“I believe geopolitics will be divided between pre- and post-Cablegate.”
– Julian Assange
In December of 2010, after releasing secret US diplomatic cables, Wikileaks was subject to widespread, extralegal repression by corporations and governments, particularly the US government. This repression was shocking to many techies, journalists, civil libertarians, and other defenders of free speech on the internet. Much of the commentary showed a newfound awareness and suspicion of “the state.” I myself had slowly drifted from radical to more liberal over the last few years, but was rudely re-radicalized in early December 2010 by the nakedness of the repression. Many others, especially programmers and other techies, were radicalized by those events.
Wikileaks was started several years ago to provide a way for whistleblowers to leak both corporate and governmental information of public importance in a safe, untraceable way. Wikileaks would verify the information and then publish it. By 2008, Wikileaks was officially considered an enemy of the US military – as we know by an Army Counterintelligence Center document leaked to (and published by) Wikileaks!
Wikileaks has produced the video “Collateral Murder” which shows a US helicopter crew engaged in multiple war crimes, including the murder of a wounded Reuters journalist and civilians coming to his aid as he crawled in the gutter. Wikileaks also published the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Logs, extremely detailed reports from the ground of those wars, which showed among other things that the military had been keeping track of civilian casualties in Iraq and that the numbers are higher than previously believed.
In late November, Wikileaks with four partner newspapers began publishing part of a cache of 250,000 US diplomatic cables. This came to be known as “Cablegate.” In many cases, the cables were not new information, but they provided confirmation of various crimes and deceits of the US and other governments. Having been written by US diplomats, they are “authentic” and suitable for mainstream news in a way that the work of someone like Noam Chomsky is not. It was immediately after Cablegate that the repression began in earnest: its website was attacked; its DNS provider stopped service; Amazon, its web service provider, kicked them off; and Paypal, Mastercard, and Visa all prevented people from making donations. (Visa and Mastercard will still take donations for the KKK, no problem.) There were calls for assassination and trials for treason (for non-citizens!) by US politicians and pundits.
The ruling class was clearly panicking. Wikileaks had brought to light a trend of the last several years – that the internet limits their ability to control information and leaks of this kind, and that broad masses of people are ready to mirror and distribute evidence of their crimes. Cablegate made many people aware of this quite suddenly – and the shock of this realization is one reason that the US ruling class reacted as harshly as they did. But even if they succeed in killing Wikileaks, the idea of Wikileaks is out – and being incorporated into people’s everyday expectations of the internet. When Egyptians broke into the offices of Amn Dawla (State Security), they stole thousands of documents – and immediately put them on the internet.
The cables themselves, as well as the repression of Wikileaks, are potent organizing tools to educate ordinary people and activists about the nature of US imperialism. The cables focused attention on the blatant misbehaviour of the state and the United States government’s obsession with the “national interest” above its alleged concerns about “human rights” and “democracy.” While this has not been addressed so directly in mainstream media, it is evident in the discourse of various subgroups – nationalists from Germany to Pakistan, environmentalists, activists against the copyright industries, and true activists for human rights and democracy – who can see in various cables how the US has acted against them.
I see in Cablegate a huge opportunity for anarchists and other radicals to educate, radicalize, and organize newly pissed off people. I also see a responsibility for us to organize to defend and expand the internet freedoms that give us more power versus the state – check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation ( eff.org ) and various grassroots efforts. I also think it is paramount that we defend Bradley Manning, who allegedly leaked all of this wonderful information to us (see other article).
“The real ‘insurgency’ is the one being fought at home. To the state, every defiant citizen is a terrorist, in mind if not in practice. Wikileaks helps us make one thing clear: we will not enter this battle unarmed.”
– Maximilian Forte