid. I contradicted myself quite a bit in that last point.

      What remains is whether the stated aims of Julian Assange’s releasing of information is what will actually happen. Were I to bet on whether this release of information would lead to more or less oppression, I’m going to come out and say more. And were I to bet on whether more oppression would lead to a dialectical inversion, I’m going to come out and say no. If you look at the social statistics – Beverly Silver and Giovanni Arrighi tracked this – the most significant factor leading to resistance is the relocation of industries – away from or to a specific locale. Not state oppression, which usually has a chilling effect (unless there’s another state whose interest is in undermining a specific authoritarian state).

      Will it lead to tenser diplomatic relations with, e.g., Iran? I don’t know. The assassination of two Iranian nuclear scientists on Sunday, by the Israeli government according to Iran, doesn’t exactly make me hopeful. The argument could be made that this was going to come to a head, anyway, but it seems that the point of diplomacy is to prevent it from coming to a head.

      I would make one final point: do you think that the U.S. is the only actor here? or the only actor who matters? I’m very unconvinced by the overall logic. (My last response to Gerry being, I think, my best expression of that in this debate).

      Alex

      November 30, 2010 at 3:04 pm

      • Will it lead to tenser diplomatic relations with, e.g., Iran? I don’t know. The assassination of two Iranian nuclear scientists on Sunday, by the Israeli government according to Iran, doesn’t exactly make me hopeful.

        How did Wikileaks cause these assassinations? I don’t see the causal link except that one thing happened before the other.

        do you think that the U.S. is the only actor here? or the only actor who matters?

        Isn’t the whole point of Wikileaks that it isn’t?

        gerrycanavan

        November 30, 2010 at 3:12 pm

      • How did Wikileaks cause these assassinations? I don’t see the causal link except that one thing happened before the other.

        Which is why I made the claim tentatively. But it is possible that the leak led the Israeli government to carry out something that they had simply planned before that point and that diplomacy could have prevented altogether. Possible, not definite or likely or true. So don’t put words in my mouth.

        Alex

        November 30, 2010 at 3:39 pm

      • I wasn’t trying to put words in your mouth; I just don’t see any reason to think the two events are related and apparently you don’t either.

        gerrycanavan

        November 30, 2010 at 3:56 pm

  21. i mean at this point it sounds like you’re arguing

    1) government attempts at secrecy are ineffective

    2) publicizing ineffectively kept secrets is not only redundant but embarrasses states so much that they’ll go to war with each other in order to save face

    traxus4420

    November 30, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    • at this point
      With the exception of my last point to you, where I waffled a bit, I’ve been pretty consistent throughout this argument. So let’s not go in that direction.

      publicizing ineffectively kept secrets is not only redundant…
      I’m saying that the stated good they do is just as unproven as the stated bad. That there are degrees of uncertainty on both sides. That I see a reification of openness that I object to in principal. And that I don’t anticipate good things coming from this.

      Alex

      November 30, 2010 at 3:10 pm

  22. Continued from here because WordPress won’t let me reply up there.

    In this last response, it feels like we’re speaking different languages.

    Totally.

    I’m attacking his logic of “just systems don’t need secrets; just systems have no enemies.”

    He didn’t say either of those things. He says just systems need fewer secrets and just systems have fewer enemies. It’s only in your continued slippage from “some” to “all” that we start having to fret about absolutes.

    It’s both demonstrably true and demonstrably untrue, because Assange implies it at certain points and revokes it at others, which is the point I was making.

    I really think you’re inferring things he isn’t implying.

    Why would just systems by their nature induce opponents? Who are the natural opponents of a system that treats everyone involved equally?
    They don’t, “by their nature.” Nor do unjust systems, “by their nature.”

    Unjust systems induce opponents “by their nature” because they (by definition) create a disadvantaged class or classes that get the short end of the injustice. Just systems don’t have this problem. That’s all he meant by this. Do you honestly disagree?

    Again, missing the point. I wasn’t disagreeing with whether “many” unjust systems barely have the support of others. I was questioning the implied opposite – that “many” just systems exist that are not frequently embattled and in danger of being annihilated.

    He doesn’t at all imply that. The opposition to the “many unjust systems” is “those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.” He doesn’t ever say that there are already in existence many such systems that are not frequently embattled or not in danger of being annihilated; in fact the first clause in the sentence limits the discussion only to such movements towards “more open forms of governance” that currently lack the upper hand.

