“There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a
trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live
by secrecy.” – Joseph Pulitzer.
At approximately 6pm on
Wednesday last week, Amazon ousted wikileaks.org
from its servers after concerted and aggressive political pressure from
America’s Homeland Security Committee. The move came after three solid
days of ‘Cablegate’
– the largest intelligence leak in history. 251,287 dispatches from
more than 250 US embassies and consulates, to be published slowly but
surely in the weeks and months ahead. Among them are allegations of
corruption, cover-ups and secret collusion between US and UK officials;
dirty tactics exposed on a grand scale. Politicians, diplomats and
corporations across the world must now be trembling. Could they be
reaction testifies, the repercussions of Cablegate are massive.
Wikileaks is changing the world without invitation, and the political
establishment does not approve. A global witch-hunt for Julian Assange, Wikileaks’ co-founder and
figurehead, is now in full swing. Assange should be “hunted” and “executed” say prominent American politicians, who
want him extradited and charged under the country’s 1917 Espionage Act, a
law introduced to combat socialists and pacifists during the Red
Scare. “Obama should put out a contract [to have Assange assassinated]
and maybe use a drone or something,” said
Professor Tom Flanagan, a former advisor to Canadian Prime Minister
Stephen Harper. While in France, the birthplace of the Enlightenment,
Wikileaks was described as a “threat to democracy”.
Even David Cameron, a
devout convert to the church of “A New Politics”, has strongly condemned Wikileaks
for their hand in Cablegate. “We condemn the unauthorised release of
classified information,” his spokesman said on Monday. “Governments
need to be able to operate on a confidential basis when dealing with
this kind of information.” Yet it was only 10 months ago, in February,
that Cameron stood before an audience and proclaimed his commitment to
open government and transparency. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,”
he said at the time.
February, though, Cameron was not Prime Minister. He was still
masquerading as a fresh faced candidate for change – a new alternative
to the ugly political past. He could afford to pontificate about wild
things like “open government” and “transparency” because there was no
way to test him on it. He could tell the public what they wanted to
hear, and then backtrack from his position once in government – the
oldest trick in the book. His Cablegate position confirms this is
indeed what he has done, quite blatantly, on the principle of
So far Cameron’s strategy on
Cablegate has been one of avoidance and denial. “We are not going to
get drawn into the detail of the documents,” said his spokesman. The
Prime Minister was instead in Zurich yesterday alongside David Beckham
and Prince William, making a failed bid to host the World Cup in 2018.
But he cannot evade the encroaching reality of this exposé for much
longer. According to the cables released so far, British officials not
only promised to protect US interests during the Iraq
inquiry, but also made a deal with the US to allow the country to
keep cluster bombs in the UK despite the ban on the munitions signed by
Gordon Brown. The cluster bombs issue, it is said, was deliberately
concealed from parliament and was approved by then Foreign Secretary
Clearly this raises serious questions about what
appears to be a festering culture of backroom democracy across the
western world, in which Britain is complicit. Diplomatic secrecy, as
critics of Wikileaks argue, may well be in some cases entirely justified
and necessary – however not if it means nurturing what Assange himself
describes as the “corruption of governance”.
central problem, it seems, is that this “corruption of governance” runs
so deep. It is embedded within the very DNA of the political class and
has been for generations, hence the high-level, across the board
political resistance and opposition to the brand of total transparency
advocated by Wikileaks.
Yet as politicians and other
powerful figures call for the head of Assange, in their haste they have
forgotten he is merely the figurehead of the organisation. The
human face of Wikileaks, he is bold, brave and deeply principled. His
commitment and dedication to truth and justice should be applauded. But
they could hang, draw and quarter Assange and Wikileaks would still
survive – thrive, even. “You can kill a man but you can’t kill an
idea,” as the civil rights activist Medgar Evers once said.
an idea is precisely what Wikileaks has become. It is no longer simply a
website – it is a pure expression of democratic ideals, a philosophy
realised by the force of technology. The powerful may condemn and
attempt to repress Wikileaks and all it represents, but the situation
has long since spun far from their control. Facilitated by the
internet, a new battleground has been established. All traditions now
hang in the balance and all bets are off.
Ryan Gallagher writes for Open Democracy. This article has been republished from openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons licence.