I remember very well the first (and only) time I met Julian Assange. It was November 21, 2009 in Barcelona during the first Personal Democracy Forum – Europe. Already then I was very interested in new technologies, transparency, freedom of information and disclosure and, therefore, on what Wikileaks was doing. At that time, Wikileaks was in a difficult period due to lack of funds.
A passionate and friendly Julian told me about their plans to enter into partnership with big media companies (El País, The Guardian, Le Monde and NYT) to provide them a source of money and, also, a bigger platform for their leaks. He also told me that they were sitting on very sensitive stuff that needed the right platform of diffusion…this was November 2009. One year later, Wikileaks is changing world politics.
From all what I read about cablegate, the latest Wikileaks’s publication, Aaron Bady’s piece on “Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy” is among the best. It is a commentary on early Assange’s writings on conspiracies, secrecy and the power of new technologies to open them. As zungzung says
Most of the news media seems to be losing their minds over Wikileaks without actually reading these essays, even though he describes the function and aims of an organization like Wikileaks in pretty straightforward terms.
Four years ago, on November, 2006, Julian Assange wrote an essay titled “State and Terrorist Conspiracies“. In it, he says that:
To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not.
Assange defines the communication model of a conspiracy with a nail and twine analogy:
First take some nails (“conspirators”) and hammer them into a board at random. Then take twine (“communication”) and loop it from nail to nail without breaking. Call the twine connecting two nails a link. Unbroken twine means it is possible to travel from any nail to any other nail via twine and intermediary nails…Information flows from conspirator to conspirator. Not every conspirator trusts or knows every other conspirator even though all are connected. Some are on the fringe of the conspiracy, others are central and communicate with many conspirators and others still may know only two conspirators but be a bridge between important sections or groupings of the conspiracy.
zunguzungu summarizes Assange’s main thesis on conspiracy and his strategy to combat them:
[H]e begins by describing a state like the US as essentially an authoritarian conspiracy, and then reasons that the practical strategy for combating that conspiracy is to degrade its ability to conspire, to hinder its ability to “think” as a conspiratorial mind. The metaphor of a computing network is mostly implicit, but utterly crucial: he seeks to oppose the power of the state by treating it like a computer and tossing sand in its diodes.
In what we can call the “cognitive political advantage thesis”, Assange says that leaks will induce fear in the leadership of conspiracies, which will then minimize their “efficient internal communications mechanisms”, closing them further. In an environment that requires adaptation and facilitates disclosure, conspiracies, understood as “cognitive devices” will suffer an increase in their “cognitive tax”, that is the price to pay for getting information, precluding further the emerging benefits of information sharing. This will leave them vulnerable to organizations with more open forms of government, which could eventually replace them thanks to their cognitive advantage.
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.
In other words, if the Pentagon and the State Department decide to start being more stringent about how they share information to avoid further leaking, they will jeopardize the efficiency of their activities. Other entities will thus enjoy a “cognitive advantage” compared to them.
In zunguzungu’s words
Wikileaks does not leak something like the “Collateral Murder” video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more…You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire