The Political Animal

Edward Snowden and the Question of Authority (a Surveillance of Terms)

Edward Snowden received the Integrity Award from the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence this week, and WikiLeaks has posted several videos of the rarely-seen whistleblower during the event.

The Huffington Post


As opinions about Edward Snowden have flown wildly back and forth, the vocabulary of public debate has suffered woefully. The sorry truth is that well beyond striving politicians, those who pretend to a journalist’s precision of detail or an analyst’s wise counsel in policy have no less the tendency than the politicians to throw words around like jalopies in a demolition derby. Last one still moving its lips wins.

Much of the debate over Snowden, supporting the leanings of whole ideologies, has resorted to the use of four terms: leaker, whistle blower, spy, and civil disobedience. There are variant terms, such as “traitor” and “illegal,” but those four words have formed the parameters of the debate. Find your point on the grid among the coordinates of those four terms, and your position on Edward Snowden is significantly revealed. Yet few people who have publically discussed Snowden’s act and sometimes used those words have troubled themselves to clarify for themselves and others what precisely they mean by the words and how the words relate to each other. Common slapdash efforts have tended to comfort the comfortably certain, and afflict those afflicted  with uncertainty, with the continuing sense that the matter is all one great subjective political confusion: you know, one person’s spy is another person’s whistleblower.

Shall we cry, “Not”? Let’s.

To begin, three of the terms are conceptually separable from the fourth, all of them not, truly, equal end points on a grid. Civil disobedience stands apart. To leak, to whistle blow, to spy are all categorically related, each a distinguishable, individuated subclass of the more general notion of leaking. If we think of that general notion as one of porous escape from an area of containment, then we manage to separate, to start, the various political actions and moral charges that later attach to types of leaking. We might also think of the concrete barrier of containment that inhibits leakage in the physical world, whatever its material form, as akin to authority in the world of human interaction, especially, here, of government. They are the ideal institutions and the operating protocols of government that seek to erect the authority which, put into practice and respected, establish the containment – the concealment of sensitive information – to prevent leakage.

To leak, in its specific use, is part of the vocabulary of the political classes. As the term is commonly used, people leak information as practical political acts. Sometimes, oddly, contradictorily, a leak is authorized. That is to say that someone who exercises authority over the keeping and containment of the information is the one who creates the leak – releases the information – in order to achieve, by subterfuge, some political effect.  We presume, generally, when we allege such an act, that it is performed, though outside of protocols, with the knowledge or tacit acquiescence of the very highest level of authority, the President or other top executive figure. Thus we see created a fissure in the wall of authoritative containment. To break the rules is to defy authority. Yet we probably most believe that presidents and other leaders must in the exercise of leadership have freedom of movement at the boundaries of action, in order to contend with the contingencies of the real world. Many people clearly, to offer an extreme instance, have made their peace with presidential authorization of torture at the height of the post 9/11 era. What contends in these cases is the authority of law and protocol with the authority of executive leadership. We all have some sense of how the two should balance or one should predominate, but the more marginal we imagine the infraction to be, the less clarity we are likely to have in the matter, and the less many of us will care about attempting to establish a wavy line of demarcation.

When we believe that the leaker is high in the chain of authority, but is acting without some belief in Presidential support, even knowingly against what the President would wish, then we approach the distinguishing boundary of the whistle blower, but we are still not at it. Just as with “authorized” leaks, the person who operates at a high level of government, but who acts surreptitiously to release information in some way counter to the desires of presidential or other executive administration is committing a practical political act. Such a person is not challenging the legitimacy or moral authority of the nation or its government. Such a person is not necessarily challenging the legality of a government policy or act, as the whistle blower tends to do. The “non-authorized” leaker does, however, seek to influence policy by force of public reaction to the leaked information. One might say that the non-authorized leaker accepts the system as it is, in its ideal and real-world constructions, and willingly works within it. Depending on one’s beliefs about an array of matters, one might think the acts of both kinds of leakers to be either dishonorable or the wily operation of the shrewd political player.

As good an example of the “non-authorized” leaker as can be offered, if current suspicions are confirmed as correct, would be  retired Gen. James E. Cartwright of the Marines. Cartwright, reportedly while in service a favorite of President Obama, served before his retirement as the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the second highest military position in the land. Yet according to multiple sources back in June, Cartwright is suspected of being the source of a leak to The New York Times revealing United States involvement in the Stuxnet cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear program computers. In response to these reports, according to National Public Radio, the general’s attorney released a statement using language strikingly relevant to matters in question in the Snowden debate.

General Jim Cartwright is an American hero who served his country with distinction for four decades. Any suggestion that he could have betrayed the country he loves is preposterous.

Whistle blowers will tend to be individuals of far lesser authority than Cartwright, often more functionary than authority, though in government and intelligence work the gradients between the two might seem infinitely to recede into the horizon. The young Edward Snowden may serve as a prime example of that perception. Whistle blowers, properly speaking, see an ideal or operational wrong and believe themselves to be functionally powerless to alter practice or policy in order to right the wrong. They do not have sufficient authority. They are not even, as Cartwright may have been, active participants in the shaping of policy or procedure who lost out in debate. They have no power to formulate, only to execute. As we imagine whistle blowers to be, they are people of conscience who, otherwise voiceless and powerless – thus whistle blower protection laws – blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

This is certainly how Edward Snowden and his supporters portray him. Even many people not fully supportive of Snowden perceive him as someone acting on conscience, however they might judge a range of his actions to be misguided. The individual acting on conscience may be motivated only by moral qualms, but just as likely, when it regards matters about which to blow the whistle, the moral compunction is attached to what is perceived to be illegality. That seems at best a muddy area in Snowden’s revelations. Certainly, many think the programs and procedures Snowden revealed, beginning with their secrecy, to run counter to a spirit of civil liberty and appropriate legal procedure. We find not secret FISA court orders, for instance, but undemocratic, secret interpretations of law. Few legal minds have argued that any of the NSA programs – authorized by legislation and clarified in scope by those court findings – are themselves illegal.

The question of illegality and the matter of how one blows the whistle – whether in report to superiors, along special protective avenues, or by going public directly through the media and thus bypassing protocols – all complicate evaluation of the whistle blower’s act. For many, Snowden and his outright supporters argue very credibly that the last course was the only one effectively open to him, as Daniel Ellsberg similarly felt about the Pentagon Papers.

There is, however, an additional consideration involved in attempting to classify, in order to properly regard, however complexly, Edward Snowden’s actions. Back on June 25, the South China Morning Post reported,

For the first time, Snowden has admitted he sought a position at Booz Allen Hamilton so he could collect proof about the US National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programmes ahead of planned leaks to the media.

“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” he told the Post on June 12. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”

During a live global online chat last week, Snowden also stated he took pay cuts “in the course of pursuing specific work”. He said: “Booz was not the most I’ve been paid.”


Asked if he specifically went to Booz Allen Hamilton to gather evidence of surveillance, he replied: “Correct on Booz.”

Ellsberg, perhaps the most famous whistle blower in U.S. history and a supporter of Snowden, nonetheless serves as a marked contrast to Snowden in several ways. Ellsberg, working for the Rand Corporation after service at the Department of Defense, contributed to the study of the Vietnam War commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that later became known as the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg was one of the few people who had access to the entire study. He was, on these terms, the classic whistle blower: a government or government-affiliated employee who becomes disillusioned by the mission in which he is a participant, but on which he is powerless to effect change. However, Ellsberg did not seek a job at the Rand Corporation with the specific purpose to obtain information to which he otherwise lacked access and then to leak it.

While Edward Snowden and supporters consider him a whistle blower, and he does in some respects fit the description, in others he does not. The United States government has, in fact, charged Snowden with espionage. Is that charge simply institutional vindictiveness, bureaucratic anger at the unauthorized disclosure of information, as Snowden and his Wikileaks and other supporters charge? There are the intricacies of law on which most people are not expert to comment, but there are definitions in the common language. Merriam Webster tells us that a spy is “one that spies; one who keeps secret watch on a person or thing to obtain information.” Wiktionary identifies espionage as the “act or process of learning secret information through clandestine means.” Whereas Daniel Ellsberg leaked information to which he had access as part of work in which he was already authorized to be engaged, Edward Snowden by his own admission sought employment with access to classified information purposefully in order to seek out that information, remove it, and publically disclose it without authorization.

More detailed encyclopedic and intelligence-service definitions of espionage accord with the fuller conception most people have of espionage commonly applying to corporate and nation-against-nation spying. There is no evidence of any such intent on Snowden’s part, nor is there any reason to suspect him of seeking personal gain. We tend also to think of spies as working for enemies, but that is not required. Friendly nations spy on one another all the time. Jonathan Pollard spied on the U.S. for Israel. The U.S., it just so happens Snowden has revealed, spies on its own European allies. Though Snowden seems to conceive of himself as a patriot, as General Cartwright’s lawyer reasonably casts him, and there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of that belief, he has, first, cast his lot with parties who present themselves quite antagonistically toward the U.S., and he has begun to make such comments himself.

As political contestants become more heatedly embroiled in deepening convolutions of motivation and act, and charge and counter charge about the motivations and acts of others, all may find idealized cause to elevate their own higher love of country or freedom above the cravenness of their adversary: nearly everyone is a patriot in his own mind, when he hasn’t spied for money or out of personal grievance. Sometimes, for some ballast against the upending waves of political agonism, we need to return to some existing standards: definitions, precedents, and law. Certainly, by some clear, existent standards, what Edward Snowden set out to engage in at Booz Allen, and against the U.S. government, regardless of his motivation, was espionage.

We have political leakers, we have whistle blowers of conscience, we have spies. Edward Snowden is not the first. There are arguments to be made for the second and third. Let us consider Snowden further on his own terms, as the whistle blower motivated by conscience.

