Wikileaks: Play The Ball Not The Man

And Check Who’s Kicking It

When people write political commentary on blogs or other social media, it is my experience that it is not — with some exceptions — their goal to expose the truth. Rather, it is their goal to position themselves among their peers on whatever the issue of the day is. The most effective, the most economical way to do that is simply to take the story that’s going around — it has already created a marketable audience for itself — and say whether they’re in favor of that interpretation or not.

So said Julian Assange in an interview with Time magazine on 30 November, presumably to justify why he chose to release Cablegate through the very mainstream media whose ineptitude, bias, and lack of courage purportedly necessitated the formation of Wikileaks in the first place.

Speak for yourself, Julian.

But even that description does not quite do him justice. Assange has gone further than providing the story – or selected excerpts at least – he has also created the market, through deals with major media players and hidden financial backers, and intends it to be played out for some time through protracted releases.

With few exceptions the majority of the public, but more worryingly, many supposed investigative and/or independent journalists, have dismally failed to exercise even the most minimum capacity for critical assessment, either talking-up the revelations (many of which were already common knowledge, or should have been to journalists doing their job properly) and/or participating in the indecent stampede to lionise Assange as some great champion of freedom of information and open government — or both.

This, like the cables themselves, conveniently deflects attention from the real issues – the right to information, the desirability of open government, the protection of whistle-blowing, and the protection for individuals from state abuses of the judiciary for political purposes. Moreover it achieves this deflection not by presenting all of the information in its original form, which might conceivably pass as a search for truth, but by presenting selected and redacted information; i.e., spin, which does not pass as a search for truth. The protracted nature of the releases suggests an eye on income, as well as keeping the world’s attention distracted from any and everything else, like, perhaps, the next Operation Cast Lead.

It has, however, nicely positioned Assange amongst his peers.

On 30 November I sent an email to a friend in Mexico, with several concerns I had about the cables, relating to three ‘who’s – who they were being released through, who was not mentioned (Israel) and who would suffer most through the releases. My friend responded that there was no point in further communicating with me. It seemed the mere suggestion that Julian Assange might not be the Che Guevara of information liberation was reason enough for my immediate exile!

But even before Cablegate, people were questioning who was behind Wikileaks. Many experienced Wikileaks people themselves were becoming increasingly disturbed with its manner of operation, and have since bailed out.

So what’s Assange’s game?

According to him, keeping governments open by disseminating ‘public interest’ information through selected media outlets. Since beginning this piece, SCOOP has published an article by Michel Chossudovsky that makes many of the points I did about the media selected to edit the material, so I won’t repeat them – you can read them for yourself here. However, I do make a couple of additional points:

1.  In releasing the information to these ‘architects of media disinformation’ as Chossudovsky describes them, Assange is implicitly saying that we, the public, are too stupid, moronic, or ignorant to be able to assess and analyse the contents for ourselves; and/or

2.  these ‘architects of media disinformation’ must be given the opportunity to put their spin on it because God forbid we might come to our own, possibly different, conclusions; and,

3.  this spin includes presenting the cables as if everything they contain is the truth;  i.e., that what some US staffer said that a particular person in Iran or Turkey or Australia thinks/said/did is actually what that person thinks/said/did. (How many journalists have bothered to go to the supposed source, let alone subject, of any of these cables to verify the accuracy of the contents?)

One thing that tends to annoy people as much as being lied to by their governments is being patronised. (Now that’s a thought for the lionisers – make Assange the patron saint of disinformation…. you can spin that either way)

As for the claim that Assange/Wikileaks has revolutionised information-sharing, yes, we do now have available a plethora of information, some of which is very important, but most of which is nothing new, or even particularly interesting. Worse, we also have yet another player in the spoon-feeding frenzy that passes for mainstream journalism – that is, instead of vested interests and States spooning it to a lap-dog media who then spoon it to us, we now have Assange/Wikileaks forking it to the media, who are forking us – business as usual. And for some inexplicable reason we are expected to hail Assange as the objective, independent champion of freedom of information and the truth. Why? Because he says he is.

Assange’s record on these fronts is not too great. Compare his operational procedures to those of Openleaks and note the difference between ‘limitless sharing’ and selective release. Look also at objectivity and independence. Chossudovsky quotes Assange as stating that Wikileaks’ primary focus is on ‘oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.’

Which country out of all in these areas has the most United Nations Resolutions against it for breaches of international law and human rights abuses? Israel. Which country is not only almost completely absent from Cablegate, but whose Prime Minister also comes in for some flattery from Assange in the 30 November Time interview? Israel. Whose Prime Minister said the leaks were good for Israel? Israel’s! Netanyahu went so far as to say that ‘Israel had worked in advance to limit any damage from leaks’.  Reports of deals struck with Israel in Geneva don’t sound so far-fetched after all. So much for independence.

As a champion of freedom of information and open government he might have been expected to fare somewhat better. But hasn’t he just succeeded in doing the very opposite? Assange said in the Time interview that “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.”

