The Wikileaks Revolution

[This is the first in a series of three articles that will be devoted to the subject of Wikileaks, secrecy, the state, and transformation. This is intended as a survey of some of the opinions I have found most interesting.]

The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops.” — John Perry Barlow

“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.” — Umberto Eco

We have certainly reached some sort of turning point, a critical crossroads between power, information, and activism, with an uncertain outcome except for one: it is certain that the future will not be merely a seamless extension of the past. Few observers disagree on that, whether speaking of the near-, middle- or long-term. One of the primary actors, Julian Assange, recently stated: “I believe geopolitics will be separated into pre and post cablegate phases.” Carne Ross, a British diplomat, wrote in similar terms: “History may now be dated pre- or post-WikiLeaks.”

But what could be different post-cablegate? One Web analyst asks a series of key questions in this vein: “Will the end result be a more repressive global Internet regime? An Internet kill switch? Online anonymity outlawed? Licensing for journalists? Or will the global political order be remade? It could become more agile, more transparent, more accountable, more distributed, more contemporary, more egalitarian.”

Others interested in international relations have commented that, “the current leaks from Wikileaks represent a reset button in international relations,” and that in rupturing the divide between what governments say and what they do, “the leaks have also established a new baseline for the conduct of international relations.” Carne Ross, in “The End of Diplomacy As We Know It,” is emphatic that “this is an event of historic importance — for all governments….the truth is that something very dramatic in the world of diplomacy has just taken place, and thus indeed in the way that the world runs its business.” What has already changed in Ross’ view? The presumption that government business can or should be secret business. Wikileaks’ disclosures are not, as Hillary Clinton likes to say, an attack on the “international community” (which in practice reduces to the hegemon, and not the “community”), rather, as Ross argues, they are “an attack on the governments that make up the current international system of diplomacy.” What changes, he says, is that “from this day forward, it will be ever more difficult for governments to claim one thing, and do another. For in making such claims, they are making themselves vulnerable to WikiLeaks of their own.” The solution for states is not a simple one—as I argued before, either the state can become so restrictive that documentation is permanently severed from and rendered useless to application, or the state can move to other forms of communication (“word of mouth” is not a viable option for gigantic centralized organizations), or do nothing at all and remain prone to more leaks. Ross argues that in fact there is “one enduring solution to the WikiLeaks problem and this is perhaps the goal of WikiLeaks….governments must close the divide between what they say, and what they do.”

The relationship between governments, media, and citizens is also threatened by Wikileaks. As Politact argues, the media have played,

“an indispensable part in the information and psychological warfare being conducted, often at the cost of authenticity and objectivity. Their audiences are increasingly finding it hard to distinguish between what is being reported to create a certain perception about the reality, and what is closer to the truth.”

What Wikileaks is an attempt to better inform the public about what is actually taking place, and the attempt to bring “public knowledge closer to what the government knows, is also a sign indicating that a significant change in US global posture might be in the offing.”

Yet, what many authors (including some I quote in this piece) often do is to conflate the state with government. Governments come and go, but states are intended as permanent structures, staffed by unelected bureaucrats, with the power to tax, and comprise the military, police, and courts. Tea Partiers—and once more this ignorance is no surprise—say they are against “big government” because they do not comprehend that what they really mean is “big state.” If Wikileaks is a challenge to Obama’s foreign policy, it is just as much if not an even greater challenge to the state. As a columnist for The Economist explained:

“The careerists scattered about the world in America’s intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America’s unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it.”

Likewise, Tom Hayden in “WikiLeaks versus the Empire” argued that we live in an “Age of Secrecy,” where the “American Way of War,” draws “the curtains over American democracy itself.” It is a secretive state that fights multiple secret wars:

“The wars in Pakistan and Yemen are secret wars. The war in Afghanistan is dominated by secret US Special Operations raids and killings. The CIA has its own secret army in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s entire record in Iraq was classified. The CIA has its own secret army in Afghanistan.”

As Hayden rightly concludes, “this controversy is about the security of the elites, not national security.” The challenge to the state is the challenge to its “prerogative of secrecy…used to hide the misdeeds of the permanent state and its privileged agents.” Wikileaks, in this view, “may be the best we can hope for in the way of promoting the climate of transparency and accountability necessary for authentically liberal democracy.” The alternative to Wikileaks, says Glenn Greenwald, is “the ongoing, essentially unchallenged hegemony of the permanent National Security State, for which secrecy is the first article of faith and prime weapon.”

