Friday Ephemera
But it’s Clean if it’s Taken by Force

Elsewhere (27)

Megan McArdle suspects Julian Assange is unwell.

[Assange says,] “In a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”

Ah. This must be why WikiLeaks has been getting so much material from the governments of China, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea, and why internal documents from Cargill are currently dominating their traffic. Ooops! That was a flash from an alternative universe where what Assange is saying isn’t nonsense. In the real world, he got a bunch of government documents because the US, in its addlepated, well-meaning way, dumped all of them on a network open to 3 million people where they could be seen by a disaffected 23-year old stupid enough to either believe he could get away with this, or not understand how long the years in jail might be.

Theodore Dalrymple on what’s wrong with WikiLeaks.

The actual effect of WikiLeaks is likely to be profound and precisely the opposite of what it supposedly sets out to achieve. Far from making for a more open world, it could make for a much more closed one. Secrecy, or rather the possibility of secrecy, is not the enemy but the precondition of frankness.

And Tim Blair notes the vanities and secrets of the WikiLeaks mouthpiece.

[Assange] says that WikiLeaks has “changed two governments, taken the scalp of a prime minister, taken the scalp of a defence minister and [achieved] many other reforms.” Assange doesn’t identify the governments or the two ministers. Perhaps he’s talking about the 2007 election in Kenya, which Assange claims to have influenced by leaking a secret report. Then followed months of deadly violence, with which Assange seems oddly comfortable: “1,300 people were eventually killed, and 350,000 were displaced. That was a result of our leak,” says Assange. It’s a chilling statistic, but then he states: “On the other hand, the Kenyan people had a right to that information and 40,000 children a year die of malaria in Kenya.” So another 1,300 corpses won’t matter much. Tipping an already-volatile African nation into further mayhem might be Assange’s greatest achievement to date.


Christopher Hitchens weighs in.

The WikiLeaks founder is an unscrupulous megalomaniac with a political agenda… All you need to know about Assange is contained in the profile of him by the great John F. Burns and in his shockingly thuggish response to it. The man is plainly a micro-megalomaniac with few if any scruples and an undisguised agenda. As I wrote before, when he says that his aim is “to end two wars,” one knows at once what he means by the “ending.” In his fantasies he is probably some kind of guerrilla warrior, but in the real world he is a middle man and peddler who resents the civilization that nurtured him.

As usual, feel free to add your own.



There is a debate at City University London between Assange and David Aaronovitch of the Times, haven't had time to watch this yet (or frankly the stomach), but readers might be interested:

Assange clearly wants to destroy the west. Its all our fault you see.



Well, what he wants is the question, I think. I suspect attention is high on the list. As others have pointed out (at length), the recent “revelations” have ranged from the innocuous and obvious (Sarkozy, Palin, Berlusconi, etc) to the potentially destabilising. Not that Mr Assange seems particularly concerned with the possible fallout for other parties. Still, I’m sure it’s all very thrilling.

What’s interesting to me is how, beneath all the activist posturing and pretentious theorising, the most popular motive seems to be an urge to do harm to America and the West in general – a two-finger salute - as if the US were some surrogate parent being spat at by sulky teenagers. Assange wants to “end two wars,” he says, presumably by undermining Western efforts to seed democracy and exposing our military and informants to mortal risk. One blogger, linked to approvingly by the lofty lefties at Crooked Timber, made his own feelings clear: “The leaking of these WikiLeaks cables was a brave act and if it damages US foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere, which I think it will, I’m all for it.”

As Megan McArdle notes, if bravery’s the thing, it would be much braver to target governments less inclined to tolerate embarrassment and exposure and whose methods are, shall we say, unequivocal. To date, Mr Assange and his associates have shied from such tempting targets – targets that might actually justify their elaborate rationale.

Robert Edwards

It is surely an example of the Law of Intended Consequences, David. But I'm sure that Assange will soon discover a more powerful one. His statement re. non-linearity, given that he (and his organisation) attempt to control the flow of information, is surely crap, as chaotic systems are exactly that - chaotic.

And if he so naive, it cannot be long before he is hoist by his own petard as his treatment of leaks is clearly assymetric and skewed against the Anglosphere.


