Assange empowers those in need - it’s time we allowed him to stand up for us Australians.
Because of WikiLeaks the people of Kenya learned that their government was carrying out extra-judicial killings and stealing billions of dollars of public money. The people of Iceland also learned the details of a banking scandal that their media were forbidden to report.
In late 2008, WikiLeaks published a local NGO report on Kenyan Human Rights abuses. This had previously been difficult as the report detailed Kenyan police murdering Kenyan citizens. Later, the local authors who contributed to its content (Oscar Kamau Kingara, and John Paul Oul) were assassinated in Nairobi two weeks after they presented their findings to the government in 2009.
WikiLeaks also published a leaked report on financial corruption in Kenya that appeared to be from the accounting firm, Kroll. The report detailed how members of Kenya's previous government stole billions of dollars of public money. ‘The looting of Kenya’ became a major news story both in Kenya and worldwide, and may have affected the Kenyan elections in 2007. Questions about the report's authenticity and its merit are disputed, but major media published stories imply it was authentic.
In 2009, an Icelandic news channel reported that although they had a story about possible fraud at a major Icelandic bank, the government censored them. To get around the censorship, the news channel filled the allotted airtime with a static shot of the WikiLeaks.org logo. At the time, the site featured leaked documents detailing the Icelandic bank's corruption. The Icelandic government soon lifted the gag order and bankers were imprisoned for their crimes.
Like all politicians, Assange is power hungry. Even if WikiLeaks was a good idea, Assange in the Senate is not.
With WikiLeaks, Assange tried to create a radical publishing mechanism for greater government and corporate transparency. However, his need for credit and control has hurt the WikiLeaks project and the ideals behind it. Now he's using the goodwill associated with WikiLeaks to help fight his personal legal problems in Sweden - that's not transparent or right. There's good reason to expect these patterns to continue if he is elected to the Senate.
With regard to using the Senate bid to escape his legal problems, Assange has stated that “Australians won't swallow” him being extradited to Sweden or the U.S if he becomes elected. Meanwhile, since Assange has been in the Ecuadorian Embassy, WikiLeaks has not publicly accepted any new documents for publication.
Assange's past behaviour has led to severe disagreements with many of his colleagues. Journalists of The Guardian, The New York Times, and his former associate Daniel Domscheit-Berg have all publicly renounced Assange.
One of the first members of WikiLeaks was Daniel Domscheit-Berg. In his book, Domscheit-Berg describes Assange's self-centered idea of leadership and refers to an occasion when the ex-hacker insisted Wikileaks staff members ‘not question leadership [Assange] in times of crisis’ (p. 160, 200). Daniel Domscheit-Berg was eventually sacked for insubordination.
The Guardian journalists who helped Assange publish WikiLeaks data also had a falling out with him. In their account, he backtracked on publication exclusivity when things weren't going according to his plan. Their public treatment of Assange has been decidedly negative ever since.
While he worked with Assange, the executive editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller, consistently wrote about the troubles he encountered with the Wikileaks founder. Times columnists also wrote that people were abandoning Assange because of his “erratic and imperious behaviour, and a nearly delusional grandeur unmatched by an awareness that the digital secrets he reveals can have a price in flesh and blood.” Later, Keller summarised that Assange was “elusive, manipulative and volatile (and ultimately openly hostile to The Times and The Guardian).”
For this Belief Byte, it's important to note these quotes only show one side of a very complex story. Robert Manne and Alex Gibney comment on details about Assange's character in a working environment, and how that affects activities around him, here. While WikiLeaks offers its own version of these events here.
The Guardian, not Assange, enabled the release of uncensored US Cables. Assange is neither reckless nor dangerous.
Initially, WikiLeaks and major worldwide newspapers carefully redacted personal information from the US State Department cables before publishing only a fraction of them. For several months, newspapers published stories at a reasonable pace that allowed them to redact and release cables with WikiLeaks' help. However, an unfortunate chain of events involving Guardian journalists left the entire un-redacted database of cables exposed online. He wasn't reckless in WikiLeaks, he won't be in the Senate.
Beginning 28 November 2010, The Guardian, The New York Times, El Pais, Der Spiegel and Le Monde worked with Wikileaks to minimise any harm to people mentioned in the cables (by deleting informants names etc.). Months later, an unfortunate chain of events resulted in two Guardian journalists unwittingly publishing the password for an encrypted file available online that contained all the unredacted cables. How all the cables became published in an unredacted form is disputed. The full explanation from WikiLeaks can be found here, while the Guardian's account is here.
Aware that foreign intelligence services could now find and use the unredacted cables to harm people, but ordinary people could still not read them, Assange decided to publish all of the cables without redaction. The cables were quickly mirrored across the Internet in a form easily searchable by anyone with an Internet connection. While WikiLeaks blamed The Guardian, The Guardian denied any wrong doing and pointed to former WikiLeaks employees who may have had a part in ‘leaking’ the entire volume of cables.
Assange's participation in Parliament constitutes a contradiction of his - and WikiLeaks' - anarchistic politics.
Assange is (or at least, at one point, explicitly identified as) a political anarchist. He argues that government and the state operate on a foundation of lies and secrets - what he calls ‘conspiratorial government’ - that leaking can help to undermine and reveal. This is also the principled basis upon which WikiLeaks is founded.
Anarchism is not - as popular opinion, or the media, would have us believe - merely the pursuit of ‘chaos’ and ‘disorder’, but a sophisticated ideology premised on opposition to externally imposed hierarchy. One of its most famous adherent, Pytor Kropotkin, describes it as “the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government - harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.”
This is the social vision that motivates Assange, and provides the inspiration for WikiLeaks. Assange describes ‘transparency activism’ as WikiLeaks' operational principle, claiming the organisation's modus operandi is to “get out suppressed information into the public.” This aim of ‘setting information free’ has an explicitly anarchist political aim: to undermine the capacity of what Assange calls ‘conspiratorial government’ to keep secrets. Through the use of new technologies - especially computers, encryption technologies, and the Internet - WikiLeaks has positioned itself to undermine the capacity of the state to maintain conspiracies. As Assange told Time in 2010, when deceptive organisations are placed under public scrutiny, they can either “reform in such a way that they can be proud of their endeavours, and proud to display them to the public”, or they can “lock down internally and balkanize, and as a result of course, cease to be as efficient, open and honest, or the can be closed, conspiratorial and inefficient”. WikiLeaks aims to ‘split’ these conspiracies by “eliminating important communication channels”. By revealing secrets through leaks, hierarchical organisations are less able to conspire. Leaks thus help to “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language and into a position of clarity”, with the hope of inspiring citizens towards “a course of ennobling and effective action.”
In participating in the upcoming Federal elections, WikiLeaks - and Assange himself - is fundamentally contradicting its ideological and operational principles. Perhaps they can bring more transparency and accountability to state institutions. But to do so by participating in the hierarchical structures they condemn, and which produce such barbarism as they've been set up to reveal, seems contradictory. Assange's reflections on ‘conspiratorial government’ (written when he participated in the ‘Hacktivist’ movement) can be found here.