The civil disobedient – what some have carelessly called Snowden – also acts from conscience, though it need not be against illegality. In some sense, civil disobedience based on conscience alone is even more admirable than exposing illegality, which is a great and perhaps even risky enough act itself. In a free and democratic society, we hope – but justice is always an uncertain destination – exposing illegality will receive its ideal and proper reward.  It is on the books. That a personal sense of justice will come commonly to prevail is a still riskier bet to make. When Martin Luther King, Jr. went to Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, it was not to oppose illegality. The injustice he went to fight was legal. He broke the law to oppose it. There are, he wrote,

two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

These high sounding words might be in practice quite capricious and self-serving, but for one highly salient fact – King wrote them from jail. They are found, after all, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

King was not the first to espouse this standard. Wrote Henry David Thoreau in Civil Disobedience,

Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less despondent spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race should find them; on that separate but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her.

For all Thoreau’s sense of the tyranny of the state qua state, neither he, then, nor we now need be foolish enough to confuse that tyranny with the greater human tyranny effected by the state. We know the systems and societies where such noble figures as Thoreau imagines, upholding their personal measure of justness in prison, may sink into dark holes of history never to emerge from those prisons free or living again. It is, then, easier to justify flight from the system whose wrong one exposes, whose law one breaks, if one can cast it in such dire terms as those. If one can acknowledge no determinative difference between the United States and North Korea or Russia or Iran, one can tell oneself and the world that no obligation is owed to the country and system of laws one challenges.

Like King in the American South, Mohandas Gandhi faced levels of discriminatory oppression from the British Rule of India far greater than the generic tyranny Thoreau faced in the United States. King respected the American system as Gandhi did not the British in India, yet Gandhi, through the concept of nonviolent civil disobedience he fashioned as Satyagraha, nonetheless submitted to British law. In 1922, Gandhi was tried for “bringing or attempting to excite disaffection towards His Majesty’s Government established by law in British India.”  He concluded his statement to the court with these words:

I am here, therefore, to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is deliberate crime, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the Judge and the assessors, is either to resign your posts and thus dissociate yourselves from evil, if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil, and that in reality I am innocent, or to inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country, and that my activity is, therefore, injurious to the common weal.

All three men, Thoreau, Gandhi, and King, staked their principles of civil disobedience in the ground marked off before them by Socrates. Like Edward Snowden, Socrates believed that truths were being withheld from the citizenry, in his case, of Athens. Socrates had endeavored throughout his life to shine the light of reality on the minds of all those with whom he conversed. Late in his life, it became the claim of the rulers of Athens that its citizens, like those of the United States, needed to be protected, in this case from Socrates himself, who was charged with “ refusing to acknowledge the gods recognized by the State and of introducing new and different gods” and with “corrupting the youth” of Athens.

Socrates did not flee his trial, but stood it. It was after he was unjustly convicted – and not before, in what might be deemed by some a convenient anticipation of injustice – that Socrates was urged by his friend Crito to flee. All necessary arrangements had been made by Crito for that flight to safety. In Plato’s dialogue called Crito, Socrates offers the many reasons why he believed it would be wrong for him to escape. He questions what commitment to justice he might rightly claim, and to a regulated system of laws aimed at establishing justice, were he to flee a judgment that might go against him. Argues Socrates, in the voice of the Law, personified as all whom it represents,

“Tell us, Socrates,” they say; “what are you

about? Are you going by an act of yours to overturn us — the

50b      laws and the whole State, as far as in you lies? Do you

imagine that a State can subsist and not be overthrown, in

which the decisions of law have no power, but are set aside

and overthrown by individuals?” What will be our answer,

Crito, to these and the like words? Anyone, and especially

a clever rhetorician, will have a good deal to urge about the

evil of setting aside the law which requires a sentence to be

carried out; and we might reply, “Yes; but the State has

50c      injured us and given an unjust sentence.” Suppose I say that?

Socrates defied what he thought unjust law, law that required he acknowledge the existence of gods in which he did not believe. But he accepted his punishment for that defiance and declared his respect for law itself. A foundation for that respect was laid in the argument Socrates made of implied consent.

                 But he who has experience of the manner in which we

order justice and administer the State, and still remains, has

entered into an implied contract that he will do as we

command him. And he who disobeys us is, as we maintain,

thrice wrong: first, because in disobeying us he is disobeying

his parents; secondly, because we are the authors of his

education; thirdly, because he has made an agreement with us

that he will duly obey our commands; and he neither obeys

them nor convinces us that our commands are wrong; and we

do not rudely impose them, but give him the alternative of

obeying or convincing us; that is what we offer, and he does

52a      neither.

Though he appears, in his defense of Snowden, no longer to recognize this standard today. Ellsberg did recognize if for himself.

I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.

Of course, one may take a radically subversive or revolutionary stance, by which state institutions and the system of laws are challenged in their very legitimacy. Some of those who have become associated with Snowden – Julian Assange and Wikileaks, for instance – frequently make characterizations of the United States in this spirit, though they have yet to outright declare themselves subversive or revolutionary enemies of the state. Edward Snowden has made no such declaration, and if he did he would then reasonably lose any basis for complaint of his treatment by an avowed enemy. If, rather, he claims to be acting from conscience, morally committed to a higher enactment of the idea of America, then he has an existing standard of civil disobedience against which to measure himself and be measured by others. That standard is

Refusal to obey government demands or commands and nonresistance to consequent arrest and punishment. … Civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system as a whole. The civil disobedient, finding legitimate avenues of change blocked or nonexistent, sees himself as obligated by a higher, extralegal principle to break some specific law. By submitting to punishment, the civil disobedient hopes to set a moral example that will provoke the majority or the government into effecting meaningful political, social, or economic change.

If Edward Snowden and those who encourage him in his present course think themselves able to marshal not just the impassioned recalcitrance of critics, but compelling arguments fit to contend with the ancient and continuing legacy before them, and the intellectual authority of that legacy, they should make them. For it is not only what they oppose for which they will be remembered, but also what they promote, and whatever clear, coherent, and compelling case they make, or do not make, for how to act rightly in the face of wrong.


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The Political Animal

This Is Bradley Manning’s Idea of Whistleblowing


This is his defense.

According to the defense, Manning was motivated “to do something, something to make a difference,” after arriving inIraq in 2009 and hearing of the carnage that was going on around him.

But Army prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow outlined how the short, bespectacled Manning fell into a partnership with the silver-haired media celebrity Assange. He said they quietly exchanged personal contact information and crafted Internet chat logs as they exposed about 700,000 pages of classified material, including secrets in the fight against terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Coombs said Manning’s decision to release classified documents came in late 2009, when he was new to Iraq and learned to his horror that a family of five had been grievously injured in a roadside bomb attack.

On Christmas Eve 2009, Coombs said, a vehicle with two adults and three children pulled to the side of the road to let an Army convoy pass, only to hit a roadside bomb. “All five of the occupants were taken to the hospital,” Coombs said. “One died en route.”

What troubled Manning more, Coombs said, was that U.S. soldiers cheered because their convoy had missed the hidden bomb. “He couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

He noted that Manning placed the word “Humanist” on the back of his dog tags, signifying his religion, and said the decision to leak material was his, not Assange’s. “He felt he needed to do something, something to make a difference, from that moment forward,” Coombs said. “He started selecting information he believed the public should see and should hear, and that that would make the world a better place.

A young army PFC discovers that in war innocent people horribly, randomly die. “He started selecting information he believed the public should see.”

Rather than clear knowledge of specific wrongdoing, we have one young man with an emotional response to what he witnesses in war. On this basis he substitutes his judgment for that of the American people, their system of government, and their elected leaders. His defense says he “started selecting information.” He passed “700,000 pages of classified material” to Julian Assange. One wonders if court documents include the written, considered protocol by which each of the documents were “selected” by Manning and Assange and judged suitable for declassification and public exposure. One does not wonder too long.

The nature of this defense account is fitting. This is what defenders of Manning so often represent as well – an emotional response to political realities they do not like. In place of the constitutional rule of law and over two centuries of legislative and judicial history, they offer their sense of righteous indignation. Give them the keys to the file lockers.

Along with their moral indignation, one encounters the incoherence of their thinking about nations and governance, openness and secrecy, the nature of order and of moral responsibility. They think Manning should be hailed as a hero. They find the government’s prosecution of him an affront. They often like to recall Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the Pentagon Papers. Said Daniel Ellsberg,

I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney began working on “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” with the intent to make his film about Julian Assange. It did not work out that way.

Gibney penetrated the dense circle of agents, lawyers and journalists who surrounded Assange with the help of one of his film’s executive producers, activist Jemima Khan, who had posted some of Assange’s bail in a case involving allegations of sexual abuse by two Swedish women.

After months of discussions about Assange’s possible participation in his film, Gibney flew to England, where his subject was living under house arrest in a country estate, for a six-hour meeting. According to Gibney, at that meeting Assange told him the going rate for an interview was $1 million. When Gibney said he didn’t pay for interviews, Assange asked if instead the director would tell him what others interviewed in the documentary were saying.

“He didn’t see the irony at all,” said Gibney, 59, an unusually prolific filmmaker who often has multiple projects proceeding at the same time. “To him, he was … being attacked by big and powerful forces and he should have the right to do whatever is necessary to protect himself. The idea that spying on other interview subjects would be ironic for a transparency organization didn’t occur to him at all.”

Assange chose to keep what he knew to himself.


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The Political Animal

Amnesty’s Arrogance


For those whose vision is not obscured by their own committed advocacy, the map of how Amnesty International lost its way over the past decade and more is there to be read. From irreproachable defender of human rights to clearly ideological activist on behalf of one vision of political development, an organization now easily impeached, the loss to human rights advocacy is profound. Once it was obvious that nearly only tyrants challenged an Amnesty International report. When a free nation did, it was an embarrassment for that democracy in the eyes of nearly all, its rationalized misbehavior an otherwise indisputable black mark drawn by an organization with an unassailable reputation. Now, those always unsympathetic to Amnesty’s work can point to its own clear biases in dismissing the NGO’s judgments. How much easier, for instance, to seek an accounting of a United States torture and war prisoner abuse regime in the immediate post 9/1 years were AI not chargeable as anti-American in its advocacy.

I won’t retread here well-known paths. The road AI has traveled is on the record, and I’ve written about it multiple times before. The markers are both subtle and as obvious as broken tree limbs. The former kind shows up in a sentence like this, from the introduction to Amnesty’s 2012 report.

