The Cable Guy Julian Assange Becomes US's Public Enemy No. 1
Part 2: A Battle for the Internet
The digital slugfest has begun, as the showdown over WikiLeaks becomes a battle for the Internet. American conservatives like Marc Thiessen, a speechwriter for former President George W. Bush, had already called for a similar cyber attack by the US military after the Afghanistan leaks. The battle for the virtual presence of the organization has the potential to expand into a cyber war.
According to Assange, his case shows the extent to which the "privatization of state censorship" has already flourished. Amazon, he says, "caved in" to Liebermann and the US Department of Homeland Security. "These attacks will not stop our mission," the Australian claimed at the end of last week, "but should be setting off alarm bells about the rule of law in the United States."
The massive attacks also have to do with the feeling many Americans have that WikiLeaks is on an anti-American crusade, a charge that is only partly true. The first document that the organization leaked, in December 2006, was a letter from an Islamist who called for the formation of an "Islamic republic" in Somalia. Assange himself had selected the letter with the intention of launching the site with something special that would defy people's expectations. In a declaration of principle from its early days, the group wrote that it mainly hoped to receive documents from repressive regimes like those in Russia and China.
Taking on Repressive Regimes
WikiLeaks' first major success was the publication of a report, classified as secret, by a British detective agency that documented the corruption of the ruling clique surrounding former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi. Assange had analyzed the report, together with Kenyan human rights attorneys and journalists, and released it shortly before the country's presidential election in late 2007. He is still convinced that the poor showing of President Mwai Kibaki, who was supported by Moi, had something to do with his leak.
The WikiLeaks archives also contain hundreds of documents from countries like China and Thailand, where freedom of the press is restricted. It's only been since this year, when the "Collateral Murder" helicopter video from Baghdad, the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs and the embassy cables were published, that it has seemed as if there were a "one-dimensional conflict with the United States," as Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the former WikiLeaks spokesman who left the organization after a dispute, puts it. From Assange's perspective, this concentration on America also has to do with the fact that the United States is the only superpower, and that it is waging wars on two fronts, in Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby meriting the attention of whistleblowers.
Rarely has an individual divided the world's population as sharply as the white-haired Australian. The global elites are now afraid of WikiLeaks, and repressive governments like the ones in China and Russia are worried about disclosures coming from their computer networks. The WikiLeaks Internet address is blocked in many countries, including Thailand and China.
Modern-Day Robin Hood
On the other hand, Assange can depend on the support of an international flock of followers, which has formed on the Internet and celebrates the Australian as a modern-day Robin Hood: a just renegade, devoted to a good cause.
Time has nominated Assange as a candidate for its "person of the year" designation, which is traditionally used to distinguish the individual who has had the strongest influence on the world in recent months. In justifying the nomination, jury member Lauren Zalaznick says that he has "put journalistic integrity on a knife-blade edge." "What is the responsibility of the journalist to make public or keep private?" Zalaznick asks. "The very name WikiLeaks raises the issue of digital media with respect to politics, society and culture."
The Internet poll is still underway. Late last week, Assange was in second place, with about 130,000 votes, behind Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan but well ahead of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, US President Barack Obama and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Last week, even the Bank of America learned how influential Assange has become. When Assange announced that WikiLeaks intended to leak the internal documents of a major bank, the bank's share price fell by more than 3 percent.
In light of this worldwide polarization, it would be an irony of history if Assange were to stumble over a private matter, of all things: the Swedish sex scandal.
- Part 1: Julian Assange Becomes US's Public Enemy No. 1
- Part 2: A Battle for the Internet
- Part 3: Parallel Affairs in Stockholm