“Today, in the internet age,” writes Jeff Jarvis, “power shifts from those who hold secrets to those who create openness. That is our emerging reality.” Milton Mueller adds: “The new polarity is here: Internet freedom vs. state power.” It is not even the content of the leaks that matters, or that matters exclusively. As Mueller explains, what we see is,

“a clash of principles, a rupture in the rules of the game that the practitioners of US foreign policy find astonishing and threatening. And it is a rupture only made possible by the scale and transnational scope of internet-enabled communications.”

What Wikileaks has done is to throw a “hand grenade” in the U.S. modus operandi, pulling “the cloak away from this amoral, rule-free world of foreign affairs.” He rightly praises Wikileaks for revealing “the deep contradiction between traditional liberal-democratic values regarding transparent and accountable government, and the existence of a U.S. empire on the other.” Revealing this contradiction, Mueller argues that Wikileaks “seriously undercuts the practice of business as usual in American foreign policy. This is what is so unforgivable.” Wikileaks is “a new countervailing force in the world that the militarists and diplomats don’t know how to control yet.” Moreover, in the abusive reactions of the Obama government and its state power, lauded by the supposedly “anti-big government” Tea Party, which seek to censor what we see, we witness what Mueller says is the fact that, “all too often, those who claim to be defenders of freedom are its worst enemies.”

Adbusters Culturejammer HQ is appropriately euphoric, unwilling to let the counterinsurgency dogma of the state tame its subjectivity into that mangled, repressed creature, where adults are reduced to toddlers whose “safety” must be a concern, a disabled and vulnerable population to whom the state must minister its “care.” Adbusters declares instead: “Welcome to this Revolutionary Moment.” Adbusters states: “Wikileaks is exposing the corruption among the global power elites on a level never seen before. They realize that this is an existential threat to them and are starting to apply the full weight of the CIA, Espionage Act, etc., to nip this thing in the bud.” Clearly, they are right: a wide range of pressure has been brought to bear by the U.S. to suppress Wikileaks and its support network—you do not go to any such extent when something simply does not pose a threat. If Adbusters seems euphoric, they are certainly not alone. Though these are not scientific polls, they are a half-decent gauge of the determination and passion that impel people to respond to the questions—77% of respondents to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation poll say that “Wikilieaks is good for democracy.” “How do you feel about Julian Assange?” is the question of an Australian poll in The Age, with 92% answering, “Benefit to democracy.” In another poll in the same paper, 82% of respondents say “the Australian government betrayed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.”

There may now be wider, long overdue recognition that the real “insurgency” is the one being fought at home. To the state, every defiant citizen is a terrorist, in mind if not in practice. Wikileaks helps us make one thing clear: we will not enter this battle unarmed.

18 thoughts on “The Wikileaks Revolution

  1. John Allison

    Thanks Max for drawing it and us all together. Not to be repetitious, as I am, but, we all need to re-read our heritage, especially Faulkner, now ready to remind us that this is an ancient problem:
    From William Faulkner, “A Fable”:
    ‘Because there are rules,’ the division commander said harshly, ‘our rules. We shall enforce them, or we shall die – the captains and the colonels – no matter what the cost – ‘
    ‘It wasn’t we who invented war,’ the group commander said, “it was war which created us. From the loins of man’s furious ineradicable greed sprang the captains and the colonels to his necessity.. We are his responsibility, he shall not shirk it.’
    ‘But not me.’ the division commander said.
    ‘You,’ the group cammander said, ‘We can permit even our own rank and file to let us down on occasion; that’s one of the prerequisites of their doom and fate as rank and file forever. They may even stop the wars, as they have done before and will again; ours merely to guard them from the knowledge that it was actually they who accomplished that act. Let the whole vast moil and seethe of man confederate in stopping wars if they wish, so long as we can prevent them learning that they have done so. A moment ago you said that we must enforce our rules, or die. It’s no abrogation of a rule that will destroy us. it’s less. …
    “yes, let them believe that they can stop it, so long as they don’t suspect that they have.’ pp53-54.

