Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; "To destroy this invisible government"

A close reading of a 2006 Julian Assange essay, useful for understanding the motivations behind Wikileaks. (via Ethan Zuckerman)


  1. The part about social networks reminds me of “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,”
    based upon the way they structure their conspiracy. There’s no doubting his genius, and his intentions seem pure. When has one small cell held such a large group of corrupt politicians captive?

  2. That’s dynamite.

    (I now need to go and inwardly digest this, because I think it just forced a major re-think on my next-but-one SF novel.)

  3. My respect for WIkileaks grows an order of magnitude. We used to do something along the lines of having a conspiracy strangle itself when I was doing anti-cult work. It is necessary for all such fascist organisations to have an external enemy so that the duped members will feel threatened and turn over all authority and responsibility to the self-proclaimed guardians of the group. If such an enemy is not handy then one must be manufactured. Large groups like Scientology manufacture enemies by the truckload via their harassment policies and zany groups, such as “The Process” or the CSA, would do it by assassinating law enforcement and other government officials.

    However most groups, especially those of a mystic or occult nature, satisfy themselves with an unverifiable conspiracy theory of ultraterrene scope. After boning up on it we would then present ourselves to members, in as cheesy and unbelievable manner as possible, to actually be members of these nemesis organisations. “Yes, we are in fact lizardmen. Well spotted, I can see we can’t fool you lot.” Some favoured hanging around in MIB suits and sunglasses but my favourite was driving by in my friend’s decrepit Volkswagen Beetle dressed as “The Red Monk Of Negativity”.

    This would shock one or two members out of the cult’s mythos via a demonstration of how stupid it was but the more important effect was to change a group of edgy, compliant devotees to a panicked mob demanding, more often than not, that the group’s guardians now exercise the mystic powers that they had been holding in reserve for just such an emergency.

    Wacky antics ensued.

  4. Assange’s essay is fascinating. I truely didn’t understand the purpose of WikiLeaks before reading it. I had assumed he was trying to perform the function journalists used to do; That he was trying to expose some immoral acts to get them cleared up: Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and all that.

    Now I understand that his goal is much higher. He has deconstructed the mechanics of our modern Authoritative-Corporate state which is failing most of us for the benefit of the few. And he has devised WikiLeaks as a factor to impede the ability of powerful conspiracies to operate. His goal isn’t to “clean up” each little immoral act, his goal is to change the rules for organizations that must operate in secret. To respond to an environment with ubiquitous information leaks a secretive organization has two ways to respond: By clamping down so hard on information exchange that they cease to be effective internally, or by operating without secrecy, with “open books” which would end the worst of the self-serving policies which hurt the public.

    I fear for Julian’s sake that he has forgotten one important point. He is a player in this global game, he is not a side observer setting up new rules. The world’s most powerful and secret organizations will respond to this new threat. Senator Peter King of New York has already called for Julian Assange to be declared a terrorist. As a terrorist he could be “rendered” without any judicial oversight, he could be subject to “enhanced interrogation” and he could very well end up dead.

  5. “Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove.”

    I understand the allure of one man against the world. It’s heroic. But why is that role assigned to Assange? Because he has the technology? What special qualities does he possess, beyond the means to distribute, that allows him to select who is a target and who is not? What makes his judgement infallible? It may be that all he has exposed are the weaknesses in a gov/corp system he wishes to make more transparent. The only change that will happen, that is happening right now, will be more density.

    1. I understand the allure of one man against the world. It’s heroic. But why is that role assigned to Assange?

      Perhaps he’s the only one who’s applied for the position.

      1. It is not so much that he applied for the job as it is that his skill set really allowed him no other course of action.

        To look at the injustice of the world and not be able do do anything about it is one thing, to see it and have the ability to stand against it in an effective way really doesn’t leave much of a choice about your next move…

        If I were to run into the guy on the street, I would help him in anyway that I could.

        I have no resources other than a little bitty internet connection.

        I am considering my next move carefully…

  6. Very enlightening. I understood WikiLeaks as one of those things that -should- exist but I never understood exactly -why- until I read this. My guess is that Assange would rather be an example than a hero.

    It’s unfortunate that openness and brutality are not mutually exclusive, however. A possible fly in the plans, but one that only time will reveal. At any rate, I’d rather live in a world where the people within had to stare the brutal world in the face rather than lying to themselves about the world they inhabit.

  7. ok, why do i get a serious vibe of dune about all this?

    perhaps because i recently finished “god emperor of dune”?

  8. One problem with this philosophy is that not all “conspiracies” are bad. By Assange’s definition, a conspiracy is any organization that wants to get things done without everybody in the world knowing their business. Wikileaks itself is a conspiracy, given that they presumably want to protect their sources. You’re part of a conspiracy if you want to ditch work to hang out with your friends. Or gossiping about your boss around the watercooler. At least some of the conspiracies the US gov’t are involved in are Good Things, and by doing informational carpet bombing like this diplomatic note thing, Assange is doing a good chunk of collateral damage. Wikileaks might be a good idea if some mechanism was in place that ensured that it only degraded “bad” conspiracies. (For some value of “bad.”)

