In the last year, the world’s governments have been rattled by several major leaks of secret documents through the WikiLeaks website. First releasing thousands of US Military reports from the war in Afghanistan, then the same from the Iraq war and finally tens of thousands of secret diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks has stunned the world.
Now spokesperson and Editor in Chief of Wikileaks, Julian Assange has been arrested as he is rocketed into the spotlight. WikiLeaks is now facing an all-out assault from the American government by both legal and illegal means. As millions of eyes are being opened to the harsh realities of their government’s actions, it is no exaggeration to say that the life of Julian Assange is in jeopardy.
Pulling Back the Veil
In just four years since it was first launched, WikiLeaks has become a household name. The non-profit organization has received several awards including The Economist magazine’s New Media Award and Amnesty International’s UK Media Award. The premise of the site is simple, if you have access to corporate or government documents that are being hidden from the public, WikiLeaks provides a place to publish them anonymously.
In its first year running, WikiLeaks claimed their database had grown to 1.2 million leaked files. In December 2007 they made headlines by leaking the Guantanamo Bay operating procedures to the public. The manual showed that American soldiers were told they could prevent detainees in the prison from access to the Red Cross for up to four weeks at a time. The documents shed light on the systemic abuse of prisoners at a prison which was on shaky legal ground already. The public release of this information was bound to fray the nerves of the powers that be, but WikiLeaks was only just getting started.
Over the next two years, they went on to release Sarah Palin’s emails, the British National Party’s membership list, the Minton Report into the health effects of waste-dumping in Africa, Climate Research Unit’s email database and many other sensitive documents. WikiLeaks was beginning to have an effect. They caught Sarah Palin using her personal email account to conduct official business, dodging public record laws. They let the public know that several police officers and military officials were members of the far-right racist BNP. They even released half a million pager-messages sent around New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001.
In March 2010 WikiLeaks made a move clearly designed to mock the American government. They released a U.S. Department of Defence Counterintelligence Analysis Report. It was a 32 page report about the threat posed by WikiLeaks.
In April 2010, WikiLeaks dropped a bombshell: a video filmed from American attack helicopters in Iraq titled Collateral Damage. The video showed the US choppers attacking unarmed journalists, killing fifteen including two Reuters employees. The video sparked debate about America’s rules of engagement. The Pentagon has refused to charge the helicopter crew, arguing that they thought they were under attack.
WikiLeaks continues to outdo itself. Just a few months later they released thousands of secret documents from the Afghan war. The documents revealed reports of a wide range of incidents. Some of them detailed civilian deaths and raised questions about war crimes committed by coalition troops. They also blew the cover on Task Force 373, a secret unit specifically designed to track down and kill leaders of the Taliban. The massive leak revealed details about the war that the general public would never get to see otherwise. And they didn’t stop there.
In October, they released the Iraq War Logs: 400,000 American military documents, many of them direct reports, from the Iraq war. The Pentagon called it “the largest leak of classified documents in its history”. But this again, was only a warm-up for WikiLeaks.
Last month they began to release their most significant leak yet: millions of pages of documents from diplomatic offices around the world. These documents, though only just coming to light, will reveal the real state of the world from the point of view of America’s diplomats. For the first time, the public will get to see what goes on behind closed doors. Julian Assange has said that the next big release will be documents relating to UFOs, so even the conspiracy theorists will have something interesting to read!
State Secrets – A Capitalist Necessity
After the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, Leon Trotsky was made the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs. One of his first acts was to publish all of the secret treaties that had been negotiated by the Triple Entente. The revelation that the United Kingdom, France and Russia had all been conspiring to redistribute the world’s colonies and redraw the lines on the map shook Europe. The European powers were exposed as the greedy imperialists they were. Moreover, they were all willing to send millions of workers to their deaths in order to expand their own empires.
