Hands off Assange
US imperialism's attempts to shut down Wikileaks must be defeated, argues Eddie Ford
Julian Assange, the founder and leading figurehead of Wikileaks, was on December 7 locked up in HMP Wandsworth - one of Britain’s most notoriously overcrowded and brutal prisons. Believed to be held in a vulnerable prisoners unit, primarily reserved for those convicted of crimes like rape or child sexual abuse, Assange was remanded in custody after being denied bail by Westminster magistrates court in connection with alleged “sex crimes” in Sweden.
His lack of a permanent address, having initially identified a post office box in Australia as his home, and “nomadic” lifestyle were cited by the judge as factors in denying him bail. Assange will come back to court for a full hearing on December 14. The suspicion, or fear, is that the British legal authorities will extradite him to Sweden - which issued a European arrest warrant for Assange on December 6 - and from there he will eventually be extradited to America, where he will face a gamut of espionage-related charges totally unconnected to the original allegations that led to his detention. Stitched-up like a kipper, you could say.
Of course, following the Wikileaks publication of 251,287 secret - and hugely embarrassing - US embassy cables, there has been a concerted effort to smear and vilify its central spokesperson. Self-evidently, this is part of a campaign by imperialism and its stooges in the corporate mass media to smother, mute and eventually close down Wikileaks - and, indeed, all other such independent outlets. This is not to resort to fanciful conspiracy theories, but rather just to state an obvious political reality, regardless of the swirling minutiae that surrounds these events or the exact nature of Assange’s character or conduct. Without doubt, the nature and timing of his arrest could not be more beneficial for imperialism and the political establishment as a whole - revenge at last?
So when Wikileaks released this enormous batch of diplomatic cables on November 28, it was immediately denounced by Hillary Clinton for launching a Pearl Harbour-like “attack on the international community” - that is, exposing the whole dirty business of clandestine diplomacy and state secrets that underpins imperialist-dominated international relations. Angry US officials declared that “criminal investigations” were ongoing against Wikileaks - there was even the suggestion that it be branded a “foreign terrorist organisation” and dealt with according. A viewpoint aggressively espoused by the crackpot, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate and Young Earth creationist, who demanded that Assange be “pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qa’eda and Taliban leaders”. Clearly, Julian Assange was becoming public enemy number one.
The fury directed against Wikileaks intensified when it published yet more revelations. Thus on December 6 it disclosed a US state department cable from February 2009 asking its officials around the world to update a list of key sites - the loss of which “could critically impact” upon its ability to act as the world’s policeman. This imperialist global supply chain or infrastructure includes undersea cables, key communication centres, ports, mineral resources, firms and businesses of “strategic importance” in countries all over the world, and so on. This list, it has to be noted, is not of military facilities - whether previously known or unknown. Therefore, for example, you will not find any mention of somewhere like Diego Garcia, the US military base built on land leased from the UK in the middle of the Indian Ocean, which has proved so critical for the recent conflict in Afghanistan. Rather you get to know about the network of cables that lie on the ocean bed - linking up the American continent across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand, Australia and US allies in Asia. Similarly, with regards to the European coastline, it is the cables that reach from the UK and Ireland northwards and stretch across to the US and Canada that are supposedly a source of grave concern to the US government.
Interestingly, as Wikileaks makes clear, this concern extends to a long list of pharmaceutical and medical organisations in Europe that are deemed to be of “vital importance” - such as those who manufacture Tamiflu and typhoid vaccines in Switzerland, anti-snake bite venom in Italy, foot and mouth vaccines in the UK, and numerous drugs-making sites in Germany: indicating a considerable interest or concern about biological warfare.
Then the next day - maybe better to be hanged for a sheep than for a goat - Wikileaks released documents showing that in January of this year the US and Nato drew up plans (code-name ‘Eagle Guardian’) to extend its existing strategy of ‘defending’ Poland from any resurgent Russian threat by further incorporating the Baltic states into its military chain of command. In other words, revive the old cold war foreign policy of containment. The nine Nato divisions involved would be American, British, German and Polish, and the “expansion was formally submitted to allies for decision under a silence procedure” - which is to say that the military plans should not be discussed publicly, as that might lead to an “unnecessary increase” in tensions between Nato and Russia. Another cable quotes a senior Polish official hoping that his country would eventually receive fully operational missiles from the US, as opposed to what he called the “potted plants” they normally get.
‘Lives at risk’
Giving voice to imperialist dismay, the former UK foreign secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, described Wikileaks’ decision to publish this new round of material as “verging on the criminal” - indeed, virtual treachery, responsible for putting “people’s lives at risk”. In its own defence, Wikileaks pointed out that specific details from the secret list, such as the actual names and locations of the key sites, had been carefully removed.