  9. I left this comment on the blog entry – leaving it here too, partly in the hopes that someone from Wikileaks will see it!

    This is an absolutely brilliant post, thank you. I’m not into idolization, but it’s undeniable that Assange and Wikileaks will be marked in history for what they’re doing.

    One thing I don’t understand in all this: Wikileaks continues to have establishment news organizations read and analyze documents in advance, then frame and present them to the readers before the leaks go public. There’s an argument to be made that these media outlets are themselves conspiracies, given their lack of transparency, their well-documented gate-keeping functions, and closeness to state and corporate power. You and Assange both have radical critiques of these media pursuing their own narrow self interests, or simply being incompetent… so why with this latest leak are the vast majority of the cables still in the dark, with only these largely unaccountable ‘professional’ journalists having seen them? In a sense, Wikileaks is conspiring with them in the slow release of these cables.

    I’m an independent journalist in Haiti – been here for over a year and seen firsthand how the establishment media dysfunctions in reporting on this poor country whose people are fighting for self-determination and survival. There are approx. 1200 cables from the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince yet to be released, while it appears Sunday’s absurd election financed in large part by the US and foreign governments is being forced on the population. Why the delay? The time, at least for Haiti, is now. Why not let the public have at these documents? Why reinforce the privileged access of the establishment media? I understand the appeal of major news outlets splashing Wikileaks headlines on their front pages while utilizing their research capacity. But I think by now Wikileaks has made such a name for itself that it could release these leaks to the public at large – including highly dedicated members of the alternative and independent press – and still generate the headlines and impact in line with its objectives.

  10. I suspect the delay is a technical one, i read that wikileaks have had to find a new web host as the current one can’t handle the strain that the ongoing DDOS produces.

    Btw, i get a sense that wikileaks exist to create a kind of autoimmune response within “conspiracies”. Basically have its own body eat itself in a mistaken attempt at defense.

  11. The unwieldy nature of the Iraq War Log leak hindered its effectiveness. This time, by doling out the cables bit-by-bit, Wikileaks can get the best analysis, the most coverage, and, most importantly, the maximum profit for the press, as everyone in the world tunes in to their national news to get their daily dose of government gossip. The more Assange is a rainmaker for the media, the more they’re incentivized to protect Wikileaks. It’s a sweet media hack, and it means that Wikileaks is going to be front page news for a while now.

    Agreed w/simonbarsinister. Maybe a 50/50 chance that Assange will be alive and free in a year? I would think that Wikileaks has planned for that, and considering his background in plausible deniability and rubber-hose encryption, has also planned for an enhanced interrogation. Is Assange really critical to Wikileaks? Or will his imprisonment/disappearance strengthen the organization, demonize its aggressors, and provide even more publicity?

    Disagreed w/Anon @~11 (although I do agree that Wikileaks may be a conspiracy itself). Better, IMO, in this case, to re-engineer the system for overall good, than to attempt to adjudicate good/bad on a case-by-case basis. We have to trade away ~something~ to gain the ability to broadcast corp/gov secrets. My thought is that the boss won’t care about people ditching work when the company’s dirty laundry is flapping in the breeze.

    Assange’s essay makes it clear that he seeks to raise the cost of corruption for corporations and governments, such that they are disincentivized from pursuing conspiratorial strategies. He’s not making a moral statement on conspiracies so much as he is making the act of conspiring unprofitable.

    1. “Assange’s essay makes it clear that he seeks to raise the cost of corruption for corporations and governments, such that they are disincentivized from pursuing conspiratorial strategies. He’s not making a moral statement on conspiracies so much as he is making the act of conspiring unprofitable.”

      Well, he is attempting to go after “unjust” conspiracies, including the Democratic and Republican parties. Apparently Watergate would have been okay if the robbers had spilled the news to the internet instead of to Tricky Dick. I’m guessing that Assange might think that watercooler gossip isn’t an unjust conspiracy. Unfortunately, it sounds like most of what was in the diplomatic notes leak was the international equivalent of watercooler gossip overheard by the boss. Could it be Assange’s definition of an “unjust” conspiracy depends on how big the organization is?

      Assange recognizes that unjust conspiracies tend to want to keep secrets from their enemies. The problem is that wanting to keep secrets doesn’t mean you’re unjust, just that you might have enemies. Just organizations might have enemies too, and spilling their secrets are going to hurt them. I’m not sure which is worse – relying on Assange/Wikileaks’ judgment about what counts as an “unjust” conspiracy or Assange/Wikileaks’ not even bothering to make a judgment.

      One countermeasure large conspiracies could take: massive disinformation campaigns, with the organization being able to sort of the real stuff internally. How might one go about arranging an overload of plausible bullshit and “leaking” it to Wikileaks?

  12. But isn’t there also the possibility of this action leading not to self-choking levels of control but rather simply to efficiency of control? Much like a pathogen attacking an organism, the resultant immune response can either kill the host or lead to improved resistance in the future. Unless Mr. Assange believes his methods can adapt fast enough, outpacing those of conspiratory organizations, it seems like a method of making them more powerful, or at least of taking out the weaker ones and leaving the space open for the more resistant to fill. Sounds like quite a gamble to me.

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