The Strategy of WikiLeaks

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Ezra Klein on the likely consequences of WikiLeaking:

Assange isn’t whistleblowing or leaking. Both of those are targeted acts focused on an identified wrongdoing or event. He’s simply taking the private and making it public, with relatively little in the way of discrimination. If he’s really effective, the likely outcome won’t be that people know more, but that they know less, as major institutions — both public and private — will stop sharing their information so widely internally and stop writing so much of it down. That means decision-makers will know less, bureaucrats and managers will know less, reporters will know less, historians will know less, and so on. Assange may think his target is the U.S. government, or Goldman Sachs. But at the end of the day, there will still be governments and there will still be banks. What Assange is really doing is turning them against electronic text, file storage and large internal networks.

I think that’s essentially correct. But as zunguzungu explains in a excellent WikiLeaks-sympathetic post this is likely Julian Assange’s actual strategy and not some failure on his part. The post is longish and worth reading, but I think this is the key excerpt:

[H]is underlying insight is simple and, I think, compelling: while an organization structured by direct and open lines of communication will be much more vulnerable to outside penetration, the more opaque it becomes to itself (as a defense against the outside gaze), the less able it will be to “think” as a system, to communicate with itself. The more conspiratorial it becomes, in a certain sense, the less effective it will be as a conspiracy. The more closed the network is to outside intrusion, the less able it is to engage with that which is outside itself (true hacker theorizing).

The short-term consequence of random but massive leaking of an organization’s internal communications will be more information and more disclosure. But the response will be tighter control over information, and even less disclosure. The key turn here, however, is that the more an institution is focused on clamping down on the internal dissemination of information (in order to prevent leaks) the less effective that institution will be. So if you have a radical critique of the American national security state (as Assange certainly seems to) the bug Klein is pointing to starts to look like a feature.