At the heart of many of these conflicts were economic development policies that left many, particularly those living in poverty and marginalized communities, at increased risk of abuse. [Emphasis added]

The kinds of “economic development policies” to which this sentence refers – would those be “neoliberal” economic development policies; I think they would be – are certainly arguable and grounds for a debate on economic development policy as a basis for social development. That these policies are also highly arguable as a focus of attention for a human rights organization is now beyond AI’s institutional ability to recognize.

What kind of marker represents the more obvious variety? How is this?

Amnesty International Calls on Sweden to Assure Julian Assange Won’t be Extradited to the United States

(Washington, D.C.) — Amnesty International calls on the Swedish authorities to issue assurances to the United Kingdom and to Julian Assange that if he leaves Ecuador’s London embassy and agrees to go to Sweden to face sexual assault claims, he will not be extradited to the United States in connection with Wikileaks.

Now Amnesty International is the philosopher king of the free and unfree worlds, the NGO Solomon seeking to divide the mother of judicial possession from the grasping arms of selfish enmity. How wise AI must be to take itself for a vision of justice made politically flesh and infallible.

Amnesty International believes that the forced transfer of Julian Assange to the United States in the present circumstances would expose him to a real risk of serious human rights violations, possibly including violation of his right to freedom of expression and the risk that he may be held in detention in conditions which violate the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

No, that is not a paragraph about the Soviet Union in 1966. Yes, the “forced transfer” distortion is a conscious, prejudicial substitute for legal “extradition.” Is it now the postion of Amnesty International that the United States is illegitimately governed, its legal system not merely to be questioned, but opposed, with the organization advocating that other nations forswear action in accordance with legal treaties of cooperation with the U.S.?

Arrogance is always striking, regardless of the repetition, but AI’s defensive advocacy of Julian Assange and Wikileaks is neither new nor surprising. The introduction to its 2011 report began,

The year 2010 may well be remembered as a watershed year when activists and journalists used new technology to speak truth to power.

Later it added,

This year Wikileaks, a website dedicated to posting documents received from a wide variety of sources, began publishing the first of hundreds of thousands of documents which were allegedly downloaded by a 22-year-old US Army intelligence analyst….

Wikileaks created an easily accessible dumping ground for whistleblowers around the world and showed the power of this platform by disseminating and publishing classified and confidential government documents. Early on, Amnesty International recognized Wikileaks’ contribution to human rights activism when Wikileaks posted information related to violations in Kenya in 2009. [Emphasis added]

The intellectual dishonesty of an organization with so exalted a sense of its own rightness should give one pause: imagine it as a nation-state and you might imagine it little different from any other in its process of blind self-justification. “Downloaded” is an awfully innocuous term. It masks the notions of theft and espionage and violation of national security, particularly as engaged in by a member of the military. “Whistleblowers” are cool; “spies” not necessarily so much, and what Amnesty elides in every presentation on the subject I have read is the nature of the relationship between Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, which is precisely the area in which the legitimate consideration by the United States of criminally prosecuting Assange is to be found. Here is AI in a published Q & A on Wikileaks.

Would prosecution of Julian Assange for releasing US government documents be a violation of the right to freedom of expression?

The US government has indicated since July 2010 that it is conducting a legal investigation into the actions of Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange for distributing secret documents.  A range of US political figures have called for a criminal prosecution of Assange.

According to Amnesty International, criminal proceedings aimed at punishing a private person for communicating evidence about human rights violations can never be justified. The same is true with respect to information on a wide range of other matters of public interest. [Emphasis added]

Notice that the focus here is on Assange’s releasing the documents and not on the process of acquiring them. What, also, if it is not only evidence of human rights violations that is released, but if this information is contained in what is really a much larger dump of legitimately classified and national security information? And what is the nature of this “information on a wide range of other matters of public interest” the illegal transmission of which AI justifies, on what legal basis?

Is it legitimate for governments to seek to keep their diplomatic discussions and negotiations confidential when they perceive it to be in their national interest?

Governments can of course in general seek to keep their communications confidential by using technical means or by imposing duties on their employees; it is not, however, legitimate for governments to invoke broad concepts of national security or national interest in justification of concealing evidence of human rights abuses.

Also, once information comes into the hands of private individuals, states cannot rely on sweeping claims of national interest to justify coercive measures aimed at preventing further public disclosure or discussion of the information. [Emphasis added]

“Comes into the hands of.”

Is Amnesty International concerned about the potential for harm to individuals as a result of the leaked information?

Amnesty International has consistently called on Wikileaks to make every possible effort to ensure that individuals are not put at increased risk of violence or other human rights abuses as a result of, for instance, being identifiable as sources in the documents.

However, risks of this kind are not the same as the risk of public embarrassment or calls for accountability that public officials could face if documents expose their involvement in human rights abuses or other forms of misconduct. [Emphasis added]

This last is very curious. The first sentence seems to warn against the possibility of individuals coming to “harm” – “increased risk of violence or other human rights” – as a consequence of unauthorized national security document releases. Let’s be clear, which AI is not, that what we mean by using such language in this context is death, and you would think, given the nature of an organization like Amnesty, and its hallowed history, that it would hold no higher goal than to work against such death. In that consideration “every possible effort” is pusillanimous, even deceptive, diplomatese. As it might be uttered by the nations committing the violations AI opposes, it means, “We tried, but in the end, other things were more important.” So the assurance-of-principles messaging is already muddled.

But the second, “however” sentence is totally incoherent. Given that the first sentence predicates the importance of protecting life (or, at any rate, making “every possible effort”), a “however” contrast would naturally introduce an exception to that paramount concern:

risks of this kind are not the same as the risk of public embarrassment or calls for accountability.

Well, I’m confused. “Not the same” how, exactly? Are they greater risks? Lesser? Of more importance? Diminished importance, in the greater scheme of things? Given the preceding statement, the however contrast should logically be telling us diminished – the potential harm to individuals is of diminished importance when weighed against the greater goal of “calls for accountability that public officials could face if documents expose their involvement in human rights abuses or other forms of misconduct.”

But Amnesty International, the defender of human rights, of, in the good old days, individual human rights – every individual’s – cannot possibly mean that?

Can it?


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The Political Animal

Wikileaks, Anonymous, LulzSec, the MSM and the Entropic Drift toward Crap

The problem with government is not government. It’s people. People make up government, so of course it represents all the flaws we find in people. But as Churchill remarked of democracy, that it “is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time,” the only form of social organization worse than institutionalized government is no government. Left and right extremists, from Tea Partiers who seek to “starve the beast” to Wikileakers, Anonymizers and LulzSecers who believe in “true freedom, online as well, as the real-life realm” are utopians masquerading as common folk or techno-visionaries rather than the more rudimentary optical kind. Lord, or whoever is filling in, spare us from utopians. See, for this: the Twentieth Century, or the French Revolution. The American Revolution, among its beauties, was not utopian. It’s the pursuit of happiness, my friend, not happiness.

We learned yesterday that Wiki’s latest Leak, not actually new, did not redact the names of individuals whose lives might well be endangered by the outing. We are informed by Der Spiegel, that the exposure of identities was “accident.”

The ongoing conflict between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his former German spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg has led to the accidental release of confidential data that was in WikiLeaks’ possession. Since the beginning of the year, an encrypted file has been circulating on the Internet containing the collection of around 251,000 US State Department documents that WikiLeaks obtained in spring 2010 and made public in November 2010.

The Washington Post, however, reported yesterday that this “accident” is only “possibly” so.

The official WikiLeaks Twitter account has played down the impact of the report. “Current story being spun about wild cables, including from Spiegel, is significantly incorrect,” read one tweet sent out around 10 a.m., Eastern time. “WikiLeaks ‘insurance’ files have not been decrypted. All press are currently misreporting. There is an issue, but not that issue,” the account wrote again at 3 p.m., A third message reading, “There has been no ‘leak at WikiLeaks’. The issue relates to a mainstream media partner and a malicious individual,” followed soon afterward. [Emphasis added]

So, much as Powell jockeyed with Cheney, Assange and Domscheit-Berg, who founded the rival OpenLeaks, have their own contention going on. I am certainly glad, though, as I know are you, that they at least have assumed these powerful positions of responsibility, with state secrets and lives under their not-so-great care, as the consequence of democratic processes. They have been vetted as to training and reputation and subjected to popular review, and are held accountable, at least in theory (theory about all we have these days in the realm of holding the powerful accountable), by established mechanisms of oversight.

No? Oh.

And they do count among the powerful these days. Do you have the power to disturb and disrupt governments, influence and lose lives all over the world? But at least they represent you and your interests more than does Leviathan government, because, because….

Among those who so uncritically and incoherently support the smashing of the system at which Wikileaks plays are those who pleasure vicariously, or even play a role in, the hack attacks on government, banking, and commerce by Anonymous and LulzSec, the latter of which, by name, acts (or acted?) for the sheer juvenile, anarchic joy of disruption. Where once we had Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, now we have the bedroom-dwelling virtual inhabitants of World of Warcraft and The Matrix offering us “the plan” for their war against – they actually say it – “the system.”

Far fucking out, man.

If we wouldn’t all be better off with their, in fact, working for Activision Blizzard, they are, alternatively, caught because they can’t get enough of Xbox.

We understand how it begins, with governments of and for the wealthy and powerful, with political processes that further cynically devolve into standardized dissimulation and manipulation. Add to this a mainstream media establishment that normalizes the behavior, abets it with a love of “the game” and with an essential cowardice. (Who can name an interviewer on Dick Cheney’s memoir publicity tour who has asked him about torture rather than “harsh interrogation”?)

Crap, you understand, is not just excrement. It is nonsense, drivel. It is falsehood, exaggeration, and propaganda. We swim in it. Human beings are natural producers of it. Government is the attempt to clean it up, provide more latrines, even build a hut from it. But government, made up of people, will inevitably, in not too long, become full of it. What to do then is the greatest of challenges. However, the notion that we will be led to some form of liberation by self-selected, disaffected egoists and cyber-social malcontents who produce the same crap, but merely know better than the rest of us how to encode it, doesn’t pass the smell test for anyone without his head up his ass or is not the intellectual court jester of authoritarianism.

Or do you think Anonymous is better than Mark Zuckerberg, and what do you do when Anonymous, like government, can’t get its act together? Well, at least you’ll have some say in the matter.


