The Excuse is Wikileaks. The Object is Freedom of Speech. The Subject is Authoritarianism.

If you were asked which regime is described by the following actions and characteristics, what would you answer?

  1. A regime that produces a death list of citizens abroad to be executed by its secret intelligence service, without arrest, without trial by a jury.
  2. A regime that conducts surveillance at home and then uses that information to have an allied state abroad, one that flouts human rights, and tortures one of its citizens.
  3. A regime that continues to operate secret detention centres where inmates are routinely denied the most basic rights to challenge the reasons why they have been imprisoned, without charge, and without representation.
  4. A regime that is bent on maintaining war against other nations, including against peoples who never attacked it, thereby representing an obstacle to world peace.
  5. A regime that routinely denies the legitimate claims and demands of its population, in order to favour a small cabal of elite bankers and industrialists, and thus also a regime that effectively renders elections little more than an expensive shadow play owned and operated by the billionaires who can engineer a win for their candidates.
  6. A regime that persecutes those who believe that it is wrong to conceal the human rights abuses of their regime, that believe the world needs to know how that regime uses its troops to slaughter innocent civilians abroad, with neither reason nor remorse.
  7. A regime that exercises pressure to round up the private details of Internet users, if they in any way conspired to reveal these facts.
  8. A regime that harasses its citizens at airports, seizing their personal property, extracting information about a person’s activities and associations, and then targeting the person’s friends and colleagues, on the suspicion that the person may have peacefully opposed the state’s public lies.

(Answers: 1 – source, source, source; 2 – source, source, source, another example; 3 – source, source; 4 – example; 5 – example; 6 – example, example; 7 – source, source, source, source; 8 – example, example, example.)

Some might reply, “China,” except that points 1 and 4, at the very least, do not seem to readily apply. One might then have said, “Iran,” but only insofar as torture and net surveillance are concerned. In fact the list, as incomplete as it is, only describes the United States, and yesterday the U.S. government decided that the best way to respond to its overexposure by Wikileaks was to demonstrate and confirm that one’s lowest opinions of the regime, that the betrayal of democracy, the failure of liberalism, and the totalitarian bent of the state were all in fact correct. Consider what follows from such a realization, and ask if “working within the system” and “politics as usual” will suffice any more as anything other than naive desperation and self-deception. If such a list might have described to some a China or an Iran, then imagine what it says about the citizen that abides by it, knowing what we know, seeing what is put on display.


For those who have not yet had a chance to catch up with the news, yesterday Iceland Member of Parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir revealed via Twitter that the U.S. Department of Justice had gone to Twitter with a sealed order (hence, not to be communicated to the targets of their “criminal investigation”) demanding “all mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the “means and source of payment,” including banking records and credit cards. It seeks all of that information for the period beginning November 1, 2009, through the present.” It was not just Jónsdóttir who was targeted, but also Jacob Appelbaum, Rop Gonggrijp, and Julian Assange, with the same information sought for Bradley Manning and for WikiLeaks’ Twitter account (neither Manning nor Assange have their own individual Twitter accounts). You can read the order itself here. Had Twitter not pushed back, and got the subpoena unsealed (read the order to unseal), thus permitting the targets to appeal the order, the information would have been quietly and secretly passed on to the U.S. Government, like perhaps other online media services have done already.

Those who have initially been targeted by this action–which seems to be part of an effort for the U.S. Government to actually do what every reasonable person advises it not to do, which is to pursue a case to criminalize the publishing of leaks (one example)–have offered a number of reasons of why they think this is happening. Jónsdóttir said “I think I am being given a message, almost like someone breathing in a phone.” She confirmed, “I have nothing to hide and have done nothing wrong,” but not for that reason would she just “hand my information over willingly to DoJ.” Appelbaum asked: “I wonder if the subpoena is merely a front to legally introduce evidence captured by the confirmed NSA wiretaps two blocks from Twitter HQ?” Gonggrijp noted, “I would have guessed that the US government has more discreet and effective ways of getting my IP-number and credit card details, which is essentially all this would get them.” He added: “Heaven knows how many places have received similar subpoenas and just quietly submitted all they had on me.” Wikileaks itself, via its Twitter account, had this to say: “Note that we can assume Google & Facebook also have secret US government subpeonas. They make no comment. Did they fold?”

Wikileaks rightly points out:

“If the Iranian govt asked for DMs of Iranian activists, State Dept would be all over this violation of ‘Internet freedom’.”

At what point does one stop making excuses for the system? At what point do analyses begin to reflect that liberalism is dead (it was a short-term experiment in hegemony), that the war is intended to be permanent, that speech has been distorted or prostituted by the state, that the project of economic development and modernization has failed the majority of humanity, everywhere, utterly? And if you don’t want to talk about these things, what are you talking about?

