Sunday, December 12, 2010

will anglo-american hegemons now censor the internet?

Independent | The internet has not only revolutionised politics. It has also changed the way we get our news. Experts blog, offering a critical counterpoint to the traditional media. Ordinary citizens find a platform for views excluded from the mainstream political agenda. Politics has become more participatory. And recent days have shown that protesters do not need to stand on a picket line any more; they can use technology to fight back.

But fight what? Defenders of WikiLeaks say that US government attempts to remove its domain name system and close down its income sources it are assaults on freedom of speech. A group of "hacktivists" worldwide have offered their services in cyber-assaults on companies that have done Washington's bidding.

Most of them are just internet geeks instinctively defending their obsessions. But the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has a broader agenda. He sees power in information and regards himself as something of a revolutionary. In an essay he wrote in 2006, "State and Terrorist Conspiracies", he quotes Theodore Roosevelt to the effect that "behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people". Assange goes on: "The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie."

More recently, he told Time magazine that his aim is to push the US towards even greater secrecy, implying that this would bring the current US system closer to collapse. "They have one of two choices. One is to reform in such a way that they can be proud of their endeavours, and proud to display them to the public .... The other is to lock-down internally and cease to be as efficient as they were. To me, that is a very good outcome, because organisations can either be efficient, open and honest, or they can be closed, conspiratorial and inefficient." He also advocated the use of misinformation.

It is not hard to see why this has spooked Washington. US intelligence analysis of the 9/11 attacks showed that a key problem in American unpreparedness was the tendency of different departments and agencies to compartmentalise information. The US government's left hand did not know what the right was doing. For the past nine years, Washington has brought in a series of reforms to share intelligence across government. This allowed a single US intelligence analyst in Iraq, Bradley Manning, allegedly to leak a quarter of a million documents to WikiLeaks. Washington experts fear a recompartmentalisation of intelligence – of the precise kind Assange has outlined – will compromise their ability to piece together information and head off terror plots against the US.

The challenge for us is to separate the good that WikiLeaks has done from its potential for harm. WikiLeaks has performed an important public service in exposing government-backed torture in the "war on terror". It has revealed a casual indifference among Western authorities to the death of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has shown that Britain allowed the US to keep cluster bombs on its soil in defiance of our treaty obligations. It has disclosed that the US State Department pressured the German authorities to turn a blind eye to the CIA's kidnapping of a German citizen.