“It cannot be long before he is hoist by his own petard.”

There is a sort of ‘moth-to-a-flame’ aspect, as so often with narcissist psychodrama. Assange claims he wants to “hold governments accountable.” But to whom is *he* accountable? The more material is leaked, the less benign his motives seem to be. What “social justice” motive lies behind the most recent WikiLeaks publication - an extensive list of America and Britain’s security-sensitive infrastructure, including fuel pipelines, communication hubs and insulin factories? What noble motivation is in play here? Is the public in some way better off for knowing the approximate whereabouts of these things – and for knowing that terrorists and other potential enemies will know their whereabouts too?

If Mr Assange were a little more concerned with more obvious - and much more odious - targets, where his own theorising might hold water, his motives wouldn’t seem so dubious. But he isn’t, so they do. “Unjust systems” are, we’re told, “exquisitely vulnerable” to the methods employed by WikiLeaks; yet the most unjust systems on Earth remain all but untouched.

Geoffrey Falk

And the five news agencies who collaborated with WikiLeaks in redacting the released documents, plus at least another two who wanted access but couldn't get it ... they too are just psychological adolescents/narcissists, craving attention? All of them suffering from an "urge to do harm to America and the West in general"? And the wildly guessed-at motivations of, say, the *publishers* of "Mein Kampf" equally matter ... how, exactly" Please do enlighten, from a distance, as always.

"The media outlets agreed to work together, with about 120 journalists in total working on the project, at times debating which names of people cited in the documents could be published....

"Le Monde and El Pais came into the media partnership late, about a month ago. The [New York] Times, Guardian and Spiegel had already done quite a bit of work on the documents and shared it, El Pais' Moreno said....

"Some news organizations, including AP and The Washington Post, also have sought access to the documents, but they were denied because of the arrangement between the five media partners."

Oh, and as Assange himself has noted, of truly unjust systems: "People say, why don't you release more leaks from the Taliban. So I say hey, help us, tell more Taliban dissidents about us."

That would be *your* next step, right?


Looking at his blog, I don't think Geoffrey is well either...


Presumably Assange would have been keen to leak the plans for Operation Overlord if he had been in business in 1944. After all it's important to “hold governments accountable.”



In any given instance, I could only guess at the motives of the newspapers and agencies taking part. I’m sure any number of motives are in play. The New York Times, for instance, took a “public interest” line regarding leaks and confidentiality when the US embassy reports appeared last month, but took a very different stance the previous year regarding Climategate, when it refused to publish “private information” that was “acquired illegally” and which was “never intended for the public eye.” (NYT, November 20th, 2009.)

WikiLeaks once defined its purpose as being to “expose oppressive regimes,” ostensibly those in “Asia, the former Soviet bloc, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.” Added to that was a broader invitation to help reveal “unethical behaviour” in “governments and corporations” elsewhere. But a number of “revelations” seem to have reached way beyond that original (and, for many, unobjectionable) remit.

Given Mr Assange’s character, his statements, his self-flattering blog (now deleted) and his elaborate manifesto, and given his apparent disregard for the fallout faced by third parties (see above), it doesn’t seem outlandish to question the coherence and sincerity of his stated motives. Some might argue that the particulars of any given leak are immaterial and that what matters is the on-going threat to government of exposure; but again, the disregard for consequences is striking. And if the bulk of material is, as it seems to be, aimed at damaging the West, successfully or otherwise, then entertaining other, less edifying motives is perfectly reasonable. To not do so would be ludicrously trusting.

Incidentally, Geoffrey, having scanned your ill-tempered and rather paranoid website, with its colourful references to “niggers” and “fags,” I’d rather you didn’t grace us with your presence.

Robert Edwards

Firstly: Follow the money; who pays for this?

Secondly: I had a look at 'Geoff's Blog' and felt in urgent need of a bath.

Thirdly: I have heard that an arrest warrant has been issued. This is not necessarily a Good Thing.

Fourthly: Ken Livingstone has just come out in support of this e-hooligan. Which event tells us all we need to know.


