WikiLeaks, cyberwar and Julian Assange

By Bernd Debusmann
December 10, 2010

What started out as a small group of activists operating a clearing house for leaked secret documents, WikiLeaks looks like it is turning into an international grass roots movement that needs no central figure to fight a “data war” in the name of Internet freedom.

It could be a long war, no matter whether Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, remains the world’s most prominent anti-secrecy figure or not.

Since November 28, when WikiLeaks began releasing a quarter of a million classified U.S. State Department cables from embassies around the world, there have been several attempts to drive the organization off the Internet and cut its channels for receiving donations. A day after Assange was arrested in London, Internet activists struck back.

While he was in prison, cut off from contact with his organization, computer hackers attacked the websites of MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal which had stopped processing donations for WikiLeaks; Amazon.com, which had banished WikiLeaks from using its rented servers; a Swiss bank and the website of the Swedish prosecutor who had issued an arrest warrant for Assange on charges of sexual misconduct.

“This movement is bigger than Assange,” said a comment in one of the dozens of passionate Internet debates on Operation Payback, as the counter-attack was called. Peter LaVenia, a leader of the New York State Green Party, described WikiLeaks as “the most important thing to happen to the cause of democratic rule” since the student revolts of 1968 in the U.S. and Europe. The mood and tone of pro-WikiLeak activists indeed evoke memories of the anti-establishment sentiment of 1968.

Since 2007, when Assange, a 39-year-old ex-hacker, set up WikiLeaks, his organization has been closely identified with him as the indispensable leader. He has described himself as “the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest.” But the last few days of “hacktivism” show that even without him, the genie he uncorked could not be stuffed back into the bottle.

“This is cyber guerrilla warfare,” said Charles Dodd, a consultant to U.S. government agencies on cyber security. “They attack from the shadows and they have no fear of retaliation. There are no rules of engagement in this kind of emerging warfare.”

In the Kalashnikov-carrying kind of guerrilla war, one of the aims is to provoke the government into harsh reactions that generate sympathy for the cause and attract new followers. The American reaction to WikiLeaks’ dump of embassy cables seems to have achieved just that.

PRESSURE AND INTIMIDATION
Politicians from both sides of the spectrum have portrayed him as an arch-villain. Right-wing pundits have called for his assassination. Mike Huckabee, a presidential contender in 2008, says he should be executed.

The companies that cut off ties with WikiLeaks denied having caved to pressure from the U.S. government, but that was not the perception abroad.

In Geneva, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed “concern about reports” of pressure on private companies to close down credit lines for WikiLeak donations. “If WikiLeaks has committed any recognizable illegal act, then this should be handled through the legal system,” she said, “and not through pressure and intimidation including on third parties.”

Particularly not, she might have added, in a country whose Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had waxed lyrical in a speech in January about an Internet free of government interference and the need for American companies not to buckle to any form of censorship. “American companies need to make a principled stand. This needs to be part of our national brand.”

Nice words, well delivered. But the before-and-after WikiLeaks comparison of Clinton statements is stark. The leaks of the cables, many with brutally frank assessments of foreign leaders, were not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests but “an attack on the international community,” she said. Clinton did not return to the subject of principled American companies or the national brand.

President Barack Obama has stayed away from the WikiLeaks controversy entirely. But his attorney general, Eric Holder, is trying to put together a legal case that would allow Assange’s extradition from Sweden to the United States. It’s a hard case to make because officials have yet to answer convincingly the question why WikiLeaks’ boss should be tried and not executives of the New York Times, the U.S. newspaper that printed some of the most sensitive leaked correspondence.

Getting Assange, an Australian, into an American court would also be a serious tactical mistake. It would turn him into a free speech martyr at a time disaffected former WikiLeaks staffers are preparing to launch a rival anti-secrecy site. Why? They left because of his high-handed management style and the organization’s lack of transparency.