Secrecy is essential to the functioning of government in a world dominated by Capitalism. The capitalist state is one that, by its very nature works against the majority of the population. This is an inevitable consequence of an economic system based on the exploitation of the majority by a minority. But every government must keep up the appearance of working for its people. And here is the fundamental contradiction. The business of the capitalist state cannot be done in public, particularly in the sphere of foreign affairs. Therefore the existence of WikiLeaks threatens the very functioning of the state, by revealing its inner workings to the public.
Here we see another example where capitalism has outgrown itself. The means of communication have developed to a point where they go beyond the needs of capital. For the first time in human history it is possible to instantly disseminate information from anywhere to anywhere. Such systems would be incredibly useful in the context of a planned economy, but under capitalism they clash head on with the needs of the ruling class. This explains the move to clamp down on the internet in general, internationally.
The fallout of the release of the diplomatic cables is only just starting to hit. A ministerial aide in Germany has just been fired after WikiLeaks revealed he was spying for the United States. It turns out both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been pushing for a military attack on Iran: a revelation that will no doubt shake things up in those countries. Perhaps even more importantly, the United States is not willing to attack Iran over the nuclear issue. The cables also reveal the precarious state of the government in Pakistan and the worry over the security of its nuclear arsenal. These and other revelations expose the backroom manoeuvres of Washington in the affairs of many countries.
At the time of writing, only a small percentage of the diplomatic cables has been released. WikiLeaks has been under a sustained attack for over a week, preventing it from releasing many of the documents. We can only wonder what to expect from the remainder. What role did the US Embassy play in the overthrow of Zelaya in Honduras? What are they doing in Venezuela? How do the American diplomats view the different parties in the various conflicts they are involved in or mediating? The only thing that is certain is that there will be many more shocking revelations to come.
The State Responds
On November 30, Professor Tom Flanagan, a close confidante of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper whose resume reads like a list of top spots in the Tory party, openly called for the assassination of Julian Assange on national television. He urged Obama to “take out a contract or use a drone or something”. What Flanagan said in public, is without a doubt being echoed in the backrooms of many of the world’s governments. The American government has clearly decided that they will do whatever is necessary to bring down WikiLeaks.
The first attack against Assange came in the form of allegations of sexual assault from Sweden. This allows the world’s media to scream about Assange being wanted for rape and resulted in a request for extradition to Sweden.
Let’s be clear, Julian Assange risks never seeing the outside of a jail cell again. Other charges may be brought against him and he may well soon be arguing against extradition to the United States. Either way it is very difficult to see how he would get a fair trial under these circumstances.
Now, it is becoming clear that the full force of the state is about to come down on WikiLeaks. As the latest leak began to come out, a massive DDoS attack was directed against WikiLeaks. The attackers hit the site with so many page requests that the servers were overloaded and the site rendered useless. This was one of the first shots in a developing information war, which has broad implications for the future character of the internet. WikiLeaks is now caught in a cat and mouse game.
After the DDoS attack, the state began putting serious pressure on everyone associated with WikiLeaks to shut them down. In the last week, Amazon has decided to stop hosting the site, EveryDNS has dropped WikiLeaks from its entries and Paypal has refused to continue collecting money for them. But all the might of the American empire has not yet been able to cripple WikiLeaks. They have set up new mirror sites all around the world, some beyond the reach of the Americans.
There is of course the question of the “insurance file”. In July 2010, WikiLeaks added a 1.4 GB file to their site called the Insurance File. The file is encrypted and inaccessible. It is widely speculated to be a dead-man’s-switch; if anything happens to Julian Assange a code will be sent out to break the encryption. We can only speculate as to what is contained in this file that could be so important that WikiLeaks believes they can issue such an ultimatum to the most powerful empire that has ever existed.
WikiLeaks is now in a fight for its very survival. Its existence poses a danger to the world powers. At the end of the day, every state is comprised of people. There are bound to be people in high places, with countless motives, good and bad, who have an interest in releasing pieces of privileged information to the public. WikiLeaks’ success is due to the fact that it has exposed this great weakness. For this, they will never be forgiven.