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  3. wsteffie

    Thank you, this is excellent.
    I think what will be different post-cablegate depends on the country we each reside in. In the US, where a lot of people just have been conditioned to go conform with whatever the government does, there will be more restrictions. In other countries there will be more transparency and people will come forward with more leaks.

    BTW our Minister for Economy over here drew a parallel between the US Department of State and the Stasi of East Germany. IMO a great Analogy.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Very interesting, and Germany also had its first Wikileaks “casualty” too, with the discovery that the foreign minister’s chief of staff was a mole for the U.S. Embassy. Glad to know that in some places, one finds the discourse to be a little more rational and balanced.

  4. citizen 3242343

    DAMAGE cyber WW3 result: 500k hurt diplomats worldwide. billion soldiers on the side line/out of business (and still insist it’s not a war); final 200 nations restuctured. other side:few hackers political imprisoned/their parrents fined. After a short (for many long) war only 1 global transparent free society survives …..never thought WW3 as a joke. Yeah all wars are surprises.

    How can a few wise leaders alone solve complex global issues pending ? People need to be involved/need same info on these complex issues to let our global society decide & survive.

    We NEED transparency for our global society that we created an cannot control.To many crises.
    We’d never gone to Iraq if we read the cables first?

    its e-government(power) not e-commerce(money) that changes our world!
    If democracy fails, the only solution is MORE democracy. The only way is UP.
    This is Far worse for China, than the US. It’s your Duty to spread your thoughts.

    WL to much Change for Obama?
    Know It’s a hard path, but harder for our totalitarian enemies.

    If democracy fails, the only solution is More democracy.
    E-vote(power), not E-commerce(money) that changes our world, stupid! greets from citzen 434234243!

  5. John Stanton

    Good points Dr. M. As always, insightful.

    I think we are going to see changes but I am not as convinced, yet, that here in the USA we’ve got a revolution, yet. The elite are experiencing shock and aftershock of the WikiLeaks earthquake and that’s good, but they’ve got the public convinced that it is stupid. Today’s revolution has to be both electronic and street on a massive scale with consistency of effort over time. How long will the interest hold and action take place?

    The key here for me is what the American masses are willing do and I am not at all confident that they will do the types of things necessary to implement real change: don’t buy newspapers, watch less TV, boycott, etc. About 5 years ago I mentioned the types of efforts.

    I also mentioned some of the changes that the Internet would bring back in early 2002 (article was written prior to 911)

    Brzezinski saw a lot of this coming. His writings on how technology would change the world were ahead of their time (for someone in his position). Like him or not, he remains insightful. Here is his take on the USA and the World.

    Excerpts from Interview with Z. Brzezinski from Der Speigel.

    SPIEGEL: Will American foreign policy ever be the same after this embarrassing leak of US diplomatic dispatches?

    Brzezinski: Absolutely. There was a saying once in Vienna during the good old days of the Habsburg Empire that when things went wrong and people were asked for comment, the comment usually was: “Well, it’s catastrophic but not serious.” And that’s the way this is.

    SPIEGEL: As National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, you tried to prepare Americans for a more multipolar world — one with a stronger China and a weaker US. Americans did not like that idea and Carter was voted out of office after one term.

    Brzezinski: That concept is now very much a reality when you look at the rise of countries like China and India.

    SPIEGEL: And the American decline. Are Americans aware of that trend or does the fate of Carter await President Barak Obama should he openly address the issue?

    Brzezinski: I am very worried that most Americans are close to total ignorance about the world. They are ignorant. That is an unhealthy condition in a country in which foreign policy has to be endorsed by the people if it is to be pursued. And it makes it much more difficult for any president to pursue an intelligent policy that does justice to the complexity of the world.

    SPIEGEL: Yet the American right is still convinced of American exceptionalism.

    Brzezinski: That is a reaction to the inability of people to understand global complexity or important issues like American energy dependency. Therefore, they search for simplistic sources of comfort and clarity. And the people that they are now selecting to be, so to speak, the spokespersons of their anxieties are, in most cases, stunningly ignorant.

