Monday, January 03, 2011

There appears to be little to add to the WikiLeaks saga, which already feels like a story from yesteryear. Yet several puzzle pieces lay on the table, unconnected to the bigger picture that has already been put forth: a humiliated State Department, enraged Pentagon, irritated Swedish prosecutors, and a tagged and house-bound cyberpunk whose organization has become an unstoppable force in our information age.

In my investigation of how a gallivanting, galvanizing hacker from Melbourne, who first made headlines in the Australian press in 1995 for breaking into a telecom’s mainframe, became public enemy no. 1 over the course of several months in the past year (from April onward), the unconnected pieces became more visible.

As follows: how did a relatively low-level military operative, Lt. Bradley Manning, get access to hundreds of thousands of confidential cables? And if the accusations are borne out, what were his motives? As for Mr. Assange, the “high-tech terrorist” in Vice President Biden’s now memorable turn of phrase, does he really believe that his legal troubles in Sweden, which led to an Interpol warrant for his arrest, were concoted in Langley by spooks out to get him?

The “state’s secrets” continue to be released in periodic batches to the press, of which the New York Times is demonstrating considerable discretion. One multi-gigabyte file alleged to be a smoking gun against Bank of America is on the horizon, reams of files said to echo the Enron paper trail that can be easily torrented. The list of targets — the military, our diplomatic apparatus, and now a major financial player — raises another question which, though it may play into the propaganda campaign against WikiLeaks, is worth asking: does Assange intend to bring down the United States?

That question implies that his organization, which appears rather anarchic, even has such a capability, given the fact nothing earth-shattering has come of the cables themselves, aside from understandably mortified embassies. But the “high-tech terrorist” meme may retain much power, the facts aside, many of which remain unclear. It is thus imperative to discover them: writing in a piece for CBS, tech writer Joshua Norman noted, as Scott Horton did in August, that US officials saw the whistle-blowing group, which includes Chinese dissidents in its roster, as a “national security threat” in 2008.

Among similar lines but within a broader frame, Francis Shor observed yesterday, “Given the battered economic and military standing of the United States over the past several years, the hysterical reaction of the American political class over the recent release of State Department cables by WikiLeaks is not surprising.”

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