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Michael Maiello's picture

Assange, Irony and Secrets

I agree that hearing Julian Assange's lawyers outrage that leaked information pertaining to the rape charges against him should have never been made public is funny.  I also agree with David Seaton that politics is politics and that anything that makes Assange look like a hypocrite is bad news for him.  In the game he's playing image is important.  You can't be for the release of all secrets except for your own.  All absolutists find their petards hoisted sooner or later.

But that laugh aside, I think the leak hear actually makes Assange's point.  The danger of secrets is that the person or institutions keeping the information to themselves get to control the narrative.  It's not just what governments hide that matters, it's what they release.  It'd be pretty easy, through selective disclosure, for the government or any other entity that collects data and records on people, to make virtually anyone look like a scumbag.  In the case of Assange the leaked information makes him look like a rapist at worst or a creep at best.  This assumes, of course, that the allegations were honestly made and not the result of some sort of cloak and dagger  skulduggery.  I have to make that assumptions because the conspiracy rabbit hole, absent evidence to support it, kind of ends the conversation.  Every thing's pure fantasy once you go there.

So if the leaked stuff on Assange is the result of an honest complaint, which we must assume, then you definitely have a matter that could be decided in court as sexual assault or not, depending on other evidence and testimony.  But it doesn't look good and it doesn't make Assange a sympathetic figure.  He's either an attacker or a cad.  Neither do well in court.

Let's face it, no government has a habit of leaking exculpatory or sympathetic information about the people it happens to be prosecuting.  One of the black marks on Elliot Spitzer's record has to be that he was unable to actually prosecute Wall Streeters successfully.  The people who lost were the ones who settled to avoid prosecution.  But when Dick Grasso, former head of the New York Stock Exchange decided to fight he won and won decisively.  It took years and throughout it all Spitzer (who I happen to like) had his office release damaging detail after damaging detail to the public.  Grasso's image was no doubt damaged.  But in context and in court it all added up to nothing.

So the selective release of information is just part of how prosecutors do business.  And it's wrong.  Tempting as it might be to say that what happened to Assange is an example of transparency biting an absolutist in the ass, it's really the opposite.  This is about selective disclosure, which is another result of government secrecy.  It's the government purposefully revealing some secrets in order to tell a story.  In this case the story is that the thorn in the government's side activist is really a rapist, sadist, and sexual deviant.

Assange wants total transparency.  A true Wikileaks treatment of his own case would not just reveal details that make him look bad, it would also reveal exculpatory information.  So his lawyers are right to object.  Selective disclosure can be worse than no disclosure.

All absolutists find their petards hoisted sooner or later.

Which should make the arguments against moral relativism effectively disappear.

The rest of your blog is well said and well taken.

Assange says he wants total transparency. One of the reasons for my skepticism is that WikiLeaks filters information through MSM news outlets. I don't know much about the other two, but I didn't consider the the NY Times to be a paragon of unbiased journalism during the runup to the Iraq war. They aren't Fox News, but they are MSM. To me the jury is still out.

Well, I think I oversimplified his aims.  Obviously he wants total transparency, but that's not worth much without some credibility.  The New York Times, which I take a gentler view of than you do, has earned its credibility over many years.  So have the Guardian and Der Spiegel, which have also been Wikileaks partners.  I think all bloggers know the frustration of having something legitimate to say, whether it be an insight or information, and not having a trusted platform to say it on.

I wish he'd pick partners more associated with investigative journalism, and that the goal would be good journalism based on the leaks rather than the leaks themselves.  Frankly, I think we'd all be best served if Wikileaks were just a conduit to get secret information to both Seymour Hersh and Christopher Hitchens.

First, I don't know his aims yet. That brief manifesto (if it's really his) makes him out to be a behind-the-scenes revolutionary trying to defeat the invisible conspiracy. In one interview he claims he's a sort of libertarian. I actually like him better as a revolutionary, but that would mean he has an agenda, which does not lend itself to complete transparency.

Second, as I mentioned, I find it unlikely that the MSM will reveal anything that would really indict their corporate masters. Most of what has been revealed is not particularly surprising to me. That could change. And I agree that sending stuff to Amy Goodman or Alexander Cockburn would be cool.

Third, and from the other end, as it were, if WikiLeaks was just a conduit, I worry about making anonymous leaking too easy. To me, whistleblowing should be a little bit risky. We see what happens when anonymous government sources can leak directly  to the media. Why is it any better when someone goes through WikiLeaks or OpenLeaks? Or some new entrant like BreitbartLeaks or DrudgeLeaks?

