Julian Assange has lost the plot—or has he? The answer depends on what the founder of Wikileaks is truly hoping to achieve with his online whistle-blowing website. If it is as he declares ‘…to enable and empower citizens to bring feared and corrupt governments and corporations to justice,’ then Assange has strayed very far from his original mission. The only people ‘empowered’ by Wikileaks’ latest publication of facilities vital to US security are terrorists who can now access a list of strategic targets at a keystroke.
I am a passionate proponent of free speech, especially when it aims to expose corporate fraud and government lies. But far from strengthening democratic institutions through transparency, Wikileaks’ publication of classified US State Department and military communications threatens to tear them down. That is not, as Assange would put it ‘principled leaking’ to ‘lead us to a better future’. It is anarchism.
Anarchists do not care if they endanger individuals such as soldiers serving on the frontlines of Afghanistan. They don’t care if they threaten global security by castrating diplomacy and forcing nations into potentially violent confrontations. The anarchist cares about one thing only; unleashing political and social chaos by abolishing all forms of government.
It is entirely possible that Julian Assange does not fully understand the information he’s been given (military documents are often misinterpreted by laymen). He may not appreciate the potential fallout of his actions. But whether deliberate or not, Assange is now, in my view, the ultimate anarchist. We’ve come to think of anarchist as trouble-makers who infiltrate peaceful social demonstrations, overturn cars, light tyres on fire and hurl Molotov cocktails at riot police. Migrate the scenario online however and you come up with something that looks an awful lot like Assange. A provocateur infiltrates the peaceful world of activist journalism and proceeds to lob eMolotovs in the form of indiscriminate document dumps.
So how do you deal with online anarchists? First of all, you do not give them what they want by cracking down on free speech—the cornerstone of every functioning democracy. Legitimate journalists, like legitimate peace activists should not be tarred with the Wikileaks brush. Instead of crippling institutions, law makers would be wise to strengthen security protocols surrounding the handling and movement of classified material. Vastly improving the vetting and management of all persons with access to sensitive documents would be a good start. Sooner or later though, governments will have to come to terms with the fact that anything written or stored in digital form is vulnerable to wide-scale dissemination. If you don’t want the likes of Assange stirring up trouble, dust off the old typewriters and carbon paper and start making hardcopies in triplicate.