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The Political Animal

Stuxnet, WikiLeaks, and the Cold War

Everyone’s talking about an extraordinarily well report article in The New York Times this weekend that finally begins to put together the story behind the Stuxnet worm and its attack on the Iranian nuclear program. Apparently, to no one’s surprise, it was an American-Israeli coup accomplished with the probable help of Britain and Germany, including Siemens, maker of the computer controllers used in the Iranian program. According to the report, the worm hit in mid 2009, after the U.S. and Israel began working at least as early as the beginning of 2008 on methods to attack the P-1 uranium enrichment machines used by the Iranians. This clandestine American-Israeli program probably includes, more sweepingly, perhaps on the Israeli end, targeted murders so far of at least two Iranian nuclear scientists.

The consideration here is the secrecy of the clandestine program and its extraordinary success. Israelis and Americans, including Secretary of State Clinton are now speaking of the Iranian program having been set back as many as five years from the time the worm began to hit. This is longer than the best case predictions Israel had made for the very perilous armed attack so many have feared. This outcome is a good to be appreciated outside of Iran by all but the most ideologically obtuse foes of Israel and Far Left apologists for Arab autocracy and Islamic theocracy. No doubt, many Iranian opponents of the ruling regime in that country, if they have any idea of this event, are happy for it too. For all its flaws, one of the world’s leading democratic nations, and allied with it, the only democratic nation in the Mid-East, have worked together to thwart and delay the nuclear ambitions of a dangerous, terrorist supporting tyranny. And it was made possible by secrecy.

The operation was made possible by the kind of secrecy that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks would expose and undermine. One has to use some imagination – not too much – to conceive the kind of tense, clock-driven activity and espionage, including some very dangerous human spy work, that went into this operation. A book will undoubtedly be written about it – a pulse pounding film be made some day. WikiLeaks could have ruined it all had its own clock been faster.

Controllers, and the electrical regulators they run, became a focus of sanctions efforts. The trove of State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks describes urgent efforts in April 2009 to stop a shipment of Siemens controllers, contained in 111 boxes at the port of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. They were headed for Iran, one cable said, and were meant to control “uranium enrichment cascades” — the term for groups of spinning centrifuges.

Subsequent cables showed that the United Arab Emirates blocked the transfer of the Siemens computers across the Strait of Hormuz to Bandar Abbas, a major Iranian port.

Only months later, in June, Stuxnet began to pop up around the globe.

WikiLeaks supporters like to point out the numbers of “illegal” or otherwise questionable U.S. acts they claim have been exposed by the leaked cables. These U.S. critics are of a kind who are quick to call “illegal” what they choose to deem so, when there are counter-arguments to be made, sometimes far superior arguments. Nonetheless, there are processes – torturously slow, to be sure – by which such claims can be pursued. The solicitation of stolen secret government documents is not a democratic or legal process for which anyone can claim a coherent democratic defense.

Of course, secrecy can be a tool for hiding government misdeeds and illegal acts. The threats we face from Iran today are a direct consequence extended over time of the U.S. and British directed 1953 coup against Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. The kind of mistrust and enmity so easily stoked against the U.S. in Latin America is the consequence of such secrecy, too. Just this past semester a student of mine from Guatemala, in a class focused on Indigenous issues around the world, wrote an exceptional undergraduate paper on the long terms effects on the Mayan population there of the thirty-six year civil war that was, again, a direct consequence of the 1954 CIA directed overthrow of the democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán. Sometimes in war even the better side will commit atrocities, and in the geopolitical antagonism that was the Cold War such anti-democratic acts as were committed in Iran and Guatemala were forms of political atrocity that led to the real thing. They were enabled by secrecy, but so was victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

Engima Machine

One truth is that some supporters of WikiLeaks are ambivalent supporters of that Western victory in the Cold War. Others are philosophically simplistic critics of U.S. wrongs seeking their correction not through intellectually coherent practice, but in an angry, puerile impulse to “tear the whole thing down.” The more complex truth – and secrecy is among the most complex of ideas – is that in political life secrecy in itself neither a good nor an ill, but only a tool, a method, a means. When the means are morally neutral, it is indeed the end that justifies them. Stuxnet tells us so.


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The Political Animal

The Nature of Real Authoritarian Secrecy

Terry Glavin, of Chronicles & Dissent, zeros in on some of what are by now the usual suspects in ill-considered Left excess, particularly their PT Barnum, Michael Moore, about whom Glavin has written so incisively in the past. Glavin’s focus now is on Moore’s Wikileaks role, including the latter’s usual manipulations of the truth regarding revelations about him and his film Sicko in the secret Wikileaks cables.

Moore himself tries to spin revelations about the Cuban reaction to Sicko as propagandistic Government spin – except, of course, that the cable from American diplomats in Cuba was confidential and not meant for public propagandistic release. So while Moore argues whether the cable actually claims Sicko was banned in Cuba – apparently not – he avoids a greater truth. Of the two additional references in the cable to Sicko, Glavin explains,

One concerns the stark contrast between Moore’s version of Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital in Havana and the reality of the decrepit hospital and its corrupt practices. Moore’s film shows the bright and shiny top floors of the hospital, which are in fact reserved for Venezuelan officials and diplomats who pay in hard cash. The hospital is otherwise off-limits to ordinary Cubans unless they can come up with bribes to the hospital administrator.

The other reference to Moore comes by way of a sarcastic suggestion that if he had been legitimately concerned about depicting the reality of the Cuban health care system he would have visited Havana’s Calixto Garcia Hospital, a crumbling 19th-century edifice that caters to ordinary, actually-existing Cubans. A foreign health service provider who visited the institution was “struck by the shabbiness of the facility,” its lack of staff, basic supplies, and how it was “reminiscent of a scene from some of the poorest countries in the world.”

The rest of the cable presents what might be charitably described as a horror show of Dickensian sick wards, exploitation of health care workers, disregard for the sick and injured and a variety of banana-republic practices about which the Cuban government should be abjectly ashamed. Do read it all, but also bear in mind that none of this should come as “news” to you.

If it’s a truly courageous “whistleblower” you want to advise you in the matter of the Cuban police state that Michael Moore and his friends would prefer you not know about, it’s Yoani Sánchez.

Here’s Comrade Yoani on the absolute irrelevance of the Wikileaks phenomenon to the wretched of the earth: “There are so many who don’t keep records, who have an unwritten culture of repression and who have paper incinerators that smolder all day; bosses who only need to raise an eyebrow, crook an index finger, whisper into an ear a death sentence, or a battle on an African plain, or a call to insult and assault a group of women dressed in white. If some of them would emerge in a local Wikileaks, they would get the maximum penalties, be made examples of with the strongest punishments, without worrying about whether to fabricate a charge of ‘rape’ or ‘bovine slaughter.’ They know that ‘seeing is believing’ and therefore take care that there is no material containing surprising revelations, that the real framework of absolute power will never be visible.”


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Assange in Lust

We understand that both complainants admit to having initiated consensual sexual relations with Mr Assange. They do not complain of any physical injury. The first complainant did not make a complaint for six days (in which she hosted the respondent in her flat [actually her bed] and spoke in the warmest terms about him to her friends) until she discovered he had spent the night with the other complainant.

The second complainant, too, failed to complain for several days.

Just as tolerance, even rationalization, for Islamist ideology has created deep fissures on the left, though mostly at its fringe, so, too, has Wikileaks, though closer to its center. One divide is in the reaction to the sexual charges in Sweden. Julian Assange’s defense above – and we know defending attorneys will go for whatever might work – is striking in its complete rhetorical mirror of a traditional unenlightened assault on the woman’s psychological experience of sexual harassment and abuse. But it you read the account at the Guardian, from newly released material, you might be able to see the admiring female acolyte taken aback in classic non-assertive manner by the unexpected sexual assertiveness of her hero. For a few days, disturbed but uncertain, she goes along. But that delay is used against her. She said nothing at the time, we are told. What influenced her to make accusations later?

You can see in Assange’s reported behavior, a complete insensitivity – literally, a lack of awareness – of the woman’s experience. He lives entirely in the world of his own sexual drive and fantasy. He is completely surprised by any voicing by the woman of contrary feelings.

You can see it again here in this email record just released of the 31-year-old Assange’s almost entirely fantasized encounter with a 19-year-old. According to her account, uncontradicted by any of the emails, she never had any sexual or romantic interest in the older man. Assange, however, imagined an entirely different encounter and experience, and like a typical sexual boor pressed on long past the point where anyone who lived outside of his own ego would have seen the girl was not interested. Keep in mind as you read this last, suffused with egoism and sprinkled with class condescension, that all he ever did was kiss the girl once, after which she never wanted to see him again, or did.

Click to enlarge.


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The Political Animal

Moles, False Flags, and Conspiracies

James Jesus Angleton.
Image via Wikipedia

Among the most famous stories of the Cold War era is that of James Angleton, the CIA’s long-serving head of counter-intelligence, who became convinced that the KGB had managed to place a mole at the top of the CIA hierarchy. Angleton’s search for the mole became significantly harmful to the CIA in its disabling paranoia. By the time Angleton was forced to resign in 1974, among those speculated to be the mole were William Colby, the director of central intelligence who forced Angleton out, and, by others, Angleton himself. Colby, by the way, died long after his official CIA career ended, alone on the Chesapeake, after falling out of his canoe from an apparent heart attack while fishing.

My post of yesterday, in which I called attention to some of the both banal and bizarre conspiratorial swirling around Wikileaks, was linked to by Meet Illuminati Members. You should know, if you do not already, that in the long history of conspiratorial thinking, no “organization” has a richer history than the centuries-old “illuminati.” There is great entertainment value at the site. “Man,” in his works and days, is nothing if not endlessly entertaining. Among other entertaining enlightenments to be achieved is that of introduction to the world’s ruling families.

You will note the surprising presence of the low and long struggling Scots, in the name of those purveyors of fine fast food, the McDonalds. Of course, I note with disgust that Adler is not among the storied names. Do these fools not know that Alfred Adler’s break with Freud was one of those “false flag” diversions, along with the deviation of Jung, so that the three might more effectively, on an even wider scale, neuroticize the masses with a host of socially normalized psychic dysfunctions – the better to pacify them? And they think they know conspiracy.

