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    Middle East
     Dec 3, 2010

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 United States and other countries, the founder of the WikiLeaks website, Julian Assange, has again shaken establishments.

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 political.

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 Afghanistan-Pakistan, Assange is a strange Robin Hood-like phenomenon with a band of dedicated "merry men" capitalizing on the potential of cyber-space.

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 South Asia.

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 Saudi 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 information.

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 people's lives.

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 persecution.

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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