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James Denselow

James Denselow

Posted: December 7, 2010 09:24 AM

Assange's Ideology

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GUEST POST BY TOBY DENSELOW

Security gives way to conspiracy-
-Julius Caesar, act 2, sc.3.


Wikileaks founder Julain Assange's arrest is the ideal moment to reassess the trajectory of his ideological mission. Following the release of US diplomatic cables many that had supported the uncovering of the hidden realities of the Afghan and Iraq wars were aghast, had Assange gone too far and launched a crusade not just against corruption but against secrecy itself?

Assange now faces a firestorm of critics. Prior to his arrest there were calls for him to be pursued with the same vigour that the US army has used to pursue al-Qaeda, the Wikileaks website has been repeatedly hacked, and even Amazon have courted controversy by kicking the site off their DNS provider. Assange's native Australia have ruled out his return, and Interpol placed him on their most wanted list, alongside the likes of Joaquin 'el chapo' Guzman.

With all this going on in the background, it is often easy to miss the bigger picture. Much of the mainstream media's coverage of the story has revolved around the methods employed by Assange, the question of 'why' has barely been addressed.

Unlike Daniel Ellsberg's leaking of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, Wikileaks is a fundamental challenge to a democratic government's right to keep secrets. Far from being reactive to a particular event, the latest leak is part of a wider operation which Assange refers to in his essays published online in 2006. These notes form the backbone of his wider quest to create a new, transparent and accountable way of governing.

Entitled 'State and Terrorist Conspiracies', Assange calls for a different approach to thinking about western state power, something he refers to as an "authoritarian conspiracy". In a manner akin to the French philosopher Foucault, he discusses how power and resistance go hand-in-hand, stating that conspiracy strengthens authoritarian power by hiding the effects of raw power. He likens the structure of an authoritarian conspiracy to that of a plank of wood embedded with nails, which are connected by lengths of twine. In this analogy, the nails represent the conspirators, and the twine represents communication links. Furthermore, the width of the twine indicates the strength of the information flow. No twine, no conspiracy.

He argues how these authoritarian conspiracies rely on steady streams of viable information, and without it they cease to function effectively. Assange discusses ways in which these information flows can be disrupted, going so far to even refer to the use of assassination. Yet he clearly states that cutting the head of the Hydra will not kill the beast, as even if a vital communication link is broken the conspiracy of power will continue.

Instead Assange believes that the system can only be forced into change by diluting the importance of the information that it relies so heavily upon. By publishing the classified information, Assange aims to coerce the system into a state of paranoia, which would theoretically lead to a reduction of conspirators, and therefore lead to a smaller network of information. As Assange writes, "an authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think is powerless to preserve itself against the opponents it induces".

Assange notes how recent technological advancements have empowered the conspirators, culminating in larger groups and quicker transfers of information. The drawbacks to this are that the system is more open to collapse, as there are suddenly more avenues which can be compromised. This was arguably the case with Bradley Manning, the soldier at the heart of the leaking scandal.

One may not agree with the principles underpinning Assange's crusade against "authoritarian conspiracies", yet by understanding the motives behind his actions we see the story in an entirely difference light. As their founder faces prison the success of Wikileaks may lie not in the specifics of what has being leaked, but rather the fact that it was leaked in and of itself.

 

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