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WikiLeaks and the Super-Empowered Individual

In the truest sense of the concept, everyone has the potential to be super-empowered. This type of super-empowerment is a product of  technology and connectivity, but its most essential aspect derives from knowledge and the ability to accumulate, disseminate and leverage that knowledge.   

I have had a problem with most characterizations of the super-empowered individual, mainly because it is so often confused with the other closely related concept from Thomas L. Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree, the Super-Empowered Angry Man. Many theorists who have written extensively upon the topic of super-empowerment tend to focus on super-empowerment leading to the Oklahoma City Bombing, the 2001 Anthrax Letters, Ted Kaczynski the Unabomber or other examples where some angry individual leveraged their special form of knowledge in order to do harm to others. 

Given statements by Admiral Mike Mullen about the potential harm from the WikiLeaks document release, I find it interesting that few, if any, have thought to consider WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and the unnamed individual (speculated to be a 22-year-old Army Private named Bradley Manning) who is the source of the 90,000+ secret documents detailing operations in Afghanistan in the context of super-empowerment.  


WikiLeaks itself creates and enhances super-empowerment. As an organization it is designed to provide anonymity to individuals possessing information, accumulated knowledge, alowing them to disseminate and leverage that knowledge. 

From the WikiLeaks site:

“It is hard for WikiLeaks to protect against “means, motive and opportunity” which are unrelated to WikiLeaks, but to date, as far as we can ascertain, none of the thousands of WikiLeaks sources have been exposed, via WikiLeaks or any other method.  Whistleblowers can face a great many risks, depending on their position, the nature of the information and other circumstances. Powerful institutions may use whatever methods are available to them to withhold damaging information, whether by legal means, political pressure or physical violence. The risk cannot be entirely removed (for instance, a government may know who had access to a document in the first place) but it can be lessened. Posting CD’s in the mail combined with advanced cryptographic technology can help to make communications on and off the internet effectively anonymous and untraceable. WikiLeaks applauds the courage of those who blow the whistle on injustice, and seeks to reduce the risks they face. 

 Our servers are distributed over multiple international jurisdictions and do not keep logs. Hence these logs cannot be seized. Anonymization occurs early in the WikiLeaks network, long before information passes to our web servers. Without specialized global internet traffic analysis, multiple parts of our organization and volunteers must conspire with each other to strip submitters of their anonymity.  

 However, we also provide instructions on how to submit material to us, by post and from netcafés and wireless hotspots, so even if WikiLeaks is infiltrated by a government intelligence agency submitters cannot be traced.”  


Julian Assange, chief editor of WikiLeaks.

Julian Assange 

Julian Assange is an Australian born super-empowered individual with a very colorful past. He has been a hacker and a computer programmer and currently serves as the spokesman and chief editor for WikiLeaks, an internet journalism / whistleblower / archive for documents / NGO / hacktivism site founded in 2006. 

That Assange is “super-empowered” is fairly obvious. He, without doubt, has the skills and opportunity to leverage all sorts of knowledge. That he apparently has the final say on what is published by WikiLeaks makes his motivation a part of the conversation. It is less clear if he would qualify as a Super-Empowered Angry Man, though it does appear that he does have some sort of agenda even if he himself perceives his motives to be altruistic. 

Bradley Manning


The Source of the Leaked Documents (suspected to be Bradley Manning) 

Though the motivation for the leak of the documents to WikiLeaks has not been established, much less the identity of the individual who did the leaking, it stands to reason that among all of the players in this situation, this person is most likely to be a Super-Empowered Angry Man. If these documents were leaked by Bradley Manning, also suspected to be the source of the Collateral Murder video released by WikiLeaks it may be that his motivation was anger over perceived injustices perpetrated by the U.S. military.

For Further Reading on Wikileaks and Transparency at Red Herrings: Wikileaks: The Uncertainty of Transparency in a 5GW World.

One response

  1. My initial interest in this story, beyond the biographical and historical aspects of Wikileaks itself, revolves around the issue of transparency as an abstract ideology.

    It would seem that:

    In almost all cases, the Janus-resembling ideological stance could be translated thus: “I’m all for transparency!” but when pressed or examined more closely, “Well, I want to keep my own privacy, but I believe all others should be forced into absolute transparency!”

    The result of this Janus stance is this: It comes down to, not pro-transparency or anti-transparency as philosophical or political stance/reality, but: who has, and who does not have, the requisite powers to maintain self-obscurity.

    Further, the issue of the existence of players like Wikileaks or the U.S. bureaucracy may be characterized as a question relating to the contest between such powers’ ability to maintain secrecy. While arguments good and bad can be made for the necessity of such powers vis-a-vis military endeavors and national security, on the U.S. side, at the same time the issue of determining exactly who gets final say over what is classified “necessary secrecy” rises to the forefront. Just as Julian Assange may have extraordinary powers for determining what is or is not revealed via Wikileaks, particular individuals within the U.S. bureaucracy have extraordinary powers for determining what the U.S. government may or may not reveal to the public.

    07/31/2010 at 6:15 PM

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