With the release of a third tranche of confidential documents about the foreign
relations and military operations of the United States and other countries, the
founder of the WikiLeaks website, Julian Assange, has again shaken
An avowed Internet activist and former hacker driven by anarchist ideology, the
39-year-old Australian Assange could almost overtake Osama bin Laden in the
stakes of being the US government’s "most wanted" individual.
The timing of the latest Interpol high alert to nab Assange on the request of
the Swedish authorities, for alleged involvement in sexual molestation, appears
As a result of this diversionary gambit, the whistle-blowing
international fugitive's image has been spun into that of a digital muckraker
who must be silenced and deactivated on some pretext or another.
Conservatives in the US are literally baying for Assange’s blood, depicting him
as an evil anti-authority figure who is the enemy of world order and stability.
But the sustained critique from the high offices of US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton downwards lacks credibility because Assange is under no moral
or legal obligation to serve and safeguard American interests, alliances or
To demand that WikiLeaks and its maverick leader, who has gone into hiding, be
punished or muzzled because their actions are endangering the lives of American
soldiers and their local collaborators in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere is
akin to arguing that the US is fighting these wars as a global public good and
in the interest of the whole world.
Painting Assange as a dangerous threat to the art and practice of diplomacy
itself is again a long shot because the density, depth and style of inter-state
exchanges accumulated over centuries cannot be disturbed by a few hundred
thousand titbits. If anything, the release is actually aimed at ending American
wars by sowing doubts in the minds of the American people about the direction
in which their politicians and "securo-crats" are taking them.
If consent can be "manufactured", in American Noam Chomsky's famous phrase, it
can also be discombobulated by gutsy conscientious objectors. Assange is
basically a spin-off of the anti-war movement who is harnessing the
technological platform of the Internet and combining it with the savvy of an
intelligence apparatus to ferret out secrets through human moles in US military
and diplomatic circles.
In the absence of sustained mass mobilization to force the Barack Obama
administration's hand to end the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan, Assange is a
strange Robin Hood-like phenomenon with a band of dedicated "merry men"
capitalizing on the potential of cyber-space.
American intelligence analyst Private Bradley Manning, who stands accused of
supplying WikiLeaks with classified content over controversial US army missions
in Iraq, and "a person of interest" for a similar cache about the conduct of
the war in Afghanistan, is believed to have civilian accomplices who are
American state agents.
The most recent WikiLeaks deluge of diplomatic cables and memos is likely to
have reached Assange's team via Manning and possibly more insiders who were
disenchanted with superiors or peers holding the levers of American diplomacy
in critical fronts like the Middle East and South Asia.
Assange knows too much because there are Americans within the state
paraphernalia who detest the seemingly endless military intervention in
Afghanistan-Pakistan and the pressures and backroom planning to attack Iran.
Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know that Pakistan is an even more unreliable ally
of the US than is generally believed. If anyone was left in doubt that the war
in Afghanistan-Pakistan is absolutely unwinnable, they just need to compare
what American top brass are saying in private and in public about the double
games of their "strategic partner" in Islamabad.
We are now also privy to knowledge that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had
advised Washington to "cut off the head of the snake" by attacking Iran, a
revelation that speaks of close policy coordination between the highest
echelons in Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
One mistake that some observers and commentators have made since WikiLeaks'
bombshells have started raining down is to dismiss these nuggets as "nothing
new" to fundamentally alter conventional understandings about US foreign policy
and the shenanigans of foreign political bigwigs.
The thirst for "breaking news" and startling discoveries that make truth seem
stranger than fiction should not mask the underlying purpose of Assange's
musketeers - disempowering power-holders who are masters of doublespeak, and
empowering the general public which has always been at a relative disadvantage
owing to the absence of full information.
WikiLeaks is one of several freshly unleashed mediums of the information age
through which societies can see through their state elites. The ruled have a
better chance of coalescing around an issue like unpopular wars and engaging in
collective action when they cannot be pooh-poohed as "uninformed" outsiders who
cannot make choices in the supreme national or global interests.
The breaks in the ranks of the US ruling elites and rank-and-file on the
question of wars and threats of war are today able to vent out and cut through
the fog due to WikiLeaks. Historical transformations toward democratization and
self-governing communities only happen when there are chasms within the powers
that be, and where moderate factions of government ally with highly motivated
change agents in society.
In an epoch when "friends" and networks are being built and consolidated
through the Internet, Assange's route is not a criminal or illegitimate one but
a praiseworthy push for greater social involvement in issues that govern
ordinary people's lives.
WikiLeaks has never sold or traded its meticulously secreted information banks
to those who could pay a fortune to get possession of such manipulative
material. For releasing the "closed" into the wide-open sphere in a non-profit
manner, entirely to raise levels of social accountability of the establishment,
Julian Assange deserves protection, not persecution.
Sreeram Chaulia is Vice Dean of the Jindal School of International
Affairs in Sonipat, India, and author of the forthcoming book, International
Organizations and Civilian Protection: Power, Ideas and Humanitarian Aid in
Conflict Zones (IB Tauris).