Julian Assange, facing a barrage of personal attacks from media companies and foreign governments, rightly tells the UK Observer today that it’s highly revealing how much attention is directed at him as opposed to the allegations presented in the Wikileaks-released documents. He slept with women? Sure, that’s clearly more vital than criminality or torture backed by Washington:
There have been suggestions elsewhere that WikiLeaks has supplied grist to the mill of America’s enemies and even endangered the lives of those who are identified in material it has disseminated itself – identities that Keller’s paper was careful to redact.
“How do you best attack an organisation?” retorts Assange rhetorically. First, “you attack its leadership… with the dozens of wildly fabricated things said about me in the press – such as that I was living in luxury in South Africa. I have never been to South Africa.” Second, “you attack the cash flow”: Assange recounts the “extra-legal” sanctions by Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and others that have “cost us 90% of our revenue”. And then “you attack our moral standing. There have even been claims we have killed people. Although no person is infallible, we have to date a perfect record in two important respects. One: we have not once, in our four years of publishing, got it wrong. We have never published something that was false and said that it was true. Two: despite our publication of serious material on over 100 countries, no one has come to any harm; neither is there any specific claim that anyone has.”
Another criticism often levelled at WikiLeaks is that bursting the banks of information in this way will only lead to the construction of new flood defences by powerful institutions; in other words to more, not less, secrecy.
“The reaction by large corporations and government power,” says Assange, “to a substantial increase in disclosure to the public was thought about in depth in 2006, when we launched WikiLeaks.” The idea that powerful institutions would “go off record” in such a way is fanciful, he argues; discovering their behaviour will always be possible by obtaining internal records. “For instance, when I obtained the manual for standard operating procedure at Guantánamo Bay, I was surprised to see that it included not only many inhumane practices, but it instructed guards to falsify records to the Red Cross. [Because] there is no way for the centre of an organisation to reliably have its peripheral elements reliably carry out its orders… there is a clear, authorised paper trail. Any form of large-scale abuse must be systemised.” And the acquisition of that paper trail, he argues, is the way to expose the abuse.
In this situation, organisations have two choices, says Assange. One is to “engage in plans that the public will support if they are revealed”, meaning that they will have nothing to fear from transparency. The other is to “spend additional resources to keep those plans secret”. The second, more common, course entails a toll on the economic logic of the organisation, which Assange calls a “secrecy tax”. Also, “when an organisation acts in a more clandestine manner”, he says, “its own internal efficiency decreases, because information cannot flow quickly through the organisation. This is another form of secrecy tax.” For organisations to be efficient, they should be transparent, he insists.