THE ARABIAN BYTES JANUARY DEBATE: Wikileaks
Less than a year ago, when Google was being forced out of China over censorship issues, US government officials and business leaders criticised the Chinese, supporting Google in moving its proxy server to Hong Kong in the name of freedom of speech.
Fast forward a few months later and the US is acting just as bad as China thanks to WikiLeaks revealing the content of thousands of American diplomatic cables. Not only has it blocked the website and made companies such as PayPal and MasterCard stop process donations to it, the US Army, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department are considering criminally prosecuting WikiLeaks and Julian Assange “on grounds they encouraged the theft of government property”. Moreover, the Obama administration reportedly asked Britain, Germany and Australia to consider bringing criminal charges against Assange for the Afghan war leaks and to help limit Assange’s travels across international borders.
Wikileaks has been a topic of great interest to Arabian Bytes, which is why we have decided to dedicate our first debate to it. Here, Justin Westcott, Rachel McArthur and Mark SooHoo give their views on the ongoing saga – will their nationality influence their opinion? Read on to find out.
The British expat – JW:
Personally, I think the actions of the US Government in response to the WikiLeaks incident, has not been the most democratic and I would argue – much like Clay Shirky has already – sent out the wrong signals to the likes of Russia, Thailand, China (i.e. it implies it’s okay to shut down/go after a site just because you don’t like it or what it says abut you). Freedom of speech anyone?
That being said I don’t agree, or think, that total transparency works in our modern system. Our global system relies, to a degree, on secrecy and diplomacy requires it. The US needs to remember it wasn’t WikiLeaks that leaked the information, but a US citizen. The site, has acted much like a media site and has helped to broadcast the materials (as in turn have many newspapers around the world). The US should look at their own internal protocols for security checks and look at the route of the problem (the leak – which I’d argue is high-treason) not go after the media that published.
From a tech perspective the fall-out has also been hugely interesting; we had the first signs of what a cyber-war might look like. The 4Chan hacker group “Anonymous” went on the warpath – disgruntled with the stance of the US and corporate in their attempts to shut down WikiLeaks – targeting MasterCard (and allegedly Amazon) with DDoS attacks – they even encouraged people with no technical skills to join the fight by giving over their PC’s(Zombies) to the Anonymous group to control in the attack . Evidently they petered out when the group was undecided on who to attack next.
The half-Arab – RM:
Assange is just doing what any good investigative journalist would do if they had the chance. And WikiLeaks is one of those phenomenons that the internet was born for – real-time information.
In the pre-internet days, people would only find out about their country’s history through the media after historians spend years rifling through yellowing government archives – archives released publicly after at least a generation has passed. Personally, I prefer knowing what’s happening in the world right now, whilst I am still in the world.
Being half Arab, the Middle East is of particular interest to me, and let’s be realistic, it’s tough knowing what governments in the region are really up to or how they are operating. It is thanks to WikiLeaks that we have found out about issues including how Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother, Ahmad Wali, is allegedly known as a corrupt drug dealer; former US-appointed interim prime minister of Iraq in 2004-early 2005, Iyad Allawi, is alleged to have urged a US attack on Iran (he denies the report); and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told the US to forget about democracy in Iraq and instead install a dictator. At the end of the day, we’re just finding out the truth, so surprise, surprise, the governments are not best pleased about it.
Because Assange is anti-political, he is the ultimate danger to any country’s government, but don’t shoot the messenger. How about governments work towards making the lives of their people better than worry about skeletons in the closet – skeletons that only they have themselves to blame for?
Mind you, Assange knows he is a wanted man, which is why he “insured” in case of his assassination. There’s no doubt that the US, UK, Russian and Israeli intelligence agencies are aware that Assange’s insurance.aes256 file contains lists of their clandestine assets, so in the event of anything happening to him, most governments will be kept busy for a decade declaring war on each other. Power to the ordinary man I say.
The American who just moved abroad – MS:
I’ve found it interesting to observe the latest round of WikiLeaks from an international perspective, and I suspect that makes me less sympathetic toward the US reaction than I would be living there. And most obviously WikiLeaks confirms what we already know… non-state actors whether in the form of terrorists or leakers can be just as important as entire nations.
Generally speaking, I proudly defend the right to free speech and believe that it is one of the fundamental rights that underpins the American experience. The WikiLeaks situation is the “Yes, but…” in the argument. Real lives are at risk, and we’ve all been taught that freedom of speech does not extend to yelling “fire” in a crowded building out of concern for public safety.
In my mind, the government response is akin to trying to shut up the guy after he’s already screaming at the top of his lungs. Regrettably, the damage is already done. Focus on the leaker (treason is against the law and should be dealt with accordingly), strengthen information security for the future, repair diplomatic relations as much as possible, and move on. WikiLeaks isn’t a triumph of technology, it’s a betrayal by citizens, and that’s something America’s dealt with since Benedict Arnold.
From a technical perspective, I’m left to wonder if the leaks were published on Facebook instead of WikiLeaks, would there be as many calls for it to be shut down or attacked?