https://www.wired.com/2016/10/want-know-julian-assanges-endg
ame-told-decade-ago/
Want to know WikiLeaks' endgame? Julian Assange told you a decade ago |
WIRED

Amid a seemingly incessant deluge of leaks and hacks, Washington, DC
staffers have learned to imagine how even the most benign email would look
a week later on the homepage of a secret-spilling outfit like WikiLeaks or
DCLeaks. In many cases, they’ve stopped emailing altogether, deleted
accounts, and reconsidered dumbphones
<http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/16/us/politics/email-hacking-colin-powell-congress.html?_r=0>.
Julian Assange—or at least, a ten-years-younger and more innocent
<https://www.wired.com/2016/07/wikileaks-officially-lost-moral-high-ground/>
Assange—would say he’s already won.

After another week of Clinton-related emails
<https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/> roiling this election, the
political world has been left to scrub their inboxes, watch their private
correspondences be picked over in public, and psychoanalyze WikiLeaks’
inscrutable founder. Once they’re done sterilizing their online lives, they
might want to turn to an essay Assange wrote ten years ago, laying out the
endgame of his leaking strategy long before he became one of the most
controversial figures on the Internet.

In “Conspiracy as Governance <http://cryptome.org/0002/ja-conspiracies.pdf>,”
which Assange posted to his blog in December 2006, the leader of then-new
WikiLeaks describes what he considered to be the most effective way to
attack a conspiracy—including, as he puts it, that particular form of
conspiracy known as a political party.

“Consider what would happen if one of these parties gave up their mobile
phones, fax and email correspondence—let alone the computer systems which
manage their [subscribers], donors, budgets, polling, call centres and
direct mail campaigns. They would immediately fall into an organisational
stupor and lose to the other.”

And how to induce that “organisational stupor?” Foment the fear that any
correspondence could leak at any time.

“The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce
fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result
in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an
increase in cognitive ‘secrecy tax’) and consequent system-wide cognitive
decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the
environment demands adaptation.”

WikiLeaks would publish its first leak the same month as that blog post, a
communication from a Somalian Islamic cleric calling for political
assassinations. Three years later it’d put out the Pentagon and State
Department leaks provided by Chelsea Manning, and six years after that,
leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton advisor
John Podesta would lead to the ousting of DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman
Schultz and shake Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

*It was a crappy, annoying manifesto. And it was ahead of its time by many
years. Dave Aitel, former NSA analyst *

The last decade has shown just how prescient Assange was. Take, for
example, the Russian hackers who published private files from the World
Anti-Doping Agency after Russia’s athletes got banned from the Olympics for
doping. “Now a group like WADA has to take everything they say to every
person into account. They have to think, this could leak,” says Dave Aitel,
a former NSA staffer and founder of the security firm Immunity who focuses
on cyberwar and information warfare. “The idea is, ‘If we can prevent them
from having secrets, they have to operate very differently.'”

That move comes straight from Assange. “It was a crappy, annoying
manifesto,” Aitel says. “And it was ahead of its time by many years.”

A spokesperson for WikiLeaks says Assange’s essay was a “thought
experiment” that the organization still believes to be true. “Organizations
have two choices (1) reduce their levels of abuse or dishonesty or (2) pay
a heavy ‘secrecy tax’ in order to engage in inefficient but secretive
processes,” the spokesperson writes. “As organizations are usually in some
form of competitive equilibrium this means that, in the face of WikiLeaks,
organizations that are honest will, on average, grow, while those that are
dishonest and unjust will decline.”

*The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce
fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. Julian Assange,
writing in 2006 *

Of course, Assange’s claim that a political party leaks in direct
proportion to its dishonesty looks almost laughable after the last several
months. WikiLeaks has published leaks exclusively damaging to Clinton and
the Democratic Party, while publishing nothing from Donald Trump or his
campaign. (Trump has, of course, faced the leaks of his 1995 tax returns
<http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/10/01/us/politics/donald-trump-taxes.html>
and a damning video where he brags about sexual assault
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-recorded-having-extremely-lewd-conversation-about-women-in-2005/2016/10/07/3b9ce776-8cb4-11e6-bf8a-3d26847eeed4_story.html>.
But mainstream newspapers published both, and neither came from the sort of
internal communications Assange wrote about. Trump himself also
famously doesn’t
use email
<http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-06-20/trump-strategy-meeting>,
as good a security measure as anyone could hope for.)

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director
of National Intelligence have both said that recent WikiLeaks releases
originated with Russian state-sponsored hackers
<https://www.wired.com/2016/10/feds-pin-political-hacks-russia-respond/>
seeking to influence US electoral politics. Assange’s essay doesn’t account
for the possibility that a government might exploit or collude with a leak
platform like WikiLeaks. (WikiLeaks’ spokesperson denied that there has
been any “official claim that any documents published by WikiLeaks have
come from a state actor,” somehow ignoring last week’s DHS and ODNI
announcement
<https://www.dhs.gov/news/2016/10/07/joint-statement-department-homeland-security-and-office-director-national>
.)

The notion in Assange’s essay that only corrupt conspiracies keep secrets
is one that Clinton herself has argued against—ironically, something we
know because she said it in a speech whose partial transcript WikiLeaks
leaked last Friday <https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/927>.
Speaking to the National Multi-Housing Council in 2013, Clinton cited how
President Lincoln secretly promised jobs to lame duck Congressmen of the
opposing political party if they agreed to vote for the 13th Amendment,
which ended slavery. “If everybody’s watching all of the backroom
discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to
say the least,” she said. “So, you need both a public and a private
position.”

But the other point Assange makes—the “secrecy tax” that organizations pay
when they try to avoid leaks—rings true. Any organization that has tried to
encrypt all its communications, delete them, or throttle, quarantine, and
compartmentalize them in the name of secrecy knows the toll that paranoia
takes.

“An authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think efficiently cannot act to
preserve itself against the opponents it induces…. When we look at a
conspiracy as an organic whole, we can see a system of interacting organs,
a body with arteries and veins whose blood may be thickened and slowed till
it falls, unable to sufficiently comprehend and control the forces in its
environment.”

Let that be a warning to the Democratic Party and any other organization
with secrets to keep. If the leaks don’t kill you, the fear of them just
might.



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