WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains in solitary confinement inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was granted asylum in 2012 against the threat of extradition to the United States for his publishing activities. In recent months, Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno, under pressure from the U.S. began threatening to evict this political refugee.
When solidarity is needed the most in Assange’s plight, apathy seems to prevail among the American political left. Being affected by the mainstream media hype of Russia Gate that demonizes the organization’s role in the 2016 U.S. election, Democrats throw around opinions, blaming Assange for the victory of Trump. They accuse WikiLeaks as collaborating with a fascist, when in fact the release of John Podesta emails exposed the Democratic establishment as actively aiding the Trump candidacy with their strategy to elevate “pied piper” GOP candidates.
This kind of reaction is nothing new. Since its mainstream recognition in 2010, WikiLeaks was accused of many things in different places and by various groups of people. WikiLeaks once tweeted:
“In Russia, Julian Assange is a MI6 agent; In US, a Russian agent; In Iran, a Mossad agent; In Saudi, an Iranian agent; In Libya, a CIA agent. World wide establishments accuse those who expose them of being the enemy of the people.” The latest accusation became ‘WikiLeaks, as an agent of fascism!’
The latest accusation became WikiLeaks, an agent of fascism! In the middle of these name calling, it becomes more important for us understand what this organization is. So what is WikiLeaks?
Innovation on the Internet
WikiLeaks is a 100% publicly funded transnational journalistic organization that is not bound to any nation, corporation or political parties. This borderless existence comes to challenge our preconceived notion of journalism based on a model that operates within the confinement of the nation-state. WikiLeaks can be best looked at as an innovation of journalism on the Internet. Just as many inventions of the past, it brought disruption to the system and became controversial. Think of Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press. The spread of the printing press made it possible for people to read the Bible. Democratization of knowledge enabled by his technology has brought the decline of Church’s authority.
In a similar way, Assange together with mathematicians, activists and journalists all around the world, invented a new form of journalism that is much more effective in revealing corruption of governments and institutions. With a pristine record of accuracy, it published more classified information than all media combined, exposing human right abuses, government spying, torture and war crimes on a scale that was unprecedented.
Birth of this global Fourth Estate was a game changer. It radically altered the media landscape. Just as scientists and inventors of the past who were imprisoned for their unconventional beliefs and discoveries, Assange has been persecuted for the breakthrough of this innovation. In the 17th century, Galileo’s thought that provided the evidence about the Earth revolving around the Sun was met with condemnation by the orthodoxy of the Church. In these contemporary times, WikiLeaks and its idea of transparency for the powerful seem to have become a heresy that is regarded as a punishable offense by the state.
Ethos of cypherpunks
Without understanding the essence of this new invention, people’s attitudes toward WikiLeaks swing back and forth. Whether it is capitalism or socialism, Democrats or Republicans, many demand WikiLeaks to demonstrate its allegiance to their political ideology and support their preferred candidate. They conflate the invention with the inventor, becoming obsessed with Assange.
One publication put him in a category of a leftist, while another turns him into a right wing. People speculate and get overly attached to Assange’s political views. Ultimately, the opinion of this inventor does not and should not matter. In the same way that people don’t have to know who invented electricity to have a light or a combustion engine to drive a car, everyone can benefit from this new journalism and use it to enrich society at large.
Yet, for those who still feel the need to know, Assange’s thoughts are not shaped by a conventional political dichotomy of left and right. The ideas that conceived WikiLeaks originated from the philosophy of cypherpunks, an electronic mailing list that advocates privacy through the use of strong cryptography.
The motto of this loosely tied network that became active since the late 1980’s is depicted with the expression “cypherpunks write code”. Adam Back, a cryptographer who was cited in Bitcoin’s white paper described it as a particular mindset to make changes through creating alternatives, rather than engaging in typical political efforts of petitions and protests. Back noted how pressuring politicians and promoting issues through the press tends to be slow and creates an uphill battle. He pointed out how instead of appealing to authority for change, people can simply “deploy technology and help people do what they consider to be their legal right”, and then society will later catch up to reflect these values.
