The attacks on WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, are a response to an information revolution that threatens old power orders, in politics and journalism. The incitement to murder trumpeted by public figures in the United States, together with attempts by the Obama administration to corrupt the law and send Assange to a hell hole prison for the rest of his life, are the reactions of a rapacious system exposed as never before.
In recent weeks, the US Justice Department has established a secret grand jury just across the river from Washington in the eastern district of the state of Virginia. The object is to indict Julian Assange under a discredited espionage act used to arrest peace activists during the first world war, or one of the “war on terror” conspiracy statutes that have degraded American justice. Judicial experts describe the jury as a “deliberate set up,” pointing out that this corner of Virginia is home to the employees and families of the Pentagon, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, and other pillars of American power.
“This is not good news,” Assange told me when we spoke this past week, his voice dark and concerned. He says he can have “bad days – but I recover.” When we met in London last year, I said, “You are making some very serious enemies, not least of all the most powerful government engaged in two wars. How do you deal with that sense of danger?” His reply was characteristically analytical. “It’s not that fear is absent. But courage is really the intellectual mastery over fear – by an understanding of what the risks are, and how to navigate a path through them.”
Regardless of the threats to his freedom and safety, he says the US is not WikiLeaks’ main “technological enemy.” “China is the worst offender. China has aggressive, sophisticated interception technology that places itself between every reader inside China and every information source outside China. We’ve been fighting a running battle to make sure we can get information through, and there are now all sorts of ways Chinese readers can get on to our site.”
It was in this spirit of “getting information through” that WikiLeaks was founded in 2006, but with a moral dimension. “The goal is justice,” wrote Assange on the homepage, “the method is transparency.” Contrary to a current media mantra, WikiLeaks material is not “dumped.” Less than one per cent of the 251,000 US embassy cables have been released. As Assange points out, the task of interpreting material and editing that which might harm innocent individuals demands “standards [befitting] higher levels of information and primary sources.” To secretive power, this is journalism at its most dangerous.
On 18 March 2008, a war on WikiLeaks was foretold in a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch.” US intelligence, it said, intended to destroy the feeling of “trust” which is WikiLeaks’ “center of gravity.” It planned to do this with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution.” Silencing and criminalizing this rare source of independent journalism was the aim, smear the method. Hell hath no fury like imperial mafiosi scorned.