The respected Stockholm newspaper Dagens Nyheter quoted one of the prospective founders of the new group as saying they wanted an organization that was “democratically governed, rather than limited to one group or individual.” That doesn’t mean letting up on making official secrets public.

“Our long-term goal is to build a strong, transparent platform to support whistleblowers, while at the same time encouraging others to start similar projects.”

(You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com)

28 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Reuters Top News, khan-oke, Muschelschloss, wikileaks reports, Yāsir Nasír and others. Yāsir Nasír said: RT @Op_Payback: WikiLeaks, cyberwar and Julian Assange http://reut.rs/eTAYrq #ddos #payback #wikileaks [...]

[...] Read more from the original source: WikiLeaks, cyberwar and Julian Assange | Analysis & Opinion | [...]

Julian Assange and Liu Xiaobo are both hostages to corrupt and power hungry systems that are in competition for world domination and human rights suppression. Where is the good guy?

Posted by arcoknuti | Report as abusive

Mike Huckabee is a small town cracker who because of Faux News has a podium for his mindlessly irresponsible spewing of death threats worthy of any Taliban!

Posted by Paracelcus | Report as abusive

I guess we can arrange a deal for Polanski, to late, maybe we can arrange a deal for the next predator who escapes to Sweden.

Posted by riddelup | Report as abusive

Agree with arcoknuti: where are the good guys? It certainly isn’t the USA…. I don’t want to hear any American cry that China is prosecuting Lui Xiaobo, and then claim innocent on Julian’s case…. Because that won’t wash….

Posted by edgyinchina | Report as abusive

You are right on all points.

This movement happening right now will not abate.
It’s a natural evolution of the internet’s ability
to enact free speech and technical warfare on oppressive entities.

The Unites States especially should understand this. It was founded on these principles.

In a well connected global world where greed and corruptions in collusion with governments has negatively affected such a large portion of the population – there emerges heros/activists like Julian that prick the powers and provide adrenaline for like minded people.

Bernd – You have to be politically correct in reporting for Reuters, yet between the lines it’s pretty clear you too side with Julian and are eagerly waiting to see how this evolves.

In this mega corporate world – it is hard to backtrack to see the responsible players and the governments right now are easy targets.

From my perspective – it will be beneficial for this movement to continue and evolve to dig deeper and target the responsible individuals – so that supporting like minded groups with different abilities and mental resolve (outside of the hacker community) can do their part to enable justice and bring about a better world for most all of us.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

When did Assange become a journalist? What he has done is as far from journalism as you can get!

As for Wikileaks not having commited any illegal acts, I would be inclined to think that the possession and publication of classified US Government Documents would qualify as illegal. If the theft and posssession of confidential and sensitive documents and information was enough to bring down the President Of The United States, i.e., Richard Nixon, then it should also be sufficently illegal in this instance.

Shurely Assange, and his supporters, don’t think he should be held to a different standard. After all, this is about fairness, freedom, and transparency, isn’t it?

Posted by gmroder | Report as abusive

The man is aterrorist, and he is responsible for the deaths that result from his documents, just as any bomber in a crowded room would be.

Posted by willjones | Report as abusive

Dear gmroder,

All other details apart, legal, illegal, good, bad etc… These things do not exist, they are ways of seeing things. Everything in the universe is relative to how you percieve it.

The fact, extra simplified, wich everyone may percieve as they please, is that he has pissed stiff against the leggs of the USA’s jockeys after eatings esparragus. In doing so he has hit the spirit of the time and consequently won people’s hearts.

Percieve that,
Peace!

Posted by CatchingBombs | Report as abusive

Dear gmroder,

What is immoral, rather than illegal? legal and illegal are definitions that changes from time to time, from law to law. Moral and immoral go beyods the volatility of a legal system.
Is it immoral to posses secret documents? Is it immoral to publish official document that reveal that what is officially been declared in some occasions is willingly false and deceiving? Is it immoral that those who have been given power from the people use it to deceive it and to state the false? Is it immoral that those in power who get caught rather than apologising try to stop the one who cought them? Is it moral to believe and enact a system based on the conviction that there is people who have no right to know? And equally is it moral to believe that some people have more rights than others?

