Wikileaks on Japan

Nothing is going to happen for a while:

The deputy editor of The Guardian, Ian Katz, summed up that newspaper’s decision thus: “We didn’t see much of international interest in them, which is why we haven’t run anything — or anything much. WikiLeaks is beginning to make regional packages of cables available to media partners in different countries now.”

Rather oddly:

One unsubstantiated rumor circulating among Tokyo journalists is that the organization reached out to Japan’s most popular newspaper, the Yomiuri, perhaps unaware that its strictly hierarchical editorial structure and conservative politics might not make it the best launching pad for an anarchist-inspired project to topple power. Given the Yomiuri’s close ties with the Liberal Democratic Party, journalists there may anyway have been privy to many of the “secrets” buried inside the WikiLeaks cables.

Yomiuri… it’d be amusing to see them attempt report this stuff, no doubt it would have to be almost entirely redacted to not contradict their editorial madness. Asahi, although far from perfect, would probably be a better bet – they at least claim to be in some way ‘progressive’.

My guess is that whoever does take on the task of publishing this stuff (in Japan) is going to be subject to some fairly extreme pressure, both legal and extra-legal. What we really need is for the press outside Japan to take an interest. Given the current lack of interest in all things Japanese around the world, it’s likely to be quite a wait…

The Chilling Effect?

The ripples from the Wikileaks cable releases are still spreading out into the internet. My initial reaction to the behavior of the likes of Mastercard, Visa, Back of America, PayPal, Facebook, Google, was, rather predictably, anger.

That corporations such as Mastercard and Visa should so easily bend to the unexpressed will of the US administration (resisting the urge to call it a regime…) isn’t all that surprising. Given the obvious connections between management at corporations and their “regulators” it would be easy to imagine an informal word being had, through the usual network of contacts. Contact would of course be unofficial, but the expression of displeasure would make it clear enough that action was expected. Which is not to say that all of the actors need to be similarly motivated – BofA probably feels intimidated enough to strike out on it’s own.

PayPal, being rather new new to game, made a mess of initial statements. First saying that it had been under pressure from the state department, then retracting, and claiming it had acted on it’s own, that there was no intervention from the government. This somewhat let the cat out of bag…

It seems to me that the actions of these financial institutions is worrying, in so much that they are de facto gatekeepers to the will of people to fund causes (causes which haven’t violated laws, but have certainly challenged the power of governments..), but it is not altogether surprising. They are operating in an environment in which punitive actions can be taken against them. Given their prodigious unpopularity, it seems unlikely that public sentiment would move to help them if stepped out of line.

Far more worrying are the quiet actions of the likes of Amazon (denying hosting), Facebook (blacklisting links, locking pages), Google (taking down YouTube videos), Twitter (controversial, but a trend algorithm that can ignore a hashtag as hot as #wikileaks / #cablegate is broken), wikipedia (removing a list of wikileaks mirrors), various ISP, and service providers, etc. Although i’m willing to believe that the US government has high level connections at some of these internet companies, the more reasonable conclusion is that they are actually self-consoring.

It is worthwhile considering why this might be happening. The obvious reason who be that they fear the imposition of genuine censorship, and the resulting public backlash. If they don’t act first and regulate themselves, they can expect to find zealous congressmen / senators (yes Lieberman, i’m talking about you) encumbering them with ill considered (and unenforcible?) legislation, and attacks from the (government directed) press. Another possibility is that they consider their users to be significantly sympathetic to the official message (ie, stupid and brainwashed enough to believe that not knowing is better for them…) that action will lose them less users than inaction.

There is, in my not particularly humble opinion, a worrying trend of commercialization among the internet digerati. This is nothing particularly new, and in fact has been the goal of many internet entrepreneurs for many years; “monetize the web”. However, this has always been balanced by an idealistic (yes, i know it’s a dirty word in a capitalist world) element fighting to hold onto the initial vision of the web as a democratizing / unifying platform for the free and open sharing of information.

If anything positive is going to come out of the current situation surrounding Wikileaks / Bradley Manning it has to be that more people are willing to take a stand against the increasing centralization of information under corporate / commercial control. It seems likely that the battle for the mass-market has already been lost, but the initial skirmishes of a resistance movement are already visible in projects like Tor, YaCy, Diaspora.

Whether it’s still possible to carve channels of free communication through the grey goo of the commercial ‘net probably depends on the actions and support of people like, dear reader, you and i.

Where is the Outrage?

Ever since the Wikileaks diplomatic cable story (i refuse to call it cablegate, and so should you!) broke, i’ve been puzzled by the lack of outrage, and seeming bored acceptance.What the cables seem to tell us is that it is standard operating procedure for governments, neé democracies, around the world to lie to their citizens, and break local and international laws if it is convenient for americans and their corporations.

As i’m writing this i can already hear the tired sighs of the oh so jaded generations, “Yes”, they’ll wearily intone, “we know. It’s always been like this, how could you be so naive as to think that they were trying to do anything but line their own pockets?!” Well, guess what? That’s not the point, of course it has always been obvious that this was going on. The inherent corruption in our corporatist, quasi-democracy, kleptocracies is plainly obvious to anyone who is willing to imagine what is behind current events. What the Wikileaks cables change is that there is no longer any need to imagine! It’s out in the open that, for example:

  • governments know that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are lost. That they’ll leave behind large scale corruption, destroyed infrastructure, and a people with no hope.
  • the US is actively encouraging European governments to spy on their citizens for the benefit of american corporations.
  • the US Secretary of State thinks is fine to collect the biometric and other personal data of UN staff.
  • the prior and current UK government are willing to do almost anything to maintain a positive relationship with the US even if it means lying / evading the truth in parliament and public inquiries.

