Article on the political controversy surrounding Assange. Dispute between him and Mr. Barrett Brown is discussed.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains in solitary confinement inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was granted asylum in 2012 against the threat of extradition to the United States for his publishing activities. In recent months, Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno, under pressure from the U.S. began threatening to evict this political refugee.
In response to this dire situation, people across the political spectrum began to form solidarity through #Unify4J, an online platform to organize a social media movement in support of Assange. Among those include prominent Trump’s supporters. In the midst of Trump administration’s draconian measures on immigrants and empowerment of white supremacist groups, the idea of working with Trump’s key allies triggered reaction among the left. Recently, Classconscious.org, an outlet spearheading global civic action for Assange’s freedom, scrutinized the idea of uniting with ultra right forces that back Trump and urged the movement to draw a line.
Strife around the same issue arose from the former associate and early proponents of WikiLeaks. Barrett Brown, an award-winning journalist, previously imprisoned for charges relating to a Stratfor hack, has been one of the strong voices in support of the whistleblowing site. He described how he has long stood up for the organization’s mission of transparency at great risk to himself, yet in recent months he became upset about what he perceived to be Assange’s alliance with fascists and radical right supremacist groups.
Brown, who recently launched the project Pursuance, an open source software that allows individuals to share information and organize, has ramped up criticism toward Assange in his most vulnerable time. This created the conflict with the Courage Foundation, an organization that provides assistance for whistleblowers. Courage was co-founded by Assange and it has both WikiLeaks and Brown as beneficiaries. According to the article on the Daily Beast, three of Courage’s trustees reportedly instructed Courage’s respected director Naomi Colvin to cut off Brown as some kind of retaliation against his hostile remarks toward Assange. This led to the unfortunate resignation of Colvin, who was forced to walk out from the organization as a matter of principle for her opposition to exclude anyone based on political speech.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a former member of Iceland’s Parliament, who now joined the board of Pursuance, responded to this alleged retaliation against Brown. Jónsdóttir, who worked for WikiLeaks in the 2010 publication of the Collateral Murder video, recently tweeted her thoughts on her old colleague:
It’s beyond sad to watch the hubris of one man being able to do so much damage and alienate people who risked everything for the cause. Wikileaks is now far closer to alt right groups then digital rights groups, by choice of its overlord. t.co/8bD2eYibH2 — Birgitta (@birgittaj) August 13, 2018
The divisiveness that has grown among progressives around the advocacy of WikiLeaks brings extreme alarm. It weakens any kind of efforts to resist government and corporate oppression. Finding a way to overcome this force becomes now important, not only for Assange’s freedom, but also for creating a viable movement for democracy.
Innovation on the Internet
So, where does this divisiveness really come from? Since its mainstream recognition in 2010, WikiLeaks was accused of many things in different places and by various groups of people. WikiLeaks once tweeted:
In Russia, @JulianAssange is a MI6 agent; In US, a Russian agent; In Iran, a Mossad agent; In Saudi, an Iranian agent; In Libya, a CIA agent.
World wide establishments accuse those who expose them of being the enemy of the people.t.co/pj6AhyWzHo — WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) May 29, 2018
The latest accusation became ‘WikiLeaks, as an agent of fascism!’ Yet, the organization cannot be pigeonholed into these labels. Needless to say, none of these characterizations are accurate. WikiLeaks is a 100% publicly funded transnational journalistic organization that is not bound to any nation, corporation or political parties. This borderless existence comes to challenge our preconceived notion of journalism based on a model that operates within the confinement of the nation-state. WikiLeaks can be best looked at as an innovation of journalism on the Internet. Just as many inventions of the past, it brought disruption to the system and became controversial. Think of Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press. The spread of the printing press made it possible for people to read the Bible and democratization of knowledge enabled by his technology has brought the decline of Church’s authority.
In a similar way, Assange together with mathematicians, activists and journalists all around the world, invented a new form of journalism that is much more effective in revealing corruption of governments and institutions. With a pristine record of accuracy, it published more classified information than all media combined, exposing human right abuses, government spying, torture and war crimes on a scale that was unprecedented.
Birth of this global Fourth Estate was a game changer. It radically altered the media landscape. Just as scientists and inventors of the past who were imprisoned for their unconventional beliefs and discoveries, Assange has been persecuted for the breakthrough of this innovation. In the 17th century, Galileo’s thought that provided the evidence about the Earth revolving around the Sun was met with condemnation by the orthodoxy of the Church. In these contemporary times, WikiLeaks and its idea of transparency for the powerful seem to have become a heresy that is regarded as a punishable offense by the state.
Ethos of cypherpunks
Without understanding the essence of this new invention, people’s attitudes toward WikiLeaks swing back and forth. Whether it is capitalism or socialism, Democrats or Republicans, many demand WikiLeaks to demonstrate its allegiance to their political ideology and support their preferred candidate. They conflate the invention with the inventor, becoming obsessed with Assange.
One publication put him in a category of a leftist, while another turns him into a right wing. People speculate and get overly attached to Assange’s political views. Ultimately, the opinion of this inventor does not and should not matter. In the same way that people don’t have to know who invented electricity to have a light or a combustion engine to drive a car, everyone can benefit from this new journalism and use it to enrich society at large.
Yet, for those who still feel the need to know, Assange’s thoughts are not shaped by a conventional political dichotomy of left and right. The ideas that conceived WikiLeaks originated from the philosophy of cypherpunks, an electronic mailing list that advocates privacy through the use of strong cryptography.
The motto of this loosely tied network that became active since the late 1980’s is depicted with the expression “cypherpunks write code”. Adam Back, a cryptographer who was cited in Bitcoin’s white paper described it as a particular mindset to make changes through creating alternatives, rather than engaging in typical political efforts of petitions and protests. Back noted how pressuring politicians and promoting issues through the press tends to be slow and creates an uphill battle. He pointed out how instead of appealing to authority for change, people can simply “deploy technology and help people do what they consider to be their legal right”, and then society will later catch up to reflect these values.
Assange describing himself as part of cypherpunks that came from a different tradition than libertarians in California, articulated their unique efforts to balance power between the individual and the state. He said, “By writing our own software and disseminating it far and wide we liberated cryptography, democratised it and spread it through the frontiers of the new internet.” Being true to this ethos of cypherpunks, Assange deployed the technology of a secure drop box that runs on Tor, a free software that routes Internet traffic to enable the anonymous submission of material.