Julian Assange and the power of asymmetric fear

The counterpart of asymmetric warfare is asymmetric fear — a form of mass hysteria in which smaller and smaller threats provoke more and more extreme reactions.

The arc that connects Osama bin Laden to Julian Assange describes the pathology of these times: fear has become our only compass.

When the United States Secretary of State describes the release of reams of somewhat embarrassing but generally informative cables as “an attack on the international community,” and while opinion makers call for Assange’s arrest, assassination or execution, we shouldn’t be asking how much harm WikiLeaks can do, but whether the political establishment in America is becoming unhinged.

David Samuels writes:

Julian Assange and Pfc Bradley Manning have done a huge public service by making hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents available on Wikileaks — and, predictably, no one is grateful. Manning, a former army intelligence analyst in Iraq, faces up to 52 years in prison. He is currently being held in solitary confinement at a military base in Quantico, Virginia, where he is not allowed to see his parents or other outside visitors.

Assange, the organizing brain of Wikileaks, enjoys a higher degree of freedom living as a hunted man in England under the close surveillance of domestic and foreign intelligence agencies — but probably not for long. Not since President Richard Nixon directed his minions to go after Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg and New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan – “a vicious antiwar type,” an enraged Nixon called him on the Watergate tapes — has a working journalist and his source been subjected to the kind of official intimidation and threats that have been directed at Assange and Manning by high-ranking members of the Obama Administration.

Published reports suggest that a joint Justice Department-Pentagon team of investigators is exploring the possibility of charging Assange under the Espionage Act, which could lead to decades in jail. “This is not saber-rattling,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, commenting on the possibility that Assange will be prosecuted by the government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Wikileaks disclosures “an attack on the international community” that endangered innocent people. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggested in somewhat Orwellian fashion that “such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government.”

Politics Daily reports:

For the past several months, Assange has widely believed to have been in hiding somewhere in the United Kingdom. The public perception has been one of a man hunt.

But according to his U.K.-based lawyer, Mark Stephens, Scotland Yard has actually had precise knowledge of Assange’s whereabouts since he arrived in this country in October. Indeed, Stephens maintains, they even have a phone number should they wish to reach him.

“I feel like I am sitting in the middle of a surreal Swedish fairytale,” Stephens said. “The trolls keep threatening to come on and keep making noises off stage. But at the moment, no appearance from them.”

Apparently, the delay in Assange’s apprehension stems from the fact that the original warrant listed the maximum penalty only for the most serious charge (in this case, rape), rather than for all of the charges (which include sexual molestation and unlawful coercion). Assuming the new warrant fulfills the letter of the law, Soca will then be legally obliged to authorize the police to arrest Julian Assange.

Baruch Weiss, a former federal prosecutor who served in the Treasury and Homeland Security departments, asks:

What law did Assange violate? It will surprise many that there is no statute making it illegal to reveal classified information. There are statutes that criminalize the disclosure of very specific types of classified information, such as the identity of a covert operative (think Valerie Plame) or “codes, ciphers or cryptographic systems.” But there is no catch-all law that simply says, “Thou shalt not disclose classified information.”

Indeed, when Congress tried to enact such a statute, President Bill Clinton sensibly vetoed it. His reason: The government suffers from such an overclassification problem – some intelligence agencies classify even newspaper articles – that a law of this sort would end up criminalizing the disclosure of innocuous information. And even that vetoed statute would have applied only to government officials, not to private individuals or journalists.

Instead, prosecutors in the Assange case, like the prosecutors in the AIPAC case I handled, would resort to the Espionage Act of 1917, an archaic, World War I-era statute that prohibits “willfully” disclosing “information relating to the national defense.” According to Judge T.S. Ellis in the AIPAC case, this means that the prosecution must prove, among other things, that a defendant knew that the information he was disclosing was potentially damaging to national security and that he was violating the law.

Here, Assange can make the department’s case especially difficult. Well before publishing the cables, he wrote a letter to the U.S. government, delivered to our ambassador in London, inviting suggestions for redactions. The State Department refused. Assange then wrote another letter to State, reiterating that “WikiLeaks has absolutely no desire to put individual persons at significant risk of harm, nor do we wish to harm the national security of the United States.”

In that second letter, Assange stated that the department’s refusal to discuss redactions “leads me to conclude that the supposed risks are entirely fanciful.” He then indicated that WikiLeaks was undertaking redactions on its own.

