Wikileaks and Napster
In an Assange interview published by the Guardian on Friday 3 December 2010, Assange says:
“Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free. In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has …power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade.”
In other words, he says the only Western speech that is ‘free’ is speech that does not threaten “the fiscal blockade”.
The commodity, in the case of Wikileaks, that is threatened is safe/private intelligence. We might call it ’safely encrypted intelligence’.
The commodity in the case of Napster was monetized, commodified, marketed music.
Napster was savaged by the music industry because Napster represented a significant threat to the business. They were actually able to shut it down through the legal system. Wikileaks is being savaged by governments and also the media around the world. The media is savaging Wikileaks because Wikileaks is fulfilling a job typically done by the press. Governments are savaging Wikileaks because Wikileaks is publishing their secret information.
Napster threatened the ‘fiscal blockade’ between music and the consumer by making music freely downloadable. Wikileaks threatens the ‘fiscal blockade’ between THE TRUTH and the citizenry of the world by publishing national intelligence and other sometimes corporate (or simply private?) intelligence on matters of public concern.
In the case of both Napster and Wikileaks, we see the Internet wreaking significant change not on the art of music or, as it were, the art of diplomacy or intelligence, but on the business of their files.
The Value of Wikileaks
After George W Bush’s administration hoodwinked the USA and world press into thinking that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction–and used that as an excuse to start a war with Iraq–it became impossible to say that an effective ‘watchdog press’ exists in the USA. For lack of good public information on the matter, the Bush administration was able to do what it wanted to do in any case–start a war. Starting a war based on misinformation is surely one of the most heinous crimes imaginable.
The importance of an enterprise such as Wikileaks is that governments (and corporations) might have a harder time doing such stuff if an organization is set up to handle high-level whistle blowing. Might the Bush administration have had a harder time convincing the world that their intelligence on WMD was good if Wikileaks had been around at the time? Impossible to say. But it’s that sort of thing–that very high level sort of intelligence–that Wikileaks is trying to deal with.
In his mendaciously-titled book “Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight”, Bush advisor Karl Rove says
“Would the Iraq War have occurred without W.M.D.? I doubt it. Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the W.M.D. threat. The Bush administration itself would probably have sought other ways to constrain Saddam, bring about regime change, and deal with Iraq’s horrendous human rights violations.”
We note that the Iraq war *did* occur without WMD, of course. Who knows–perhaps Wikileaks could have prevented the Iraq war, or at least made the Bush administration seek some other means of justifying it than the lies about the existence of WMD that they, in fact, used.
We have heard many comments to the effect that Wikileaks puts lives at risk and makes it harder for everybody to speak the truth when they fear it might become public. We have also heard it said that it isn’t Wikileaks that does the good work but the standard press does the work with what Wikileaks provides, namely the docs.
I think we need to consider the current situation as Wikileaks 1.0. It is pretty clear at this point that such an organization has to work out not only its own internal structure but its relations with the standard press. Those relations are obviously crucial. The good work to be done is obviously not solely that which Wikileaks can do but is a combination of work by Wikileaks and the traditional press working with Wikileaks. So that innocent lives are not imperilled by Wikileaks disclosures.
Here is an outstanding four-part video investigation produced in the USA called News War that does an excellent (pre-Wikileaks) job of presenting the severe challenges faced by journalists and journalism in today’s world: http://pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/newswar . After viewing that investigation, and understanding some of the terrible difficulties faced by journalism and journalists these days, the potential value of Wikileaks and its like becomes clearer.
The picture that emerges from News War is that it’s becoming more difficult for societies to have effective watchdog presses. One of the consequences is that power is more able to do what it wants. The value of Wikileaks and its like is that they are attempts to curtail precisely this very unfortunate phenomenon of it being easier for power to do what it wants.
The internet is often blamed for certain aspects of the troubles for journalism. Lots of people these days get much of their news free on the net, thereby decreasing the monetary value of newspapers and other previously successfully monetized journalistic commodities. Well, Wikileaks is leveraging the power of the internet to empower the citizenry, journalism and journalists to present the public with what is really happening in the world. And that obviously has social, political and, consequently, financial value.
The Ayatollah Flanagan
On a separate matter concerning Wikileaks, we saw, earlier this week, the Ayatollah Tom Flanagan, a conservative professor at the University of Calgary in Canada’s prairies/midwest and a former top political aide to the Canadian conservative prime minister Stephen Harper say on Canadian national television that “Assange should be assassinated.”
Which only goes to show that Canadian conservatives can be as revolting as any others.
Ayatollah Flanagan obviously thought it would be funny to call for the assassination of Julian Assange on national television. If we don’t find it funny, does that mean we don’t have what it takes to be a top political advisor to Stephen Harper? Is it a joke that only “manly” politicians or their advisors can appreciate? Would Dick Cheney find it funny?
Flanagan has gone on, of course, to regret his statement. However, something tells me he isn’t quite going to regret it enough.
Is Wikileaks biased? — a video of Julian Assange talking about methods.
‘Anonymous’ group launches attacks against Swiss bank for freezing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s account – article
Shutting down Wikileaks – article