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Photographers attempt to capture a picture of Julian Assange, believed to be in this prison van, leaving Westminster Magistrates Court on December 7, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Today I came across this image by Peter MacDiarmid. It converges a few threads I’ve noted before.

I don’t know how many times Assange went to court along the public streets of London but it’s worth looking at another of McDiarmid’s images, this time of Assange in the interior of a custody van.

SERCO, the company providing the custody van is as global as Wikileaks itself and specialises in lock-ups and government services.

The Wikileaks saga has gone relatively quiet recently. Bradley Manning’s circumstances are no longer top of the hour. The Bradley Manning Support Network describes his conditions of detention:

Although Bradley has not yet been tried, he has been held in solitary confinement since May 2010. He has been denied meaningful exercise, social interaction, sunlight, and has occasionally been kept completely naked. These conditions are unique to Bradley and are illegal even under US military law as they amount to extreme pre-trial punishment.

Contrary to this account are reports that Manning is no longer in total lockdown. In April, he was transferred to a medium security facility in Fort Leavenworth.

If we are to compare experiences, remember, Assange in the scenario above was also under pre-trial detention.

Solitary confinement or not, Bradley Manning – regularly the subject of bullying -is not in the best shape to cope with incarceration. In 2007, early in Manning’s army career, doctors reported he was “mentally unstable” and recommended he be “discharged immediately”. The recommendation was rejected and due to a shortage of computer intelligence analysts, Manning was recycled back into service and pushed through the system.

Currently, Manning is heavily medicated with anti-depressants.

The U.S. military has made no comment on Manning’s psychological condition other than to say it is being investigated. He faces court marshal in December 2011. Manning faces 52 years if he is found guilty. That’s a long time for someone who, according to this credible 18-minute presentation, is a shell already.

The theatre surrounding Assange’s charges, detention, court dates and bail are in stark contrast to the near invisibility of Manning’s transfers and detention. With Assange remaining bold, vocal and in the public eye, Manning’s invisibility is even more conspicuousness. By numerous definitions, it seems Bradley Manning is already fading away.

Until three weeks ago, Aaron Bady was a blogger with limited reach. His post Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government” written from his Mac laptop in Berkeley (Bady’s a final year PhD student in African Literature) sent his stats skyward and altered the way journalists were thinking about Wikileaks … even if they still shied away from the type of analysis Bady eschewed.

Alex Madrigal (another remarkable writer of insight and entertainment) explains in The Unknown Blogger Who Changed WikiLeaks Coverage, The Atlantic, how Bady’s work was spread, read, answered and commended by bloggers and mainstream journalists alike.

Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government” is as simple as it is opinion-shaping. In the spirit of Wikileaks, Bady relies on two primary sources by the same author and of the same year – Assange’s State and Terrorist Conspiracies (2006) and Conspiracy as Governance (2006) (both available in this single PDF).

Bady breaks Assange’s writing – which should feasibly be interpreted as an underpinning to Wikileaks’ philosophy – into pieces, making it digestible; making it illuminating:

[Assange] decides that the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make “leaks” a fundamental part of the conspiracy’s  information environment. Which is why the point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective. Wikileaks does not leak something like the “Collateral Murder” video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in [Assange’s] words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

The leak, in other words, is only the catalyst for the desired counter-overreaction; Wikileaks wants to provoke the conspiracy into turning off its own brain in response to the threat. As it tries to plug its own holes and find the leakers, [Assange] reasons, its component elements will de-synchronize from and turn against each other, de-link from the central processing network, and come undone. Even if all the elements of the conspiracy still exist, in this sense, depriving themselves of a vigorous flow of information to connect them all together as a conspiracy prevents them from acting as a conspiracy.

Theorised and defined as conspiracy, Wikileaks’ challenge to – and Bady’s distillation of –  the structure of secret diplomatic communications compliments David Campbell’s analysis of a networked world. It also precedes my comment to Campbell; that the praxis of government, corporate and public relations will change drastically in the wake of Cablegate and Wikileaks. In response, Campbell agrees that this maybe inevitable.

Hopefully the implications of Wikileaks will be a transparent future for the betterment of all; the dismemberment of closed and closeted power that operates unchallenged for decades as American diplomacy has.

AARON BADY

On a personal level, Bady’s quality of writing is invigorating, and in the larger context it shows how far thoughtful (blog) writing can reach. I need to be careful here as Bady has strong criticisms of ego, journalism and the limitations of thoughtful writers to apply themselves solely to material – as does Assange – but I just want to say that Bady’s piece is not a flash in the pan.

Bady’s writing is of the highest order. I’ve heard many criticisms about Facebook, and many of them very good, but no position has maginified the acute problem of Zuckerberg’s philosophy as Bady’s The Soul of Mark Zuckerberg: What DuBois can tell us about Facebook.

Since the publication of his breakthrough piece, Bady has followed up with tenacious balance and muck-raking in equal measure. As an example, did you know US companies in Afghanistan are pimps for paedophiles? Bady:

As Boing Boing boils it down, we now know that Dyncorp, “a company, headquartered in DC with Texas offices, helped pimp out little boys as sex slaves to stoned cops in Afghanistan.” Not actualy that surprising. What we didn‘t know, though, was that Afghanistan’s Minister of Interior was told to hush things up by President Karzai and that he then requested the American assistant ambassador put pressure on journalists to keep quiet about it, because it could “endanger lives.”