No doubt, conspirators, greater and lesser, do walk among us. There were moles at the CIA, and at the KGB. There were those ten rather ordinary Russian sleepers not long ago awakened and sent packing. The Stuxnet virus didn’t get into Iranian computers via bad water, and someone is arranging the murder of those Iranian nuclear scientists. Let us, as the paranoid and proud will urge us, not be naïve.

But the critically thinking mind only begins with questions and challenges; it doesn’t simply end there awaiting an overlay of cynicism, ideology, and imagination. If sound analysis and good judgment were as common a feature of the world as conspiracy mongering, Michael Corleone would have found a way by now to discover Dick Morris in the brothel crib of a dead prostitute. Or, come to think of it, judging by all appearances, excuse me – he probably already has. You think that’s good for the future of the Republican Party? Conspiracy.

Julian Assange and his supporters, purveyors themselves of the most incoherent political philosophy since the 2009 Summer of Town Hall Stupid, think, science fictionally, that the authoritarian state conspiracy is already upon us. I will not argue strenuously that it does not await us down the line. (What, you thought I was an optimist?) But the illusions of the matrix may work on a much smaller scale than that, enter our consciousness through the finer filigree of language manipulated, reality reconstituted.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks is taking steps to distance itself from the suggestion that it actively encourages people to send in classified material. It has changed how it describes itself on its submissions page. “WikiLeaks accepts a range of material, but we do not solicit it,” its Web site now says.

It also deleted the word “classified” from a description of the kinds of material it accepts. And it dropped an assertion that “Submitting confidential material to WikiLeaks is safe, easy and protected by law,” now saying instead: “Submitting documents to our journalists is protected by law in better democracies.”

WikiLeaks is also taking steps to position itself more squarely as a news organization, which could make it easier to invoke the First Amendment as a shield. Where its old submissions page made few references to journalism, it now uses “journalist” and forms of the word “news” about 20 times.

Another new sentence portrays its primary work as filtering and analyzing documents, not just posting them raw. It says its “journalists write news stories based on the material, and then provide a link to the supporting documentation to prove our stories are true.” [All emphasis added]

Who owns the weapons or the words owns the world. We’ll wait and see which.



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The Political Animal

Assange Bound

Last week I wrote, “There is no more conspiratorial mind than the mind that perceives conspiracy, genuine or not.” Amid the rain of Wikileaks fallout, as Julian Assange, awaits now the determination of an appeal to his release on bail, comes this conspiratorial eruption (h/t Engage):

Wikileaks and the conspiracy theory of history

History is Made at Night noted someone who tweeted that the Wikileaks revelations would prove that geopolitics is not in fact determined by the Bilderberg Group, Masonic conspiracies or the Israel lobby, but in fact confirms the boring old Marxist materialist theory of history (except  it was said wittily in 140 characters). For example, Wikileaks shows that it is the Arab oil lobby, not the neocon/Israel axis, pushing military aggression against Iran – small-imperialist power politics, not Jewish conspiracy.

(Doug Henwood made a similar points here: “revelations like these are further proof that the conspiracist view of history, in which a secret cabal plans everything and everyone else is just an ignorant dupe, is wrong.”)

Then almost immediately, History is Made… told me, he turned to Indymedia to find it full of claims that Wikileaks is a Mossad/CIA false flag operation to deflect us away from the real conspiracies…

As far as I can tell, the meme has been promoted by the Wayne Madsden Report, and then taken up by Pakistan Daily:

WMR has learned from Asian intelligence sources that there is a strong belief in some Asian countries, particularly China and Thailand, that the website Wikileaks, which purports to publish classified and sensitive documents while guaranteeing anonymity to the providers, is linked to U.S. cyber-warfare and computer espionage operations, as well as to Mossad’s own cyber-warfare activities…

In China, Wikileaks is suspected of having Mossad connections. It is pointed out that its first “leak” was from an Al Shabbab “insider” in Somalia. Al Shabbab is the Muslim insurgent group that the neocons have linked to “Al Qaeda.”… Our sources in Asia believe that Wikileaks ran afoul of their CIA paymasters after it was discovered that some of Wikileaks’s “take” was being diverted to Mossad instead of to their benefactors at Langley.

There are strong suspicions that Wikileaks is yet another Soros-funded “false flag” operation on the left side of the political spectrum. WMR has learned that after former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) decided to oppose Soros’s choice of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s deputy Mark Malloch Brown as President of the World Bank, succedding the disgraced Paul Wolfowitz, Soros put the Wikileaks operation into high gear. “Daniel Schmitt” hacked into Coleman’s supporters list, stealing credit card info, addresses, and publishing the “take” on Wikileaks. Democrat Al Franken, who was strongly backed by Soros, defeated Coleman in a legally-contested and very close election…

It is also believed by informed sources that Soros is behind the operation to move Wikileaks to Iceland… Iceland is classic prey for Soros. The Icelandic krona has been decimated as a currency and has no where to go but up in value, especially if the British pound and the euro depreciate. Soros is currently talking down the euro, planning its fall and shorting it, just like he did versus the pound in London in the 1980s. After the UK’s and Europe’s currencies are devalued, Soros will buy every euro note in sight, thus making trillions.

Soros and his Wikileaks friends have in Iceland a practically unregulated banking system desperate for an influx of capital — money that will come from the exiled Russian tycoons in Israel, London and the United States. Israeli investors like Bank Leumi, and awash in siphoned-off Bernard Madoff cash, will do their bit for this smash-and-grab operation by Soros’s Quantum-linked hedge funds. [Emphasis added]

You can find read Indymedia directly here.

Of course, Assange supporters already suspect that well-known U.S. foreign policy lackey Sweden has trumped up the sexual allegations against Assange – for whom, by the way, even if the charges are legitimate, it is too perfectly scripted a plot development for him not to claim that that they are manufactured in a conspiracy to silence him.

These would be, then, counter-conspiratorial claims, one of which you are free to assess as conspiratorially credible, while the other shall remain exemplarily (of something) preposterous.

Or there is this.

SharkFu is obviously unaware of the need for conspiratorial consistency in ideological warfare. Far be it from me to suggest that anyone’s predisposition determines his or her take on the unbidden unsheathed saber asleep abed.

Meanwhile Glenn “Attila the Hun was never charged with any crime” Greenwald, graduate of the Chomsky School of Contempt (but turned down for admission to the Hitchens Institute of Invective), posts with his usual absence of self-reflective irony The lawless Wild West attacks WikiLeaks. [Emphasis added]

WikiLeaks has never been charged with a crime, let alone indicted for one or convicted of one.  A consensus of legal experts agree that prosecuting the organization or Julian Assange for any of its leaks would be difficult in the extreme.  Despite those facts, look at just some of the punishment that has been doled out to them.

I would point out to his Glenness, were he taking my calls, and were I making them, that neither the U.S. government, actually, now that he mentions it, nor George W. Bush (whose wars are the inciting justification in the still angry hearts of so many passionate Assange defenders) has “been charged with any crime.” I will bet a handsome sum, too, that many “legal experts” would agree that prosecuting Bush and the U.S. government would be “difficult in the extreme” – the nature of the “difficulty” in both cases going unspecified. As to the doling out of “punishment” – meant, of course, here slyly to imply illegitimate official acts – there has been none, just as the U.S. government’s punishment that the Wikileaks minions savor has no legal basis in justification. Michael Moore:

[Wikileaks] exist[s] to terrorize the liars and warmongers who have brought ruin to our nation and to others. Perhaps the next war won’t be so easy because the tables have been turned — and now it’s Big Brother who’s being watched … by us!


Might WikiLeaks cause some unintended harm to diplomatic negotiations and U.S. interests around the world? Perhaps. But that’s the price you pay when you and your government take us into a war based on a lie. Your punishment for misbehaving is that someone has to turn on all the lights in the room so that we can see what you’re up to. You simply can’t be trusted. So every cable, every email you write is now fair game. Sorry, but you brought this upon yourself. No one can hide from the truth now. No one can plot the next Big Lie if they know that they might be exposed.

So now, understand, it is not democratically elected governments, however flawed, that will (or not) bring indictments for crimes, judge the accused and mete out “punishments,” but righteous self-selectors; they will decide whom to judge and whom to expose. And if you should disagree with them, be not alarmed, for there is court and means of redress in –

You, however, being one of “the people” rising up in your natural strength and wisdom, unadorned by the frippery of foul government and base institutions – you, too, can choose to punish: punish the punishers. Want to know where Julian Assange will be staying if he is finally released on bail? Now you may know. It is your right to know, if you claim it, and who may deny? So Alex Madrigal gives us photos of the home and grounds where Assange will be cloistered when released. Soon a U.S. intelligence satellite will be commandeered (more punishment) for a closer look, down to the brand of jump drive inserted into any laptop. I personally will pay for the eavesdropping equipment that will reveal to us the contents of the confidential (ha!) conversations between Assange and his attorney regarding the Swedish charges.

For we have a right to know if the U.S. government is, indeed, as Assange, Greenwald and Moore claim, conspiratorially trumping up the charges. We, the people, have a right to know the true nature of our government, so let us now know what Assange owns up to in consultation with his lawyer. As Moore says,

someone has to turn on all the lights in the room …. So every cable, every email you write is now fair game. Sorry, but you brought this upon yourself. No one can hide from the truth now.

And if, as Moore states here, as Assange has, there is “unintended harm” to Assange’s own legal rights – well, hell, it isn’t as if the institutions of government and law are legitimate, in England any more than the U.S., for England has secrets, too, and it went to war in Iraq. What rights?

For we have come to that emancipating moment in the human story, of the liberating paradox: the encrypted secret (the Wikileaks files) in the name of no secrets. And what is hidden is power, as knowledge is power, and hidden knowledge is mine, but not thine. Do not ask me why.

Because a new day is upon us. The light is upon us. The knowledge and the freedom. And all our scales and our sins shall drop away.


Praise be.

Mine eyes



the coming.



