Julian Assange and the Wikileaks agenda

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange came to the Centre for Investigative Journalism weekend school at City University last Friday to speak to a public audience. Assange is clearly making many more of these appearances in what might be called the Phase Two of the Wikileaks story.

Julian Assange

In Phase One, Assange barely gave any interviews at all and was secretive about himself and his organisation. Phase Two began when Wikileaks had put more than a million documents into the public domain which organisations and governments had never intended to release and when the US government arrested one of Wikileaks alleged leakers in the American military. (Earlier posts on this here and here; whole Wikileaks story here). That phase has seen Assange come out his shell and switch from defence to attack.

Here’s a summary of what he said in opening. Wikileaks has focussed from the start, he said, on revealing documents which will have the largest effect when disclosed. Borrowing the language of economists, documents kept secret create value by defining what will have impact when revealed.

But from the start, Wikileaks saw itself in quite a different perspective from mainstream media, or from all other news media. Assange intended, he said, to set up a “real free press” for the first time – in the sense that sensitive revelations at that scale which could not be shut down have never been done before. Wikileaks invested effort, time and money from the start in setting up servers which cannot be interrupted or attacked. He also saw Wikileaks as an “advocacy group for sources.”

He indirectly justified Wikileaks refusal to discuss its personnel, operations or security methods by saying that he has a “duty” to maintain “institutional integrity”. He went further: he has “a duty to history.”

As you can sense, Julian Assange doesn’t think small. Wikileaks first focus has been countries where government was least transparent: China, Africa and some ex-Soviet states. Then they moved on to places where “the power structure is so sewn up that the press doesn’t matter much.”

That seems, broadly, to be the developed world. “It’s all bankrupt,” he said. We have to rethink our understanding of how political power works. “All current political theory is bankrupt, all political thought, because we don’t know what the hell is going on.”

You might have guessed by now that the established media are part of the problem. Journalists, he argues, are creating unreasonable public expectations. Their “original sin” is to enjoy the imbalance of power. Why does someone want to read what a journalist has written? “They’re ignorant and you’re not. You know more.” There’s an imbalance of power.

Journalists treat readers as parents treat children. “You can’t lie but the opportunity to distort is large and prevalent.” The reader can’t see the whole picture so Wikileaks has to fill the gap. Once “primary source material” is up on the web, the “lying opportunities” shrink.

Assange’s style is an odd mixture of insight, nonsense and brass-neck salesmanship. His assumption that society’s decision-making structure is a bankrupt fraud if only people could see it reminds me of the worst bollocks people spouted around four decades ago. But his strategic planning and tactical execution for Wikileaks betrays a very sharp understanding of how digital communications alter the world.

One of his least convincing answers was on the funding of Wikileaks in the period ending this past January (when they began soliciting donations): money came from “people working on it.” That must have been quite some sum. I can’t disprove his description, but it sounds unconvincing to me. This is the only area of life where total transparency won’t do, apparently. Someone should investigate some more.

Update 16/7/10: long profile interview with Assange here, done just after his appearance at City.

Update 29/7/10: you can check my observations against the video of Assange’s talk.

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14 comments

  1. “You can create bait to draw Dragons out of their cave legally”. Julian Assange.

  2. George,

    Wikileaks has not put more than a million documents in the public domain. It has *claimed* to have more than a million documents, but we have seen no evidence of that. The number it has actually published is much, much smaller.

  3. His assumption that society’s decision-making structure is a bankrupt fraud if only people could see it reminds me of the worst bollocks people spouted around four decades ago.

    Sounds like irritation at reminder of generational failure.

  4. julian has it right. George w bush losf not one but two elections and STILL became president. When black box voting stepped forward with evidence of rigged elections the media were silent.

    when architects and engineers proved scientifiically that the three WTC buildings came down from explosive demolition and that the official story was a whitewash the media were silent.

    when the media had a copy of the collateral murder video and sat on it they were being silent.

    THEN you have libel tourism. If a journalist has the integrity to putup a news story about a corporation they will sue for libel in countries like the UK,, even if the story was written in a place elsewhere, about events elsewhere.

    Where in the western world the mainstream media is owned by zionists who will Lie Lie Lie about the ethnic cleansing of palestine we NEED an alternative source that not only tells a story, but includes the PROOF behind the story.

    Go wikilieaks!

  5. Thanks for this informative article. I liked all excerpt for the last two paragraphs – which is about what one would naturally expect from an intelligent author who believes in and is comfortable with the status quo. I have great hopes and expectations, that the truth (about the actions of the oligarchy) will set us free (from the horrors that they are responsible for).

    Re thee last two paragraphs:
    “Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind.”
    William Shakespeare
    “Suspicion is the companion of mean souls, and the bane of all good society” Thomas Paine

  6. The reason Julian has to do this is because our media and the governments are corrupted. If the media can report transparency then there are no needs to go the extra mile. great job….
    go get ’em….i am a great fan of this

  7. Dear George — you may not see yourself as part of the problem. But this screed you’ve generated indicates otherwise.

    If it can’t stand the light of day, then it shouldn’t have happened.

    Perhaps your frustration is that your function as gatekeeper — deciding what should and should not be up for public consumption — has been compromised by Wikileaks.

    Thanks for writing about Wikileaks though. You’ve inspired me to donate to them (again). Assange is definitely pissing-off the right kind of person.

    Mark Paris
    Washington, DC

  8. Assange has the unique ability to translate Alvin Toffler’s 3rd-Wave paradigm into a concrete organization with the capacity to shape the future of journalism.

    For all the liberal political/computer scientists out there, Julian is somewhat like looking in the mirror.

    Bard: I would point out that impartiality is important. If we conflate our personal biases with support of wikileaks, we may risk turning off others who are on the fence about supporting wikileaks as an institution.

  9. It says here =
    “His assumption that society’s decision-making structure is a bankrupt fraud if only people could see it reminds me of the worst bollocks people spouted around four decades ago.”
    This itself is bollocks, and Assanges statement is completely true. Good article until that balls-up.
    When the 3rd world war kicks off, people will realise we are being led down the pipes by a sadistic elite who only care about themselves, and a New World Order which gets rid of us, the “useless eaters”, and serves them 100%.
    …b.

  10. “His assumption that society’s decision-making structure is a bankrupt fraud if only people could see it reminds me of the worst bollocks people spouted around four decades ago.”

    Why do you say that? Do you really think the mainstream press reports the world accurately? If so, then you’re more naive than most.

    I think Assange is quite correct. As you unpack the tissue of lies on which our society thrives you can begin to see the underlying problems more clearly. In America and elsewhere, issues like energy policy, healthcare and warfare are regularly and completely misrepresented to protect the powerful and wealthy.

    WikiLeaks is doing heroic work in shining a flashlight where the commercial media won’t tread. They deserve the full outspoken support of freedom lovers all over the world.

  11. Four decades ago I was drafted and sent to Vietnam as part of Australia’s slavish partnership with the US. All the way with LBJ. I don’t see that much has changed, it is still all bollocks.

  12. Wikileaks is a good website for keeping governments that claim to be democratic accountable to the public – if they do something unethical, there is a chance it will be exposed and they’ll lose credibility.

  13. Typo: ‘jouralist’ should be ‘journalist’ on para 8 🙂