WikiLeaks is digital guerilla struggle in its most lethal form. It aims to fight those who dominate and oppress the world by showing exactly how they operate. Its one and only weapon is information. Its sole technique is disclosure. The only ideology it professes is truth and its associated virtues: transparency, democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of information. Not surprisingly, its principal target has been the most powerful government in the world – the United States of America.
Many of us are familiar with Wikipedia, a global compendium of information about almost everything – a self-propelled digital collaborative project from below. Wikipedia’s millions of ordinary readers are also its writers and editors. Every piece of information in Wikipedia is subject to correction. Sometimes, a topic can be so contentious that it becomes an instant battlefield of propaganda and counter-propaganda. Nowhere is Nietzsche’s notion of truth as a “mobile army of metaphors” more realized than in Wikipedia. The reader is properly forewarned: the site is not meant to be an authoritative source of the truth.
WikiLeaks, which has nothing to do with Wikipedia, also aims to provide information free and for mass use. But, because of the sensitive nature of the information it handles, its methods are slightly different. Using electronic drop-boxes, it receives source documents from informants, mostly whistle-blowers, whose identities are carefully protected. It does not allow users to post corrections.
The volunteer staff members of WikiLeaks verify and assess the documents they obtain for reliability. They then write a report that puts a document in context and indicates its significance, and release this to media organizations along with the original documents. The same material is then posted on the WikiLeaks website. Readers from around the world who may have first-hand experience of the events to which the leaked documents refer are encouraged to share their comments with WikiLeaks and with their social networks.
This type of work is obviously extremely dangerous: WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has appeared unannounced in various forums. Like a fugitive, he has no permanent address and does not stay in the same place for any extended period. He travels under assumed identities. For making public video and documentary material that shows the ugly side of US imperial and corporate power, he is perceived to constitute a huge threat to American security and interest. Consequently, some people want him hunted down like Osama bin Laden.
WikiLeaks has done much damage, for example, to the US government’s public projection of its role inIraq. Video footage released early this year showed American soldiers aboard a helicopter gunship cynically mowing down a group of Iraqi civilians sometime in 2007. Eleven people, including two Reuters employees, died in that daylight burst of gunfire. These are stories one often hears from the battlefield, but they carry a different resonance when captured on video by the party responsible for the act – namely, the US military itself. You can’t help asking who will protect the victims from those who were supposed to liberate them.
Of the many documents that have been uploaded into the WikiLeaks website, none perhaps are potentially more explosive than the secret cables sent by US diplomats from various American embassies all over the world to their home office in Washington. Spanning the period from 1966 to February 2010, these confidential memos to and from the State department numbering 251,287 constitute a virtual archive documenting nearly fifty years of the underlife of American foreign policy. This is a treasure-trove for anyone who wants to do a dissertation on US foreign policy.
These cables, leaked by a State department source, illustrate not only the cold pragmatism and arrogance of American foreign policy but also the opportunism and sycophancy of the leaders ofAmerica’s client states. They document the collusion between US governmental and corporate power. They show American diplomats at work — cajoling, subtly threatening, and firmly negotiating with host governments on behalf of US corporations. They provide glaring proof of the large discrepancy between what government officials and politicians say openly to the public, and what they really think about the people they deal with.
America’s standing in the world had been massively eroded by the Vietnam War. It reached its lowest point with the invasion of Iraq, particularly after it became known that the public justification for the invasion – that Saddam Hussein kept weapons of mass destruction – had no basis whatsoever. The 2008 financial debacle of Wall Street, whose effects continue to weigh down the US economy and pull down smaller European economies, practically demolished the last pillar of American imperial power. And now these secret embassy cables. What they show is a great and energetic nation that has been undermined by its shadowy government and greedy corporations.
I personally believe that the American people will emerge stronger from this demystification. Their democracy will be firmer and more accountable. Thus, there is no point in demonizing and hunting down the Internet guerillas of WikiLeaks. They are not the enemy. The enemy is the secrecy that shrouds the destructive and oppressive activities of governments and corporate organizations all over the world. WikiLeaks is what the mass media are supposed to be in a democracy.