Bruce Sterling on Wikileaks and the future of dissidents

Illustration for article titled Bruce Sterling on Wikileaks and the future of dissidents

Bruce Sterling is known as a prescient futurist, a brilliant science fiction author, and the author of a seminal history of hacking called The Hacker Crackdown. Now he's published a manifesto about why Wikileaks was inevitable.

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Over on the Webstock site, Sterling writes:

US diplomats used to know what to do with dissidents in other nations. If they were communists they got briskly repressed, but if they had anything like a free-market outlook, then US diplomats had a whole arsenal of gentle and supportive measures; Radio Free Europe, publication in the West, awards, foreign travel, flattery, moral support; discreet things, in a word, but exceedingly useful things. Now they're harassing Julian by turning those tools backwards.

For a US diplomat, Assange is like some digitized nightmare-reversal of a kindly Cold War analog dissident. He read the dissident playbook and he downloaded it as a textfile; but, in fact, Julian doesn't care about the USA. It's just another obnoxious national entity. He happens to be more or less Australian, and he's no great enemy of America. If he'd had the chance to leak Australian cables he would have leapt on that with the alacrity he did on Kenya. Of course, when Assange did it that to meager little Kenya, all the grown-ups thought that was groovy; he had to hack a superpower in order to touch the third rail.

But the American diplomatic corps, and all it thinks it represents, is just collateral damage between Assange and his goal. He aspires to his transparent crypto-utopia in the way George Bush aspired to imaginary weapons of mass destruction. And the American diplomatic corps are so many Iraqis in that crusade. They're the civilian casualties.

As a novelist, you gotta like the deep and dark irony here. As somebody attempting to live on a troubled world… I dunno. It makes one want to call up the Red Cross and volunteer to fund planetary tranquilizers.

This is an amazing article, which delves deeply into the history of cyber-dissident politics and political hackers to explain where Wikileaks fits into the broader history of high-tech dissent. I highly recommend you read the whole thing, via Webstock.

DISCUSSION

laconic-old
Laconic

Unfortunately, in the short run leak sites won't drive governments towards a more open system but rather they will put even more information behind ever higher levels of clearance. Managed by fanatical loyalists and protected by the most sever non-disclosure agreements.

Wiki-leaks shot itself in the foot with the State Department cables. Even most of the Iraq and Afghan documents were old news. If you follow these kinds of things there was nothing new discovered from either leak.

What did happen is that a lot of people got directly named analysts and global leader a like. The political deniability for many of our partner nations (remarkably many actually working towards good, common causes) was totally blown. Diplomacy has to have some degree of confidentiality.

Hopefully positive change comes from this but I'm not holding my breath. Though Openleaks seems to have a much better game plan and without an attention whore at the helm.