While it seemed that his back was truly against the wall following his rejected appeal against extradition, his plea for asylum in Ecuador is perhaps his shrewdest – and potentially most fruitful – move yet.
By officially pinning his colours to Ecuador’s mast he has taken a dubious charge – for which Britain-Sweden extradition wouldn’t usually even be considered – and pushed it into the domain of international diplomacy.
Since the Ecuadoran embassy is a guest of Britain, the US cannot technically intervene or capture Assange without exploding the situation into a full-blown diplomatic incident or, at worst, an act of war.
Since WikiLeaks released a large collection of classified US diplomatic cables in 2010 – provoking the ire of the US departments involved and setting in motion that country’s fervour to extradite him – the whistleblowing organisation has also published a swathe of internal emails from global intelligence firm Stratfor, which reveal in detail the callous and dangerously autonomous nature of this enormous meta-government.
Among myriad fascinating and damning snippets are instructions for how to handle and manipulate intelligence sources, including “you have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control.”
Sound familiar? Attempts have been made to manoeuvre Assange into physical and psychological control with a sexual blackmail flavour. An old and effective trick indeed.
In a flourish of poetic irony, Stratfor has also extensively analysed Assange’s ongoing business and it’s clear that it is not likely to be donating to the Wikileaks survival fund any time soon.
In one such message Stratfor’s Sydney watch officer Chris Farnham asks CEO George Friedman: “Is it possible to revoke someone’s citizenship on the grounds of them being a total dickhead? I don’t care about the other leaks but the ones he has made that potentially damage Australian interests upset me. If I thought I could switch this dickhead off without getting done I don’t think I’d have too much of a problem.”
The very fact that WikiLeaks has exposed information pertaining to an intelligence investigation of its own organisation speaks volumes about the web of far-reaching sources that Assange sits Moriarty-like in the middle of.
The cat and mouse game which has unfolded so unpredictably over the last two years has reached a crucial point which reveals the depth of Assange’s long-term planning.
One of the first elements of this rabbit hole story fell into place in the ’90s when the Wikileaks founder co-developed rubberhose cryptography (RC), a type of digital encryption specifically designed with holders of dangerous secrets in mind.
RC essentially enables more than one password to be used on a piece of encrypted data, so that one password will reveal a certain set of information – for example, classified material and sensitive data – and another password will yield another set of innocuous encrypted information – say, family photos or instructions for reassembling a Mini Cooper. The name rubberhose concerns a persuasion tool traditionally used during “interviews” with subjects who are inclined toward silence.
This is a hi-tech/low-tech hybrid which defeats both aggressive brute force password-cracking methods, as used by the CIA et al, as well as the more brutal methods of information extraction, including aggressive social engineering and torture – techniques also employed by similar groups.
Assange and WikiLeaks have employed this exact methodology in their “insurance file,” an encrypted 1.4GB file – released in 2010 and distributed globally many thousands of times via digital torrent networks, essentially the same infrastructure which operates the Pirate Bay, this file could contain over a million documents – forming another essential element in the long-term WikiLeaks strategy.
A handful of media outlets have erroneously reported that the encryption on this file has been broken. This is not the case, but rather a result of sloppy or even wilfully misleading journalism.
Do we need reminding of the stranglehold the corporate world and parties concerned with taking Wikileaks down have on public opinion via the media? I hope not.
This file provides the key to the terse, chess-like nature of Assange’s evasion of black imprisonment, outright rendition or plain old murder. Should any of these occur, a trusted third party, or parties, will release some or all of the keys associated with this file, making the plain text information within available for anyone who has downloaded it.
On February 22 2012 a second insurance file was released, again with military-grade encryption, but this time weighing in at an enormous 64GB.
Whether the keys to these documents will ever be made public is unclear. Such a release may not even be in the interest of WikiLeaks or Assange, but the important fact is that their enemies – the US Department of Defence, investment banks, intelligence agencies and who knows who else – are made aware that this digital carrot is very much being dangled.
If these US bodies, and others, have received the passwords from Wikileaks then they will be aware of what is at stake, and may well be enacting damage limitation measures as we wait for the ongoing rigmarole of Assange’s extradition, or otherwise, to run its course.
The idea that WikiLeaks may already have given these keys to US law enforcement is an interesting one – they already have the material as it was theirs in the first place. WikiLeaks need only demonstrate that they have and can release it at the drop of a hat in order to put their king in check.
Under US law there is no key disclosure legislation, which means that a person may legally hold encrypted material without being required to give up its passwords. Of course this doesn’t rule out the use of torture to gain access to these secrets.
What this information is exactly can only be speculated, but suffice to say that it will be explosive and damaging enough to the figures of global power that it’s better for them to keep Assange alive.