Monday, January 31, 2011

Julian Assange: Of Men and Mice

By Peter Rodman

Let's face it, most of my posts follow a left-wing line, with fairly predictable consistency. 
So this may shock some of you, I know--but I'm just not ready to jump into lock-step with my fellow liberals, who seem ready to canonize 'Wikileaks' founder, Julian Assange.
After viewing his 60 minutes interview with Steve Kroft, I'm more convinced than ever, that what we have here is a mighty pale imitation of the brave whistleblowers he counts among his forebears.

And while it's true that we ought to eventually address the substance of the leaks in detail, I must say it's also entirely appropriate--and a much bigger story-- to attempt to decipher the logistics and the ethics (if any) behind how this much 'classified' information found its way on to Wiki-leaks, in the first place.

Like I say, on most issues, I'd proudly categorize myself as a 'far-left' kinda guy, but I see, in Julian Assange, a cheap-suited, garden variety 'rat'--and although I'm basing this almost entirely on my internal 'Bull-O-Meter,' it appears to me he's playing what seems like a game to him, with virtually no guiding principles, except a personal determination to exploit worldwide anti-Americanism, for his own self-aggrandisement.

My feeling is, if you believe 'classified documents' should even exist at all, then you have to accept the premise that not just anyone can or should release them, and then be able to hide behind calling themselves a "publisher." That is assuming one accepts the posit that legitimate law exists, disallowing such release, and even providing serious punishment, for same.

The outcry from the left concerns the lack of media attention given the substance of his leaks.
But anyone shocked by shady back-door diplomatic deals, legal grey areas, or even 'Spy vs. Spy' bunglings and murders in matters of international intrigue, needs to rent a few James Bond movies.
One friend of mine expressed shock, that "illegal spying, bombing, war making, and coup facilitating" was detailed, in the reems of pilfered and posted material, on Wikileaks.
I'm sorry, but that is not as big a story (if it's even a story at all) as is the inability of this nation to protect its secure secrets, period. And if those things weren't a part of our world, and sometimes even integral to our survival, why the hell would we even need "classified documents," in the first place?

In fact, it's his very lack of interest in what he's releasing,  that makes Julian Assange (to me, anyway) the much bigger (and far more dangerous) story, than any of the actual content released, thusfar.

Mr. Assange, upon realizing he was being actively hunted down for his willy-nilly, indiscriminate release of millions of classified US documents (on hundreds of random topics) purposely released the latest batch to ACTUAL publishers (something he had not done in previous dumps), like the New York Times, hoping to cloud the issue, in his own defense--once it became obvious how seriously the Attorney General was going to take this, in going after him. 
This allowed him the meek defense (on 60 Minutes) that he, "like all publishers," has special exemptions from prosecution, or even (one presumes) scorn.

He may be more imp than wimp, but a towering worldwide figure, as he seems to imagine himself? 
Not so much. 
(Then again, in the age of Sarah Palin, who can tell, anymore?)

Is he at all a "publisher," like the New York Times
No. Not even one like the tiny, renegade beat-poets who founded City Lights. 
Not by a long shot.
In fact, he doesn't actually "publish" anything...he simply copies and spews--spitting it all out in grain-silo volumes, like some Quaker Oats jackpot, for armchair conspiracy theorists.

If anything, Assange is counting upon the appeal of his sheer audacity, to mitigate his Kinko's Gone Wild act.

I thought Steve Kroft let him off easy in the 60 Minutes piece, by not following up on the moral distinctions in any depth. Kroft's assertion that the press community, as some sort of presumed monolith, "feels" a certain way about Assange, was preposterous--and should have had no part in the story. I suspect Kroft will find himself roundly criticized on that score in the next few days, as he came off more like a cheerleader than he should have, and cut Assange huge amounts of slack, on the open issues of legality (and morality) about these leaks, issues that even liberals like myself find unsettling, and eminently debatable.

I recently viewed the remarkable video of a 1968 conversation on Canadian television, between Norman Mailer and Marshall McLuhan.  In it, their shared prescience for the internet age was uncanny.  But even more shocking was the insightful realization that we may actually be subsuming our collective conscience, in a mindless tsunami of information--too mind-boggling to even allow for such trifles as 'moral distinction' personified by Assange, himself:

MAILER: "I think that there's a kind of totalitarian principle present, in this sort of avalanche of 'over-information,' if you will.  There's a lack of form, and order, and category in the modern experience, which speaks to me of nothing so much as entropy."
McLUHAN: "An electronic world re-tribalizes  man, yes."

Again, I have no doubt that large chunks of the revelations on Wikileaks do deserve closer scrutiny, vis a vis any wrongdoing behind closed doors, in our government.
But I nonetheless remain a serious fan of the country Assange couldn't give two shits about (America), and I root AGAINST hackers like him making the decisions for us all, about what is to be released, or not released.
His goal seems to be nothing more noble than the very "re-tribalization" McLuhan spoke of, in 1968. 
In effect, Julian Assange is an anarchist.
Random Doc-u-man, merry prankster, mischief maker, pick your nick-name...but please, let's not imagine for a second that this guy is any kind of hero.
The sheer randomness and volume of his releases smacks more of vandalism than valor, and shows no evidence whatsoever, of any discernable moral 'sorting mechanism.'
In other words, I don't think this guy even pays attention to content.  Just give him more, and he'll release it.
Just give him more attention, and he'll leverage it to get more to release.  And so on.

Unless you believe nothing should be held away from public view, you've got to find Wikileaks troubling, if not threatening, on at least as large a scale as the merely embarrassing diplomatic conversations contained in his millions of scattershot, stolen documents.
But it gets a little more serious than that, no matter how you feel about Afghanistan (and I am against the war, myself): Because--by Assange's own admission--informants valuable to our own 'side' may have DIED, because of these leaks.
And I'm just not sure his "Oh, well" shrugs are enough for me.
PR (center) with Pentagon Papers
whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg (right)
and jazz flutist Paul Winter(left) ,
in Boulder, circa 1981.
In fact, his whole act seems cowardly, not principled--completely the opposite of, say, Daniel Ellsberg, whom I got to know fairly well, for a brief time, a few decades back.  Ellsberg personified virtue;  Assange, on the other hand, seems virtually free of it.

I guess I'm saying something about this Assange guy strikes me as more weasely than wily; even the name 'Wiki-leaks' seems to befit a wimp with prostate problems, rather than the whistleblowing hero of 'the common man' he pretends to be. 

Don't get me wrong: I'm always glad, when tyrants--including in my own government!--are exposed as phonies, a la Ellsberg.

But I'd say this, to the 'Terrabyte Terror':

You wanna play 'cat-and-mouse' with the Big Boys, Julian?
With no regard for any specific topic, other than a generalized aim to rattle some cages, for fun?
Do you really want to test the biggest power on Earth, with your grandiose and vague threats to release more stuff--in fact, anything you please, regardless of any potential life-or-death consequences to others--just to preclude anything happening to YOU, personally?

Then don't be surprised, when the big cat you've taunted finally does decide to engage you...and in short order, just goes ahead and plays with you for awhile, before doing what cats normally do to mice.

This column, and all photographs and graphics contained herein, are Copyright 2011 by Peter Rodman.  All Rights Reserved.  No portion may be copied or retransmitted in any form without express written permission from the author.

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