In an interview with the BBC, Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, said that his paper presented to the Obama administration all the cables they planned on publishing and sought and received advice on making redactions and on national security issues. The fact that the administration was willing to enter into discussions with the Times but not Wikileaks, suggests that the administration has less concern about security risks than it does with sustaining the incestuous relationship it enjoys with its favorite newspaper.

A press release just issued by Wikileaks says the Julian Assange Defense Fund has been frozen.

The Swiss Bank Post Finance today issues a press release stating that it had frozen Julian Assange’s defense fund and personal assets (31K EUR) after reviewing him as a “high profile” individual.

The technicality used to seize the defense fund was that Mr. Assange, as a homeless refugee attempting to gain residency in Switzerland, had used his lawyers address in Geneva for the bank’s correspondence.

Late last week, the internet payment giant PayPal, froze 60Keur of donations to the German charity the Wau Holland Foundation, which were targeted to promote the sharing of knowledge via WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks and Julian have lost 100Keur in assets this week.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Cablegate exposure is how it is throwing into relief the power dynamics between supposedly independent states like Switzerland, Sweden and Australia.

WikiLeaks also has public bank accounts in Iceland (preferred) and Germany.

Please help cover our expenditures while we fight to get our assets back.


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11 thoughts on “Julian Assange and the power of asymmetric fear

  1. Phil Sheehan

    Questions which — if asked before and not after the fact — would have turned Wikileaks into a minor cocktail party conversation piece:

    1. Did you think carefully about what you wrote?
    2. Did you review it — self-edit — before sending?
    3. Was there any good reason to send it at all?
    4. Could it have waited for a diplomatic courier?

    And finally, how can any government professional pretend to be surprised/dismayed/embarrassed at discovering that electronic communications are readily intercepted, copied, and circulated?

  2. Vince J

    Assange and Bradley Manning are heros!
    It is so good to see the USA’s criminal factions (WH/Pentagon/CIA/Banksters) are worried. Alot of this theatre is to take attention away from loosing the war in Afegahnistan and their new space drone project.
    If it is bad for the USA it is good for the rest of the World.
    Hillary, Israel and UK do not represent the international community!
    Assange and Bradley Manning are heros. Hillary/Obama/Bidden/Bush/Chenney/Rice/Gate/Pertraeus/MacChrystal/Yoo/Bybee/Perle/Feith/and many more officials are WAR CRIMINALS.

  3. Vince J

    A bit off the topic here, but this is great news:

    Brazil has recognized Palestinian Independent State based on the 1967 borders this week. On PRESS TV, I just learned that Argentina has followed Brazil and just recognized the same State!!!!

  4. DE Teodoru

    IT’S TIME THAT WE ALL SAW THE EMPEROR **WITHOUT** CLOTHES. Perhaps we’ll also get “Pressileaks” someday to see how little the media is your friend and how it bargains with WashDC’s establishment where information is power. AMERICA IS BASED ON “WE THE **DEAF, DUMB AND BLIND PEOPLE staying that way. Assange and the unsung hero Manning are the Santas who saved Christmas this year as all Americans can no longer play dumb. Santa finally brought us ALL eyes for Christmas. Moral outrage is something we either acquired in our first seven years at home or not. Santa can’t also be our moms and dads. Unfortunately lacking a sense of persona liability from our up-bringing, we hate Assange and Manning for putting before us our responsibilities as Americans. Unwilling to allow civic duty to interfere with shop until you drop, Americans hate Assange and Manning and are swallowing whole sale the lies of the corrupt incompetents who rule America because of our abrogation of civic duty. Americans don’t want to know that their irresponsible idiocy is not only killing America but also devouring the future of its youth.

    Let humility and responsibility reign as we go through the documents and then confront the professional deceptors that run our lives. 2012 can really be a very NEW year.

    Wake up, read and take action to save an American mom&dad soldier today. The longer you wait, the more orphans&widows will cry this Christmas in loneliness and in many more to come. Be a homo sapien instead of a dumb ape, pick up where Manning and Assange left off. To the crooked politicians KNOWLEDGE=POWER. But to real Americans KNOWLEDGE=JUSTICE…seek it to feed your soul and save America.

  5. ddog23

    The problem I have with wikileaks is that they are giving this over-reactive US administration every excuse it needs to clamp down on internet freedom. I fear that this most democratic medium will soon become a thing of the past.