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The Political Animal


Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies

Emily Dickenson’s idea of telling the truth slant should give pause. Why would one want to tell the truth slant? Isn’t a characteristic of the honesty that both seeks and represents the truth its directness? Be straight with me, we say – tell me the truth. In Plato’s Theatetus, Socrates separates himself in just this regard from Protagoras and the Sophists: he seeks the truth in the clearest possible, most direct language; they seek to persuade through the art of rhetoric. While purporting to aim at the truth, their true target is their interlocutor’s susceptibility to an appearance of the truth. Plato established this distinction for centuries to come, so that long after, in the seventeenth century, in prefatory verse to Joseph Glanvill’s The Vanity of Dogmatism, an admirer would praise Glanvill by writing,

You have removed the old antipathy
‘Tween Rhetorick and Philosophy,
And in your book have clothed Socratic sense
In Demosthenian eloquence.

It was ever so that language can lead us here or lead us there, and that we might confuse one for the other. Dickenson, of course, was writing of poetry. Her poem is among those – Archibald MacLeish’s Ars Poetica is another – that make the case with ironic directness that the way of the poet is better oblique. The poetry is not a message, but a method; it doesn’t lead us directly to a meaning, but conveys its very self in its obliquity. It doesn’t travel roundabout in a circuit; it completes a circuit.

That’s poetry.

But another crucial word in Dickenson is “success,” which needn’t be in telling the truth – and which “in circuit lies.” When not poetic, this success, which might be not in telling “all” the truth, but in telling only some of it, in words that misdirect or obscure, may be found in some goal other than the truth and that suits a purpose. “Bias” and to a lesser degree slanted suggested something ingrained and automatic, not necessarily conscious and controlled. Slanting, sounds more active. Obliquity is a method. Propaganda, which can be sophisticated, is nonetheless not as sophisticated as obliquity. The aim of propaganda is always clear, even if one mistakes it for the truth. Not so, by its nature, with obliquity. Dickenson writes further of “truth’s superb surprise” but life has many surprises, and sometimes it may be to discover that you were obliquely taken to where you didn’t know you were going.

“Pro-life”? Well, sure; isn’t everyone but the Reaper? Ah, you mean anti-abortion rights? Why didn’t you say so? “Pro-choice”? Of what, career? Habitation? If you have to ask what someone means by the words, he has wasted them or wasn’t straight with you, so with euphemism, though it is a form of obliquity, sometimes, as in “restroom,” the purpose is to eliminate the shit, while with “death tax,” the aim is to pile it on.

Novice readers of literature, who at some point are nearly everyone, are like babes in the woods, for whom the notion of the unreliable narrator – “once upon a time” – does not naturally occur. The storyteller’s authority is a garden path not to climactic truth, but to someone’s rationalization or avoidance. Psychotherapists, like ShrinkWrapped, are readers too, though, like professors of literature, trained readers. They know the patient is an unreliable narrator. The patient is telling one story; the therapist is reading for another, which, in fact, emerges from secondary, tangential, and trace elements of the direct narration – even from what is omitted from it. Where the patient in such cases leads the therapist, she takes him obliquely.

In the ongoing debate over Wikileaks, for instance, here is one perspective:

What started out as a small group of activists operating a clearing house for leaked secret documents, WikiLeaks looks like it is turning into an international grass roots movement that needs no central figure to fight a “data war” in the name of Internet freedom.

Here is another from the same post:

“Our long-term goal is to build a strong, transparent platform to support whistleblowers, while at the same time encouraging others to start similar projects.”

And a third:

The activists are now encouraging supporters to search through leaked cables on the WikiLeaks site and publish summaries of ones that have been least exposed, labeling them so they are hard to find by any authority seeking to quash them….

In an overnight blog post, Anonymous announced a change of strategy, saying it now aimed to publish parts of the confidential U.S. diplomatic cables as widely as possible and in ways that made them as hard as possible to trace….

Internet activists operating under the name “Anonymous” temporarily brought down this week the websites of credit card giants MasterCard and Visa — both of which had stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks….

The activists had previously been using denial of service attacks, in which they bombarded the Web servers of the perceived enemies of WikiLeaks with requests that crashed the sites, in an operation named “Operation Payback.”

And still a fourth, directly from Julian Assange (pdf):

To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action.

Authoritarian power is maintained by conspiracy

These represent at least three, even four, different representations of what Wikileaks and all that it has engendered now represent. The question I raise here is what it means when accounts and arguments over Wikileaks omit consideration of any of these. There are a variety of explanations for omission, but one characteristic it lacks is directness, for where one picks up after the gap created by the omission who – especially those who don’t know of it – can anticipate? How oblique now is the path of argument?

Here then is the truth to set them free. Free from the manipulations and constraints of the mendacious. Free to choose their path, free to remove the ring from their noses, free to look up into the infinite voids and choose wonder over whatever gets them though. And before this feeling to cast blessings on the profits and prophets of truth, on the liberators and martyrs of truth, on the Voltaires, Galileos, and Principias of truth, on the Gutenburgs, Marconis and Internets of truth, on those serial killers of delusion, those brutal, driven and obsessed miners of reality, smashing, smashing, smashing every rotten edifice until all is ruins and the seeds of the new.

How many who have argued in support of Wikileaks see this as a destination? And if they do, are we really having that debate?

As another example, a longer tale of narratives, directions, and misdirections, yesterday on This Week, Christiane Amanpour had as guests Israeli Kadima opposition leader Tsipi Livni and Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad. In Amanpour’s introduction to the joint interview, and during it, she emphasized Israel refusal, now, to renew a halt on “settlement activity” in order to gain Palestinian agreement to a resumption of peace talks. This framed the entire discussion in terms of Israeli obstructionism to talks. What Amanpour did not address at any point:

1.      that the Palestinians refuse to engage in talks without first receiving a concession, while Israel does not

2.      that the Israelis are asked to make a concession to Palestinians to have peace talks, while the Palestinians are not asked for a concession – for instance, the elimination of government-sponsored and school-based anti-Semitic pronouncements and indoctrination?

3.      that Israel had nonetheless just suspended “settlement activity” for ten months in order to bring the Palestinians to talks, but that the Palestinians had waited until just a month and a half before the end of the suspension to enter into the negotiations, hardly time in which to make progress

4.      that the “settlements” in question are housing activity in Jerusalem, an area of dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians, to be negotiated, and that asking for suspension there prior to talks is asking for a conceptual concession without negotiation.

How different might the course of discussion be, might the ever developing and redeveloping narrative be, were these elements included in the frame of the discussion? What is the destination it appears we are so directly headed toward; where is it we are really being taken?

Which “brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”


(Photo credit: / CC)


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The Political Animal

The Wikilieaks Matrix

Julian Assange at New Media Days 09 in Copenhagen.
Image via Wikipedia

There is no more conspiratorial mind than the mind that perceives conspiracy, genuine or not. There is no more vivid matrix than the matrix imagined, which is its realm. The matrix is the authoritarian apex, domination not only of physical relations, but also of mental relations: total control of reality. Conspiracy and authoritarianism.

Fear of conspiracy and authoritarianism – authoritarian conspiracy, conspired authoritarianism – motivates forms of both Right and Left extremism. The two joined are the final suture of the monster on Dr. Frankenstein’s table, the ogre who is truly the uncanny manifestation – in reality? in Dr. Frankenstein’s mind? – of the unconscious desires of its maker. Thus, Tea Party extremists conjured last year our freedoms in the pocket of an African Muslim Other, the socialist and Nazi state (what difference which or both: the face of the monster is a unitary horror) already upon us in healthcare death panels: soylent green, the nutrient that kills – the ultimate illusion.

From the Left comes the same inchoate and emotional rejection of the center of power, for the resentment and fear of it. It is, no less than the outbursts of the Right over the past two years, sheer incoherence. Writes David Samuels in The Atlantic, expressing the argument from journalism,

Julian Assange and Pfc Bradley Manning have done a huge public service by making hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents available on Wikileaks — and, predictably, no one is grateful….

It is dispiriting and upsetting for anyone who cares about the American tradition of a free press to see Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gibbs turn into H.R. Haldeman, John Erlichman and John Dean. We can only pray that we won’t soon be hit with secret White House tapes of Obama drinking scotch and slurring his words while calling Assange bad names….

But the truly scandalous and shocking response to the Wikileaks documents has been that of other journalists, who make the Obama Administration sound like the ACLU…. Channeling Richard Nixon, Coll labeled Wikileaks’ activities – formerly known as journalism – by his newly preferred terms of “vandalism” and “First Amendment-inspired subversion.”

This is strikingly vacuous outrage. Since when has it been the role of the press in a democracy, the “American tradition of a free press,” to be – more than, playing its proper role, the aggressive interlocutor of government and power, in a tense relationship of check and balance – the enemy of government, seeking or supporting the theft of any and all government documents? Ah, but if one questions U.S. bona fides as a democracy, if it is the matrix in utero, then anything is justified in opposition, as if one were already engaged, with such life-affirming meaning, in that grand death battle.

Last week I cited Digby over at Hullabaloo, who offered the quintessential Left emotion.

My personal feeling is that any allegedly democratic government that is so hubristic that it will lie blatantly to the entire world in order to invade a country it has long wanted to invade probably needs a self-correcting mechanism. There are times when it’s necessary that the powerful be shown that there are checks on its behavior, particularly when the systems normally designed to do that are breaking down. Now is one of those times. . . . . As for the substance of the revelations, I don’t know what the results will be. But in the world of diplomacy, embarrassment is meaningful and I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing for all these people to be embarrassed right now.  Puncturing a certain kind of self-importance — especially national self-importance — may be the most worthwhile thing they do. A little humility is long overdue.

Gibbs (center) in a conference room of Air For...
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It is easy on both Right and Left – indeed, it appears a psychological requirement of the procedure – to minimize or even eradicate in one’s mind the continuing nature of the U.S. as a democracy when one is compelled by circumstance to live with decisions and policies one does not support. It is not the Obama administration that, as Digby believes, lied “to the entire world in order to invade a country,” but she remains still so emotionally unreconciled to the event, that it becomes justification – no less than the supposed incipient federal power grab of national healthcare for the Right – for other illegal activity, against the government, of which she generally  disapproves. “As for the substance of the revelations, I don’t know what the results will be,” she says. But apparently embarrassment and “puncturing…self-importance” are a political vision. How well conceived it all is.

