Why Wikileaks?

“Could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act.” – Time Magazine

With all the political fallout, and demonisation of the individual most closely associated with Wikileaks, there is little serious discussion of the project’s raison d’être. While I do not wish to commit the sin I criticise in others, and focus unduly on Julian Assange, it is worth looking at how he justifies the actions of Wikileaks.

Assange is no shrinking violet, and I understand that he has recently been popping up all over the place, speaking at public meetings and debating with critics of Wikileaks the publication of classified material that could damage democratic governments as well as oppressive regimes. On the right of the political spectrum there is a common view emerging that Assange and Wikileaks are engaging in a leftist crusade against an wicked, imperialist west, but that is not a considered stance to be taken seriously. Wikileaks works with what it has, and that is mostly information sourced from western intelligence and diplomatic communications. I’m sure the irony is not lost on the Wikileakers.

So what is Wikileaks up to, and what does it hope to achieve by its actions? Assange’s view is clearly articulated in essays first published on the now defunct website iq.org, and since reposted elsewhere. The author’s formulaic leftist language may be a little dated, but the content seems reasonable enough to this culturally conservative libertarian, albeit one of left wing stock and continued political bent.

It may be unfashionable these days to talk of “conspiracies” in the context of bourgeois democratic politics, but fashion is fickle, and just because something is out of vogue doesn’t make it any the less true. If that wizened old marxist Vince Cable can channel Adam Smith and talk of conspiracy at the heart of capitalist business practice, then I’m quite happy to discuss conspiracy in the relationship between democratic politicians and their publics.

The problem I have with Assange’s analysis is its tacit assumption that the agents of conspiracy act rationally in their individual and collective interests. From what I can see they don’t always, and therein lies the danger of thinking that the divulging of the conspirators’ secrets will necessarily neutralise the conspiracy.

What worries me is a possible lack of flexibility in the modus operandi of Wikileaks. That is, a failure to account for an irrational and very human reaction to the leaks that ultimately damages the cause. So far things appear to be going to plan, but I guess we shall have to wait and see.