    My hyperbolic conclusion is not a “conclusion” but a reductio ad absurdam demonstration intended to reveal the logic behind this idea that openness is the “natural” result of information leaks (and that openness “naturally” leads to justice).

    Honestly, we’re speaking different languages for real. He doesn’t say that openness is the natural result of information leaks; he says that information leaks hurt closed systems (and worse than they hurt open systems) and so make them less effective. So the proprietors of closed systems, in the face of Wikileaks, have a choice: stay with the now-compromised closed system or move to a more open system. If they stay, at least now they’re weaker; and if they move to more open systems, he thinks that’s good because then (for reasons already discussed up-thread) they will be less able to employ secrecy in the service of doing bad things. Your reductio ad absurdum doesn’t dislodge any of that; it’s talking about some imaginary Utopia of total openness and popular support that you, not Assange, have concocted.

    gerrycanavan

    November 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    • Unjust systems induce opponents “by their nature” because they (by definition) create a disadvantaged class or classes that get the short end of the injustice. Just systems don’t have this problem. That’s all he meant by this. Do you honestly disagree?
      Yes, I honestly do, because I don’t see any of these processes as “natural.” A system that serves for the benefit of all (or most) would be the most “unnatural” thing imaginable. It would have to be entirely fabricated.

      The opposition to the “many unjust systems” is “those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”
      Which is a point I’ve been disputing all along. I question that openness is a virtue in itself (which may or may not be implied in Assange’s essay, but which I feel I should nevertheless make clear). I question that those who are closed are more vulnerable to these information leaks than those who are open (after all, information leaks can be invented, simply by unveiling private communication of any sort – climategate). I question that the response of governments to leaks will be more transparency.

      Alex

      November 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm

      • Yes, I honestly do, because I don’t see any of these processes as “natural.” A system that serves for the benefit of all (or most) would be the most “unnatural” thing imaginable. It would have to be entirely fabricated.

        I think that’s a category error. Even “unnatural” things have natures. It is in the nature of my computer not to function after I pour water on it.

        On the second point, sure, I get that you don’t like that idea (and with good reasons — I grant that point re: openness as a pure virtue in all situations). My point was only that your original counterargument didn’t speak to what Assange was actually talking about, but rather a completely different animal you claimed was “implied.”

        I question that those who are closed are more vulnerable to these information leaks than those who are open (after all, information leaks can be invented, simply by unveiling private communication of any sort – climategate).

        Doesn’t this actually prove Assange’s point rather than yours? A Climate Research Unit that operated under the assumption that all its internal communications were being monitored and were open to potential compromise probably could not have suffered a Climategate assault — at least not in the same way.

        I question that the response of governments to leaks will be more transparency.

        Aren’t the options are either compromised secrecy (good), more U.S. governmental transparency (probably on-balance good), or better secrecy (whoops)? It’s a question of what you think is the likely result. Since Assange (arrogantly?) believes better secrecy is not possible with Wikileaks around, from his perspective we’re left with good or on-balance good.

        It still hasn’t been demonstrated to me what good is supposed to result from allowing the U.S. military-diplomatic complex to retain secrecy without challenge.

        gerrycanavan

        November 30, 2010 at 4:11 pm

      • Doesn’t this actually prove Assange’s point rather than yours? A Climate Research Unit that operated under the assumption that all its internal communications were being monitored and were open to potential compromise probably could not have suffered a Climategate assault — at least not in the same way.
        It’s a weird thought experiment. I think the main point is, “not in the same way.” But I really wonder about the virtues of not having secrecy. In this case, is it really better to have all iterations monitored by a public. The release of climate data on the web has increased skepticism, not decreased it. Stupidity really isn’t a factor considered by the anti-secrecy movement.

        Aren’t the options are either compromised secrecy (good), more U.S. governmental transparency (probably on-balance good), or better secrecy (whoops)? It’s a question of what you think is the likely result.
        I’m going to maintain my position that I think the likely result is better secrecy (and harsher punishments for those who divulge secrets).

        It still hasn’t been demonstrated to me what good is supposed to result from allowing the U.S. military-diplomatic complex to retain secrecy without challenge.
        Military, maybe not. Diplomacy – if the goal is the prevention of war, I can see a need for secrecy. But point taken.

        Alex

        November 30, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    • Oops, I didn’t finish my response.

      He doesn’t say that openness is the natural result of information leaks; he says that information leaks hurt closed systems (and worse than they hurt open systems) and so make them less effective. So the proprietors of closed systems, in the face of Wikileaks, have a choice: stay with the now-compromised closed system or move to a more open system.