  6. Maximilian Forte

    John, you have raised many great points here (and thanks for the peek at some of your past writings of relevance here, which are in fact very relevant and interesting). Brzezinski might not be settled with his own message, since he seems to have produced another set of observations that instead focus on the potential for radical change in moments such as this, involving this technology…except that unlike above, in what follows he is not speaking about American citizens, and I wasn’t either. A global transformation with revolutionary potential can, and likely will, occur with minimal input or interest by American citizens. The U.S. is not the Bastille, it doesn’t need to be stormed, just pushed aside.

    Here is Brzezinski again (not that I am convinced that he is a luminary–he is certainly no dummy–but with both your segment, and the one below, some of his thinking is a little foggy and eventually self-contradicting):

    For the first time in human history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. There are only a few pockets of humanity left in the remotest corners of the world that are not politically alert and engaged with the political turmoil and stirrings that are so widespread today around the world. The resulting global political activism is generating a surge in the quest for personal dignity, cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world painfully scarred by memories of centuries-long alien colonial or imperial domination… The worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening.

    …America needs to face squarely a centrally important new global reality: that the world’s population is experiencing a political awakening unprecedented in scope and intensity, with the result that the politics of populism are transforming the politics of power. The need to respond to that massive phenomenon poses to the uniquely sovereign America an historic dilemma: What should be the central definition of America’s global role? … The central challenge of our time is posed not by global terrorism, but rather by the intensifying turbulence caused by the phenomenon of global political awakening. That awakening is socially massive and politically radicalizing.

    … It is no overstatement to assert that now in the 21st century the population of much of the developing world is politically stirring and in many places seething with unrest. It is a population acutely conscious of social injustice to an unprecedented degree, and often resentful of its perceived lack of political dignity. The nearly universal access to radio, television and increasingly the Internet is creating a community of shared perceptions and envy that can be galvanized and channeled by demagogic political or religious passions. These energies transcend sovereign borders and pose a challenge both to existing states as well as to the existing global hierarchy, on top of which America still perches.

    … The youth of the Third World are particularly restless and resentful. The demographic revolution they embody is thus a political time-bomb, as well. With the exception of Europe, Japan and America, the rapidly expanding demographic bulge in the 25-year-old-and-under age bracket is creating a huge mass of impatient young people. Their minds have been stirred by sounds and images that emanate from afar and which intensify their disaffection with what is at hand. Their potential revolutionary spearhead is likely to emerge from among the scores of millions of students concentrated in the often intellectually dubious “tertiary level” educational institutions of developing countries. Depending on the definition of the tertiary educational level, there are currently worldwide between 80 and 130 million “college” students. Typically originating from the socially insecure lower middle class and inflamed by a sense of social outrage, these millions of students are revolutionaries-in-waiting, already semi-mobilized in large congregations, connected by the Internet and pre-positioned for a replay on a larger scale of what transpired years earlier in Mexico City or in Tiananmen Square. Their physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred.

    Wikileaks and the Worldwide Information War
    Power, Propaganda, and the Global Political Awakening

    by Andrew Gavin Marshall


    The Global Political Awakening and the New World Order
    The Technological Revolution and the Future of Freedom, Part 1

    by Andrew Gavin Marshall

    Of course we haven’t even addressed what you and I mean by “revolution.” I sense that you mean The Revolution, and the events of the present might culminate in something like that (for Americans? doubtfully)–but there are also the many, in some periods frequent, lowercase revolutions, which is more in line what I am talking about.

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  8. Connie Schneck

    I believe that Wikileaks are doing what all of us should be allowed to do at all times, being that we live in America. “the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”Or are we? free that is. Sometimes I wonder. The way things are going, we don’t even have a right to freedoms that were second nature a few years ago. But now it seems that with every year we lose more and more freedoms. No one seems to notice, but it feels like the frog that was boiled to death when he was put into nice cool water with the heat on. He never noticed until it was too late. Well I am very thankful for Wikileaks. We need them. More of us need to get on the ball. And stop just sitting back and allowing others to “” lead us while we boil to death. Our leaders are lying to us on a regular basis, and we just let it happen. We are still sort of free. Let’s take back our rightful place, “As we the people”, and stop allowing our “” leaders to lead us to astray. It’s funny because that is the same thing that has happened with Jesus’ church.

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