What does he mean by ‘less efficient’… internal lockdown and balkanization is probably the most efficient method of keeping information from the public – and is exactly what we are seeing in the aftermath of the latest releases. As a strategy to increase openness, it is achieving the opposite.

And why is he so selective in which governments he keeps ‘open’? According to his ex-deputy, Assange is the only one to have the key, or password, to the Tel Aviv embassy cables relating to the 2006 Lebanon assault and the 2008-9 Gaza invasion. In fact, of some 4000 cables from the Tel Aviv embassy only 22 have seen the light of day. As Chossudovsky also noticed, Assange’s target countries could well pass for a summary of US foreign policy interests. The best indication of who or what is behind this selectivity is the omissions – they are far more telling than anything in the cables. Which is the only country to come out of Wikileaks smelling like roses? Yes, Israel.

Which leaves only the truth, and I fear we are yet to hear it.

Whether all the activists and supporters demonstrating outside courtrooms and various other localities around the world are victims of ‘sophisticated counterintelligence tactics designed to manipulate the unwitting’ is in some senses irrelevant. If they are demonstrating against the suppression of information, against governments lying to their citizens, against the persecution of whistleblowers, and against the abuse of judicial processes for political purposes, they are making valid and justified demands, all laudable goals for Wikileaks.

If they are claiming that Julian Assange is an uncorrupted example of them that is quite another – possibly very erroneous – matter.

We would all do well to keep this distinction centre-table.

It would be far easier to fully support Julian Assange if he weren’t suppressing information himself, and was demanding openness from every government, not just those he doesn’t like. It would be not only easier, but essential, to give him our total support if it were clear that he was a genuine whistleblower, and not Israel’s stooge – or even a bit of both.

Unless, and until, the Tel Aviv cables are released, we will not know. Unless, and until, Wikileak’s funding sources are as open and transparent as we demand Governments to be, we will not know.

About the only thing the evidence suggests Assange deserves unequivocal support for is as a victim of a rendition attempt by the United States, aided and abetted by Sweden.

But you don’t need me to tell you — read the links and their footnotes, and anything else you can get your hands on — and take a stab at coming to your own conclusions.  It beats being spoon-fed, or forked over.

Julie Webb-Pullman is a New Zealand based freelance writer who has reported since 2003 about - and on occasion from - Latin America and more recently, Gaza. Read other articles by Julie.

13 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on December 21st, 2010 at 9:11am #

    The last paragraph says it all! And point 3 about presenting the cables as if everything they contain is the truth is the important one. I would disagree with the author, though, in regard to the Assange quote at the beginning. I agree with him and I think that is why the internet is liar’s paradise, a huge disinformation machine. A few professional propagandists (or even one, hiding behind several different identities) jump in quickly at the start of the debate to set the tone, whereupon the “useful idiots” chime in and, of course, don’t want to appear to be out of sync with the “prevailing viewpoint”. “I am a leftist. Tell me what leftists are supposed to think so that I can think it too”, so to speak! At that point, anyone sufficiently lacking in scruple can manipulate the public debate. But as Ms Webb-Pullman says, take a stab at coming to your own conclusions!

  2. lichen said on December 21st, 2010 at 2:57pm #

    This article is very typical of the imperialist-feminist nonsense that many women are spreading against Assange and wikileaks. These right-wingers are so fired up over the allegations that he didn’t use a condom or call back the cuban exile cia plant that they lash out at wikileaks with idiotic conspiracy theories.

  3. shabnam said on December 21st, 2010 at 3:19pm #

    Now, due to release of the ‘secret’ information, we are able to tell:

    Assange didn’t use a condom when he was….. What was the reason?

    Was he in hurry not to ‘leak’ the ‘secret’ cables related to Israeli’s crime against humanity? This question can be answered only by Mossad.

  4. Deadbeat said on December 21st, 2010 at 5:46pm #

    I don’t know what lichen is talking about as Assange use of a condom is not even mentioned by the author. What this article is about is the lack of journalistic integrity and the failure to vet WikiLeaks. For example Michael Moore who supports Assange now finds himself correcting the record regarding misinformation from one of the WikiLeaks’ leak. The story was ran as “factual” by the The Guardian and failed to vet the information.

    Thus this demonstrates that the WikiLeaks information cannot be taken on face value and needs to be vetted before it can be taken as “gospel”. This affirms my critique of Amy Goodman on DN! who ran with the ALLEGED remarks of the Saudi King that was published in The New York Times an outfit who published Judith Miller’s LIES leading to the Iraq War.

    WikiLeaks is being hailed by the pseudo-Left but when they released the emails refuting “Climate Change” the were no accolades for WikiLeaks by the pseudo-Left. Thus once again exposes the pseudo-Left as part of the deception.

  5. lichen said on December 21st, 2010 at 6:24pm #

    You’re right deadbeat, the Saudi king is actually a great person, who would never mirror the ideals of his sponsor countries, or engage in any repression or killing. How dare wikileaks defame such a legendary icon of leftist government?

