“I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes”
The release of a quarter of a million confidential to secret diplomatic cables will be remembered as another milestone heralding the rise of non-state actors as a major influence on the development of the global order. But is it still too soon for the digital rebel to triumph over the physical establishment?
The leaked cables themselves are so far largely over-hyped, both by its defenders and detractors. The “secret” classification sounds very sensitive but, as anyone who has ever worked in the government would know, it is actually a relatively low security classification. The leaked documents are unlikely to reveal any information that foreign intelligence services do not already know and should come as a surprise only to people who spend all their free time listening to Justin Bieber, assuming they read the news at all to even learn of WikiLeaks.
On the other hand, neither does the leak strengthen the foundation of democracy in any way. Like Tea Partiers who tend to confuse tax cuts with a sound fiscal policy, WikiLeak supporters often mistake anarchy for liberty.
A Force of Anarchy
A completely transparent government is a non-functioning one. Even the most obtuse should see this obvious fact. No supporter of democracy would argue that the Secret Service should publish its security details and shift schedules, or that the Pentagon should publish all its self assessments of its defence vulnerabilities. This is unless you believe that a non-functioning government is the best kind, which makes you an anarchist.
The act of whistle-blowing is an act of desperation that should only follow a systematic failure to address corruption and wrong-doings. It betrays the original duties entrusted to the individual and is the final option when all else has failed. It is the equivalent of sawing off a wounded leg to save the rest of the person — it’s not the first option you should be considering.
What WikiLeaks is doing now — the naive idea that all information should be known to everyone — is thoughtless overkill. So far, I fail to see the systematic corruptions that warrant the cables to be leaked. Where is the smoking gun? (Or the weapons of mass destruction in the parlance of our time.)
Imagine you are charged with the handling of millions of classified papers. Among them, you stumble across one that details an illegal act perpetuated by agents of the government. You have a moral duty to expose this act. Do you 1) release this single paper, or 2) release all the millions of papers? If you answer the former, you are a whistle-blower. If you answer the latter, you are an anarchist.
This is not to say that I am condemning anarchy as a moderating force of international affairs. After all, the Laughing Man, despite the amount of collateral damage he and his copycats caused, did serve some purpose in the grand scheme of things.
Given that governments everywhere prefer secrecy even when it is not warranted, the rise of an international force of anarchy could possibly serve as a counter-balance.
But on the other hand, it might merely strengthen the case for totalitarian rule. After all, China’s secret files are unlikely to find their way to WikiLeaks any time soon, given that treason is swiftly met with a firing squad. From the US Government’s perspective, it is hard to argue why a leak of secret documents should compel it to become more transparent.
The Internet is still in its infancy. We are far from achieving the full potential of a global information network. For one thing, we don’t have cyberbrains yet.
In this latest episode, WikiLeaks, along with its Anonymous supporters, is holding its ground against the thousand-pound gorilla that is the US Government only because the US remains committed, to varying degrees depending on the particular person in charge, to the idea of democracy and rule by law. (China on the other hand…)
These are the physical weak points of today’s aspiring digital rebels: server infrastructures and human beings. A less scrupulous opponent than the US could have done far more effective damage to those two vulnerable spots.
The effectiveness of digital anarchy in the coming future will depend on the development of technology to overcome these limitations. A cyberbrain may be a good start.
Maybe we can use Kinects to overlay spinning smileys over our faces in real time.
Rooster Coming Home To Roost
As I watch US Senators react like Chicken Little to WikiLeaks, I can’t help but wonder what their reactions would have been if the leaked documents had been Iranian or North Korean.
Would they have condemned WikiLeaks for compromising the national security of sovereign nations? Or would Julian Assange have been presented with a Congressional Gold Medal?
In its almost clichéd pursue of freedoms in foreign lands, the US plays a very dangerous game where it constantly risks getting left behind by its own rhetoric, whether in terms of human rights, environmental protection or economic reform. Unrealistic rhetoric discredits both the content of the message and the substance of the actions, however necessary and well-considered they may be in each case.
But looking at the Tea Party movement, perhaps the train has already left the station. Vapid political jingoism has taken on a life of its own and rational policy-making will have to play second fiddle.
Given that WikiLeaks has so far released only hundreds out of hundreds of thousands of purported cables, it may be too soon to draw a conclusion regarding the amount of good/harm done by this leak.
But looking at the past modus operandi of WikiLeaks and considering the fact that the cables were not released in chronological order but rather have apparently been hand-picked for their gossip-worthiness, I am leaning towards the conclusion that the remaining cables do not expose any massive wrong-doings the way the Pentagon Papers did.
WikiLeaks have had months to go through the cables. If any US Government conspiracy existed in the leaked cables, then WikiLeaks would certainly have highlighted it by now, given its stated goal as a whistle-blowing site.
It’s hard to believe that, in face of significant public dissent, WikiLeaks is for some inexplicable reason holding on to the most sensational and pertinent materials instead of using them to justify its actions.
I may yet be proven wrong. Perhaps WikiLeaks has simply not gone through all the documents yet (which would make it uncharacteristically sloppy). Maybe the next Pentagon Papers are just around the corner.
But when it’s all out in the open and we find out that politician gossips and personal musings are all that we are going to get from this whole fiasco, then WikiLeaks would have done no more than the Daily Mail in keeping governments honest.
Of course, that is not to say the Daily Mail is not good entertainment.
The leaked embassy cables make for interesting gossip and are symbolic of growing individualistic forces at work in the modern international order, but ultimately do not seem to have achieved much and are over hyped by the eager mainstream media.
WikiLeaks, or its descendants/copycats, is capable of much more destructive anarchy as technology improves and more aspects of society are digitized. But for now, it remains at least partially vulnerable to traditional political pressure and its effects, and its access to the people, can still be mitigated by government intervention.
National governments, traditional wielders of political power, are capable of much more direct and sinister attacks against WikiLeaks and its future iterations should they feel the situation is desperate enough. So far, it apparently is not.
As for me, I am still waiting for the Laughing Man.