With email dumps, WikiLeaks tests power of full transparency
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange first outlined the hypothesis nearly a decade ago: Can total transparency defeat an entrenched group of insiders?
“Consider what would happen,” Assange wrote in 2006, if one of America’s two major parties had their emails, faxes, campaign briefings, internal polls and donor data all exposed to public scrutiny. “They would immediately fall into an organizational stupor,” he had predicted, “and lose to the other.”
A decade later, various organs of the Democratic Party have been hacked; several staffers have resigned and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has seen the inner workings of her campaign exposed to the public, including disclosures calling into question her positions on trade and Wall Street and her relationship with the party’s left . Many of these emails have been released into the public domain by WikiLeaks.
Some see the leaks as a sign that Assange has thrown his lot in with Republican rival Donald Trump or even with Russia.
But others who’ve followed Assange over the years say he’s less interested in who wins high office than in exposing and wearing down the gears of political power that grind away behind the scenes.
“He tends not to think about people, he thinks about systems,” said Finn Brunton, an assistant professor at New York University who has tracked WikiLeaks for years. “What he wants to do is interfere with the machinery of government regardless of who is in charge.”
WikiLeaks’ mission was foreshadowed 10 years ago in “Conspiracy as Governance,” a six-page essay Assange posted to his now-defunct blog.
In the essay, Assange described authoritarian governments, corporations, terrorist organizations and political parties as “conspiracies” groups that hoard secret information to win a competitive advantage over the general public.
Leaks cut these groups open like a double-edged knife, empowering the public with privileged information while spreading confusion among the conspirators themselves, he said. If leaking were made easy, Assange argued, conspiratorial organizations would be gripped by paranoia, leaving transparent groups to flourish.
When the group published 250,000 U.S. State Department cables in 2010, it helped launch a multimillion dollar quest to unmask insider threats at home while causing problems for U.S. diplomats overseas. The recent leaks have affected the Democratic National Committee in much the same way, with staffers advised to use caution when communicating about sensitive topics.
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