Re: The Full Julian Assange Interview

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I find this passage from the TIME interview the most interesting:

One of the unintended consequences is the opposite effect, which is what we’ve seen with the Department of Defense, and even the State Department, here in the U.S., of trying to make secrets more impenetrable rather than less and trying to take precautions against what has happened from happening again in the future. How do you regard that?

Well, I think that’s very positive. Since 2006, we have been working along this philosophy that organizations which are abusive and need to be [in] the public eye. If their behavior is revealed to the public, they have one of two choices: one is to reform in such a way that they can be proud of their endeavors, and proud to display them to the public. Or the other is to lock down internally and to balkanize, and as a result, of course, cease to be as efficient as they were. To me, that is a very good outcome, because organizations can either be efficient, open and honest, or they can be closed, conspiratorial and inefficient.

So Assange’s argument is that by pushing the United States government to be more secretive and less efficient he is actually accomplishing the good Lord’s work of striking a blow against secrecy and inefficiency. It’s quite a turn of logic.

I agree with Assange that it is still way to early to know whether the negative ramifications of the WikiLeaks disclosures outweigh the positive ones, or visa versa, but I’m not sure it’s all that convincing to argue that the negative ramifications are also positive.

Ross Douthat, at the New York Times, argues exactly the opposite conclusion, in fact, rather persuasively.

The hyperbole of certain Republicans notwithstanding, Assange is not a terrorist. But he has this much in common with al Qaeda: In response to what they perceive as the inherent injustice of the American empire, both the jihadis and the Australian anarchist are willing to take steps that they know will make the United States more imperial in the short term — in Al Qaeda’s case, acts of terrorism that inspire American military interventions in the Muslim world; in Assange’s case, information dumps that inspire ever-greater secrecy and centralization in the federal bureaucracy — in the hopes that the system will eventually collapse under its own weight and “more open forms of governance” (or, I suppose, a global caliphate) can take its place.

The problem, though, is that the American national security state is almost certainly more resilient than either Assange or Osama bin Laden seems to think. Which means that their efforts at sabotage have little chance (by design) of prompting any actual reforms in the system they despise, a vanishingly small chance of actually bringing the whole thing to its knees — and a substantial chance of just making life worse for everybody, inside and outside the United States government alike.

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