December 11, 2010
Well, when I’m wrong, I’m spectacularly wrong. Last week, I opined that the latest Wikileak cable dump served as a distraction from our real problems and that, after some diplomatic “papering over” (which Mrs. Clinton has been busy carrying out,) cablegate would disappear from the news scene as completely as the Iraq/Afghanistan documents.
How was I to know that the Empire would be more rattled over a release of cables from gossipy diplomats and a few faux pas like requests for biometric and other personal data on UN personnel or the Critical Foreign Dependencies Initiative, (a list of other nations’ assets that we consider vital to our national interests – without any input from the nations involved) than they would the video of an apache helicopter mowing down 15 people (including two Reuters journalists) in Iraq, news of a US-run assassination squad in Afghanistan and other obscenities in the released logs from the two wars? It must be so, however, for this time, instead of just disappearing the embarrassments, the Empire fought back. And what a fight it has become.
At first, various government officials grumbled about damaged relationships and lives being lost, but with the video of the Apache attack out since April, the Afganistan documents out since July and the Iraq, since October, Mr. Gates of the DOD admitted that no one was known to have died as a result of those leaks.
Perhaps the first strike in the oncoming war occurred the day before the cables were to be released, when someone committed a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack on Wikileak’s Amazon site. There’s no way to prove the government was involved, of course, but after what ensued next, one wonders. Shortly after the cables were released, Senator Joe Lieberman put pressure on Amazon to withdraw its services, adding that all good corporate citizens might want to do the same. Amazon complied, as did EveryDNS, which shut down Wikileaks here in the US.
Wikileaks then moved to sites in Sweden and France and hundreds of “mirror” sites sprang up as ordinary people moved to carry the same batch of leaked cables across the internet. IP addresses of these mirror sites were published on Wikileaks’ Twitter page as fast as they popped up, insuring the information couldn’t be stopped.
Corporate America quickly launched a counter-strike, perhaps touched by Mr. Lieberman’s comments on good corporate citizens, as PayPal, MasterCard,Visa, the Swiss Bank PostFinance and other groups began to shut down donation sites for Wikileaks, thus cutting off major sources of the group’s financing.
Sarah Palin opined that we should hunt down Mr. Assange with all the urgency we show toward al Qaida and the Taliban.
Retaliation by rebel forces, in the form of coordinated DDOS attacks by a group of hacktivists called Anonymous then ensued against Amazon, Mastercard and other players in the battle. They even offered a download which allowed thousands of internet users to volunteer their computers in the attacks.
On December 7, after Sweden finally issued a proper arrest warrant, Julian Assange walked into a London police station and was arrested (but not charged with a crime), denied bail and currently sits in solitary confinement, for his own protection, of course.
It’s been reported that Sweden is holding talks with the United States on whether Assange can be extradited to face charges under US law.
It is debatable whether Assange broke any US laws by releasing the State Department cables, since he’s not a US citizen and his wikileaks activities were carried out outside the US. Nevertheless, Senator Lieberman and two republican senators have introduced the SHIELD Act http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/12/shield/ which, although it could not be used against Julian Assange for anything he has released so far, would protect the delicate sensibilities of the American people from … er, ah, … information on what their government is up to in the future, presumably including leaks to legitimate newspaper sources.
“This legislation will help hold people criminally accountable who endanger these sources of information that are vital to protecting our national security interests,” the stalwart Mr. Lieberman said. Mmmm, yeah.
Eric Holder at the Justice Department continues to search for ways to prosecute Mr. Assange and stop the leakers and whistleblowers.
And after an DDOS against one of her sites, Sarah Palin was heard to whine about people attacking her freedom of speech, though she showed little concern for Mr. Assange’s freedom of speech when she advised hunting him down like a terrorist. Ah, the hypocrisies of war.
These are only a few highlights in the ongoing battles, of course. If you’re interested in more details, Bob Mackey, at his The Lede blog, has kept a running commentary since the cable releases began http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/wikileaks/. As have many other commentators on the net.
I’ve wondered, as this battle has been enjoined, why the government was so concerned over the cable releases and is going to such lengths to try and stop Wikileaks now, after such a lack of embarrassment over much uglier revelations earlier this year.
Have you ever had an experience – call it intuition, or sudden insight – where you suddenly “knew” something had happened, even though you couldn’t say exactly what, at the time? Something like that happened to me a few weeks ago. I woke up one morning absolutely certain that some ugly “power” had broken, that, this time, it had broken in favor of ordinary people and a “manifestation” of that breaking, if you will, would soon begin to show itself. The feeling was so strong, I mentioned it to friends on a couple of internet forums I participate in. I’m wondering if what is happening now is what I felt, that what is going on is not about the cables, per se, but about what the battle over the cable releases represents.
Nor do I think I’m the only one feeling this. Umberto Eco recently said about the cables, in an essay for a French newspaper:
“But let’s turn to the more profound significance of what has occurred. Formerly, back in the days of Orwell, every power could be conceived of as a Big Brother watching over its subjects’ every move. The Orwellian prophecy came completely true once the powers that be could monitor every phone call made by the citizen, every hotel he stayed in, every toll road he took and so on and so forth. The citizen became the total victim of the watchful eye of the state. But when it transpires, as it has now, that even the crypts of state secrets are not beyond the hacker’s grasp, the surveillance ceases to work only one-way and becomes circular. The state has its eye on every citizen, but every citizen, or at least every hacker – the citizens’ self-appointed avenger – can pry into the state’s every secret.”
If this is so, no matter how cynical many of us have become about changing the government, we can’t afford to waste the power we ordinary folks have been given here. The stakes in the future we face because of government self-protection are too important. We can’t all be hacktivists or whistleblowers, but we can keep up the fight for net neutrality, write letters, protest the government’s overreach. Of course, the government could shut down the web, through the major servers, with the flick of a button. But that would be akin to starting a nuclear war. Europeans are already increasingly critical of US response to Mr. Assange and to the cable releases put out by Wikileaks. http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2010/12/10/in_europe_sharp_criticism_of_us_reaction_to_wikileaks/
And we do have at least one advocate in Congress. Ron Paul has already given a speech defending Wikileaks in the House of Representatives. I’m sure there are others in Congress feeling a little squeamish over the government’s responses. We need to encourage or, if necessary, shame them into action against such things as the SHIELD Act. With the desperate problems converging on the world right now, we need the government to quit acting like an empire fighting for its own survival and start acting like a government fighting for the survival of its citizens.
As Mr. Paul wrote on his twitter feed, last week, regarding Wikileaks – “In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble.”
Whack that, Evil Empire.