Assange described himself as part of cypherpunks that came from a different tradition than libertarians in California. He articulated their unique efforts to balance power between the individual and the state. He said, “By writing our own software and disseminating it far and wide we liberated cryptography, democratised it and spread it through the frontiers of the new internet.” Being true to this ethos of cypherpunks, Assange deployed the technology of a secure drop box that runs on Tor, a free software that routes Internet traffic to enable the anonymous submission of material.
The creation of WikiLeaks brought a major upgrade to the existing model of free speech. In the U.S. where tradition of freedom of speech began, in its inception, the First Amendment right was not able to fully embody its potent creative power. The idea of democracy, a government established under the rule of people, expressed in the preamble of the Constitution “we the people” remained an ideal. A move toward its fulfillment came from below by those who opposed the ratification of the 1787 Constitution that lacked the guarantee of individual liberties. The anti-federalists demanded that the Bill of Rights was necessary in order to restrict governmental power and their efforts made it possible for freedom of expression to be codified into law.
The First Amendment reads;
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Establishment of Bill of Rights as a vital part of checks and balances of power was revolutionary. Yet these rights that were meant to provide protection of individuals from government’s overarching power were granted and regulated by central authority. In the structure of the constitutional republic, the unaccounted power of the Founding Fathers was kept unchecked. This created a loophole that makes the system vulnerable to commercial interests. Big business gained power by exploiting this weakness in security of the system and hijacked the government. Transnational corporations that have no allegiance to any country began using national governments and their system of representative democracy as instruments to control the populace and advance their own agendas.
With privatization of public airwaves and consolidation of media, an oligarchic class put the First Amendment under its proprietary control, restricting user access and setting terms and conditions for their use. In this dictatorial form of governance, journalists and editors are installed as an arbitrator of truth to manage and monitor public opinion. Through a creed of objectivity, they justify censoring any dissenting thoughts that challenge government official lines crafted by the corporate masters. This was evidenced by the 2013 documentary film Mediastan that exposed the former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller’s cozy relationship with the U.S. government, the military and the CIA.
It was in this context of corporate dictatorship that Assange used cryptography as a non-violent democratic weapon to revolt. From its onset, the U.S. Constitution framed by white property owners with their imperfection manifested in slavery, genocide of natives and denial of women’s rights corrupted the source code of equality written in the Declaration of Independence. Now, over 200 years later, Australian born computer programmer and journalist aimed to restore this original code of democracy through building a publishing platform online that is run on free software.
With the creation of WikiLeaks, Assange liberated the First Amendment from this archaic system of national governance. Significance of this invention is that it decentralized the function of free press, extending the First Amendment protection that has been exclusively preserved for the profession of journalists to ordinary people. Now, through this innovative anonymous submission system, anyone in the world with Internet connection can communicate with people around the globe about the fraud and wrongdoing of any governments or institutions. Without fear of retaliation, people can now transcend boundaries of nation-state to form association with one another and redress their grievances.
With scientific journalism at its core, this new media of the Internet replaced the source of legitimacy from the profession’s creed of objectivity to the actual documents themselves that are authenticated. Access to full achieves in a searchable format empowered everyday people all over the world. They can now engage in their own history as it is happening and use information to create social change.
Shield for truth
Assange once wrote, “Reality is an aspect of property. It must be seized. And investigative journalism is the noble art of seizing reality back from the powerful.” WikiLeaks, by pushing the boundaries of free speech, lifted the veil of reality that distorts our perception and opened our eyes to the uncensored view of the world. The publication of raw footage of the U.S. Apache helicopter gunning down innocent civilians including two Reuters’ journalists in a suburb of Baghdad knocked out the euphemism of collateral damage. In the chat log with the late hacker Adrian Lamo, the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning wrote how she wants “people to see the truth . . . regardless of who they are…” The truth she referred to was what she saw in the unfolded images in a video that captured the everyday scene of U.S. military occupation of Iraq, articulated in her words, “we’re human . . . and we’re killing ourselves . . .”