"The Taliban has issued a chilling warning to Afghans, alleged in secret US military files leaked on the internet to have worked as informers for the Nato-led coalition, telling Channel 4 News "US spies" will be hunted down and punished."

"[Assange] insisted that any risk to informants' lives was outweighed by the overall importance of publishing the information."

Just in case anyone forgets what kind of guy Assange is.

sackcloth and ashes

Following on from SG's link, there is this delightful comment from Ms Assange:

'He claimed that many informers in Afghanistan were “acting in a criminal way” by sharing false information with Nato authorities'.

Aside from the fact that he doesn't tell us how he knows that informers are providing false-tip offs, he's basically doing what Neil Clark did with the Iraqi interpreters three years ago - namely, he's declaring that anyone who works with NATO in Afghanistan deserves to die.

He really is a piece of shit, and I don't know how his actions fit in with Wikileak's initial mission statement, which was ‘in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East’.



“Just in case anyone forgets what kind of guy Assange is.”

Quite. The “social justice activist” who says, “Our goal is justice to innocents, not to harm them” and who then reveals informants’ details to (among others) the Taliban, and who subsequently claims he was “forced” into doing so because the White House allegedly refused to assist him in editing the material. He had no choice apparently, nor, it seems, any patience. It had to be all or nothing, and it had to be right now.

It’s a moral calculus that not everyone would be comfortable with.


I find Assange's arrogance astonishing: if he has, as he claims, brought down ministers both prime and ordinary as well as changing governments, did he really think the ones who took their places (for it is a certainty that a defeated government or sacked minister is never replaced y a vacuum) were better? Does he know that the second one to come along was better than the first?

The parallel would be a child pulling up a plant in a garden and assuming that mother nature would automatically reward the garden with something more lovely. The evidence of most gardeners is that pull out one plant and a less-attractive weed is more likely to take its place.

But Assange and his crowd love to talk about 'accountability' as if it is some holy grail. He and they may believe they are somehow achieving greater democracy (and automatically beneficial in their eyes), but most people understand that there is no given here. A large number of governments around the world would deal with this rather swiftly: he can do this solely because the west is a 'soft target' that will, oddly, try to defend his right to free speech. I can, however imagine there are all sorts of issues in nations and religions where such freedom and open thought is not tolerated.

He is lucky he can play in an area where the rules of sedition and treason no longer hold sway. However as to him being 'unwell' some clearly think that the itch he may have at the back of his head is from a pinpoint of red light.

Robert Edwards

I repeat my earlier query: Who pays for this?


"I don't know how his actions fit in with Wikileak's initial mission statement"

Posted by: sackcloth and ashes | December 06, 2010 at 17:13

"At its inception, WikiLeaks announced that "our primary interests are oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East." Since the summer, the group has focused exclusively on the United States--in particular, its controversial military adventures abroad. Also, all documents not related to the Iraq war files have been removed from, and no submissions are currently accepted. And instead of continuing the Wiki-based approach that allows "the entire global community" to participate, WikiLeaks has given exclusives to a handful of mainstream media organizations and no longer allows the public to comment on documents."


“I find Assange’s arrogance astonishing.”

This is arguably the nub of it. (Last year, Assange described himself as “the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest.” Modesty has never troubled Mr Assange, as anyone who’s read his hilariously self-flattering blog will know.) Even setting aside leaks that endanger informants and other personnel and leaks that may make terrorism easier and more serious, there’s the issue of process. As I asked earlier, to whom is WikiLeaks accountable? Assange and his associates continue to circumvent the law and democratic proprieties, including mechanisms independent of government. Whatever one’s views on any particular leak, no-one gave Assange a mandate to compromise security, to disrupt diplomatic relationships, or to endanger lives. The arrogance implicit in the project – made explicit by Assange and his personality cult (“V for Vendetta! A for Assange!”) – is hard to avoid. There may have been instances when the organisation’s actions were defensible, even admirable, but to expect an ongoing license to disclose at will – and Good Guy status by default – is an expectation too far.

