Thursday, January 26, 2017

WikiLeaks, Google and the US Empire
January 23, 2017
Opinion & Analysis
Stanely Mushava
Literature Today

As Barack Obama goes home to write his memoirs, he will be confronted by two starkly contrasting images of his White House tenure. With supporters sacrilegiously branding him a modern saint comparable to Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jnr, he will be easily inducted into the circle of liberal figureheads. This narrative will be amplified by a Nobel Peace Prize and his pious eloquence, riffing on liberal aphorisms and evoking John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln, great orators in the presidential tradition.

Parting endearments from pliant echo chambers and a lucky antithesis in his rough and ready, politically incorrect successor, Donald Trump, will be useful plug-ins for Obama’s PR toolkit.

But the 44th US president would have gotten away with this crisp and picture-perfect persona, if it was not singularly caked with the blood of innocents, from inherited trouble spots to Aleppo and Tripoli.

Obama’s illiberal chokehold on the media will also awkwardly juxtapose his Twittergenic, pop-conversant fresh prince profile.

But the man who will decisively deny him the privilege of filing his candidature for canonisation is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Scarcely a year after the Nobel laureateship, the foremost bogeyman of the subversive web showed up and proved a smoke in the nostrils for the rest of the Obama administration.

In April 2010, the guerrilla publishing outfit released “Collateral Murder”, a video showing the indiscriminate shooting of civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in Iraq by US soldiers.

WikiLeaks’ subsequent war on secrecy pre-eminently feature the War Logs and Cablegate, wholesale leaks of classified documents exposing the US’ imperial conspiracies and invasive stratagems before and under Obama.

For Obama, constructing a monument will require coming to terms with these Oval Office skeletons but he will be only a player in a US drama series involving a Santa Claus-benevolent policeman front and a creepy, murderous backstage.

In 2011, while Assange was under house arrest in the UK, fighting extradition to Sweden where he faces sexual assault allegations, he was visited by Google executive Eric Schmidt, Google Ideas director Jared Cohen, Council of Foreign Relations vice president Lisa Shields and book editor Scott Malcolmson.

Schmidt and Cohen were co-authoring a book imagining the future of the internet, subsequently published in 2013 as “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business”.

Assange naturally blended into the subversive end of the scenario mapping so the writerly duo from Silicon Valley solicited his views for the project.

The book came out when Assange was a refugee at the Ecuadorian embassy in London under police surveillance, blocked from safe passage out of the UK which intends to arrest him for breaching his bail conditions if he leaves the embassy.

Assange claims the allegations were politically orchestrated and fears Sweden will give him up to the US where he could be sentenced to death.

He had to be brought Schmidt and Cohen’s book at the embassy and disapprovingly browsed through reviews on the internet.

“Online I noticed the press hum excitedly about Schmidt and Cohen’s book, giddily ignoring the explicit digital imperialism of the title and the conspicuous string of pre-publication endorsements from famous warmongers like Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger, Bill Hayden and Madeleine Albright on the back,” Assange writes.

But the basis of Assange’s “guilt by association” dissent is more than the infamous names volunteering advance praise for the book. It is how technology is allegedly embedding itself into the US’ imperialist machinery.

Questioning Google’s proximity with official Washington, disputing the core arguments of “The New Digital Age” and how he is represented in it, Assange counter with “When Google Met WikiLeaks” published by OR Books in 2014.

The book features a prefatory section, a review of Schmidt and Cohen’s book originally published by New York Times, a full transcript of the Google-WikiLeaks interview, a comparison between the Google book and the interview and a timeline of the US WikiLeaks duel.

Assange not only accuses Google of cropping out as the digital tentacle of an imperialist octopus but raps the scholarship of “The New Digital Age” as a fawning rehash of Francis Fukuyama, Henry Kissinger and US foreign policy orthodoxies.

He reads the book a Google’s advertent confession of positioning itself to fulfill, on an amplified scale, George Orwell’s prophecy of the surveillance state in “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, even as it resiliently brands itself as an agent of progress.

Assange sees Google’s vision as fundamentally contrasting with his own idea of free internet.

“And at the level of symbolism, the discussion sees two different futures of the internet in conversation with each other: the one, a pervasive internet of centralised corporate governance; and the other, a vibrant, decentralised internet, fit for the emancipation of human history and human beings,” he writes.

At the immediate level, however, the interview cannot be strictly taken as an ideological juxtaposition of Google and WikiLeaks as the design was to solicit Assange’s opinions instead of a dialogue. The Google duo laid out their own opinions in their book which one needs to read in order to make a fair comparison.

There is a lot of computer jargon in some of the sections but Assange meticulously footnotes each point, in some cases having a larger slot for footnotes than for the text.

Setting forth the ideas behind his guerrilla publishing outfit Assange argues that human civilisation is built on our intellectual record, hence the obligation to make that record as large as possible, easily navigable, and resistant to censorship.

He also makes a case for scientific journalism whereby reports are consistently referenced, thereby forestalling the danger of creating narratives out of prejudice.

Assange argues that leaks drag out for democratic scrutiny organisations that secretly engage in acts which the public does not support.

The organisations are bound to produce incriminating material if they wish to remain efficient because a civilian leader, for example, cannot go down to whisper directives to the coalface in Baghdad.

The possibility of leaks forces to relent from misanthropic activities, since the required documentation that may open them up for public opposition. Without documentation, bureaucratic processes slow down and they are weakened through inefficiency.

Assange also points out that complexity is a form of censorship as in the case of financial opacity where offshore havens are open in theory but tangled in complicated processes.

He calls out as incestuous proximity a classified programme giving the NSA access to the private servers of a group of major internet services companies including Google, Microsoft, Skype, Facebook and Apple.

The PRISM program, revealed by exiled whistle-blower Edward Snowden, opens up potentially global shelf space for the surveillance state. Assange also comes out against discreet requests by US intelligence services for technology behemoths such us Google to give up users’ information.

He highlights a particularly creepy passage in “The New Digital Future” in which the Google duo envisions the possibility of technology helping to nurture activists and leaders, particularly in developing countries.

According to Schmidt and Cohen, the prospective activist’s speeches and writing will be fed “through complex feature-extraction and trend-analysis software suites” while “mapping his brain function”, and other “sophisticated diagnostics” will be used to “assess the weak parts of his political repertoire”.

Assange implicates the technology behemoth, through its Google Ideas front, of being already involved in the US’ discreet planting and nurturing of such handheld, jumping-jack activists.

It is a future that reads like science fiction but then it seems everything is possible through technology.

A swelling coterie of political economists see capitalism as having decisively reincarnated into digital technology and say the great questions of the day will be fought on that turf.

In “People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and Citizenless Democracy”, Robert McChesney and John Nichols cite the Google chairperson’s chilling 2014 World Economic Forum speech.

Schmidt “acknowledged that due to rapid advances in technology, including some of the projects Google was working on, countless middle-class jobs that had seemed beyond the reach of computers and automation were going to be at risk in the near future.

“More and more middle-class workers were going to lose their jobs and there was little on the horizon to suggest there would be new jobs for them. This would be, according to Schmidt, the ‘defining’ issue of the next two to three decades,” the duo writes.

It may be time to put the invasive presence of the internet and its geopolitical and capitalistic connections up for democratic scrutiny.>

No comments: