When I wrote my last column on Wikileaks (“Wikileaks: Our Weapon Shop of Isher,” C4SS, July 30), I didn’t expect to do a follow-up. But this seems to be shaping up, if the folks in the U.S. government really turn out to be as stupid as they’re suggesting, into the first really full-scale showdown between network and hierarchy.
There have actually been calls (Marc Thiessen, “Wikileaks must be stopped,” Washington Post, Aug. 2) for the “kidnapping and rendition” of Julian Assange. Now, you’d hope even the U.S. national security state wouldn’t be quite that stupid.
But Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell has issued a demand for Wikileaks “to return all versions of these documents to the U.S. government and permanently delete them from its website, computers and records.” Translation: I’m gonna stamp my foot and make unenforceable demands in my best Barney Fife voice, because if I don’t I’ll look, you know, impotent. When asked how the government intends to compel obedience to its demand in the likely event it was ignored, Morrell simply stated “we’ll cross the next bridge when we come to it.”
Keep in mind that Assange fled Australia when the Obama administration requested the Australian government’s assistance in detaining and interrogating him. And as a matter of general principle, the U.S. government asserts the right to “arrest” people, under the power of “extraordinary rendition,” without the approval of the government on whose soil the arrest takes place.
While you’d like to hope the USGov isn’t that stupid, there are ominous signs that the government’s escalating things into a confrontation from which there’s no dignified way to back out without a severe loss of face.
The thing is, though, they’d have to be stupid almost beyond belief to take drastic measures against Assange’s person or against the Wikileaks site. A reader of my previous Wikileaks column pointed me to news that Assange has taken out an insurance policy of sorts (“Wikileaks posts insurance policy,” Antemedius, July 31). The story disappeared, interestingly, but its Google cache is still preserved). It’s an enormous file — 1.4GB, ten times larger than the other files combined — heavily encrypted and simply labeled “Insurance.” Speculation as to its content centers on the hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables that Manning claims to have leaked. It seems quite plausible that Assange has a dead-man switch for distributing the encryption key to everyone who’s downloaded the file in the event anything happens to him or Wikileaks.
So if this thing comes to a head, it’ll be the Shot Heard Round the World for the Network Revolution. And when it’s over, the hierarchies won’t come out looking very good — understatement of the decade. If the encrypted file contains what it’s purported to contain, and anything happens to Assange, this will blow up in the Obama administration’s faces like an atomic bomb. Make that a hundred gigaton H-bomb with a cobalt casing. And when it’s over, state and corporate hierarchies the world over will know that their “secret” internal communications are liable to enter the public domain at any time, without warning. And there’s nothing they can do to stop it.
We’re watching Big Brother.