If anyone still isn’t clear “what kind of guy” Mr Assange is, here’s an extract from his personal blog, in which Saint Julian admires himself breathlessly:

“At some point in my unintended wooing of her, she looked up, fluttered her eyelids and said’'Oh, you know so much! I hardly know anything!’. ‘That is why you believe in God,’ I explained. This conversational brutality took her breath away and she swooned. I was exactly what she secretly longed for; a man willing to openly disagree with her father. All along she had needed a man to devote herself to. All along she had failed to find a man worthy of being called a man, failed to find a man who would not bow to gods, so she had chosen a god unworthy of being called a god, but who would not bow to a man.”

sackcloth and ashes

What about the rest of the Wikileaks group? I understand from reading the last edition of the 'Economist' that some of Mr Assange's colleagues are not happy with his actions. Are they happy with the political direction Wikileaks has taken? And if not, why don't they speak out?

carbon based lifeform


Wikileaks co-founder John Young:

"I don't want to limit this to Wikileaks, but yes, they're acting like a cult. They're acting like a religion. They're acting like a government. They're acting like a bunch of spies. They're hiding their identity. They don't account for the money. They promise all sorts of good things. They seldom let you know what they're really up to. They have rituals and all sorts of wonderful stuff. So I admire them for their showmanship and their entertainment value. But I certainly would not trust them with information if it had any value, or if it put me at risk or anyone that I cared about at risk."

Chris S.

I wonder if WikiLeaks continues to operate, will it's consumers become numb to it eventually? People can only handle so much scandal/outrage, and soon it will take more and more outrageous things to make the news, or to even get anyone to notice. "Only a million embezzled? Come back to me when it's a billion."

Will Governments be more or less compassionate in the future knowing their secrets will show up on the internet. You know, why bother with clandestine activities when you can just nuke the site from orbit. Or will it drive Governments to run with the whole "you know too much, and now you must die" method of secrecy.



“I don’t know how his actions fit in with WikiLeaks’ initial mission statement.”

Here’s the thing. WikiLeaks is no longer a wiki project that, as its own publicity once put it, “publishes and comments on leaked documents alleging government and corporate misconduct.” It’s become something else, something much less savoury. The objection here - obviously – is not to leaks per se or the exposure of wrongdoing. What’s objectionable is the belief that ongoing exposure is more important than its particulars and consequences – that exactly what is being exposed and who may get hurt simply doesn’t matter. Or doesn’t matter enough.

For instance, where’s the public interest argument for revealing Lebanese informants hoping to undermine Hizballah? Will such disclosures encourage others to risk their safety to combat clerical fascism, or the reverse? Where’s the public interest argument for publishing a list of America and Britain’s security-sensitive infrastructure, including fuel pipelines, communication hubs and insulin factories? Where’s the “government misconduct”? Is it wrong for elected governments to identify their own key infrastructure with a view to protecting it from terrorism? Or is it misconduct to triumphantly share that list with terrorists and other potential enemies? Who elected Mr Assange to make judgments of this kind? Who gave him a mandate to, as one supporter put it, “disrupt the system”?

And whose “system” is he trying to disrupt? As noted above, WikiLeaks’ focus remains almost exclusively on certain, relatively easy targets – i.e. Western targets - with other submissions declined and publication timed to maximise political leverage. And they are targets, chosen above other, more obvious lines of enquiry. Almost four years ago, Assange announced that WikiLeaks had “representatives from expatriate Russian and Tibetan refugee communities,” links with dissidents from Communist regimes and “over 1.1 million documents so far from dissident communities and anonymous sources.” The promised rush of information, though, has been somewhat less than one might have hoped. Instead, Assange tells us that America is “an increasingly militarized society and a threat to democracy.”

Priorities, see?

So here we have a man whose most telling feature is a blithe disregard for the fallout of his actions and who regards America as a threat to democracy. (His reactions to his critics, even once-close associates – “these are not consequential people” - are perhaps his second most telling feature.) Assange disdains nation states and their legal and democratic proprieties, including their necessarily imperfect checks and balances, in favour of some kind of information anarchism, with himself as its gatekeeper. I don’t think that makes him the hero he seems to think he is. It’s no longer credible to imagine that WikiLeaks is a “neutral” global player, concerned only with airing “misconduct” wherever it may be. It’s now The Assange Show – starring “the James Bond of journalism” - and when it’s not about him it’s about how awful America and the West is.

carbon based lifeform

"and when it's not about him it's about how awful America and the West is."