Your last comment -- "Selective disclosure can be worse than no disclosure" -- does bring to mind one facet of the whole wikileaks issue.  Even though there was a flood of documents, they are not the full story.  A variation on your comment could be -- Partial disclosure can be worse than no disclosure.  Since we don't have all the pertinent information sounding even a single cable, the flood of information can trick people into believing they're getting something close to full disclosure.  This is not to say that a single cable or email couldn't provide an insight and thus have value, and lead one to investigate something further, although getting the full story (total transparency) is an impossible task.   But it can be just as likely that a single cable or email could lead to erroneous conclusions, especially if the individual believes he or she is seeing the whole picture.

Yes, I agree entirely.  Of course, Wikileaks can only reveal what it gathers and it could never gather everything.  But even if it could gather and distribute every written and recorded document in existence, it wouldn't be complete.  Some things are unrecorded.  Others, like thoughts, feelings, true motives, are unrecordable.  But are we better off with more, less or none?  That's the Wikileaks conundrum, I think, and I don't have an answer.

Nor do I have an answer.  The closest to one I can get to is "it depends.'

Theleaked allegations against Assange.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article27094.htm

Your Info Cleaing House source has a terrible glanrg mistake in telling you their cut and paste of Nick Davies article is an Independent piece. It's a Guardian piece! The docs were leaked to The Guardian, and that it the piece they published on them.

I don't know how they still get away with pasting full articles from other sources and not linking to them, and then in this instance add insult to injury but not even bother to source it correctly. It's quite important to do that with this article in particular as.a major point of the irony is that this was leaked to The Guardian, Assange's main partner in publishing what Wiklileaks has gotten in US documents. This time that partner decided to publish what they got from someone else on him. Those leaks could even come from inside Wikileaks itself, don't you see? The Guardian certainly has some connections there

It's easy to access the original Guardian article, it's here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/dec/17/julian-assange-sweden

And not only that, I posted a link to it right here on DAG Blog in the In The News column yesterday:

http://dagblog.com/link/10-days-sweden-full-allegations-against-julian-a...

Along the lines of The Guardian having some of the best access to Wikileaks staff, take note of the paragraph I decided to use as an excerpt when I posted the link to it here:

The co-ordinator of the WikiLeaks group in Stockholm, who is a close colleague of Assange and who also knows both women, told the Guardian: "This is a normal police investigation. Let the police find out what actually happened. Of course, the enemies of WikiLeaks may try to use this, but it begins with the two women and Julian. It is not the CIA sending a woman in a short skirt."

I missed your link yesterday.

I don't know either how they get away with printing complete articles but I also don't see any damage done when they could have posted a link to the same affect. I would assume the wrong sourceing was a mistake since I don't see any obvious motive to do it wrong.

"Those leaks could even come from inside Wikileaks itself, don't you see?"

No, I don't see how they could have come from inside Wikileaks itself. I see how they could have been passed through Wikileaks but assuming they are real they must have originated from Swedish authorities.
 

I think people who avoid the fact that it's The Guardian who published this stuff are lilkely to make faulty conclusions. It's not like it's any old source, it's one that probably has had a closer relationship to him than any other major media organization and also one with a vested interest in making sure that what he and they have published of U.S. government docs isn't deemed criminal.

Unlike the NY Times, the Guardian has it tougher - the British courts don't usually change or ignore the law to protect the whims of the ruling power the way the US courts do. Guess that's the advantage of having a Parliamentary system? Thought it would be the other way.

Assange's biggest mistake was to take the bait and turn himself or let himself be turned into the poster boy for the data-dump. People who have in turn taken the bait and accepted him as a hero are going to be bitterly disillusioned.

"Outing" the State Department, using Army personel is the ultimate in hardball. If Assange had done it to the Russians he would have died of plutonium poison and if he had done it to the Israelis his body would probably never be found (probably some rabbi in New Jersey would be marketing his kidneys). Assange is counting on the Americans not being as rough as the above mentioned... big mistake, we're just more hypocritical.

 

Assange is a weekly item on Saturday Night Live - making the US Government look foolish. Nothing could be better for Wikileaks. Wouldn't have happened without a face.

Wikileaks is playing softball, whatever with the US military - if they were any kinder, there wouldn't be a story at all.

Actually there are people around the world that say the leaks make the US diplomats look pretty good, professional, well informed, pro-active etc, what looks bad is that somebody like Pfc Manning having access to the traffic. Turning it all into a story about Julian Assange is a huge mistake of Wikileaks part... no face was necessary at all.

What looks bad are illegal actions.

This isn't about "embarass the diplomatic corps". It's about heavy handed actions like the US shutting down a Spanish court's inquiry on torture.

If you think any of these issues would get bigger play without Assange, you don't really understand how people drift to personalities more than facts.

Again, Saturday Night Live packages it all in ways people understand - we really are propping up guys who fly around with briefcases full of money, money that's used to work directly against our military operations, as just one example.

I'd prefer they left out Qaddafi and his prostitute nurse and others like this - more tabloid fare than helpful news. (Okay, if you're Libyan and you really don't understand how the world works, it might be news)

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