Posted by bccsfn | Report as abusive

Assange should be condemned for not protecting his sources, but failing to do so doesn’t make him a terrorist. The words “egotistic” and “ignorant” might be more accurate to describe his actions. Leaking embarrassing secret information (as do many major news organizations) doesn’t directly kill anyone. Directly assuming it will get someone killed, displays a logic that silently accepts illegal retaliation by the parties exposed. It’s those retaliating for being exposed who do the killing (in order to uphold their power). Their actions should be brought to public attention. They should be held responsible, legally prosecuted and take the consequences for their actions.

Power without consequences for it’s actions leads to fascism – or has it already?

Posted by nordicview | Report as abusive

@gmroder Julian Assange would be a publisher more than a journalist. Also he would not be in possession of classified US documents merely copies in a digital form. So your whole argument is wrong.

I do agree that the law should be up held and wonder how it is possible for so many Americans can commit the serious crime of “Solicitation to commit a crime of violence”. It is a very serious crime to incite people to murder but many US politicians and media personalities have been calling for Mr Assange to be murdered.

Would you be in favor of these criminals being jailed for the full 20 years.
I am interested to see if you really support the law or are really just into the persecution of foreigners who disagree with your beliefs.

Posted by Sinbad1 | Report as abusive

I just terminated my account at PayPal.

Companies that decide to cater to Big Brother should be made to pay a price.

Posted by jrpardinas | Report as abusive

I am sure Wikileaks has nothing to do whatsoever with recent cyber attacks on targeted U.S. corporate websites.

People who think so because they have nervously, by mistake, mis-spelled Assange to be Avenge.

Posted by Yamayoko | Report as abusive

I advise the united stated to ignore Julian or you risk turning him into a martyr and suggest the nature of the cables. My simple advice to the US, strengthen your own security systems, so that this theft won’t happen again. My simple advice to the rest of the world. Be cautious about what you read on the internet as it is impossible to tell if Julien made these cables up or just transcribed them. Certainly in the future IRAN could have its own leaks, would you believe them?

Posted by modoc | Report as abusive

where is the freedom of speech.Freedom of speech is just for Iran, Pakistan and the muslims???????????????

Posted by shafique | Report as abusive

1968 student revolts led to Tatcher and Reagan, some argue. It has led to a society of individualism and ultra capitalism, some argue. I wonder how much leading figures of 1968 are now in the center of power? I really don’t know, but I think this is something to consider, or investigate.

The previous column of mister Debusmann was also on the topic wikileaks, but arguing that it might lead to less transparancy, rather then more.

I personally am supportive of the leaks on the afghanistan and iraq war logs, but I doubt the timing of the recent leaks.

Posted by gezwo | Report as abusive

If wikileaks data dropped personal documents from terrorist cells would we be giving him an award?
Comparing Mr. Assange to Tricky Dick? seriously?
Nixon took an Oath. and I advise you to find the audio tapes of Nixon killing healthcare for Americans…
I can’t believe anyone would be upset at this man for just putting out what other people wrote…nothing was edited, nothing was spun….ITS THE TRUTH!
Don’t kill the messenger

Posted by RLSinfo | Report as abusive

Let’s deal with the two competing premises: 1) we need to protect our private thoughts and consultations, hence keep secret some information that enables us to confer with confidants, versus 2) a equitable democracy depends on freedom of information and an informed citizenry that governs with intelligence not ignorance.

I applaud what WikiLeaks has done — primarily for forcing the door open that Bush II closed to keep the public uninformed about the alleged evidence of WMD to justify the war in Iraq. I also support the effort to expose the hypocrisy and disinformation systems that the US and other nations foster through manipulating the official news agencies.