Assange and WikiLeaks staffs commit to defend this truth that is brought forward by the conscience of whistleblowers. In her statement she made after successfully securing the asylum of Edward Snowden, the unsung hero of the NSA whistleblower, WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison articulated the courage behind organization’s extraordinary source protection:
“When whistleblowers come forward we need to fight for them, so others will be encouraged. When they are gagged, we must be their voice. When they are hunted, we must be their shield. When they are locked away, we must free them.”
WikiLeaks’ released documents exposed the hidden biases that lie beneath journalists’ claim of neutrality—modes of thought that separate people into nationality, gender and class and divides the world into two competing power blocks of the Cold War era.
With the release of the largest publication of confidential documents that revealed the CIA’s global hacking force, WikiLeaks provided means for people to examine what was being done under the premise of national security and whose interests the agency truly serves. The DNC email leaks helped inform American public about the mechanism of U.S. electoral politics as a control grid, where media disguises corporate interests as national interests and controls the debate.
WikiLeaks not only created a new form of journalism, but also it reinvented the First Amendment, making it permissionless and censorship free. This revolutionary journalism protects people against suppression of speech by allowing all voices including views that are unpopular and marginalized. This can illuminate what liberals consider WikiLeaks’ troubling appearance of associating with Trump Jr. and speaking up for conspiracy theorists like a Infowar radio host Alex Jones, when he got censored by Silicon Valley tech giants.
In the article “No, Julian Assange Is Not a Fascist”, Gary Lord who writes political commentary has cut though the corporate media headlines that twist WikiLeaks’ professional contact with President Trump’s son. By presenting their Twitter direct messages in full context, he dismantled the widely held myth that Assange supports Trump and WikiLeaks helped his campaign. What is revealed in these exchanges was WikiLeaks asking Trump’s son to help them publish his father’s tax returns (which was ignored), while refusing inquiries of both Cambridge Analytica and Trump Jr, regarding the upcoming publications. Lord summed up the nature of their interaction as WikiLeaks just doing the things that any good journalistic organization would do.
The U.S. government under Obama began a war against the First Amendment, trying to stop this WikiLeaks’ mission to bring free speech to the world. In this battle now being carried on by the new President Trump, Assange is now seized in the embassy, deprived of sunlight and health care, being cut off from the outside world. As the fate of press freedom looks grim, it now become imperative for all to defend the right to free speech that these pioneers took great risk to make it available for people all around the world. By liberating free speech from the hands of the few, this world’s first free press helped all claim their own creative power to become authors of their own history.
Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., a native of Japan, is a columnist, researcher, and the First Amendment advocate. She is member of The Indicter‘s Editorial Board and a former contributing writer to WL Central and has been covering issues of free speech, transparency and the vital role of whistleblowers in global society. Her writing has appeared on diverse outlets such as Counterpunch, CommonDreams, Dissident Voice, Truthout, Global Research and Antiwar.com. Her work has been published in the At Issue Series; The Occupy Movement by Greenhaven Press, Global Issues, Local Arguments by Pearson Education and Krytyka Polityczna Global Activism by Autonome Universität Berlin. She currently resides in the SF Bay Area and is a guest writer at Falkvinge & Co. on Infopolicy, where she explores the role that Bitcoin and other decentralized platforms play in strengthening civil liberties.
Her book WikiLeaks: The Global Fourth Estate (Released 17 January 2018 by Libertarian Books – Sweden. Stockholm/Bergamo) recounts the rise of the whistleblowing site since its public prominence in 2010 and its subsequent years of publishing. Contained is a chronological series of articles penned by the author as WikiLeaks shed light on government and corporate corruption. From the clash with the US State Department and the persecution of Julian Assange to controversies surrounding the publication of the John Podesta emails, this book traces the challenges that WikiLeaks has faced in its mission to bring the First Amendment to the world.