Against WikiLeaks: Who We Are and What We Believe

Over the course of the semester, organizing my efforts to look at the Anti-Snowden/Assange has been a lot more of a task than I initially thought it would be. I chose this topic because I found that I did not necessarily understand the subject of cybersecurity, and the politics of Snowden/Assange, but thought that I generally agreed with their positions, and frowned upon what I saw as the U.S. “persecution” of them. Over the course of my study of them, I have seen that neither Snowden, nor Assange are nearly as simple a case as they would like for it to seem.

To generally examine the anti-Assange/Snowden “movement” (and it must be done generally with concerns for writing space) we have to first acknowledge that there is no “movement” running counter to the pro-Assange/Snowden movement (which is a well formed movement.) Like the “Hippie” movement of the 60’s, there was not Anti-Hippie “movement” per se, just a dichotomy of the Hippies against the “mainstream”. What I find is that this “counter-culture” label seems to being a great deal of clout to a “movement” because: A) it appeals to the dis-satisfied “anti-establishment” sentiments within a group of people and B) in its self-stylization as a counter to the mainstream, it composes strength in the passion of its members. That is, people who belong to the pro-Assange/Snowden group are much more passionate about being “for the cause” than the people who oppose it. For example, there is a “pardonsnowden.org” but there is no “holdsnowdenaccountable.org” or even a coalition to prosecute. I find this to be consistent with many “counterculture movements”, which I should say, I very much see WikiLeaks and Snowden as leaders of.

That being said, the “Anti” group has become more vocal over my time observing it, and it mainly gets its voice from opinion writers for major publications. The case of The Washington Post is probably the most significant example we have seen thus far. When WaPo released an article by its own Editorial Board on the 17th of September 2016, arguing against a pardon for Edward Snowden, it did so quietly, without too great a fanfare to publicize the stance that it had taken against a source (for which they won a Pulitzer for reporting his information). It did not take to Social Media to promote it heavily, it did not do much more than make its statement, and publish. But other press organizations were quick to counter. They did not counter so much with the logical stance, and explication of their stance, but instead the journalistic malpractice of not protecting your source: a long and storied tradition in journalisms code of ethics and cannons. Many opinions were released in the following days condemning the stance of The Post, but much of them condemnation seemed to come from The Post’s failure to protect Snowden as the source from which they derived much information. Many opinions additionally claimed that they disagreed with the EB’s explanation of why, maintaining that there was not enough wrong-doing to “wrong his rights,” but it seemed that this was secondary to the betrayal of a source. And established publications have a right to be concerned about The Post’s stance. Many of these established publications have come under attack in recent years for being a part of “the machine” that these “counterculture movements” wish to dismantle. We needn’t look much further than the attacks Trump (and anti-establishment “politician” in every sense) levy against The New York Times and CNN for evidence of this. With concerns of this pervasive opinion spreading, it makes sense that many organizations would hurry to the defense of one of the most famous sources in modern journalism.

Still, many of these established press organizations are the ones who take a stance against the work of Snowden and WikiLeaks. And because they are the opposition to what in many ways is a grassroots movement, they have been some of the only voices that can be heard against it. The genius of the anti-establishment movements is that whenever a reliable argument against your movement arises from an “established” source, it is easy to dismiss it by questioning its motives due to it’s identity as “part of the establishment.” This easy dismissal has been integral to the propagation of the anti-establishment ideas, lead mostly by WikiLeaks. Because of Assange’s identity as someone running in direct opposition “the establishment,” he has been able to very much paint himself in the virtuous light he chooses. Part of this is in the semantics of painting “the establishment” as a large looming entity with no identifiable features or fixtures— one whose sole purpose is to destroy dissent (a narrative both Snowden Assange collude with their frequently reported paranoia.) This tactic, again, is very powerful. It allows Snowden and Assange to play on the fears of the public, and reinforces the fears of their supporters. With this narrative and fear in place, the “leaks” which they provide do little more than cast-doubt on “institutions” by overwhelming people with information and questions. For example, with the DNC “hack,” much of what was provided was not evidence of wrongdoing, but communication that cast a shadow of doubt onto the DNC. Not only do many of WikiLeaks “leaks” operate in this way, this is the operation method of the organization itself, as of late. To be sure, Snowden and Assange are winning the war of ideas and playing the New Media game extremely effectively.

As to the matters of substance at hand, while Snowden has become more silent on the subject, Assange has seemed to become someone reified and radicalized in his positions. The goals of both men have been, and remain somewhat vague. They seem to be working for transparency of foreign and domestic affairs (i.e. all affairs), and transparency of money in politics. Yet with WikiLeaks “reporting” of The Sony Hack, and their subsequent stance on it (it seems that they are trying to imply that Sony is another “arm of the machine”) the mission of WikiLeaks seemed to become somewhat foggy. It is unclear exactly what purpose publishing the hack served to WikiLeaks mission, but it seemed as if the goal was complete and total transparency of all communication. The questions arose: Why is this important? Where do we draw the line? What constitutes information valuable to the public? With the DNC hack these questions were reinforced. There was not really any “evidence” of anything truly scandalous or wrongdoing, just a bunch of one liners that taken out of context looked sketchy. It was at this point that many opinions of WikiLeaks seemed to change. They published these “leaks” with what seemed like sole intention to harm one party (The Democratic Party), and interfere in the election. While Assange denied this, his unwillingness to reveal the source of his DNC hack, and his ongoing feud with Hillary Clinton and the State department speaks otherwise to his motivations. He has openly criticized institutions who criticize Russia (as with the Panama Papers). This all has cause the tides to turn against his favor in the press, although in his grass-roots support (as Eve can show you) this only strengthens their passion to defend him.

Over the course of the semester I was surprised by the carelessness, lack of self-awareness, and pretention with which WikiLeaks carries themselves. My perception of them going into this, was that they were a non-partisan organization dedicated to transparency of government, which, on principle, I agree with. What I have found is that WikiLeaks in particular enforces its own agenda, and seeming vendetta, on anything it deems “evil”. Their view of the world is self-centric, as evidenced by their willingness to endanger the safety of people compromised by their leaks. They paint themselves as the “antidote” to “evil” “establishment” organizations, but instead they have become exactly what they aim to hold accountable: organizations which try to enforce their agenda at any cost, even human lives.

I think, in particular, the reading we did on Assange in Week 13, was especially important to this topic; particularly The New Yorker article: No Secrets. I think the reporting, which seemed more like reportage, inadvertently allowed insight into WikiLeaks truly ideological mission. My observation of the pro-side as well, has given me further evidence that much of the rhetoric and ideology pushed by this “movement” is extremist, and not very well thought out. It seems to portend a sort of critical thinking in its opposition to “establishment” without being truly and deeply critical, but instead showing a shallow and simple understanding of multiple complex subjects. I would say that as WikiLeaks has rolled on, it has become more and more incomprehensibly blind to realities, and more and more ideological, and has in turn, made a case against itself.

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