But, of course, that in no way diminished the seething resentment felt towards Wikileaks by the pro-imperialist establishment and its media. Even the ‘leftwing’ Guardian expressed its disapproval, obviously feeling that Wikileaks had just gone too far and violated the rules of the game. So we read that “without secret communication there could be no meaningful diplomacy and textured communication between countries”, which is why the paper sympathises with those who had argued “persuasively” that the US government “should openly use the law against Wikileaks and others rather than muscle” - brain, not brawn, is preferred, it seems - as “we work through the process democracies always go through” when confronted by new technology (December 8).
Hating the fact that its underhand diplomacy and political double-dealings were coming under a bright searchlight, elements within the imperialist elite clearly want to ‘take out’ Wikileaks. Hence on December 3, Wikileaks came under a massive and obviously well planned ‘distributed denial-of-service’ (DDOS) attacks - equivalent to jamming the switchboard by making near countless requests for information, effectively making the site inaccessible. However, identifying the actual source of such DDOS sabotage is notoriously difficult, because the attack itself is mounted by tens or hundreds of thousands of computers - or “bots” - that have been commandeered without their owners’ consent, through the use of a computer virus programmed for such a purpose. Hacking as the continuation of politics by other means.
But there are also thoroughly legal ways to pursue the same objective of silencing Wikileaks. So its website temporarily went down after being booted off by Amazon, which was hosting Wikileaks on its EC2 cloud computer network. Naturally, Amazon denied caving in to political pressure, declaring that its “terms of service” state you must “represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all the rights to the content” - and that it was “clear that Wikileaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to classified content”. Then after quickly finding refuge with the EveryDNS web provider, it too pulled the plug - saying it had terminated services because the DDOS web attacks aimed against Wikileaks “threatened the stability of the EveryDNS.net infrastructure, which enabled access to almost 500,000 other websites”. In response, Julian Assange denounced the creeping “privatisation of state censorship” in the US.
However, undaunted, Wikileaks quickly relocated to the French server, OVH - even if that country’s industry minister, Éric Besson, belligerently called for it to be banned from all French servers. Purely coincidentally, of course, Wikileaks’ account with Swiss bank PostFinance was unilaterally terminated because Assange had “provided false information regarding his place of residence during the account opening process”. You can’t just allow anybody to open an account, can you?
Inevitably, there will be other legal and extra-legal efforts to bring Wikileaks tumbling down - but that is easier said than done, even with bureaucratic state power behind you. Exemplified by how Wikileaks Twitter page responded immediately to the crisis by publishing the site’s IP address and alerting people to the mirror sites that popped up quickly after ‘WikiLeaks.org’ went down - and to date there are over 500 Wikileaks mirrors.
To further defend itself, Wikileaks has created additional IP addresses - the raw information internet routers use to find content - and now has some 14 or more DNS servers. Even more significantly - power to the people - Wikileaks has released encrypted files containing all of the embassy cables, and copies of these encrypted files shared over peer-to-peer networks, especially those using BitTorrent. Meaning that there are potentially millions of ordinary people who have copies of the cables sitting on their hard drives. Try confiscating all of those, or throwing everyone into jail. Like the early Christian church, the more Wikileaks is persecuted, the bigger it seems to become - literally by the day, as more and more mirrors are created.
Despite everything then, Wikileaks lives on - even if Julian Assange himself currently finds himself incarcerated in a Wandsworth hell-hole. Needless to say, the details surrounding his “sex crimes” are highly murky, to put it mildly. James D Catlin, one of Assange’s many lawyer - and if anyone needs an army of lawyers permanently by his side, it is him - stated that the sex assault investigation into the Wikileaks founder is based upon claims that he did not use condoms during sex with two Swedish women - though it appears that in one case a condom broke during intercourse. Furthermore, Swedish prosecutors told AOL News last week that Assange was not actually wanted for rape - as has been widely reported - but for something under Swedish law that is called “sex by surprise” or “unexpected sex” (depending on your translation). So Assange, as things stand now, stands charged of having “molested” Miss A “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity” and also of having “unprotected sex” with Miss W while she was asleep.
Curiously, the original prosecution against Assange was dropped by the Swedish authorities for lack of evidence and, even more curiously, one of his alleged victims has strong links to a CIA-financed, anti-Castro, feminist group - Las Damas de Blanco (the Ladies in White). Catlin also observes that both women sent out numerous text messages and tweets “bragging” about having sex with Assange, never once mentioning any rape or sexual assault.
But, whatever occurred between Assange and these two Swedish woman, fully consensual sex or otherwise, communists steadfastly defend the principles of freedom of information and freedom of speech - so we say, hands off Wikileaks and no charges against Assange for espionage. We also demand that he be released from Wandsworth prison and freed from the threat of extradition to either Sweden or the US.
It is essential that the organisations of the working class take up these demands. Assange is targeted because of the particularly powerful and embarrassing nature, and sheer quantity, of the information released. But it is in the interests of the world’s peoples - and especially the international working class - that the dirty dealings of imperialism and of all states be thoroughly exposed. Once the workers’ movement regains its former strength - as it surely will - it is our parties, unions and organisations that will be at the receiving end. Defending the right to free information and its unfettered dissemination is in our interests.