By now everybody knows about Wikileaks. If you don’t you have obviously been living in a state of ignorant bliss and you probably stumbled upon this site looking for a funny de-motivational poster about a Llama (Go ahead and follow this link if this is the case. Trust me, if you have managed to avoid the Wrath of Assange, then good for you. We should all be so lucky).
Anyway, without discussing the individual “leaks” I was thinking the other day about their validity. We are talking about thousands and thousands of electronically stored documents that were supposedly stolen and then given to Wikileaks in order to create some sort of radical transparency that revealed what the Army was shooting at, what State Department officials thought about foreign leaders and what places might be really good targets for terrorists. Those that I have seen seem to be plausible in that they pass the smell test. They seem like they contain information and opinions that might come up at a State Department water cooler, or planning session. But are they real? What makes us think that any of this legitimate? Is it the sheer volume that lends weight to their truth? Is it that the slightly scandalous remarks (that are only scandalous if they appear in public, but are gossip-as-usual in an internal e-mail discussion) would never have been allowed into the public eye by government media massagers? Why should you trust Wikileaks as a truth broker?
These are electronic documents that have been, for the most part, removed from their original context. They are a collection of endlessly alterable electronic bits that somebody committed a crime to put into the hands of an organization that may or may not have an agenda. What if only one of the thousands of leaked documents is demonstrably, court of law, defying the laws of the universe, provably fake? What does that do to your trust level for the rest of the documents if any of them could be subtly, or not-so-subtly altered? What if half of them are verifiable, but the other half are ambiguous in their provenance? If none of them can be truly verified as genuine what if ten percent of them are altered or outright manufactured? What if all of them are pure, unadulterated, fiction? So what that the government hasn’t denied that any of these documents are fake. Would you really believe them if they did?
The bottom line is that information, raw information, is endlessly mutable. Everything you believe about what you observe depends upon all of the preconceptions you carry in your personal orientative baggage. If you want to believe something, even in the face of evidence against its truth, you will find a justification to go on believing it. That mechanism is hard-wired into our brains. Without a context (and sometimes even with context), you will create a context for what you observe.
Fifth Gradient Warfare (5GW) doctrines are premised upon the manipulation of Observation in order to create specific effect on a target’s actions. 5GW actors spoon feed information to a target that is intended, by design, to trigger a specific context for that information in the mind of a target in order to cause that target to act (or not act) in a particular manner. To my thinking, the idea of transparency is a mechanism to promote trust in the validity of information (or lack thereof) that is fed into Observation. It is fundamental in a 5GW world to realize that nothing is inherently neutral. All actors have agendas, bias, preconceptions and will strive to promote their point-of-view over all others.
Pakistani Media Publishes Fake Wikileaks Scoops by Joshua Keating
The only problem is that none of these cables appear to be real. The Guardian, which has full access to the unreleased WikiLeaks cables, can’t find any of them. The story, which ran in four Pakistani newspapers, isn’t bylined and was credited only to Online Agency, an Islamabad-based pro-army news service.
It’s actually surprising this hasn’t happened yet. The vast majority of the cables are still unreleased, but the newspapers which have access to them have often reported on some of the more salacious details before the original cables are actually available. (Take for instance, the famous “Batman and Robin” description of Putin and Medvedev, which appeared in newspapers days before the actual cable was available).
So, it’s pretty easy to just make up cables to serve your political agenda. If the Pakistani forgers had been more sophisticated they would have invented quotes or even mocked up fake cables rather than just paraphrasing. This, in my opinion, is an argument for just releasing the full archive now rather than trickling them out at the newspapers’ pace. It will be a lot easier to fact check false claims if we no longer have to rely on the Guardian as WikiLeaks’ gatekeeper.
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.
“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.”