Where WikiLeaks Stands: An Overview

Published on December 15th, 2010

If you’re anything like me, you might be following this phenomenon religiously like some sort of cyberpunk wet dream come true with Rage Against the Machine on full blast, manically hitting refresh for the most recent information on the case while simultaneously debating the merits of every entity’s move or reaction like some mental chess match. Just in case you aren’t quite as inhumanely fixated, here’s a lengthy summary of what’s been going on:
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To date, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange was incarcerated for crimes relating to sexual assault in Sweden. The charges state that he was involved in two rapes in which initially consensual encounters with women turned nonconsensual when he refused to use a condom. Assange has denied the charges vehemently and believes it to be a sort of smear campaign moreso in relation to the cables scandal, though apparently there is no evidence of this thus far. If convicted, Assange would spend a maximum of four years in jail which, no doubt, could amount to considerably less than what his enemies envision for him.

Regarding the charges, Naomi Wolf offers a surprising response that appears to deviate from her original convictions.  She discusses what the allegations mean in The Huffington Post and a critique of her piece from feministing can be found here. Assange was released on bail earlier with certain conditions such as reporting to the police station daily and curfew among others, but more recently will be sticking around for a little longer to appeal the ruling. Here are live updates from The Guardian, NY Times’ The Lede, and The Nation. If you’re interested in what his attourney has to say, check out Mark Stephens’ Twitter.

When – or if – he does get out, Julian Assange will dwell in this mythical manor- a relative upgrade from the prison where he has resided, oppressively denied the company of an Internet accessible computer. Not shabby, but I’d say, not quite as novel, either, as hiding out in the lavish Bondesque cave that Ken wrote about.  Where does that leave Mr. Manning? The hacker responsible for snatching up the sacred documents? In a brig in Quantico.

However, just as The US Justice Deapartment has tirelessly been searching for criminal charges to make against Assange – including consideration of the 1917 Espionage Act – it’s no secret that Manning landed himself in hot water, and obvious charges that relate to his illicit behavior will be enacted.

Naturally, WikiLeaks is not receiving the greatest amount of cooperation from American institutions or conservative figureheads. Sarah Palin expressed serious distaste for WikiLeaks, and was subsequently under cyber-attack. It is yet to be seen if Senator Joeseph Lieberman will endure a similar fate after proposing legislation directly targeting Wikileaks, that would make publishing the names of military and intelligence informants illegal. Representative Peter King from New York takes a more extremist approach in suggesting that the State Department consider branding WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization. (source.)

Most notably, to name a few: Amazon, Paypal.com, and Mastercard have all discontinued services to the whistleblower institution.  However, their actions have prompted special support from others – and not just from Ron Paul, The Progressive Librarians Guild, The ACLU and Michael Moore - but also from the rogue internet group, Anonymous. (Their Twitter, or one of them.)

Dubbed “Operation: Payback” for the avenging of Assange, the so-called internet gathering group has published in their press release that their motivations behind attacking major institutions’ websites (PayPal, Mastercard, Visa) were more symbolically used to sully their “public face[s]” rather than obtain any illicit information. Instead they have sought attention by slowing the networks down rather than disarming them. You can view their manifesto here. A series of DDos attacks inconvenienced,  but did not truly harm the corporate sites.  Since then, Anonymous has backed down according to the press release due to fear of negative associations with putting a blockage in cheery holiday shopping. Indeed, that will dampen their reputation… but it’s not so sure Assange would really revel in their cowardice as he appears to hold bravery in high esteem, per his revealed OKCupid profile. At any rate, here’s how they did it, and where they gather.

Still, businesses are now called to prepare themselves for a hacktivist backlash,- the fear seemingly sending a warning message to major corporations with ties to Wikileaks to remain compliant with them. And yet, guess who’s NOT cutting ties with WikiLeaks- (perhaps due to extraordinary traffic, I’d posit!?) – Twitter. From computerweekly.com‘s website:

Twitter is thought to be next in line, following accusations that it has blocked Wikileaks from trending on its microblogging site. The company denied it had done so in a blog post yesterday. “This week, people are wondering about Wikileaks, with some asking if Twitter has blocked #wikileaks, #cablegate or other related topics from appearing in the list of top trends,” said the firm. “The answer: absolutely not. In fact, some of these terms, including #wikileaks and #cablegate, have previously trended either worldwide or in specific locations.”

It would appear that WikiLeaks has been cautious about the releasing- a negligible percentage has actually been made public out of the total- some of Assange’s colleagues have become estranged. The New York Times reports: “In recent months, some of Mr. Assange’s closest associates in WikiLeaks abandoned him, calling him autocratic and capricious and accusing him of reneging on WikiLeaks’s original pledge of impartiality to launch a concerted attack on the United States.”

With lessened support from those working closely to him, he has still garnered massive following from cyber groups and fans online and off. While some people are branding him a high-tech terrorist, others idolize Assange as a messiah for free speech and transparency. Currently, what remains to be answered is: are the rape allegations a ploy to get Assange into custody to prosecute him for espionage and publishing documents illegally or legitimate complaints of rape by these Swedish women?

Disregarding the sensationalized celebrity status that he has gained is an even more pressing issue.  His fate is now rather inconsequential concerning the documents themselves because of the purported torrent, so we face the question of the documents themselves.  At the moment, it is unsure what the content of the new cables will be. I would propose that juicier, more scathing and significant information will be distributed with time.

Will the cyberwars continue? How will US foreign policy be changed? What about security measures? The implications could be potentially be tremendous.  Unfortunately, though the corruptions on display might outweigh purported costs of embarrassment for the US, the point that critics swear by is that WikiLeaks’ exposed cables will essentially make a blaring target out of the US for terrorist groups.

Here’s an opinion on why WikiLeaks is actually counterprodcutive to its goals of long-lasting transparency, argues one, and why WikiLeaks is a “good thing.” Hit refresh. And if you’d rather see the cables themselves, check out some summaries here and what looks like an authentic mirror site of the cablegate.

Claire Lumiere