THE ROVING EYE Cracks in the wilderness of mirrors
By Pepe Escobar
The temptation to see WikiLeaks as a neo-Baudelairean artificial paradise - the
marriage of libertarian anarchism and cyber-knowledge - could not be more
seductive. Now no more than 40 people are helping founder Julian Assange, plus
800 from the outside.
All this with a 200,000 euro (US$264,000) annual budget - and a nomad home
base. WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson maintains that this is still a
"gateway for whistleblowers", where sources are unidentified and even unknown.
You can get a whistleblower to show the emperor has no clothes with just
200,000 euros - just as someone, be him Osama bin Laden or
not, could usher the real "new world order" in on 9/11 with $500,000.
Daniel Ellsberg, who broke the Pentagon Papers in 1971, sees Assange as a hero.
For vast swathes of the United States establishment, he is now public enemy
number one - an unlikely echo of bin Laden. He may be now in southeast England,
contactable by Scotland Yard, and about to be arrested at any minute courtesy
of an Interpol mandate based on his being wanted in Sweden. Canadian scholar
Marshall McLuhan may be doing the twist in his media tomb; if the media are the
message, when you can't eliminate the message why not eliminate the media?
The book of sand
Let's examine Assange's crime. Here he is, in his own words, in "State and
To radically shift regime behavior we must
think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do
not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and
discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our
forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or
neo-corporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop
a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough to carry us through
the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity.
Finally we must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of
ennobling, and effective action.
So Assange understands
WikiLeaks as an anti-virus that should guide our navigation across the
distortion of political language. If language is a virus from outer space, as
William Naked Lunch Burroughs put it, WikiLeaks should be the antidote.
Assange basically believes that the (cumulative) revelation of secrets will
lead to the production of no future secrets. It's an anarchic/romantic/utopian
It's vital to remember that Assange configures the US essentially as a huge
authoritarian conspiracy. American political activist Noam Chomsky would say
the same thing (and they wouldn't want to arrest him for it). The difference is
that Assange deploys a combat strategy: he aims to corrode the ability of the
system to conspire. That's where the metaphor of the computer network fits in.
Assange wants to fight the power of the system, treating it as a computer
choking in the desert sands. Were he alive, it would be smashing to see the
great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges penning a short story about this.
On top of writing his own "Book of Sand", Assange is also counter-attacking the
Pentagon's counter-insurgency doctrine. He's not in "tracking-the-Taliban-and
taking-them-out" mode. This is just a detail. If the conspiracy is an
electronic network - let's say, the (foreign policy) Matrix - what he wants is
to strike at its cognitive ability by debasing the quality of the information.
Here intervenes another crucial element. The ability of the conspiracy to
deceive everyone through massive propaganda is equivalent to the conspiracy's
penchant for deceiving itself through its own propaganda.
That's how we get to the Assange strategy of deploying a tsunami of leaks as a
key actor/vector in the informational landscape. And that takes us to another
crucial point: it doesn't matter whether these leaks are new, gossip or wishful
thinking (as long as they are authentic). The - very ambitious - mother idea is
to undermine the system of information and thus "force the computer to crash",
making the conspiracy turn against itself in self-defense. WikiLeaks believes
we can only destroy a conspiracy by rendering it hallucinatory and paranoid in
relation to itself.
All this also takes us farther into crucial territory. The bulk of the
cablegate-inspired global-talk-show tsunami has totally missed the point. Once
again, it doesn't matter that most cables are gossip - trashy tabloid stuff.
See it as Assange's way of illustrating how the conspiracy works. He is not
interested in journalistic scoops (as much as his media partners, from the
Guardian to Der Spiegel may be); what he wants is to strangle the nodes that
make the conspiracy possible - to render the system "dumb and dumber".
No doubt cablegate shows how the US State Department seems to be in
dumb-and-dumber territory - not even creative enough to do their own versions
of "pimp my cable". This is already an extraordinary victory for an
organization different from anything we have seen so far, which is doing things
that journalists do or should be doing, and then some. And there will be more,
on a major bank's secrets (probably Bank of America), on China's secrets, on
Mirror, mirror on the net
The US government and most of corporate media predictably rolled out their
defense mechanism, as in "there's nothing new in these cables". Some might have
suspected that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had ordered American
diplomats to spy on their colleagues at the United Nations. Another thing
entirely is to have an official cable confirmation. If UN Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon was not such a wimp, he would be throwing a monumental diplomatic fit
And then, at the same time, the US government and virtually the whole
establishment - from neo-conservatives to Obama-light practitioners - want to
pull out all stops to delete WikiLeaks or, even take out Assange, as George W
Bush wanted to do with bin Laden. Grizzly nutjob Sarah Palin says Assange is
worse than al-Qaeda. Such hysteria lead an Atlanta radio station to ask
listeners whether Assange should be executed or imprisoned (no third option;
execution won). Redneck Baptist priest Mike Huckabee, who might have been the
Republican contender for president in 2008 and is now a talk-show fixture, goes
for execution as well.
Who to believe? These freaks, or two frustrated US federal investigators who
told the Los Angeles Times that if WikiLeaks had been active in 2001, it would
have prevented 9/11?
French philosophers avid to escape their own irrelevancy foment conspiracy
theories, lamenting that WikiLeaks gives the media unprecedented powers; other
blame the Internet ogre for gobbling up journalists. That's the beauty of the
leaks - this is the stuff conspiracies are made of.
Under this framework it is very enlightening to listen to what eminent Cold
Warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski has to say. He told the US Public Broadcasting
Service that cablegate is "seeded" with "surprisingly pointed" information, and
that "seeding" is too easy to accomplish.
Example: those cables saying that the Chinese are inclined to cooperate with
the US in view of a possible Korean unification under the aegis of South Korea
(I debunk this in my previous article, See
TheNaked Emperor, Asia Times Online, December 1, 2010).
Dr Zbig says that WikiLeaks may have been manipulated by intelligence services
with "very specific objectives". They could be, as he hints, internal US
elements who want to embarass the Barack Obama administration. But he also
suspects "foreign elements". In this case, the first on the list would be none
other than the state of Israel.
As conspiracy theories go, this one is a cracker; could WikiLeaks be the head
of a real invisible "snake" - a massive Israeli disinformation campaign?
Evidence would include cables seriously compromising the US-Turkey
relationship; the cumulative cables painting a picture of a Sunni Arab-wide
consensus for attacking Iran; and the fact that the cables reveal nothing that
demonstrates how Israel has jeopardized US interests in the Middle East over
and over again.
In an interview with American talk show host Larry King, Russian Prime Minister
Vladimir Putin went Dr Zbig and said this was in fact a manipulation - the
cables as a deliberate plot to discredit Russia (this was before Russia
clinched the 2018 World Cup; now everyone is drowning in torrents of Stoli and
no one gives a damn about cables anymore). Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad
said virtually the same thing regarding Iran.
And then there's the conspiracy that didn't happen: how come the Pentagon, for
all its ultra-high-tech savvy ways, has not been willing, or able, to
completely shut down WikiLeaks?
There's thunderous chatter everywhere on WikiLeaks' "motives" for releasing
these cables. We just need to go back to Assange's thinking to realize there's
no "motive". The intellectual void and political autism of America's diplomats
is self-evident; they can only "understand" the Other: the world in terms of
good guys and bad guys. The great French-Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard is
80 this Friday. How fresh if he would shoot a remake of Made in USA, now
featuring the perplexity of the system as it contemplates its reflection in a
giant, digital mirror.