  6. lichen said on December 21st, 2010 at 6:26pm #

    And why didn’t the cuban exile woman not use a female condom when having sex? Only the cia can answer that….

  7. Deadbeat said on December 21st, 2010 at 8:57pm #

    So lichen you obviously vetted the WikiLeaks story. I’d say then that you are a much more reliable source than The New York Times.

  8. corneilius said on December 22nd, 2010 at 1:42pm #

    “In releasing the information to these ‘architects of media disinformation’ as Chossudovsky describes them, Assange is implicitly saying that we, the public, are too stupid, moronic, or ignorant to be able to assess and analyse the contents for ourselves”

    erm… Assange is on the record a number of times as saying that he had hoped that the on-line public would take up the data and run their own open source analyes, and combine their insights to build a better picture of what the data REALLY MEANS.

    I agree that lionising or demonising Assange is a diversion. I see no hero here. And no need for a hero, much less a martyr.

    I am currently working on the few Vatican cables released thus far to eludicate the layers of self-deception, denial and propaganda that permeates the worldwide clerical abuse of children in Residential School Systems.

    I wrote recently that the reporting of the cable that mentioned ‘pressure’ applied on the part of the Irish Government should be seen in context : both the Irish Government (or State) and The Vatican are equally liable /culpable with regard to the culture that permitted such widespread abuses, and the ensueing cover-up once Surviuvors started bringing their evidence into the public domain.

    Damage Limitation by two equally culpable parties.

    The Irish Government and The Vatican made a deal with each other, that effectively ring-fenced their civil liabilities by setting up a Redress Fund which also delayed and obstructed criminal prosecutions against known abusers and the operatives of the cover-up. Whilst the Redress process was ongoing……

    It serves both if The Vatican were to mention to a US diplomat, and any other less than critically aware dignatories and reporters that ‘pressure’ was experienced from the Irish Government (not known for their back-bone). It makes the Irish Government look good. “We tried our best!” And the Vatican can state yet again the lie of it’s status as a Sovereign State as a an incontrovertible fact of life. And thus protect The Pope’s immunity, and by extention, the Vatican.

    Reporting that particular cable as is without analysis of the history and context, unwttingly (?) achieved the aims of both GOI and The Vatican.

    To imagine that the kinds of well organised and profoundly manipulative people that typify Governance, Secular and Religious, do not sit down and work through the details and layers of their deceit, based upon many years of almost scientific research, in some detail, before hand (which most media, typically, do NOT imagine) is naive at best.

    But it would take a Survivor to make those connections, to tease out the psychology between the lines (and lies).

    And there are many, many Survivors of all kinds of State abuses whose voices have rarely ever entered into the mainstream public discourse, whose insight is deep, whose very survival is profound strength and who have much to offer in terms of how to deal with the abusers, and how to prevent further abuse.

    They are excluded because the elephant they see in the room is the very psyche of the Society, and threatens everyone who has managed to find a niche within that Society.

    The existence of WIKI LEAKS without the rest of us doing the work of engaging with the data, and running our own analyses, is pointless – Assange knows that.

    When will the rest of the ‘activista’ community get it?

  9. beverly said on December 22nd, 2010 at 8:35pm #

    Regardless of Assange’s motives, it is a good thing this info got published. The mainstream media abdicated it’s job eons ago. Without Wikileaks and related muckrakers the govt will continue its bamboozlement, exploitation, and pillaging of the people. Like any info received, one must consider the source, content, etc. I’m sure Assange’s/Wikileaks’ motive or agenda is no more suspect than our or any other govt’s.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 24th, 2010 at 4:25am #

    Assange was quoted, on ABC News Radio, this week, saying that he was being persecuted ‘ Jews in the US in the 1950s’. Jews? Not African-Americans still living under Jim Crow, or Leftists persecuted by the McCarthyites, but Jews? I know that there was still a good deal of prejudice against Jews then, but persecution? I’m beginning to smell a big, fat, Zionist rat. I wondered why no leaks pertaining to the Holy State had emerged, and put it down to the corrupt and unprincipled Western media.

  11. mary said on December 26th, 2010 at 2:49am #

    Assange has signed two book deals worth £1.1million.

    This is the link to the Sicko/Cuba cable that Moore said was false.

  12. rosemarie jackowski said on December 26th, 2010 at 11:40am #

    It never fails that someone who accomplishes an admirable goal – gets beaten up by the left/right and middle. I think about Cindy Sheehan who received criticism from a few on the left.

    I, for one, don’t care about Assange’s motives. I don’t care about his sex life. I care about the millions of innocent civilians killed by the US.

    From the moment that I saw “Collateral Murder” I felt a deep sence of gratitude to Assange and Manning (if he helped) and anyone else who exposes war crimes – and a deep sence of shame for the other citizens who trivialize the atrocities.

    I don’t understand why there is not a strong, unified effort to free Manning and protect Assange. What the hell is wrong with some of you out there?

  13. rosemarie jackowski said on December 26th, 2010 at 11:48am #

    P.S. Where is the outrage. Anyone remember the many other political prisoners such as Lynne Stewart…