Friend Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper, pointed me to this post by Robert P. Baird at 3 Quarks, who pointed me to Aaron Bady and these 2006 essays (pdf) by Julian Assange actually delineating his purpose in more detail than his disingenuous, self-righteous, and self-serving interviews tend to do.

What Assange truly aspires to produce, as I suggested last week here, is a kind of anarcho-hacker disruption of the matrix, reflected in the aspirations of the Wikileaks mirror and champion sites that have appeared. Once and still, computing was the basis for totalistic authoritarian nightmare, as in the classic Colossus: The Forbin Project. Now, too, it feeds utopian dreams of the liberating power of cyberspace and the universal, unrestricted access to information. The dreams and nightmares persist; information and knowledge are always the core. Only the media change.

The essays focus on “conspiracy” and “authoritarianism,” but while they describe the first, they never define either. What is the difference between that pair and cooperation and power? Power is first the “ability to act or produce an effect,” secondarily “possession of control, authority, or influence over others.” How much is too much control and authority? Assange does not say. Do not the citizens of a democracy, as part of that social contract, cede degrees of control and authority to the government, in return for which the citizens exercise electoral and systematic checks on the government? Can such a system be authoritarian? What degree of systematic corruption is necessary for the checks to be illusory and a democracy to be deemed authoritarian? Assange has directed his attacks on the U.S. because it is the international superpower, but has he made a case for the authoritarian nature of the U. S., one that would justify the direction of illegal and systematically destructive attacks against it?

What distinguishes cooperation from conspiracy? Cooperation is common effort, an “association of persons for common benefit.” Secrecy and illegal or wrongful intent are the necessary elements of the transformation of cooperation into conspiracy, but is either alone sufficient? We know already – it is all around us, from either end of the political spectrum – that any aggrieved political agitant will find basis for claiming wrongfulness, even illegality: it violates some conception of the constitution, some document of international law. One doesn’t need a court decision to make claims. And so one sets about, guided by no more than a sole moral compass and a mission, and ill-considered concepts, to disrupt the order of international diplomacy and relationship – because we all know they are dreadfully flawed, as the product of the sinful beings who created them, but Julian Assange is ready and waiting to show us the superior replacement. We will all know everything and be free. Power will not concentrate, and we will live how?

President Barack Obama walks the grounds at Wi...
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Secrecy – is secrecy the demon seed? The secrecy that Assange has utilized to do his own work, to hide himself from his enemies, engaged, by every understanding of the word, in fact, himself in conspiracy? Because if there is one power that contests with knowledge as the basis of freedom, it is secrecy, the secrecy of our own selves, our interior and private beings that are the ultimate possession authoritarian regimes will seek to steal from us – public denunciations, public confessions, systems of betrayal and unauthorized revelation, theoretical condemnations, as decadent, of the bourgeois and the personal. In the life saving enterprise of opposing oppressive power and domination we would be secret too, to ensure the success of our cause. So secrecy has an elemental role in our freedom, as well as in conspiracy. Its value or wrongfulness is a calculation of context, a context Assange is too driven by missionary and too-meager theoretical stars to consider with care.

The matrix is a construct. We each live in a matrix, of our sense perceptions and the organizing frames our minds place around the ideas that arise from and around our perceptions. We have been jointly considering and debating the reality of that matrix, and the common one that arises relationally from it, for all of human existence. Who will decide on his own, at last, that it is not real and blow it up? Because when you die in the matrix, you die for real too.



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The Political Animal

Wikileaks Jumps the Shark

Logo used by Wikileaks
Image via Wikipedia

That was fast. But we live in an accelerated age. It is not entirely clear who the defenders are of Julian Assange, but they seem to be generally people of the hard Left and monomaniacal anti-authoritarians such as Glenn Greenwald, who, in his ill-defined ambi-political orientation, can embrace both extremes of incoherent opposition to state power. Writes Greenwald,

Then there’s the somewhat controversial claim that our major media stars are nothing more than Government spokespeople and major news outlets little more than glorified state-run media.

Not surprisingly, Greenwald is an advocate of this “controversial claim.” The fact that many, such as I, are critical of The New York Times and other newspapers for publishing anything at all of the Wikileaks diplomatic cables release does not register with him as a counter to his position. That, complexly, the Times, by seeking government guidance on what identities should be wisely elided from published versions might be pursuing its own vision of responsible citizenship is irreconcilable with the absolutist Greenwald’s commitment to attacking the idea of state authority. He himself approvingly cites Digby, in her expression of the essential, unrefined devotion to the commandment to “question authority.”

My personal feeling is that any allegedly democratic government that is so hubristic that it will lie blatantly to the entire world in order to invade a country it has long wanted to invade probably needs a self-correcting mechanism. There are times when it’s necessary that the powerful be shown that there are checks on its behavior, particularly when the systems normally designed to do that are breaking down. Now is one of those times. . . . .As for the substance of the revelations, I don’t know what the results will be. But in the world of diplomacy, embarrassment is meaningful and I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing for all these people to be embarrassed right now.  Puncturing a certain kind of self-importance — especially national self-importance — may be the most worthwhile thing they do. A little humility is long overdue.

This is an emotion masquerading as an idea, as, in fact, Digby introduces it. As I wrote yesterday, the Cables release, in contrast, to Afghan releases, shows clearly that rather than a specific anti-war political goal, Assange has, as he openly expresses, a philosophically anarchic agenda, and it is completely incoherent, unless one simply wishes to take emotional revenge – joy in a little embarrassment – from a resented center of power. Digby’s comment above, with a different source of resentment, might just as easily have come from a Tea Partier.

Sensible thinking on the subject comes from both sides of the political divide, which is why the bloom already fades from Assange’s shriveling rose. Here is the liberal James Rubin:

Yet those on the hard left are usually the loudest critics of America imposing its own values, its own way of doing business, and its own culture on other countries. For better or worse, in many parts of the world there’s a big difference between what government officials are prepared to do publicly and what they’re prepared to say and do privately. We may wish it otherwise, but those are the realities faced by U.S. officials. The hard left, so quick to demand that America accept other countries’ political systems, now seems blind to the fact that other governments want to have the right to say one thing in public and a different thing in private. By respecting that difference, American diplomats are doing their job. Surely the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, would prefer for Arab leaders to be as honest and open and transparent as we are in our country. Until such democratic values come to the Arab world, however, we have to work with what we’ve got. U.S. diplomacy has been damaged, not destroyed; it will recover after a time. But for now, Wikileaks is making diplomacy’s task a whole lot harder.

And here is the conservative Max Boot, citing the Times’ rationale that “[a]s daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name”:

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks.

The New York Times building in New York, NY ac...
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Actually, let’s make our document request broader: the Times should share with the world all its internal correspondence going back years. That would include, of course, memos that disclose the identity of anonymous sources, including sources who may have risked their lives to reveal information to Times reporters. Of course, just as it does with government documents, we would give the Times the privilege of redacting a few names and facts — at least in a few of the versions that are published on the Internet.

My suspicion — call it a hunch — is that the Times won’t accept my modest suggestion. Their position, in effect, is “secrecy for me but not for thee.” But why? Can the Times editors possibly argue with a straight face that their deliberations are more important and more privileged than the work of our soldiers and diplomats? No doubt the editors can see all the damage that releasing their own documents would do — it would have a chilling effect on internal discourse and on the willingness of sources to share information with Times reporters. But they seem blind to the fact that precisely the same damage is being done to the United States government with consequences potentially far more momentous.

The most persuasive argument the Times has made is that “most of these documents will be made public regardless of what The Times decides.” That’s true, but that doesn’t eradicate the Times’ responsibility for choosing to act as a press agent and megaphone for WikiLeaks.

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The Political Animal

Julian Assange: Enemy of the States

From the start, there has been a general lack of coherence in the response to Julian Assange and the activities of Wikileaks. Many critics of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were pleased to frame Assange’s leaks of U.S. government documents as “whistle blower” activity, a currently common label for Assange, who, in fact, was awarded the 2010 Sam Adams Award, an award given for whistle blowing activities, by the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, a movement of former CIA employees. Accordingly, Assange has been cast by some as being in the mold of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

It is important to recall the Ellsberg characterized his own behavior as an act of conscience within a system of laws the authority of which he accepted, however much he saw clearly the unvarnished nature of state power. He comported himself as a civil disobedient.

I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.

Ellsberg thus acted in a tradition that had recently included Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, and that extends back to Socrates. Many people, including, perhaps, Ellsberg himself, who has been a vocal supporter of Assange, overlook this aspect of the Pentagon Papers history and focus instead on the skepticism of state authority. Ellsberg said also,

The public is lied to every day by the President, by his spokespeople, by his officers. If you can’t handle the thought that the President lies to the public for all kinds of reasons, you couldn’t stay in the government at that level, or you’re made aware of it, a week. … The fact is Presidents rarely say the whole truth—essentially, never say the whole truth—of what they expect and what they’re doing and what they believe and why they’re doing it and rarely refrain from lying, actually, about these matters.

Well, as I and plenty of other people write about often, the entire political class lies; lying has been accommodated as a characteristic of political discourse. There are corrupt and abusive lies, self-serving lies, the general run of bullshit, and there are the white and some government lies that many accept as a feature of reality, in which, at times the truth can be harmful. How one feels about living with these features of reality is a deeply personal adjustment to the character of the world and the course of life. It is an existential decision that may vary widely in widely divergent circumstances – differences in the political life of nations, for instance – and there is no one way to respond with integrity. One must first acknowledge, however, to oneself, the nature of the question one is confronting and the rationale one offers oneself for one’s response to it.

Julian Assange does not act as a civil disobedient. He not only seeks to evade any systematic responsibility for his acts through Wikileaks, but he avowedly holds himself above any system of law, anywhere, that might seek to hold him accountable. I offer again, at the bottom, the video of Assange’s appearance on The Colbert Report from earlier this year, because it was particularly revealing. In it Assange asserts that the rights of the press are superior to law, because legitimate systems of law, like “real politics” and “real diplomacy” flow from unfettered information and knowledge.

