The Technorevolutionaries – 3

At Wired State, Catherine Fitzpatrick examines the career of Nadim Kobeissi, the techno-prodigy who devised the encryption program CryptoCat, and is now an advisor to the New America Foundation think tank. She draws some interesting conclusions about the activities of WikiLeaks and other online self-styled “Internet freedom” organizations:

If you have a social movement that depends solely on encryption to succeed, then you don’t have a social movement, you have a conspiracy and a clandestine partisan movement. It can’t succeed when it is so dependent on encryption. It is antithetical to the open society you are ostensibly trying to build.



The Technorevolutionaries – 2


But you know, why is the New York Times breaking the story that Miranda was transporting stolen intelligence data, stolen by Snowden? Why wouldn’t our fearless truth-seekers at the Guardian let Britain know what David Miranda was really doing?

If the Guardian is employing at least one reporter driven by revenge to damage this country, hasn’t the time come for the paper to review this connection with Edward Snowden? Hasn’t this whole thing got out of hand?

As the hours tick away, this whole computer caper is appearing more and more like that time when Morton Downey Jr., with his ratings in decline, staged an assault in which he shaved his own head and drew several badly rendered swastikas on his body with a Sharpie. It’s getting to be just that silly. And it would be equally entertaining to observe if it wasn’t orbiting such a deadly serious topic.

I had noted before that Snowden’s entire digital footprint seems to drop off in 2009. You just don’t see him post or do things from then until he posts his PGP key and starts his life as a defector. But in fact there are a few posts on Ars Technica — like once or twice a year in 2010, 2011, 2012.


Julian Assange and 1917

In Western Europe and North America the name of WikiLeaks is still often invoked by advocates of Internet freedom and liberty of expression. An hour or so spent with the 2011 Russian-language publication WikiLeaks. Разоблачения, изменившие мир [WikiLeaks. Revelations that Changed the World] (available from B&N here) has been enough to convince me that the information-leaking system devised by the “Internet warrior” Julian Assange is viewed rather differently at the far eastern end of the Baltic Sea.

The book, by the journalist Nadezhda Gorbatyuk, presents an overview of Russian-language material in the WikiLeaks archives, focusing mainly on those parts of the material that concord with the official Russian state view of events in the Baltics, Georgia, and the Middle East during the first decade of the 21st century, and makes no bones about the true nature and purpose of Assange’s project. Right from the start, the services of Yulia Latynina are enlisted to make one thing clear. Assange has not been publishing secret U.S. documents in the name of freedom of information:

Assange’s purpose is exactly the opposite, and it is formulated in two of his programme articles of 2006 which not been translated into Russian, and so they are given here in the original language – “State and Terrorist Conspiracies” and “Conspiracy as Governance”.

“They are rather amusing essays, which follow a remarkable schizoid-cybernetic logic,” writes Latynina. “(‘Conspiracies are cognitive devices.’; ‘What does a conspiracy compute? It computes the next action of the conspiracy.’ )If the mathematician Perelman had taken an interest in the problems of society, perhaps he would have written something similar.”

Following Latynina, Gorbatyuk first explains that for Assange 1) America is an “authoritarian state”;  2)  all authoritarian states are ruled by a conspiracy; 3)  a conspiracy exists when the conspirators have dedicated links to each other and therefore have privileged access to information that is not available to those who are not members of the conspiracy. This structure can be weakened by strategically removing the secrecy from the conspiracy. To quote Assange:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.

Latynina emphasizes the importance of this point. Assange’s aim is not to increase the amount of information available to the public, but to limit the amount of information on the basis of which the U.S. government takes decisions. This, she says, is a revolution in the classical Marxist sense of the word:

Once upon a time these guys were throwing bombs at presidents, “physically destroying the conspirators”. In 1968 they were throwing Molotov cocktails at the Paris police, and in the early 21st century they were making revolution, trying to force the system to take wrong decisions by restricting the amount of information available to it.

According to Marxism, a revolution takes place when the the relations of production change in the wake of the productive forces.

Now the productive forces have changed – the Internet is here, and Assange has changed the relations of production. He has made use of the Internet, in the same way as in 1917 the proletariat made use of cobblestones.

Reading about WikiLeaks

Looking again at Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy (David Leigh and Luke Harding, Guardian Books, 2011) in the context of the Snowden affair, which it predates, it’s possible to see some places in the book where more information might have been useful. While the sections on the Afghanistan and Iraq cables are fully worked out, with many fascinating details, the passages that deal with Russia and Eastern Europe are sketchy, to say the least.

Although the flow of descriptive and biographical material is generally strong and animated, at one curious point in the narrative there is what feels like a sudden hiatus, a tug of uncertainty. We read first about “Adam”, to whom Assange handed over batches of cables:

“He seemed like a harmless old man,” said one staffer, “apart from his standing too close and peering at what was written on your screen.” He was introduced as the father of Assange’s Swedish crony, the journalist Johannes Wahlstrom, and took away copies of cables from Russia and post-Soviet states. According to one insider, he also demanded copies of cables about “the Jews”.

This was the WikiLeaks “associate”, Israel Shamir, who in the wake of events in Sweden said that Assange had been framed by “Langley spies” and “crazy feminists”. Some details about Shamir are given, including a very brief biographical profile, and his activities in Belarus are noted. But then we are told that “Assange himself subsequently maintained that he had only a ‘brief interaction’ with Shamir.” And with that, Shamir drops out of the Guardian Books narrative altogether.

This seems a pity, as some further investigation of this enigmatic figure might have proved more interesting than the rather bland few pages devoted to the Russia cables and the characterization of the “mafia state” (the title of another book by Harding).

Latynina on Assange’s aim

“Assange’s aim is not the maximum dissemination of information – what we have at present, that is. Assange’s aim is to bring the state system into a state of paranoia, so that it stops distributing information within itself and adopts a strict information diet, is unable to make the right decisions. Likewise, what will happen in the world after what Assange has done is highly dependent on the U.S., because the situation is reminiscent of what happened after the bombings of September 11. The problem was not so much the damage Bin Laden directly caused to the economy and human lives on September 11, but the fact that the state, being forced to react to the damage, sharply restricted the freedom of citizens and their rights, and the simple physical convenience of movement.”

– Ekho Moskvy, Yulia Latynina, “Kod dostupa”, 11 December 2010