|The man who knows too much
By Sreeram Chaulia
With the release of a third tranche of confidential
documents about the foreign relations and military
operations of the
States and other countries, the founder of
the WikiLeaks website, Julian Assange, has again shaken
An avowed Internet activist and former hacker driven by
anarchist ideology, the 39-year-old Australian Assange could
almost overtake Osama bin Laden in the stakes of being the
US government’s "most wanted" individual.
The timing of the latest Interpol high alert to nab Assange
on the request of the Swedish authorities, for alleged
involvement in sexual molestation, appears extremely
As a result of this diversionary gambit, the whistle-blowing
international fugitive's image has been spun into that of a
digital muckraker who must be silenced and deactivated on
some pretext or another.
Conservatives in the US are literally baying for Assange’s
blood, depicting him as an evil anti-authority figure who is
the enemy of world order and stability. But the sustained
critique from the high offices of US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton downwards lacks credibility because Assange
is under no moral or legal obligation to serve and safeguard
American interests, alliances or wars.
To demand that WikiLeaks and its maverick leader, who has
gone into hiding, be punished or muzzled because their
actions are endangering the lives of American soldiers and
their local collaborators in Iraq,
Afghanistan and elsewhere is akin to
arguing that the US is fighting these wars as a global
public good and in the interest of the whole world.
Painting Assange as a dangerous threat to the art and
practice of diplomacy itself is again a long shot because
the density, depth and style of inter-state exchanges
accumulated over centuries cannot be disturbed by a few
hundred thousand titbits. If anything, the release is
actually aimed at ending American wars by sowing doubts in
the minds of the American people about the direction in
which their politicians and "securo-crats" are taking them.
If consent can be "manufactured", in American Noam Chomsky's
famous phrase, it can also be discombobulated by gutsy
conscientious objectors. Assange is basically a spin-off of
the anti-war movement who is harnessing the technological
platform of the Internet and combining it with the savvy of
an intelligence apparatus to ferret out secrets through
human moles in US military and diplomatic circles.
In the absence of sustained mass mobilization to force the
Barack Obama administration's hand to end the war in
Assange is a strange Robin Hood-like phenomenon with a band
of dedicated "merry men" capitalizing on the potential of
American intelligence analyst Private Bradley Manning, who
stands accused of supplying WikiLeaks with classified
content over controversial US army missions in Iraq, and "a
person of interest" for a similar cache about the conduct of
the war in Afghanistan, is believed to have civilian
accomplices who are American state agents.
The most recent WikiLeaks deluge of diplomatic cables and
memos is likely to have reached Assange's team via Manning
and possibly more insiders who were disenchanted with
superiors or peers holding the levers of American diplomacy
in critical fronts like the Middle East and
Assange knows too much because there are Americans within
the state paraphernalia who detest the seemingly endless
military intervention in Afghanistan-Pakistan and the
pressures and backroom planning to attack Iran.
Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know that Pakistan is an even
more unreliable ally of the US than is generally believed.
If anyone was left in doubt that the war in
Afghanistan-Pakistan is absolutely unwinnable, they just
need to compare what American top brass are saying in
private and in public about the double games of their
"strategic partner" in Islamabad.
We are now also privy to knowledge that King Abdullah of
Arabia had advised Washington to "cut off
the head of the snake" by attacking Iran, a revelation that
speaks of close policy coordination between the highest
echelons in Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
One mistake that some observers and commentators have made
since WikiLeaks' bombshells have started raining down is to
dismiss these nuggets as "nothing new" to fundamentally
alter conventional understandings about US foreign policy
and the shenanigans of foreign political bigwigs.
The thirst for "breaking news" and startling discoveries
that make truth seem stranger than fiction should not mask
the underlying purpose of Assange's musketeers -
disempowering power-holders who are masters of doublespeak,
and empowering the general public which has always been at a
relative disadvantage owing to the absence of full
WikiLeaks is one of several freshly unleashed mediums of the
information age through which societies can see through
their state elites. The ruled have a better chance of
coalescing around an issue like unpopular wars and engaging
in collective action when they cannot be pooh-poohed as
"uninformed" outsiders who cannot make choices in the
supreme national or global interests.
The breaks in the ranks of the US ruling elites and
rank-and-file on the question of wars and threats of war are
today able to vent out and cut through the fog due to
WikiLeaks. Historical transformations toward democratization
and self-governing communities only happen when there are
chasms within the powers that be, and where moderate
factions of government ally with highly motivated change
agents in society.
In an epoch when "friends" and networks are being built and
consolidated through the Internet, Assange's route is not a
criminal or illegitimate one but a praiseworthy push for
greater social involvement in issues that govern ordinary
WikiLeaks has never sold or traded its meticulously secreted
information banks to those who could pay a fortune to get
possession of such manipulative material. For releasing the
"closed" into the wide-open sphere in a non-profit manner,
entirely to raise levels of social accountability of the
establishment, Julian Assange deserves protection, not
Sreeram Chaulia is Vice Dean of the Jindal School
of International Affairs in Sonipat,
India, and author of the forthcoming book,
International Organizations and Civilian Protection: Power,
Ideas and Humanitarian Aid in Conflict Zones (IB Tauris).
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