I won’t unpack all that is bundled together there, except to note first that Assange has completely altered the notion of a press – of course, to include what he himself does – to embrace any dissemination of information not universally accessible. If you steal my personal diary and open it up on a table at the company cafeteria, congratulations, you are now Edward R. Murrow. One also longs to learn Assange’s definition of “real” in “real politics” and “real diplomacy,” or what tradition it is in diplomatic activity he refers to when he suggests that the real kind is open. But observe how supremely well Colbert spies Assange’s hypocrisy. Assange pretends to have one mission: the free flow of information. But Colbert notes the prejudicial title of the Apache helicopter video release: “Collateral Murder.”

“You have edited the tape and given it a title, ‘Collateral Murder.’ That’s not leaking; that’s a pure editorial.”

That was for “maximum impact,” Assange says.

Replies Colbert (in very close to these words), “” I admire someone who is willing to put ‘Collateral Murder’ at the start knowing most people probably won’t  go on to read the rest. That way you have manipulated the audience.”

Watch Assange’s face: he is taken aback by how shrewdly Colbert has caught him out.

Still, Assange will insist he is doing the work of “the press.” As we learn from the Sydney Morning Herald, however,

Wikileaks, [Assange] says, has released more classified documents than the rest of the world press combined.

”That’s not something I say as a way of saying how successful we are – rather, that shows you the parlous state of the rest of the media. How is it that a team of five people has managed to release to the public more suppressed information, at that level, than the rest of the world press combined? It’s disgraceful.”

Assange identifies the role of the press as definitively one of releasing to the public “suppressed” information. He does not offer how a proper press comes to obtain the suppressed information it releases, but we know how he does it: he induces the violation of law, in any state, above which he holds himself and any individual who breaks such codified law, if their purpose is the unfettered flow of information. There is no space here for fundamental considerations of privacy and legitimate secrecy, but certainly Assange’s “suppressed” (repressed, oppressed) implies, without qualification as to circumstance or kind, that undisclosed information is always illegitimately withheld information. You might, when considering your medical records, comfort yourself that Assange’s target is the power of the state, unless, of course, like any individual identified in the hundreds of thousands of documents obtained so far, your personal privacy recedes before the higher calling of exposing state policy, say in healthcare legislation.

It is actually quite remarkable how ill-considered is the activity that Assange has chosen to make the defining work of his life. Until now we have had him cast a wide net in explaining his notion of a press; here, he goes strikingly awry in seeking a model of what he envisions.

[Assange] said journalism needed to work towards making more primary source material such as this available online, arguing that this was the standard process for scientific investigations and that it should be the same for journalism.

You can’t publish a paper on physics without the full experimental data and results, that should be the standard in journalism.

You can’t do it in newspapers because there isn’t enough space, but now with the internet there is.

Of course, we should always be happier the more openly sourced reportage is, but anyone without an idealist’s eye for the heavens and a missionary’s zeal understands why we often have unsourced reportage. In scientific inquiry at its ideal best – which it ain’t always – there is no benefit, and every disadvantage to secrecy. In reportage on the multifarious world, without secrecy there is often, paradoxically, nothing to report. Consider, though, that Assange is not an opponent of all secrecy, such as the secrets Wikileaks keeps about its own activities, including, frequently, Assange’s movements and whereabouts, concerning which, interestingly, he has security concerns.

It is not clear how many of those who respond in a kind of visceral political sense to Assange – iconoclastic gadflies who challenge the authority of state power hold a power over certain dispositional imaginations second only to the power the state wields over the actual world – understand that his mission is not one only of opposing what they believe to be misguided or morally wrong wars – that what Assange advances is an anarchic assault on the authority of the state itself. It is often so, though, that missionaries assume a personal authority no less absolute and self-justifying than that of the state.  Since the release of the first Afghan documents, Assange has been questioned about the potential human cost of his unfiltered releases (which he has since offered to review, in future releases, for potential harm, thus acknowledging some level of acceptable secrecy – the one Assange judges appropriate). Here are some of his responses the Guardian.

When I try to question him about the morality of what he’s done, if he worries about unleashing something that he can’t control, that no one can control, he tells me the story of the Kenyan 2007 elections when a WikiLeak document “swung the election”.

The leak exposed massive corruption by Daniel Arap Moi, and the Kenyan people sat up and took notice. In the ensuing elections, in which corruption became a major issue, violence swept the country. “1,300 people were eventually killed, and 350,000 were displaced. That was a result of our leak,” says Assange. It’s a chilling statistic, but then he states: “On the other hand, the Kenyan people had a right to that information and 40,000 children a year die of malaria in Kenya. And many more die of money being pulled out of Kenya, and as a result of the Kenyan shilling being debased.”


Not everyone agrees. There’s a school of thought, to which a leading article in the Times gave voice, that he is playing a dangerous game. He says he hasn’t read it, so I quote a chunk: “The sanctimonious piety of the man is sickening.”

“Oh sure,” he says. “Because it would be better to be a ruthless media mogul just in it for the money. That would be then be acceptable. We can’t actually have people doing something for moral reasons. It’s only acceptable if we do it just for the money.”


What about these named sources? Might he have endangered their lives?

“If there are innocent Afghans being revealed, which was our concern, which was why we kept back 15,000 files, then of course we take that seriously.”

But what if it’s too late?

“Well, we will review our procedures.”

Too late for the individuals, I say. Dead.

“Well, anything might happen but nothing has happened. And we are not about to leave the field of doing good simply because harm might happen … [Emphasis added]

In the first instance, Assange cold-bloodedly rationalizes the cost of his actions no differently than a Bolshevik or Maoist did, or even any Bush administration official did the cost to the Iraqi civilian population of the Iraq war. In the second we see that he justifies himself, and any similarity in his behavior to those he opposes, because he is, simply, a better person. And that last – we are not about to leave the field of doing good simply because harm might happen do not such words rationalize the very wars Assange opposes? Perhaps it takes a sensibility less computational and political than Assange’s to have seen in life how often the zealous adversary is a mirror of that which he opposes.

All this has been to stitch together, from the various strands, a coherent vision of the incoherence of Assange’s philosophy, and the sympathies he engenders in some quarters. The release now of the U.S. diplomatic cables, which governments other than the U.S. are condemning, places a frame around it all. The newspapers that are publishing the cables – no doubt, in part, not to be upstaged, outdone, and outshone, by their own lights, by Wikileaks – are now caught in the same sticky web of self-regard and self-interest. No longer do we have justifications of conscience and public obligation arrayed against allegedly deceptive, immoral, or illegal wars. Now we have this justification from The New York Times.

The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match.

About what otherwise not publicly accessible government documents at the administrative, diplomatic, military, and law enforcement levels could this statement not be made? These are not historical papers of which the Times writes, but current documents relating to the ever sensitive communications between governments. To publish according to this flimsy standard is to acknowledge no authority whatsoever on the part of the government to protect its important communications and to execute its policies with the care and by the measure of its own, elected leaders’ judgments. Such an act does not challenge in conscience the excesses of the state; it works to undermine any coherent conception of an appropriately authoritative and effective state.


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The Political Animal

The First Casualty of War…

…is truth.

Attribute it to whomever you like.

War, though, as we know from Clausewitz, is not just physical combat, and war and politics, we might say, are different, more or less heightened modalities of the same material and ideological contention. So maybe less neatly, and with the greater complexity of reality, we have Samuel Johnson.

Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.

The Idler, 1758

Chaz Pazienza offers his own more extended consideration, focus on Julian Assange.

But there’s another thing worth exploring here: The question of whether, in the internet age, the age of seemingly absolute media transparency, war can survive. Not just the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but any war. Now that it’s almost impossible to hide the reality of what armed conflict is — how brutal and devastating it is to those on both sides of the gun, how innocence and morality are often the very first casualties of it — will there ever be such thing as a truly “just” war again? Julian Assange and those who laud his efforts and who believe he’s entirely justified in indiscriminately spitting sensitive information into the ether — not even filtering it through, say, a responsible press, as Ellsberg once did, but just putting it all out there and letting the chips fall where they may — these people likely wish to see the entire concept of war become a relic of the past, a modern day impossibility, made so by the inability to keep anything a secret anymore. The problem with this, of course, is that sometimes war really is necessary; there will always be people or situations which leave you no other option but to fight. And those fights will always be ugly. Innocent people will die. Once moral people, their psyches turned inside out, will kill without cause. Governments and generals will make decisions that seem unspeakably ghastly. Because war truly is hell.

And as is the case with Assange, there will be nothing wrong with holding those who take us into battle and who put our men and women in the line of fire accountable. The issue then may be how much naiveté is displayed by those who choose to be insurgent whistleblowers to the battlefield horrors and propagandizing at home that go hand in hand with a lengthy war. Would you really believe that innocents aren’t dying? That the military isn’t engaging in tactics that many might see as underhanded? That the government isn’t hiding some of the facts about both? Admittedly, there’s an argument to be made that people like Julian Assange exist only because the press isn’t doing its job; this is as true on many levels as it is unfortunate, because, once again, Assange isn’t doing what he does to satisfy some lofty commitment to the truth — he’s doing it to serve his own agenda, which asserts that war, particularly in the modern age, is inherently immoral. He wears his personal bête noire proudly and pompously on his sleeve, and engages in his own kind of war in the service of its destruction, which he finds entirely justifiable.

via Chez Pazienza: Julian Assange: God of War.

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The Political Animal

Wikileaks Unvarnished: the Power of Satire

Seek out someone who supports, however grudgingly, a continued U.S. effort in Afghanistan, who supports, too, the work of Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Find a person opposed to remaining in Afghanistan who is also critical of Assange. In either case, listen, because you won’t have either opportunity often. Attitudes in controversy tend to be self-confirming, a state of mind and affairs not conducive to critical thinking.

This is the complete, unedited interview by Stephen Colbert of Julian Assange, originally aired on The Colbert Report in its edited version on April 12, 2010.  You will find no more incisive and revealing interview of Assange from any professional journalist, a commentary both on the state of journalism and the critical, revelatory force of satire. At times, Colbert’s comic persona is indistinguishable from the fiercest kind of straight reportorial examination. He controls the interview and deftly pierces pretension.

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Exclusives – Julian Assange Unedited Interview
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