Julian Assange, defending our democracies (despite their owners’ wishes)

Julian Assange, defending our democracies (despite their owners’ wishes)
By Charlie Stross

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 should go to Julian Assange (if he lives long enough to receive it).

You don’t need me to point you at the huge mass of US diplomatic cables disclosed by wikileaks this week. Nor do you need me to point to the outrage it has generated, including calls for his assassination and, ludicrously, trial and execution for treason by the US government (Planet Earth to Mick Huckabee: by definition it’s not treason if he’s not an American citizen and isn’t acting within the USA).

But you might be wondering why he’s doing it? If so, read this now.

Around the world, governments seem to be more interested in obeying the goals of industry lobbyists and the rich than in actually governing well; this isn’t an accident, but the outcome of the capture of the machinery of governance by groups of individuals who are self-selecting for adherence to a narrow ideological outlook. In effect we are beset by accidental authoritarian conspiracies — not top-down conspiracies led by a white-cat-stroking Bond villain, but unintentional ad-hoc conspiracies by groups of individuals who work together to promote common interests. By coordinating, they can gain control of our institutions and impose an agenda that is agreeable to their interests (but not to the majority of the public). Familiar examples might include: the music and film industries and their catspaws among the lobbyists attending the WIPO intellectual property negotiations, the oil and coal industries, the religious right, and so on.

Assange has a model of how the abduction of governance by common interest groups — such as corporations and right wing political factions — works in the current age. His goal is to impair the ability of these groups to exert control over democratic institutions without the consent of the governed. By forcing these authoritarian institutions to apply ever-heavier burdens of secrecy to their internal communications, wikileaks aims to reduce their ability to coordinate and, thus, to exert control:

Authoritarian regimes give rise to forces which oppose them by pushing against the individual and collective will to freedom, truth and self realization. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial.

Assange’s analysis parallels Chomsky’s — modulo having a somewhat different ideological outlook — but he’s gone a significant step further, and is fighting back. His own explanation is here (warning: PDF).

Wikileaks is not attacking the US government; rather, it’s acting to degrade the ability of pressure groups to manipulate the US government to their own ends. Those who benefit the most from their ability to manipulate the State Department are the most angry about this: autocratic middle eastern leaders, authoritarian right-wing politicians, royalty, corporate cartels. Those of us who are scratching our heads and going “huh?” about the significance of Muammar Ghadaffi’s botox habit are missing the point: it’s not about the content, but about the implication that the powerful can no longer count on their ability to lie to the public without being called on it.

In an ideal world, wikileaks wouldn’t be necessary. But the US mass media has been neutered and coopted by the enemies of the public interest.

So we move to the backlash: disinformation, or black propaganda and smear campaigns.

It’s no coincidence that within 48 hours of the latest batch of leaks, Interpol issued an arrest warrant for Assange on charges of alleged rape. (I’m only surprised that they didn’t go the whole hog and accuse him of incest, blasphemy, child abuse, simony, and disrespectin’ the money.)

Obviously I can’t comment on whether there’s any substance to the charges, but Counterpunch suggests otherwise, alleging:

Swedish bloggers uncovered the full story in a few hours. The complaint was lodged by a radical feminist Anna Ardin, 30, a one-time intern in the Swedish Foreign Service. She’s spokeswoman for Broderskapsrörelsen, the liberation theology-like Christian organization affiliated with Sweden’s Social Democratic Party. She had invited Julian Assange to a crayfish party, and they had enjoyed some quality time together. When Ardin discovered that Julian shared a similar experience with a 20-year-old woman a day or two later, she obtained the younger woman’s cooperation in declaring before the police that changing partners in so rapid a manner constituted a sort of deceit. And deceit is a sort of rape. The prosecutor immediately issued an arrest warrant, and the press was duly notified. Once the facts were examined in the cold light of day, the charge of rape seemed ludicrous and was immediately dropped. In the meantime the younger woman, perhaps realizing how she had been used, withdrew her report, leaving the vengeful Anna Ardin standing alone.

Ardin has written and published on her blog a “revenge instruction”, describing how to commit a complete character assassination to legally destroy a person who “should be punished for what he did”. If the offence was of a sexual nature, the revenge also must also be sex-related, she wrote.

I think that the timing of the allegations (which first surfaced after the previous wikileaks disclosures) and the INTERPOL warrant is suggestive of a politically-motivated disinformation campaign rather than an actual serious criminal investigation. I also note with interest the way the charges were originally brought, then withdrawn, then brought again. Rape is an extremely serious charge, and generally treated as such in Sweden. So what’s up with this?

Your guess is as good as mine, but my guess is this: Assange is stomping on the bunions of the rich and powerful. And while serious people aren’t suggesting murder or prosecution for treason — either of which would make a martyr of him and underscore the seriousness of his project; I’ll note that only un-serious politicians, whoring for newspaper column-inches, are coming out with this crap — I think his enemies are fighting back with that time-honoured tactic of the scoundrel, the carefully-aimed character assassination.

Which, if you think about it, suggests he’s onto something important.

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