Much of the news that has been leaked doesn’t seem very private. Cables and communications that go through numerous channels and is exposed to many levels of access, cannot assumed to be private. And, those who make that assumption should now be fully aware that history will sooner or later expose their deceptions.

Also, many of the “revelations” had already been published several years ago in Naomi Klein’s _The Shock Doctrine_ Proctor & Schiebinger’s _Agnatology: The Making & Unmaking of Ignorance_ and Robert Baer’s _Sleeping with the Devil_.

So, I don’t understand the reasons why the US is treating these leaks as critical. I think the revelations confirm what we already know: Government officials lie. They lie all the time to save face, manipulate voters, and coerce opponents. Big deal.

If the revelations were really threats, then the US and other governments have to do a better job keeping their private thoughts to themselves. But, they cannot to hide from citizens information about the conspiracies and crimes of public officials that threaten public commerce, eduction, health and welfare. When politicians and public officials engage in behaviors that threaten the general welfare, citizens have a right to know. And, some of us feel strongly enough about that right to go to jail to protect it.

Posted by samccool | Report as abusive

All this talk of people being killed for this leak of information surely is meant as sarcastic humor.

Australia is not a state of the Union.

No technology secrets were really divulged.

No individuals were listed on an elimination list.

The USA has and will continue to destroy sovereign nations at will.

One small Paul Revere like voice “The bullies are coming, the bullies are coming” is old news – just refreshingly different with the added tiny tidbits of digital evidence.

Again – imagine if WikiLeaks had been operating during the Cold War. So much death and destruction would have been avoided by public outcry of bad governing.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

One exception among the politicians is Ron Paul.

Ron Paul said “Lying is not patriotic.”

It will be interesting to to see if there’s any influence on the official Tea Pary stance.

Posted by Janeallen | Report as abusive

The breakaway group should moderate its criticism of Mr. Assange. Without his intelligence and courage, they would not have arrived at the place where they are and feel able to do the things they hope to do. They wouldn’t have joined him in the first place had they not been inspired by what he was doing, the hope it offered. Good that they have expressed their intent to be more transparent than they claim WikiLeaks has been, but why bash the orginal simply for wanting to do things differently. Just do it and count your blessings Mr. Assange allowed you in to begin with. Repay that trust with some respect, please. It’s unbecoming to berate him and smacks of ambition, of capitalizing on legitimate authority’s witch hunt for someone you apparently respected. It leads one to wonder why they waited until he was declared a wanted man before jumping ship.

Posted by theblackbird | Report as abusive

When the world’s only superpower ranks 20th in freedom of the press (according to Reporters Without Borders, 2010), there is an extreme need for the likes of Julian Assange. Likewise there is a dire need for whistle blowers and their supporters when the US mainstream media is controlled by so few corporations (suggested reading: “The Media Monopoly” by Prof. Ben Bagdikian).

“We must also pay homage to the human rights activists, journalists, and bloggers who bravely defend the right to speak out,” Jean-Francois Julliard, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, said recently.

Words are deadly only when they incite direct physical injury, death and/or destruction. Thus I agree with Voltaire–”I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” said the 18th Century defender of civil and human rights.

The Internet may be our last bastion of justice in the world. And as a survivor of a government attack on me for publishing an alternative newspaper back in 1968 that left me with PTSD, I thank and salute all who are supporting the truth in the ongoing WikiLeaks expose.

And I would like to join the ranks of those who support Julian Assange who do NOT wish to remain anonymous. You may publish my real name and e-address. Tom Cahill, California, tpc@mcn.org)

Posted by fantas37 | Report as abusive

For all of you supporting Assange, I hope that someone publishes all your most secret secrets for all or the world to see including your friends, family and all future potential employers. That is what you are condoning here. That every detail about everyone should be public knowledge for everyone else. If you don’t see the slippery slope that you are on, let me point it out for you. If all information is public knowledge to be freely known by everyone, then all governments and large evil companies and just plain rich powerful people will also know everything about you and everyone else. Who do you really think will come out ahead in that game.

