I appreciate that many of you are of the settled view that, irrespective of anything that one might say about Wikileaks staff, it is a fine organisation engaged in important work. I should stress, at the outset, that I am supportive of leaking, and therefore value Wikileaks and other disclosure sites, when their role is limited to neutral ‘plumbing’ rather than news-agenda manipulating. There are certainly circumstances where leaking is laudable and necessary, when it is directed to a specific end, and so a website which facilitates that process without taking a position itself is a valuable resource.
I do not support the wholesale dumping of all the private communications of any organisation, state or private, into the public arena. The only circumstances which might justify that, is if you took the view that government, or one particular government, is little more than a criminal conspiracy. That does, indeed, appear to be Assange’s view of Western democracies: and I disagree with him on that point.
That isn’t what I want to talk about here. Instead, I want to talk about the role of Wikileaks staff in the manner that information is selected for disclosure. Read this important article by Michael Moynihan which discloses that the Swedish resident Holocaust denier and antisemite, “Israel Shamir”/Adam Ermash/Jöran Jermas, and his equally antisemitic son, “a disgraced journalist named Johannes Wahlström, himself accused of anti-Semitism and falsifying quotes”, are “Gatekeepers” for Wikileaks:
Wahlström and Shamir, father and son, are the WikiLeaks representatives for two rather large geographic areas. According to Swedish Radio’s investigation, Wahlström is the gatekeeper of the cables in Scandinavia, and “has the power to decide” which newspapers are provided access and what leaks they are allowed to see.
Here’s the specific problem. “Shamir” is a liar and a racist. So is his son. Both are responsible for feeding Wikileaks stories to the press. Some of the stories given to the Russian press, apparently, are fakes.
I completely accept the arguments of others that Assange’s personal conduct or views are immaterial to an assessment of the value of Wikileaks’ work. However, if “Shamir” and his son are indeed acting in this manner, then Wikileaks cannot claim to be neutral plumbing. What we’re seeing, instead, is material being taken from liberal democracies which, because they are open societies, are particularly vulnerable to leaking. It is then being peddled by two Nazis to Russia: one of whom may not simply be selecting who gets to see what, but may be making things up too.
This is the plot of the next Bond film.
Some of you are not going to agree. Perhaps the Swedish Radio investigation is all wrong. Perhaps this is a smear, or lies, or a misunderstanding based on mistranslation. Or perhaps none of it matters, because Wikileaks is about the song, not the singer.
Tell me what you think.
As for Assange – I don’t think he’s a Nazi or any thing like that. I think he is a little bit odd.
But this isn’t about Assange and his personal conduct – it is about the systems and controls around Wikileaks. It is clear that Wikileaks attracts cranks: and that’s fine, unless they’re malevolent cranks, which some of them are. That is also fine, if Wikileaks is merely ‘neutral plumbing’, but it isn’t.
And there’s a lack of systems and controls to ensure that the site is not tainted. This appears, in effect, to be the main gripe of the wikileaks defectors, who are starting a new site. The involvement of “Shamir” and his son are merely one symptom of this.
Joe’s example of the Bikini March is a good one. It is an excellent thing to organise a demonstration against “Cat Meat” Hilali, if it is done in an imaginative and clever way, which this was. However, as Joe pointed out, such an event risks being hijacked by Nazis, which it was.
When you compare that to the March for Free Expression, back in 2006, huge effort was put by the organisers into ensuring that Nazis did not attend. The board included Peter Tatchell, Evan Harris MP, the National Secular Society, and both Maryam Namazie and Sayyida Rend Shakir al-Hadithi. Racists were expressly told to stay away, and the religious freedom of Muslims was explicitly defended.
That meant that when it was attacked by Bob Pitt, it was able to squash his lies.
The Bikini March had the same problem, but had to fold because it was badly planned by people who had no idea of how to stop getting hijacked by Nazis.