WikiLeaks Watch 12/28/2010

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster

Thoreau opines what it will take to end the monstrosity of the Drug War, and, indeed, if it’s even possible to end it at this point. The Wikileaks cables provide Thoreau with his answer. No.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has been transformed into a global intelligence organization with a reach that extends far beyond narcotics, and an eavesdropping operation so expansive it has to fend off foreign politicians who want to use it against their political enemies, according to secret diplomatic cables.

In far greater detail than previously seen, the cables, from the cache obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to some news organizations, offer glimpses of drug agents balancing diplomacy and law enforcement in places where it can be hard to tell the politicians from the traffickers, and where drug rings are themselves mini-states whose wealth and violence permit them to run roughshod over struggling governments.


Glenn Greenwald launches a broadside against the journalistic practices of Wired, in particular singling out Kevin Paulsen, the former hacker known as Dark Dante. FireDogLake has published a Timeline attacking the reliability of Adrian Lamo, the hacker whose chat transcripts with Bradley Manning are the only known apparent source tying Manning as a source for WikiLeaks.


My opinion is that a great deal of clarity can be gleaned by casting Assange as an Entrepreneur rather than as another type of actor, particularly hacker or political activist. This alternative framing allows one to easily punch holes in a recent spate of “Nerd Commentary” that relies on creating a context defined by a “deconstruction” of hacker psychology.

Bruce Sterling, cyberpunk literature pioneer
WikiLeaks: the “crypto anarchist” blast that has finally detonated. Sterling views WikiLeaks as a “crypto anarchist” blast promised by the Gen-X hacker set in the early 90s that has finally exploded. Sterling dismisses any notion that Assange is a journalist of entrepreneur, instead viewing him purely as Mendax the hacker. He waxes poetically, but with warnings, over the psychological makeup of the cyberpunk revolutionaries who are finally exposing that National Government and a Global Internet are not compatible.

My advice on this matter is just take what Assange has said at plain value. He considers himself an entrepreneur. Sterling gives us a Novelist’s deconstruction of the cyperpunk, nerd motivations of Assange, but other than Manning, omits the motivations of the universe of the actual leakers of the documents. That’s because Sterling doesn’t know them. The so-called cyberpunk generation has grown up and aged and insinuated themselves into the political economy. I’ve seen quite enough of them transition quite well over to rent-seeking in the political economy. Assange is not selling to Sterling’s audience for literary cyberpunk fiction. Assange’s “customer base” of leakers is a different animal altogether.

Jaron Lanier, Virtual Reality Pioneer
WikLeaks: The Hazards of Nerd Supremacy. Another piece that views Assange purely as a hacker, and WikiLeaks as a challenge to Political Economy. Whereas Sterling is conflicted over such a challenge, Lanier is clearly not. Lanier cleverly uses the term “Civil Society” in lieu of “Political Economy” and argues that this civil society requires a degree of secrecy to function. The relative balance of secrecy vs transparency is not something that should be decided by “hackers” but rather by political actors.

Once again if we cast Assange as an Entrepreneur rather than as Mendax the Hacker, Lanier’s argument begins to resemble a standard fare “special pleading” argument for tariffs and other restrictions on any economic threat to the status quo. Civil Society, of course, is the Status Quo.

Writes Lanier at the beginning of his piece:

It doesn’t seem so to me. I actually take seriously the idea that the Internet can make non-traditional techie actors powerful.1 Therefore, I am less sympathetic to hackers when they use their newfound power arrogantly and non-constructively.

Now let’s rewrite this a bit that gives this an entire new meaning:

It doesn’t seem so to me. I actually take seriously the idea that the Internet can allow non-traditional entrepreneurs to acquire market share in news. Therefore, I am less sympathetic to entrepreneurs when they use their newfound market share in news arrogantly and non-constructively.

Now it sounds like some something Steve Jobs would blurt out regarding Mac rumor sites that publish prototype product details leaks, design flaw leaks, or gossip about Jobs’ autocratic management style. Well, people are leaking and people are reading and if they weren’t leaking and reading, then there would be no market share. Who should decide the relative secrecy/transparency of Apple? Steve Jobs? A politician Jobs buys off? Or the customers of Apple products?

Lanier gives us a clue about his conception of non-arrogant, constructive reporting:

As has been frequently observed, the Cablegate episode hasn’t revealed military or “top” secrets; at least as I write this. Furthermore, while some Wikileaks supporters see the documents as a portrait of an evil USA, actually the USA comes off pretty well in them.

One wonders how there would be any market share for document-sourced journalism if governments were behaving so splendidly.

Lanier concludes with of an application of wave physics to political systems.

Anarchy and dictatorship are entwined in eternal resonance. One never exists for long without turning to the other, and then back again. The only way out is structure, also known as democracy.

We sanction secretive spheres in order to have our civilian sphere. We furthermore structure democracy so that the secretive spheres are contained and accountable to the civilian sphere, though that’s not easy.

It is schoolboy nonsense that sees anarchy as a natural frequency for Dictatorship and Dictatorship as a natural frequency for anarchy. By Democracy as “structure,” I suppose it is meant that it serves a dampening factor that maintains the “stability” of the system. But if you actually want to bring physics into the equation when discussing “complex” political economy, it is politics that create “moral hazards” that reinforce positive feedback mechanism while dampening negative feedback mechanisms. The end result is that Complex Political Economy can only sustain stability at the expense of resiliency, which guarantees that at some point the system must transition to a new (rules-based) regime or cease being a complex system at all. Stability, Status Quo, at all costs, in the end, leads to “Dictatorship.”


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