People, companies and governments (on behalf of their people) have a right to privacy. Unless there is a court order to the contrary, they each have a right to decide what they choose to be private and what they choose to reveal to others. Assange has no right to expose anything about anyone but himself. Now however that he is a public figure and under criminal investigation in Sweden for whatever and in the U.S. for espionage, he will be exposed as a complete hypocrite with all kinds of secrets that he wants to hide.

Posted by Kevin44 | Report as abusive

Domingo Moreno Jiménes: libro para sancristobalenses…

I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

PFC Manning had no idea about the context in which this information was utilized, interpreted or employed. There is no way to estimate the extent to which he has set back diplomatic efforts and foreign relations. His behavior was truly outrageous!

He broke several laws. He and Assange have no appreciation whatever regarding sensitive information used to develop relationships. Simply put, it’s impossible to measure the damage. In fact, we will never know entirely the political harm, not to mention the likelihood that individual lives were ruined if not destroyed altogether. I’ll never understand how someone could be admired or applauded for such a heinous act.

He has released the names of enemy informants, people who are helping us to defeat an enemy and bring stability to a region. Think those people are going to stay alive? Think that anyone else is going to trust us to keep informants safe? What about information concerning a bribe our country paid to an Afghan warlord? Might look like a nasty scandal from the outside, of course, but these relationships prevent a LOT of bloodshed — until it becomes public knowledge and the whole cycle starts up again.

We give our military and diplomats some freedom to keep secrets. Without some level of secrecy, they simply cannot do their jobs. Assange, in his quest to bring governmental transparency (i.e., make himself famous), will forget that information can be a deadly and unpredictable weapon.

I realize these things are wasted on all you radical leftists. You all are so much smarter than the president, our military leaders and our diplomatic personnel.

Posted by SGK12 | Report as abusive

What DEMOCRACY do you mean?
The Irak democracy?
The Afgan democracy?
The Okinawa democracy with 50,000 american soldiers democracy?

Posted by roncaling | Report as abusive

Woodrow Wilson: 8 January 1918, Speech to joint session of congress:

Point 1 (0f 14)
“Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.”

Wikileaks’ regular exposing of government hypocrisy in the covert formation of covenants may finally drag diplomacy (where diplomats and officials explicitly exercise the art of lying for their country)into the open. If the covenants and relationships are not covert, then there is no embarrassment.

Lets try open covenants openly arrived at.

Nexien

Posted by Nexien | Report as abusive

[...] more: WikiLeaks, cyberwar and Julian Assange | Analysis & Opinion | // WikiLeaks, cyberwar and Julian Assange | Analysis & Opinion | stated above has [...]

[...] the original post: WikiLeaks, cyberwar and Julian Assange | Analysis & Opinion | // WikiLeaks, cyberwar and Julian Assange | Analysis & Opinion | stated above has [...]

Nexien, you might want to read some more history. A good place to start would be “Wilson’s War” by Jim Powell. In my view Woodrow Wilson talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk. Still, we should heed the message and not the messenger.

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive

… [Trackback]…

[...] There you will find more Infos: blogs.reuters.com/bernddebusmann/2010/12  /10/wikileaks-cyberwar-and-julian-assan ge/ [...]…

… [Trackback]…

[...] Informations on that Topic: blogs.reuters.com/bernddebusmann/2010/12  /10/wikileaks-cyberwar-and-julian-assan ge/ [...]…

… [Trackback]…

[...] Read More Infos here: blogs.reuters.com/bernddebusmann/2010/12  /10/wikileaks-cyberwar-and-julian-assan ge/ [...]…

Great website you have here but I was curious if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics discussed in this article? I’d really love to be a part of online community where I can get feedback from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thanks a lot!