The list goes on and on, despite making a concerted effort to read a few cables every day, the shear volume and scope of the material makes it hard to feel like you are really making a dent in it…

In the last couple of weeks another, and perhaps more worrying, aspect of this story has been the quiet projection of power by the system. All of the people who are find themselves unable to summon the necessary outrage at the revelations in cables perhaps might manage to get a little worked up about how effortlessly the US has worked to isolate Wikileaks from it supporters. The initial attacks on the internets infrastructure (DNS, DDoS, ISP, Cloud hosting services) were pretty crude, but then things got really ugly with the likes of Visa, Mastercard, & PayPal obviously caving into pressure. This attempt to isolate Wikileaks from funding is chilling – not only have they not been convicted of breaking any laws, they are not even charged with so doing!

As this piece in The Atlantic makes clear, we are at a critical point:

During these past weeks, rather than a nerd takeover, I saw the crumbling of the facade of a flat, equal, open Internet and the revelation of an Internet which has corporate power occupying its key crossroads, ever-so-sensitive to any whiff of displeasure by the state. I saw an Internet in danger of becoming merely an interactive version of the television in terms of effective freedom of speech.

If the net is going to stand any chance of avoiding becoming the next co-opted medium used to stuff advertising down the gullets of a placid generation of consumers, this battle is going to have to be fought. As things stand not only has the battle not been joined, the war is as good as lost.

I’ll ask again: where is the outrage?

Aristocrats Fight Back

Mostly got that right:

The WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who is wanted in Sweden over claims he sexually assaulted two women, was in Wandsworth prison tonight after a judge refused him bail at an extradition hearing in London.

In the short term the plan seems to be:

– count on the public’s ability to ignore the story when presented with titillation. Never under-estimate the stupidity of society! When faced with a choice between thinking about the implications of finding out that your democratic institutions are self-serving, and lying to you, or thinking about someone else’s genitals, it’s genitals every time.

– limit Wikileaks access to funds. Rely on the self-interest of financial institutions to keep them from maintaining a relationship with an entity about which completely un-proven accusations have been made. It’s obvious at this point that Wikileaks, as an organisation, has not broken any laws. The fact that it has uncovered the US government using diplomats for espionage, and breaking conventions on the treatment of the UN is also irrelevant – nobody is even talking about bringing charges.

In the medium term, it looks like idiot senators like Lieberman can be relied upon to hound the traditional press into restricting the material they publish. If Wikileaks can be silenced, or at least the public distracted from its fate, keeping the traditional press in line will become much easier.

The big prize is in the long term: using shock at being exposed within the system as momentum to get new legislation passed to improve the press protections afforded to the government. If everything is going to plan, we should start to see this being floated pretty soon… if it isn’t already.

Several big mistakes in the previous entry:

– obviously hadn’t thought through the implications of maintaining a focus on Assange, and how easily the public would be distracted from the real issues by the mention of genitalia.

– although i understood that releasing the insurance file wouldn’t affect the eventual outcome for Assange, i’d under-estimated the systems ability to convince people that this isn’t about them, this about Assange.

If there is a lesson to be learned here it is that if you plan on taking on the system you need to keep your cock in your pocket. It’s the oldest trick in the book, but it’s still working…

Thinking About Insurance

It looks very much like Julian Assange is going to walking into the teeth of the legal system. Judging by what we’ve seen thus far, with respect to due process and the rule of law, there is a very good chance that he’s about to disappear. Given that he has already hinted at taking refuge in Ecuador or Switzerland, it seems likely that he’ll not be granted bail, and will be held on remand. Those prison steps are notoriously slippery…

If that is indeed the case, then it’s worth thinking about what might be in the famed ‘insurance file‘. Assuming that said file does contain more damaging revelations than the current crop of diplomatic cables, it becomes a matter of how you’d organise such a file for maximum leverage. The ‘nuclear option’ of unleashing everything all at once is rather blunt. Instead it would be better to have employed a matryoshka doll approach, the initial decryption would reveal more encrypted files, and only reveal enough to get across the seriousness of the material.

Given that current fragile state of the US economy it would make more sense to go after financial institutions than the government – in a corporatist / fascist system the distinction is academic, and it only makes sense to attack the weakest link if you’re at a massive disadvantage. Based on the reaction to current batch of diplomatic disclosures there is very little that could be said that would incite the population of consumerland into direct action.

However, my feeling is that the protection offered by this type of insurance is going to be limited. It all feels too much like the plot of a James Bond movie. When it comes down to it, a member of the judiciary is just not going to be blackmailed – which is effectively what we’re talking about here. Even when the full extent of the potential damage is revealed it doesn’t seem possible that a politician would risk tampering in the legal system in an attempt at limitation.

All of which suggests that unless people start to tread very carefully, things are going to get out of hand really quickly. I’m sure someone in the US realised the value of having this Swedish case, but they are getting really close to overplaying their hand…