  6. Paloma

    After looking closer to the weakileaks story, the courageous stonethrowers Bradley Manning and Julian Assange should be celebrated by our folks. We even should liberate Bradley from the claws of the criminal US military (illlegal wars in Afghanistan and Irak).
    We discover that the US administration is working closemly with Saudi Arabia (the home of the terrorists) They have hidden the game and now we know: The war against terrorism is just a play of our cynical rulers to make the warmachine keeping alive for the tremendous gains of any few and at the same time take over the world’s ressources. Hillary does not care about the millions of deaths, neither did Madleine Albright when she declared that the death of 600.000 iraqi children is worth the gain! We are ruled by major criminals and everything that will put into light the dirty and criminal game of the rulers will provoke the big question: how long will we accept this cristal clear dirty game?
    let’s organise the answer! The people of Venezuela liberated their leader from the claws of the “pax americana” The same thing did not happen in Honduras. Can we do something for Bradley Manning?

  7. Christopher Hoare

    ddog23 — the US administration needs no excuses to expand its authoritarian ways, and if it did it would invent one. If we want to protect Internet freedom and help defend such organizations as Wikileaks we must ALL DO SOMETHING. Every little action will help, letters to the newspapers, and to legislators, discussions around the water cooler and in the coffee shop, a financial contribution (doesn’t have to be huge), withdrawing support from offending political parties, heck — even commenting online. The only thing we have going for us is that we outnumber the bastards — help make that count.

  8. Norman

    I think that Mr Hoare puts it in easy to understand terms here. It’s now up to every person in this country to raise their collective voice and loud enough, that this country gets first crack on the money flow, the hell with the rest of the World. They can’t control the over 300+ million people with the forces they have. Wake up America.

  9. delia ruhe

    Assange is screwed. You don’t mess with Uncle Sam. Empires in decline are at their most dangerous. It’s not just a matter of taking him out of action; it will also mean a huge delegitimizing campaign because–most important of all–he must not be remembered by anyone with access to the public as a force for good.

  10. DE Teodoru

    I predict that Assange is not doomed. Ritter came before him and they tried the same thing and failed. In the end it is they, the NEW AMERICAN ESTABLISHMENT OF MEDIOCRITIES who know that they’re mediocrities and they will back down. Look at how Obama and Holder reacted to the Tea Party– like runaway slaves. Petraeus and Co. thought, therefore, as did the Israelis and neocons, that both can be defecated on at will. But it’s a large world out there and the mediocrities at the Pentagon do not know how to fight lean as they are THE GREEN WASTEFUL HIGH CALORIC MACHINE, not the lean green machine of yesteryears. They will be found out and they will know that they are found out. THAT’S THE WHOLE ISSUE WITH WIKILEAKS: Assange exposed no top secret, only how small is the collective bureaucratic American Wizard of Oz. These are people whom, like Bush and Cheney, know that they are mediocrities so they try to play “outside the [rules] box,” stealing all the cash and power they can. What the cable traffic shows is not national secrets but rather how unprincipled, ignorant, dumb and arrogant these people are ever since the end of the Cold War. But in the end, they’re OUR servants, not we theirs. More and more people are realizing that Assange is victim of the Establishment Pandoras trying to close the box again. They will enrage the public much more– maybe even awaken it—trying to explain away what Assange exposed then trying to prosecute him. They can’t have it both ways: either the materials are dangerous, proving what morons run national security or they are scuttlebutt and meaningless. Which do you think they prefer convincing you of? Please stay tuned. The show has a lot of acts still to go. In the end Americans will face a critical question: ARE WE SMALL SCUM LIKE THE WASH DC AND PENTAGON BUREAUCRATS OR ARE WE BETTER SO WE DESERVE BETTER IN POSITIONS OF RESPONSIBILITY? If the latter, every little American will realize that Tea Party hysterics is not enough and they’ll have to finally recognize their civic duty so that they may leave their children at least an America as good as was left them. Step one will be to sweep out the Bush-it from the national stables that lingers only because Obama thought he could buy Republican cooperation by hiding what a filthy America he inherited. For that he may just pay with loss of a second term. But he may yet replace the quadruple amputees in his cabinet with real American heroes who see America in a global challenge context, not just as something that they give away pieces of for campaign contributions. Stay tuned, America is not dead yet. We’ve still got a chance to avoid dying as Israel’s mad dog or as a substrate for corporate parasitism.

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