The Blast Shack: Part 2

Bruce Sterling has written a follow-up to his 2010 essay on Wikileaks. Here are a few of my favorite snippets:

The War on Terror has failed as conclusively as Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations failed.

Even US Senators are decorative objects for the NSA. An American Senator knows as much about PRISM and XKeyScore as a troll-doll on the dashboard knows about internal combustion.

The authorities finally got around to convicting Bradley this week, of some randomized set of largely irrelevant charges. But the damage there is already done; some to Bradley himself, but mostly grave, lasting damage to the authorities. By maltreating Bradley as their Guantanamo voodoo creature, their mystic hacker terror beast from AlQaedaville, Oklahoma, they made Bradley Manning fifty feet high.

It’s incredible to me that, among the eight zillion civil society groups on the planet that hate and fear spooks and police spies, not one of them could offer Snowden one shred of practical help, except for Wikileaks.

Personal computers can have users, but social media has livestock.

“New media landscape”

Clay Shirky thinks the media has failed to appreciate the full significance of WikiLeaks:

“WikiLeaks allows leakers transnational escape from national controls. Now, and from now on, a leaker with domestic secrets has no need of the domestic press, and indeed will avoid leaking directly to them if possible, to escape national pressure on national publishers to keep national secrets.

WikiLeaks has not been a series of unfortunate events, and Assange is not a magician – he is simply an early and brilliant executor of what is being revealed as a much more general pattern, now spreading.

The state will fight back, of course. They will improve their controls on secrets, raise surveillance and punishment of possible leakers, try to negotiate multilateral media controls. But even then, the net change is likely to be advantageous to the leakers – less free than today, perhaps, but more free than prior to 2006. Assange has claimed, when the history of statecraft of the era is written, that it will be divided into pre- and post-WikiLeaks periods. This claim is grandiose and premature; it is not, however, obviously wrong.”

The Blast Shack (Bruce Sterling on WikiLeaks)

I think my first exposure to Bruce Sterling was The Hacker Crackdown (1992). Some years later, I read and enjoyed Distraction (“the story of an America on the skids: economy in tatters, dollar collapsed, unemployment spiked, population on the move in great, restless herds bound together with networks and bootleg phones.”)

He has written the best essay I’ve read on WikiLeaks (The Blast Shack). A few excerpts:

(Bradley Manning’s) war made no sense on its face, because it was carried out in a headlong pursuit of imaginary engines of mass destruction.

Bradley’s gonna become a “spy” whose “espionage” consisted of making the activities of a democratic government visible to its voting population

Trying Assange is “the kind of show-trial judo every repressive government fears.”

Everybody wants everybody else’s national government to leak. Every state wants to see the diplomatic cables of every other state. It will bend heaven and earth to get them. It’s just, that sacred activity is not supposed to be privatized, or, worse yet, made into the no-profit, shareable, have-at-it fodder for a network society, as if global diplomacy were so many mp3s. Now the US State Department has walked down the thorny road to hell that was first paved by the music industry. Rock and roll, baby.

(Assange is) a darkside hacker who is a self-appointed, self-anointed, self-educated global dissident. He’s a one-man Polish Solidarity, waiting for the population to accrete around his stirring propaganda of the deed.

(Assange is ) just what he is; he’s something we don’t yet have words for.

If the Internet was walking around in public, it would look and act a lot like Julian Assange. The Internet is about his age, and it doesn’t have any more care for the delicacies of profit, propriety and hierarchy than he does

American diplomats are gonna read those stolen cables, though, because they were supposed to read them anyway, even though they didn’t. Now, they’ve got to read them, with great care, because they might get blindsided otherwise by some wisecrack that they typed up years ago

Diplomats are people who speak from nation to nation. They personify nations, and nations are brutal, savage, feral entities. Diplomats used to have something in the way of an international community, until the Americans decided to unilaterally abandon that in pursuit of Bradley Manning’s oil war. Now nations are so badly off that they can’t even get it together to coherently tackle heroin, hydrogen bombs, global warming and financial collapse. Not to mention the Internet.

You don’t have to be a citizen of this wracked and threadbare superpower in order to sense the pervasive melancholy of an empire in decline.

Julian Assange is “the kind of guy who gets depressed by the happiness of the stupid.”

Live with the WikiLeakable world or shut down the net. It’s your choice

“What WikiLeaks is really exposing is the extent to which the western democratic system has been hollowed out. In the last decade its political elites have been shown to be incompetent (Ireland, the US and UK in not regulating banks); corrupt (all governments in relation to the arms trade); or recklessly militaristic (the US and UK in Iraq). And yet nowhere have they been called to account in any effective way. Instead they have obfuscated, lied or blustered their way through. And when, finally, the veil of secrecy is lifted, their reflex reaction is to kill the messenger” — via

The chickens just called. They’re running late but will be back at the roost shortly.

Just “get the bloody story”

“Yet journalism’s stock-in-trade is disclosure. As we have seen this week with WikiLeaks, power loathes truth revealed. Disclosure is messy and tests moral and legal boundaries. It is often irresponsible and usually embarrassing. But it is all that is left when regulation does nothing, politicians are cowed, lawyers fall silent and audit is polluted. Accountability can only default to disclosure. As Jefferson remarked, the press is the last best hope when democratic oversight fails, as it does in the case of most international bodies.”“The great American editor Oz Elliott once lectured graduates at the Columbia School of Journalism on their sacred duty to democracy as the unofficial legislators of mankind. He asked me what I thought of it. I said it was no good to me: I was trained as a reptile lurking in the gutter whose sole job was to “get the bloody story.”


Dave Winer on Wikileaks

“Once the distribution is underway the only way to shut it down will be to shut down the Internet itself. Politicians should be aware that these are the stakes. They either get used operating in the open, where the people they’re governing are in on everything they do, or they go totalitarian, around the globe, now.” — via scripting.comI wonder if the politicians realize those are their options.

“In future the only secrets will be spoken ones.”

The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins argues the job of the media is not to protect the powerful from embarrassment. “It is for governments – not journalists – to guard public secrets, and there is no national jeopardy in WikiLeaks’ revelations”

“If American spies are breaking United Nations rules by seeking the DNA biometrics of the UN director general, he is entitled to hear of it. British voters should know what Afghan leaders thought of British troops. American (and British) taxpayers might question, too, how most of the billions of dollars going in aid to Afghanistan simply exits the country at Kabul airport.”

“The money‑wasting is staggering. Aid payments are never followed, never audited, never evaluated. The impression is of the world’s superpower roaming helpless in a world in which nobody behaves as bidden. Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, the United Nations, are all perpetually off script. Washington reacts like a wounded bear, its instincts imperial but its power projection unproductive.”

I particularly liked the line, “An electronic secred is a contradiction in terms.”