      Which I’m saying is untrue.

      Alex

      November 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    • I should add that certain leaks I would be fully in favor of, but that I’m a little wary of the desire for openness, claims by Trotsky aside, and that this leak in particular strikes me as not doing what it claims to be doing.

      Alex

      November 30, 2010 at 4:10 pm

      • I’m still siding with Alex.

        Gerry, if “It still hasn’t been demonstrated to [you] what good is supposed to result from allowing the U.S. military-diplomatic complex to retain secrecy without challenge,” it still hasn’t been demonstrated to me what good is supposed to result from the failure of state secrecy tout court. I’m with Alex: there are lots of leaks I’d be really happy to see (and I expect we will see them), but as a systemic attack I can imagine just as many pitfalls as I can imagine benefits. I’m not opposed to state secrecy (Trotsky aside), and in general I’m all for diplomacy, which this can’t help but weaken.

        Tim

        November 30, 2010 at 4:24 pm

      • the failure of state secrecy tout court

        Well, so far it’s only been an attack on networks of U.S. state secrecy. In that sense it comes down to a question of whether or not you think diplomatic cables passing through the U.S. Department of State are preventing more violence than they are causing.

        gerrycanavan

        November 30, 2010 at 5:02 pm

  23. Trotsky:
    Secret diplomacy is a necessary tool for a propertied minority which is compelled to deceive the majority in order to subject it to its interests. Imperialism, with its dark plans of conquest and its robber alliances and deals, developed the system of secret diplomacy to the highest level. The struggle against the imperialism which is exhausting and destroying the peoples of Europe is at the same time a struggle against capitalist diplomacy, which has cause enough to fear the light of day. The Russian people, and the peoples of Europe and the whole world, should learn the documentary truth about the plans forged in secret by the financiers and industrialists together with their parliamentary and diplomatic agents. The peoples of Europe have paid for the right to this truth with countless sacrifices and universal economic desolation.

    The abolition of secret diplomacy is the primary condition for an honest, popular, truly democratic foreign policy. The Soviet Government regards it as its duty to carry out such a policy in practice. That is precisely why, while openly proposing an immediate armistice to all the belligerent peoples and their Governments, we are at the same time publishing these treaties and agreements, winch have lost all binding force for the Russian workers, soldiers, and peasants who have taken power into their own hands.

    http://www.marxistsfr.org/history/ussr/government/foreign-relations/1917/November/22.htm

    traxus4420

    November 30, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    • Secret diplomacy is a necessary tool for a propertied minority which is compelled to deceive the majority in order to subject it to its interests.
      It’s also a necessary tool for anyone who would want to deceive self-interested capitalists in favor of improving the world.

      Alex

      November 30, 2010 at 4:13 pm

      • Which would be an important point if Wikileaks were leaking the internal communications of anticapitalist resistance movements. Which it isn’t.

        gerrycanavan

        November 30, 2010 at 4:17 pm

  24. […] Speaking of arguments, don’t miss the epic Wikileaks thread. Nothing will ever be the […]

  25. All this aside, it’s incredibly fun to read through this stuff. I especially like the Guardian’s liveblog.

    Alex

    November 30, 2010 at 10:39 pm

  26. But, as I said.

    Alex

    November 30, 2010 at 10:43 pm

  27. The more I’ve thought about this situation, the more convinced I am that this represents a tremendous game theory situation, in which each state actor is weighing the various benefits and pitfalls of letting Assange go on with his work. Obviously China has something to gain from these leaks, but it also has a lot to lose–losses that cannot be predicted. My guess is that the international community will do its best to shut down wikileaks because it introduces far too much turbulence into an otherwise (relatively) stable system. I’m not saying it’s a solution for them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some time in the near future international law/accords are drafted to deal with what seems to be uncharted legal territory. It’s in the best interest of the biggest players on the global stage to shut him/it down. We’ll see if I’m wrong.

    Tim

    November 30, 2010 at 10:56 pm

  28. […] a daring act of provocation certain to bring him serious blowback, Charlie Stross says Julian Assange should win the Nobel Peace […]

  29. […] morning’s Media Matters story is that it’s just more support for Alex’s point in the long Wikileaks thread that exposure is not in itself a sufficient political strategy. At this point is there a single […]

  30. Out of all the comments I do side with Alex

    DIY'er

    December 9, 2010 at 4:08 pm


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