Follow Aaron’s blog and on Twitter: @zunguzungu

Carl Court / AFP – Getty Images; Dan Kitwood / Getty Images; Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

These photos of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arriving at Westminster Magistrates Court inside a prison van with red windows reminded me of Ben Graville’s past work, which I wrote about here.

Graville’s In & Out The Old Bailey caused some controversy drawing accusations of exploitation. Do we feel Assange is being exploited here? I don’t really think so. Assange is well aware of media praxis and photographer protocols for winning that shot. By his direct eye contact, it would seem he’s putting on a show for these photographers? Or maybe it’s just the edit?

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE RED?

You could run hog wild with reading the colour here, but I won’t. I’ll just mention, witch-hunts, the Hunt for Red October, Red Letter Day, the commies, the Reds, blood on “their” hands, whoever they are, the Scarlet Pimpernel, drive by night tactics, sex by surprise, red light districts and the red ink of Top Secret papers. All collapsing on top of this portrait of a man, still widely misrepresented.

Daniel Ellsberg, left, at a news conference in 1973 in Los Angeles. In 1971, Mr. Ellsberg passed to a reporter for The New York Times a copy of a secret report casting doubt on the war in Vietnam. Associated Press

Based upon Cablegate commentary and mutterings thus far, it is reasonable to describe an opponents’ “Hierarchy of Targets”.

At the top of the pyramid is Julian Assange, second is the suspect (possibly Bradley Manning?), then come the collective of highly-skilled professionals working for Wikileaks, next are the supporters of Wikileaks (journalists, liberals, conspiracy nuts, libertarians, hackivists, net-neutrality fans, free-speech advocates, Bush-haters, China-haters, Gaddafi haters … lots of haters, you get the point). And finally – as I said, based upon commentary – toward the bottom of the pile would be Wikileaks’ major media partners, The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and Le Monde.*

The leading newspapers of these four major powers should be and are beyond reproach. The absence of criticism toward these newspapers is telling.

Given the impossibility of controlling this outflux of data, the US Government is relying on tactics of distraction – and retribution – to elevate Assange and then take him down.

The US Government is probably well aware of the information yet to be leaked. Remember, while the cables number 251,287, of which 15,652 are “Top Secret”, only 1,344 have been published thus far.

NEWSPAPERS THEN, THE INTERNET NOW

The Nixon Whitehouse tried to smear the reputation of Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers. Nixon’s painting him as a loose-nut, breaking into his psychotherapists surgery and stealing private health files to later sling shit. The thing is, before Nixon got to that he was trying to take down the media too. First he got an injunction on The New York Times. Next Ellsberg went to The Washington Post so they were next to be silenced. Through remarkable networks Ellsberg got copies of the Pentagon Papers out to 17 papers and the deluge was impossible to control.

For the Pentagon Papers leak, Ellsberg photocopied 7,000 papers himself, then photocopied those again. He delivered boxes of files by hand. 1971 was a pre-computer age; it’s easy to forget.

It is also easy to forget that Nixon administration shut down the New York Times’ publication of the Pentagon Papers for four whole days. Ellsberg’s leak brought about The New York Times vs. The United States of America, and ever since the separation between government and free press has been constitutional protected (if not always used to advantage by partisan “news” networks.)

Because of that court case – as much as the unlimited distribution possibilities of the internet – Assange and Wikileaks didn’t have to worry about any government closing down the four newspapers it had chosen as allies and partners.

As newspapers had gone before, so internet server companies followed; Assange predicted both the pressure from the government and the capitulation from Amazon and other server companies.

AREN’T WIKILEAKS AND NEWS ONE AND THE SAME?

Given that Wikileaks is only releasing individual cables after a partner has researched, redacted and discussed editorial ethics and responsibility, and given that in that light there is no difference in substance of Wikileaks’ publishing and that of its partners, why is Wikileaks singled out?

Assange claims to be a journalist. Given his blatant care (partnering with thousands of professional journalists) thus far in protecting the safety and identity of people mentioned in the cables, it seems like a fair claim.

I agree with the point of view that the Afghan or Iraq War Logs were not the equivalent to the Pentagon Papers; they told us only what we knew. We knew war was violent, we knew nasty alliances existed, we knew civilians were slaughtered, we knew no-one was in control as they claimed, we knew Iraqi’s carried out sectarian killings on one another and we could guess the allied forces turned a blind eye. Alternatively, in the way that the U.S. Embassy Cables are challenging a super power with legitimate accusations of Imperialism against it, the Embassy Cables leak could be an equivalent.

Interestingly, Ellsberg is in no doubt. If he was leaking the Pentagon Papers today, he’d be using the internet.

*Somewhere in the hierarchy of targets, there’s an argument to include Wikileaks’ methods and technologies (encryption, mirror sites, Wikileaks’ documents-cache poised for release should things not go Assange’s way). However, to keep it neat, I prefer the hierarchy of targets be made of people, not tactics.

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