Monday, December 20, 2010
Who are the people behind Wikileaks?
by Julie Lévesque
We know very little about the cryptographer Julian Assange. He is indeed very cryptic when it comes to revealing who he is and where he worked prior to the Wikileaks project. On the list of board members published previously by Wikileaks, we can read that Julian Assange:
n has “attended 37 schools and 6 universities”, none of which are mentioned by name;
n is “Australia's most famous ethical computer hacker”. A court case from 1996 cited abundantly in the mainstream press is available on the Australasian Legal Information Institute. Contrary to all the other cases listed on the afore mentioned link, the full text of Assange’s case is not available;
n “in the first prosecution of its type... [he] defended a case in the supreme court for his role as the editor of an activist electronic magazine”. The name of the magazine, the year of the prosecution, the country where it took place are not mentioned;
n allegedly founded “'Pickup' civil rights group for children”. No information about this group seems to be available, other than in reports related to Wikileaks. We don’t know if it still exists, where it is located and what are its activities.
n “studied mathematics, philosophy and neuroscience”. We don’t know where he studied or what his credentials are;
n “has been a subject of several books and documentaries”. If so, why not mention at least one of them?...
While Wikileaks no longer discloses the names of the members of its advisory board, nor does it reveal its sources of funding, we have to trust it because according to its founder Julian Assange, it “has proven to be the most trustworthy news source that exists”.
Moreover, if we follow Assange’s assertion that there are only a few media organizations which can be considered trustworthy, we must assume that those are the ones which were selected by Wikileaks to act as "partners" in the release and editing of the leaks, including The New York Times, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, El Paìs, Le Monde.
Yet The New York Times, which employs members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) including Wikileaks’ collaborator David E. Sanger, has proven more than once to be a propaganda tool for the US government, the most infamous example being the Iraqi WMD narrative promoted by Pulitzer Prize winner Judith Miller.
In an interview, Assange indicates that Wikileaks chose a variety of media to avoid the use of leaks for propaganda purposes. It is important to note that although these media might be owned by different groups and have different editorial policies, they are without exception news entities controlled by major Western media corporations.
A much better way to avoid the use of leaks for disinformation purposes would have been to work with media from different regions of the world (e.g. Asia, Latin America, Middle East) as well as establish partnership agreements with the alternative media. By working primarily with media organizations from NATO countries, Wikileaks has chosen to submit its leaks to one single "worldview", that of the West.
As a few critics of Wikileaks have noted, the Wikileaks project brings to mind the "recommendations" of Cass Sunstein, heads the Obama White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Sunstein is the author of an authoritative Harvard Law School essay entitled “Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures”. As outlined by Daniel Tencer in Obama Staffer Calls for "Cognitive Infiltration" of " 9/11 Conspiracy Groups":
Sunstein “argued that the government should stealthily infiltrate groups that pose alternative theories on historical events via ‘chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine’ those groups”.
Sunstein means that people who believe in conspiracy theories have a limited number of sources of information that they trust. Therefore, Sunstein argued in the article, it would not work to simply refute the conspiracy theories in public — the very sources that conspiracy theorists believe would have to be infiltrated.
Sunstein, whose article focuses largely on the 9/11 conspiracy theories, suggests that the government “enlist nongovernmental officials in the effort to rebut the theories. It might ensure that credible independent experts offer the rebuttal, rather than government officials themselves. There is a tradeoff between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that government cannot be seen to control the independent experts.”