He knows his market. ;)


"Almost four years ago, Assange announced that WikiLeaks had “representatives from expatriate Russian and Tibetan refugee communities"...

And perhaps that's the problem. Not much of a stretch to imagine that our left-winged gadfly may have found out just a little too much about a "you know too much, and now you must die" government and he got a visit from one of their "diplomats". Maybe this drama being played out is all that is keeping him from entering the fertilizer business, permanently.

David Gillies

If anything has come out of this episode, it's that by and large our governments are behaving in the manner we suspect: somewhat incompetently, somewhat underhandedly, but not to any absurd degree. So it's a bit much to expect them to be as ruthless as the tinfoil hat brigade would claim them to be. But were they as conniving as, say, I am, then they'd false-flag a leak concerning someone who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty, and then cry, "who will rid me of this turbulent leaker?"


Wikileaks are for-hire mercenaries - Cryptome

From the earliest discussions, Young alleges, Wikileaks intended to pimp out the information for funds.


bit tin-foil

WikiLeaks: a “staged” crime scene

sackcloth and ashes

Here's a turn-up with reference to Mr Assange's arrest, and refusal of bail. Naomi Wolf has just written an article stating that we mustn't jump to conclusions, and that the Swedish judicial process must be aloud to continue without presumptions or prejudices concerning Mr Assange's guilt or innocence.

She also reminds us that while the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty' is an important principle of Western law, it is important to consider the position of the two women at the centre of this case. The crime of rape is a serious one, and in all too many cases in the past female victims had their experiences trivialised and disregarded, and that in a perverse act of male chauvinism they were often treated by the law and the public of being responsible for the crime committed against them. It is therefore important to consider Mr Assange's rights as the accused, but also to avoid the temptation to denigrate or smear the accusers ...

Actually. I lie. Guess what that hypocritical harridan has written?

carbon based lifeform

"Throughout the day WikiLeaks supporters have been mounting denial of service attacks against Mastercard, PayPal, Visa, and others deemed to have impeded WikiLeaks. Reportedly, these supporters have disclosed large files containing Mastercard account numbers and expiration dates."

"Operation Payback, operated by the clandestine group known as "Anonymous" has launched cyber attacks against companies that have yanked their support for WikiLeaks. It has used its Twitter feed as a forum to claim responsibility for the attacks as well.",2817,2374063,00.asp

Not really helping their case, is it?


“Not really helping their case, is it?”

No, not really. Though conceivably it may help those who would like to see much tighter control of internet activity.

What’s interesting is the juxtaposition of this:

“An organization of online ‘hacktivists’ linked to the 4Chan network ‘partially paralyzed’ on Wednesday after the credit card company stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks… ‘While we don’t have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same reasons,’ the statement explains. ‘We want transparency and we counter censorship. The attempts to silence WikiLeaks are long strides closer to a world where we cannot say what we think and are unable to express our opinions and ideas.’”

And, in the same article, this:

“While some media commentators have spoken positively of WikiLeaks… there’s certainly no shortage of online coverage that's been critical of the group. Because of that, Anonymous says the websites of Fox News, CNN, The Washington Times and the BBC are on its radar.”

So the people who claim they wish to counter “censorship” are merrily planning to attack those who dare to disagree with them. While revealing customers’ card details online and disrupting the financial transactions of entirely innocent third parties.

Again, not a watertight moral calculus. But a revealing one, I think.


"So the people who claim they wish to counter “censorship” are merrily planning to attack those who dare to disagree with them."

David, now they're after *all* their 'enemies'...

"An Anonymous member told AFP news agency the group would extend their campaign to anyone with "an anti-Wikileaks agenda"... Coldblood admitted that such attacks "may hurt people trying to get to these sites" but said it was "the only effective way to tell these companies that us, the people, are displeased"."

It's the only way, we have no choice, you made us do this, etc etc...

carbon based lifeform

"us, the people, are displeased"

They're 'the people' now. How convenient.


