Saturday, November 27, 2010

Freedom of Speech: "WikiLeaks expose promises to be especially revelatory because the Americans have dirt on everyone"

Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

WikiLeaks And Its Brave New World

Christopher Schwartz

Another WikiLeaks storm is brewing, again in the direction of the United States. But there's a big difference this time, because the international community is likely to be swept up in the winds as well -- and that's exactly what WikiLeaks wants.

Word of this new leak began to spread in late October, after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told the Russian daily "Izvestia" that his organization was developing a massive pile of "kompromat," or compromising material. At the time, it was uncertain precisely what these materials were, but consensus is building that they are in fact U.S. State Department diplomatic cables long rumored to be in WikiLeaks' possession.

Indeed, this may have been confirmed in a way by WikiLeaks themselves. "NYT briefed the Whitehouse on Monday over Embassy Files," they tweeted early this morning. "Now we see every tinpot dictator in the world briefed prior to release."

Make no mistake, a data blitz is in the making. On November 21 WikiLeaks tweeted that this release would be no less than seven times larger than the Iraq War expose -- which was already several times larger than the summer's Afghan War leak. Then on November 24, sources within the organization told Reuters that the leak might come next week, if not earlier. The Reuters report notes:

"Among the countries whose politicians feature in the reports are Russia, Afghanistan, and former Soviet republics in Central Asia. But other reports also detail potentially embarrassing allegations reported to Washington from U.S. diplomats in other regions including East Asia and Europe, one of the sources familiar with the WikiLeaks holdings said."

But here's the rub: that the coming leak is probably comprised of U.S. diplomatic cables raises an interesting question about the present international system.

I've already discussed the whistle-blower organization's global aspirations, but as Assange himself has said numerous times, they can only work with what's been given to them. So, it's telling that the organization's most earth-shattering leaks heretofore have been American in origin, not only specifically in the form of purported whistle-blower Bradley Manning, but more generally, and more importantly, in their context.

Consider: the United States is in the uncomfortable position of being simultaneously the world's most open, digitized, and powerful society. That means it not only has a lot of opponents, both within and without its borders, but it also provides them the means to embarrass it, even confront it. In other words, the unique conditions of the United States' centrality make it naked -- but it also makes the world naked, in turn.

Thus, the imminent new WikiLeaks expose promises to be especially revelatory because, simply put, the Americans have dirt on everyone. Assange and company's logic is as elegant as it's unsettling: by revealing the secrets of the world's leading superpower, the secrets of the world -- namely, the all-too-often dirty web of interconnections between governments, corporations, intelligence and media agencies, and key personalities -- are also revealed.

There are potential lessons here, some likely old, some hopefully new, and all doubtlessly very unhappy, about the nature of power and what it really means to be an "international community." So, it's noteworthy that WikiLeaks recently tweeted, "In the coming months we will see a new world, where global history is redefined." Perhaps this isn't just hyperbole after all.

-- Christopher Schwartz