Julian Assange is a Hypocrite, Not the Leader You’ve Been Looking For

I haven’t written about Wikileaks at all yet because I’ve been trying to figure out where I stand on the issue.  I’m not comfortable with the response to the controversy from pretty much anyone so far.  I don’t like that the US and other governments around the world are going after Julian Assange for doing the same thing the NY Times did in 1970.  The Supreme Court ruled that the Times could publish the Pentagon Papers and I don’t see how this is any different.

Additionally, Assange’s partner papers, including the Times, Guardian, El Mundo, Der Spiegel, published the same information and the government is not going after them.  Just because Assange is the first one to break the story doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve freedom of the press.  With the way the Internet has developed, bloggers deserve the protection of freedom of the press.

The US would never have gone after the NY Times or another respected publication if they had broken the story because the Times would not have buckled and there would have been public outcry about the 1st amendment.  Assange is one person, so it’s easier to pick on the weaker person.  I don’t like the implications that if the US doesn’t like a blogger’s writings, they can throw him in jail, say he should be killed or that he is a terrorist.

On the other hand, I’m not comfortable at all with Assange the person or many of his extremely loyal followers.  I believe that diplomats around the world need to be able to share the truth with each other without fear that this information will become public.  For example, I never really use Facebook Chat because I assume that some day, everything I wrote will be public.  Instead, I use gchat off the record if I want to talk with my friends.  People need the ability to talk candidly and our diplomats are no different.

Additionally, I don’t agree that transparency is ALWAYS a good thing.  Many times it is, but not in every situation.  It seems to me that Assange and his followers believe it is.  I also don’t like his selective release of documents.  He seems to love the spotlight, rather than the truth.  Instead of releasing all 250k cables at once so that people will know the truth, he’s selectively releasing a few at a time.  Hardly the mark of transparency.

He’s also holding back on “large cache of bank documents” about a big investment bank.  Many people believe it is Bank of America and it’s share price fell last week because of the rumors.  Assange said:

Mr Assange said he had enough material ready to destroy the bosses of one of the world’s biggest banks…which it intends to release early next year. Shares in Bank of America recently fell after speculation spread that it was the target.

We don’t want the bank to suffer unless it’s called for,” Mr Assange said. “But if its management is operating in a responsive way there will be resignations.”

Two things.  First, when did Assange become the arbiter of truth and justice?  Why is he judge, jury and executioner?  By not releasing these documents immediately and holding onto them, he’s just trying to put himself into the spotlight.  I’m not comfortable at all with this morphing role.  Assange’s stated goal is transparency and holding people in power accountable.  Now, he’s deciding their fate.

Second, he’s also basically blackmailed the bank into doing what he wants.  It’s a tactic he’s used multiple times. He’s told world governments that he would leak unredacted cables that could potentially put people in harm’s way if he was arrested.  Some would call that an insurance policy, others would call that terrorist.  Some have.  I’m not sure where I fall on this continuum, but he’s seeming more like a megalomaniacal Bond super villain every day.

Which brings me to my next point.  After Assange’s release, he lashed out at the Guardian for publishing leaked details from the police report detailing the rape allegations made against him by two women.  He said:

The decision to publish incriminating police files about him was “disgusting”. The Guardian had previously used him as its source for hundreds of leaked US embassy cables.  Mr Assange is understood to be particularly angry with a senior reporter at the paper and former friend for “selectively publishing” incriminating sections of the police report, although The Guardian made clear that the WikiLeaks founder was given several days to respond.

“The leak was clearly designed to undermine my bail application,” he said. “Someone in authority clearly intended to keep Julian in prison.”

Ok, so selectively leaking classified US government material and information to bring down a big bank is right, noble and for the greater good, but it’s disgusting when it happens to you?  Assange is not for transparency.  He’s only for it when it furthers his political or personal goals.  He has a political agenda and is using the guise of freedom of information to push it.

I actually believe that Wikileaks on balance has been a good thing.  I’m hoping that other similar sites start to “compete” with Assange’s Wikileaks.  It’s not good when someone has this much power, especially when it appears to me that he’s not all that stable.  Other competing websites will also damped government’s ability to go after individuals who publish information that the government does not like.

Competitors will also give Wikileaks supporters the ability to ditch Assange and his hypocritical, megalomaniacal behavior.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely, whether it’s big governments like the US or one guy with a ton of documents and a grudge.  Or as Kanye West puts it, “no one man should have all that power.”

I’m hoping this post will stir some discussion, so please tell me what you think.  I still haven’t made my mind up on many parts of the issues here, but as time goes on, my opinion of Assange the person gets lower every day.

  • Anonymous

    Assange is an egomaniac, and his “full disclosure” stance on information has been inconsistent at best and manipulative at worst. Agree that Wikileaks should be afforded the same rights as any news organization, though. They are really just a news outlet more committed to protecting their sources (which, when you think about it, is kind of a laughable contradiction in itself). There seems to be a general misconception that Wikileaks attacks certain organizations (people demanding that Wikileaks “out” certain companies or institutions…doesn’t work like that, they just publish what they are given, or what Assange deems most appropriate).

    Manning is worse – he indiscriminately released hundreds of thousands of documents that jeopardized American lives and diplomatic relationships. His leak doesn’t make him a whistleblower, it makes him a criminal.

    • http://www.nathanlustig.com Nathan Lustig

      I do think Assange’s Wikileaks is attacking certain people/companies though. It’s clear he has a grudge against the US/UK and probably some of the big companies. Since there’s no transparency in Wikileaks, we have no way of knowing whether he’s been passed info on China, Russia, Venezuela, North Korea or any other regimes. “What assange deems most appropriate” is exactly what they publish.

      If he was truly for information freedom, he would post every leak he gets as soon as he can make sure that it does not put people in danger. I have some sympathy for Manning though. The apache helicopter video was whistleblowing, but lots of the department cables are not.

      • Anonymous

        Agree with your first point that he selectively releases and spins his information, e.g. “Collateral Murder” is a title attached to that video by Wikileaks, not by the government or Manning. But he can only leak information provided him by informants. People want him to “expose” Wall Street, but he’s not a PI.

        I’ve got no sympathy for Manning. The video didn’t expose conspiracy or corruption, more of a misunderstanding (and a tragedy) in my eyes. And with the cables…he couldn’t have even known what he was exposing with that kind of volume, and that’s pretty irresponsible when there’s definite reason to suspect that the documents are protecting important information (being CLASSIFIED and all).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72600771 Kenneth Seville

    Though the title of this blog posts suggests a very one-sided argument, I actually felt that you balanced it well and encapsulated all the discussions I have heard of, or been part of since Cablegate. Well done!

    • http://www.nathanlustig.com Nathan Lustig

      Thanks. The title of the post was mostly in response to all of the people (mostly on twitter) who have been idolizing Assange and seem to want openness, no matter what the cost. I think many of these people mean well and are looking for a leader, but Assange is not it.