They always are.

Stevie of Sweden

This Assange character spoke in front of the Brotherhood Movement here in Sweden not too long ago (a speech followed by a cosy Q&A session). You can read more about the Brotherhood Movement (aka the Swedish Association of Christian Social Democrats) here:

Then, of course, he was hired as columnist at Aftonbladet a few months ago. Read more about Aftonbladet here:

(I know, it's Wikipedia, but read the links or, if the the links are in Swedish, use google)

If I were to guess Assange's political orientation (not exactly a wild guess): a typical "the United States is the root of all evil"-anarchist/leftist/left-libertarian - take your pick.



“If I were to guess Assange’s political orientation (not exactly a wild guess): a typical ‘the United States is the root of all evil’ -anarchist/leftist/left-libertarian - take your pick.”

And I think that matters quite a lot. Given Assange’s arch, tendentious and hugely speculative theorising, any realistic evaluation also has to include the types of psychology most strongly drawn to such theories. And to the cultish behaviour that has followed.

I find it very hard to view WikiLeaks, and Mr Assange in particular, as some unambiguously benign safeguard against malfeasance. Assange’s project operates as a law unto itself and, in his own words, is intended to “radically shift regime behaviour,” with the US singled out as an authoritarian conspiracy that must be exposed and degraded. At the very least it isn’t clear that the efforts of Assange and his admirers will remake governance in a way any of us might find more agreeable, especially given their hugely selective focus, their anti-American / anti-Western animus and their disregard for consequences. (The latter point being apparent in the ongoing electronic vandalism and “reprisals” in his name.)

The “progressive” Sunny Hundal, for instance, links approvingly to this stirring announcement:

“Right now, as you read this, there is a random group of about 5,000 people talking and plotting on how to exact revenge on various corporations that have been less than helpful with the operations of WikiLeaks… Now, they are getting angry people all over the world to join in on their cause and start attacking whatever they choose. It’s hacktivism at its best.”

“Attacking whatever they choose.”

sackcloth and ashes

'Right now, as you read this, there is a random group of about 5,000 people talking and plotting on how to exact revenge on various corporations that have been less than helpful with the operations of WikiLeaks… Now, they are getting angry people all over the world to join in on their cause and start attacking whatever they choose. It’s hacktivism at its best'.

I presume that Mr Hundal's support for 'hacktivism' would end if someone started fucking with his website.


"no-one gave Assange a mandate to compromise security, to disrupt diplomatic relationships, or to endanger lives."

August 3rd 2010:

"The Taliban announced its gratitude to Wikileaks and vowed to hunt down those revealed in the documents to be collaborating with the U.S. It appears that they have now made good on that threat. Khalifa Abdullah, a tribal elder, was removed from his home in Monar village, in Kandahar province’s embattled Arghandab district, by gunmen. He was then executed. At the same time, 70 other tribal elders received death threats warning them that the Taliban had obtained reason to believe they were collaborating with the U.S."



“I presume that Mr Hundal’s support for ‘hacktivism’ would end if someone started fucking with his website.”

Mr Hundal is keen to tell us that he approves of “direct action,” provided it’s being inflicted on someone else, and provided someone else has to pick up the tab. When those being inconvenienced complain, this apparently gives him “even more pleasure.”

As I said, it’s worth noting the psychology of these things.

The next few weeks will be revealing. No doubt other companies (and of course their customers) will soon be targeted for their heresy, all in the name of “freedom.” Innocent third parties will find their user accounts unusable, their email contacts publicised and their personal details unsafe, creating countless opportunities for frauds, spammers and thieves. So the question is, do you want to be threatened in perpetuity by resentful misfits and borderline sociopaths?


"Innocent third parties will find their user accounts unusable, their email contacts publicised and their personal details unsafe, creating countless opportunities for frauds, spammers and thieves."

David, just because they can:

"An anonymous hacking outfit called "Gnosis" has infiltrated Gawker Media, hijacking the front page and leaking the company's internal chat logs, source code, and content databases along with the usernames, email addresses, and passwords of over 1.3 million users."

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