Thursday, 2 December 2010

And The Truth Shall Make Ye Fret

Candid views of world leaders, the US uses its Diplomats to spy on the UN and other countries, the Israelis and the Saudis both wanted America to bomb Iran in 2010, Vladimir Putin is Batman, David Cameron and George Osborne are “lightweights” and “Thatcher’s Children”, Russia is run by the mafia, China is losing patience with North Korea, Pakistan is sponsoring terrorist organisations and is suspected of leaking nuclear material, the UK co-operated with the US in helping them evade the most difficult questions in the Chilcot enquiry into the Iraq war and in avoiding the ban on the use of cluster bombs...

For those who may have missed it, perhaps because they have suffered a brain trauma and have been in a coma for the past week, the latest release from WikiLeaks hit the fan on Sunday night and governments, institutions and high profile individuals world-wide are now quite heavily splattered in its contents. This release, following hot on the heels of the Afghan war diaries and Iraqi War Log, features over a quarter of a million diplomatic cables, confidential communications leaked from 250 US Embassies around the globe, which reveal the secret workings of the United States relationship with the rest of the world.

Understandably enough, the Americans are not at all impressed at having their dirty linen aired in public. Parallels have been drawn between the WikiLeaks release and the September 11th attacks. Peter King, a Congressman for New York wasted no time in calling upon the Attorney General to have WikiLeaks designated as a terrorist organisation, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton described the release as an “attack on the international community”, Republican presidential nominee hopefuls Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee called for WikiLeaks director Julian Assange to be “hunted down” and for the source of the leaked documents to be tried for treason and executed, there have been calls for Assange to be assassinated, employees of the US State Department have been instructed not to read WikiLeaks, US newspapers have been accused of colluding with their government to censor the leaked documents as presented to the public, while President Obama is busily re-writing the Espionage Act in a desperate attempt to find something with which Assange can be charged.

Meanwhile, those with a taste for conspiracy theory, from President Ahmadinejad of Iran to the 9/11 Truth brigade have dismissed the leaks as CIA/Mossad/Illuminati psychological warfare. Obviously!

The British press split fairly evenly between those describing the release as a major threat to international security (the BBC, ITN, Sky News, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail) and those less hysterical commentators who saw it as a huge embarrassment to the United States, and to anyone else who has been named and shamed in the release (The Guardian, The Times, The Independent). Either way, the mainstream media have all been quite happily digging through the cables as they have been released, falling over themselves to report on each juicy revelation as it breaks, whilst simultaneously attacking and condemning WikiLeaks, presumably for showing them how to do their job.

Whether for or against, most people agree that the implications of what WikiLeaks has done are staggering. Revolutionary, in fact! Many have argued that International relations as we know it, cannot continue in a world where sensitive diplomatic negotiations can be made available to the global public at the click of a mouse.

My feeling on this is that, like it or not, they are going to have to get used it. The Official Secrets Act, and its equivalents around the world, has become the latest victim of a genuine technological revolution - the invention of the internet.

The Obscene Publications Act was the first to bite the dust, made irrelevant by the deluge of pornography freely available online. Next to come under attack were the laws governing intellectual property and copyright, and anyone who has downloaded a movie or shared their music collection online for free, has been participating in a war against the private ownership of information, a war most reliable commentators agree that the music, movie and publishing industry are eventually destined to lose.

With the launch of WikiLeaks in 2006, a new front has been opened in the war, and this time it’s political.

There have always been whistle-blowers, those who leak secret information that they are privy to, not to gain tactical advantage over an enemy, not to make a ton of money, but because they believe it to be in the public interest. Without whistle-blowers within the tobacco industry, how many more years would have passed before the public became fully aware of the detrimental effects of smoking? The internet is perhaps the single most powerful tool that humanity has developed so far, and in the hands of the whistle-blower, the truth can finally run all the way around the world before the censors have even got their boots on.

This is a truth that the governments of the world are going to have to adapt to, and quickly; the question is how will they react? Will they move towards greater transparency and openness in government, as the current American and British Governments at least promised to do whilst running for office, or will they try and turn the whole world into China?

My suspicion is that, if the fight over digital rights management is anything to go by, they will most probably try the latter, implementing increasingly draconian and totalitarian measures to curb the free availability of information, there is a Cyber security bill currently simmering away in the background of the US legislature that allegedly provides for a kill switch, the ability to turn the internet off.

The war of the geeks is ON, and personally, I think it’s about time.

We know that in recent years we have been told some absolute whoppers by our Governments, I wish for instance that there had been a WikiLeaks in 2002 and 2003, when the case for the war in Iraq was being made. We also know that our Governments have been obsessed with holding us under an ever increasing level of scrutiny, our emails can be read, our telephone calls can be monitored, we can be forced to pass through naked body scanners at airports, there was the recent push for a national ID card scheme with an accompanying database, and the British people are now amongst the most spied upon population on the planet with over 4.3 million security cameras watching our every move. In such an environment, I think it is only fair that we hold our Governments under an equivalent level of surveillance, and WikiLeaks may just fit the bill.

So don’t believe for a second that you have heard the last from WikiLeaks, and if you were thinking that the American Government have been taking a disproportionate amount of the flack don’t worry, in a recent interview with Forbes Magazine Julian Assange revealed that their next major release, due sometime in the new year, will focus on the private sector, on a major American bank in particular, and with everything that has happened in the world of international finance lately - it promises to be juicy!

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