The First Task of Statesmanship
Keep an eye on Wikileaks. It is the first cyber-insurrection in world history.

It is a war for control of the dominant narrative: who gets to describe and define “what’s going on in the world” as far as the world’s people are concerned.

For the past 5,000 years of human history the dominant narrative has always been created by the dominant power, currently the USA. George Bush’s Iraq war narrative is interesting because he publicly lost control of it shortly after the invasion (no WMDs) even though the Western media continued to repeat his version long after it was disproved.

Now Wikileaks threatens America’s control of the entire narrative of world events and, thus, its justification for seeking to control them (democracy, press freedom, human rights, etc.).
Of the recent trove of cables released to three newspapers by Assange & Co., the media has published only those it considers to be “acceptable”. It has not published those which, according to those who have seen them, are “explosive”. Presumably this reticence has to do with their desire to continue in existence, which the USA could render difficult.

The New York Times, the champion of press freedom for other countries, refuses to publish any at all until after foreign newspapers have done so. Even then it puts the most pro-American spin on them.

And the recent release constitutes less that 10% of the leaked cables.
Then there is the Bank (of America?) File which, being closer to Americans’ pain threshold, could be far more “explosive” than foreign embassy material. It could, for example, explode the Federal Reserve’s narrative of the GFC events or reveal suspected criminal corruption in the US financial system.

In addition to these goodies, as Mr. Assange recently noted, Wikileaks is now attracting a greater volume of much higher-quality leaks from around the world. Pissed-off, passed-over clerks, secretaries, and corporals now have an outlet for their long-suppressed resentment of crooked Ministers, CEOs, generals.

A thumb drive, three keystrokes, and you’re Captain Nemo.

Yesterday’s developments were instructive. Every hacker on earth found A Cause. They can all be players in bringing down ‘The System’. Some of these guys are very smart (some probably work in agencies they are sworn to protect) and the rest are young men in Tallinn, Valparaiso, and Los Angeles with fiberoptic links and time on their hands.

MasterCard was shut down for 24 hours. Not only its website, but its entire worldwide card processing ability. I know because I witnessed it, in real time, along with millions others around the world. Visa was down for an afternoon. Both MasterCard and Visa accept charges for pornography, gambling and the Ku Klux Klan, while Wikileaks has not been charged with any offence.

To organize their efforts, the hackers have turned to sites like Facebook and Twitter. That has drawn these Web giants into the fray and created a precarious situation for them. Both Facebook and Twitter – particularly Twitter – have been praised by the US Government and Big Media in recent years as outlets for free speech. Foreign governments trying to control the flow of information found it difficult to block people from voicing their concerns or setting up meetings through the sites.

Twitter is in a particularly delicate situation because its founders have celebrated their service’s role in political protest and free speech and capitalizing on the good will engendered by playing that role. Remember Twitter’s role in the Iran election protests?

Several thousand would-be revolutionaries have already been supplied with Wikileaks’ doomsday file: the complete dataset containing truly scandalous and damaging material. Once they receive the key they will unleash the material on a now-waiting world, with no possibility of redaction, censorship, or interpretation by the media.

Traditional Big Media will be in a quandary as New (web) Media seize their chance to one-up the old guard. This is potentially Armageddon for Big Media, whose true loyalties will be impossible to hide.

Not only world wide, but amongst Americans themselves there is considerable frustration with the US government and a desire to punish–or at least embarrass–it by whatever means. The Berkeley City Council is considering a motion to declare the original leaker who is currently in the brig,

Corporal Bradley Manning, an American Hero.

Assange is currently leading, by a tenfold margin, votes for Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.
Famous human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson has been retained to defend him against extradition to Sweden.  Should be interesting, as Sweden was very publicly outed for helping the USA with ‘extraordinary renditions’ and torture of innocent men two years ago, and Robertson is the world’s leading authority on Scandinavian extradition.
Millions have been pledged for his legal fees.  The British judge is reluctant to hold Assange unless he receives ‘excellent’ reasons for doing so.  Once released, we’ll hear some interesting interviews, which will receive a MUCH bigger audience.  The question is, how much pressure can Assange withstand?  I know from personal experience how devastating media attention can be.
The US government’s response has not helped its cause.  Notions of press freedom and citizens’ rights to know have been dumped and government figures call publicly for assassination.   America looks like a half-crazed villain lashing out at what appears to be nothing more than gossip.  But it’s much more than that.  It’s a fight for control of the narrative.
Remember the context: the USA is currently losing two increasingly unpopular wars, is mired in debt, has 20% unemployment, is in political gridlock, and is being passed by China in almost every field of endeavor.  This week’s fields of endeavor:
  1. Cancun: China is meeting all of America’s previous objections to a climate treaty and will thus leave the USA as the sole climate villain.
  2. PISA scores: the international rankings of 15-year olds in math and reading.  China (Shanghai) on top; USA way back in the field.  This is a snapshot of the future.
The context of this war promises to be intellectually interesting, too, because Assange himself is.  Note his quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul this unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of statesmanship.”
And context, as they say, is everything.
[For an excellent discussion of official secrecy, read Jimmy Johnson’s The Secret Secret, at]


  1. deadsparrow

    Assange has another quotable comment, delivered in a recent press conference, that is relevant to our misplaced optimism about our privileged position in the world:

    The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be “free” because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free..


  2. deadsparrow

    Assange makes a second point that is equally valid, and perhaps more important, in the final sentence of his comment to his press questioners.

    “The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade”.

    It is not what Wikileaks is doing that is potentially explosive but the fact that it is doing it.


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