16 thoughts on “The Excuse is Wikileaks. The Object is Freedom of Speech. The Subject is Authoritarianism.

  1. wsteffie

    I think there are much less people that would answer the question with China than let’s say six month ago. If anything the release of the cables have show us the hypocrisy and corruption of the US government. There is no difference between the Bush and Obama administration. The US government is looking more and more like a bunch of desperate fools.
    On the other hand, Wikileaks news are a nice distraction from the real problems they’re facing at home. You do not find news about this in the US MSN.:

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks for the comment. You are probably right, but for some it will take little to return them to the sense that “evil” as always resides elsewhere, usually on the other side of the planet. I very much agree that at this point no one can mount a plausible and convincing argument that Obama’s administration is different from Bush’s, and I can only “laugh” when I think back to how some of these early posts were received warning about what Obama would bring in the face of the many who were enchanted with him:

      Then there was this one from early on, showing Obama and McCain as virtually indistinguishable in some key respects:

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  5. CM

    Sounds like the worst days of the Stasi. It’s hard to listen to any U.S. government spokesperson when they try to shame other countries over human rights abuses, torture, opaque government or warlike tendencies. I find myself reduced to sputtering, “But, but….what about you?”

    Either a huge chunk of the population is ignorant of what their government is doing (highly likely if they get their news from Fox) or they are suffering from a massive case of cognitive dissonance which causes such discomfort that they simply reject the truth and adopt the comforting myth.

    When the U.S. Congress opened its new session this week, both parties collaborated on a joint reading of the Constitution. One problem – it was the bowdlerized version. God was invoked although the word had never appeared in the original version. Other bits were left out , e.g. that blacks were considered to be equivalent to three-fifths of a white person for census and representative purposes and that women weren’t considered in the equation at all.

    But the “new” version has been read into the Congressional Record and there it will stay. How to change the Constitution without a conference? Just slip the changes in on the sly and everyone will swear that it was there all along, like “one nation under God” with the italicicized bit slipped in during the 50’s and most Americans believing “God” was always there.

    How can you make good decisions when you’re unaware of the facts? If you are aware of the facts and reject them because they make you uncomfortable, does that make you clinically nuts?

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  9. anthroknight

    I grew up having the pleasure of monthly visits at our US/British schools on German airforce bases by four-star brass telling us that Russia could be at the French coast in less than three days – and that would be without firing a single nuke. That strength of propoganda framed my early life.

    Now, I hear and read the words ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ more times on any given day than I can count (perhaps a useful exercise would be to actually count them). Yesterday, Sarkozy to Obama adn back… several times in just a few seconds. Terrorism does exist: I do not wish to pretend otherwise. But it is ultimately an incredibly minor issue amongst the very major issues which confront global civilisation today (fueled by us, but that’s another story). I won’t even insult readers’ intelligence by mentioning how many people have been killed by terrorists. I will suggest that counter-terrorism — read, war on terror, or substitute other names — has perhaps killed close to two million people, mostly Arabs, almost all civilians, almost all innocent. In previous decades this would have been called genocide, and its perpetrators would have been hunted down and tried as war criminals.

    Wikileaks represents the tip of an enormous iceberg of secret information which, if all made public, could potentially shame the most extreme and aggressive of us into humiliation and retreat. Until this information is fully public, and until governments stop hiding forever behind cast-iron security doors, I will maintain that the true terrorists are those who control the world’s primary hegemonies, specificially the US, UK, France, Germany et al.

  10. Alleged Wisdom

    Why are you conflating political malfeasance in one nation-state with the technological advancement of the entire human race? Your claim that “that the project of economic development and modernization has failed the majority of humanity, everywhere, utterly” has nothing to do with the main subject of the post, and you present no evidence for it. Do you honestly think that your quality of life is indistinguishable from that of a medieval serf?

    1. Maximilian Forte

      It is a familiar, yet peculiarly narrow definition of development that reduces it to “technological advancement,” and technological advancements are not particular to any one period in human history anyway. You are thinking of specific technological advancements and equating those with development, those usually being “our own” technological advancements.

      What do you know about medieval serfs that you assume you are better off, and what do you include in “quality of life” that goes beyond technology (which, on its own, is just a heap of junk)? And if you are right about you and I being better off, then what allows us to speak for a world in which each decade is judged to be a “lost decade” for development according to the UN, with widening disparities in income, old diseases resurgent, greater inequalities in access to basic resources, declining real incomes for workers worldwide? From where do you grab this optimism? I assume that readers have done a little reading of their own, and do not need me to throw heaps of sources at them for each word. The fact that *I* provided no evidence, does not mean there is none.

      As for the main subject of the post…what is it, in your view? In my view, as the one who wrote it, it is about authoritarianism, and authoritarianism is not an end in itself, it is about guarding a particular social order that maintains such glaring inequalities and diminished life chances. So it has everything to do with the main subject.

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