Thursday, December 2, 2010

A WikiLeaks Middle Game

Here are the elements: Julian Assange, by all appearances the linchpin of WikiLeaks, is being charged with a personal crime in Sweden which, whether he committed it or not, is likely unprovable in court. Interpol has a warrant out for Assange, ostensibly to deliver him to the Swedes. The US government, meanwhile, has moved into high gear: it has pressured Amazon to deny WikiLeaks web-hosting services, and it is reported to be exploring its own criminal charges against Assange and his collaborators.

Everything else is speculation—but why not? So here is my attempt to connect the dots.

1. The Swedes initially wavered on prosecuting Assange. First it was yes, then no, then yes again. Given the stakes, it would be naive to think that there was no communication between the US and Swedish governments during this process. The cable I would like to see is the one where Hilary, or one of her underlings, pressures Sweden to reopen the case. I’ll bet Assange would like to have this one too. It is not out of the realm of possibility that he actually has it and will use it if he needs to.

2. If Assange is taken into custody, he will soon find himself in a US court. My guess is that he will not be charged under the Espionage Act, but rather a lesser but sufficient felony associated with theft of government property. Meanwhile, the charges in Sweden will be dropped; after all, they were never provable.

3. While Assange is in custody in the US, WikiLeaks will face a full-court press. There will certainly be a range of attempts, public and private, to eliminate its web presence. Assange will be denied any opportunity to communicate with his colleagues, and anyone who meets with him will be meticulously searched for data storage media. Of course, bail is out of the question.

4. Actual prosecution of Assange will be delayed for years. The defense will be forced to be party to this strategem, since the government will invoke various justifications for withholding evidence. Procedural challenges will lumber slowly from one courthouse to the next. The government’s game plan is that, during this time, WikiLeaks will disintegrate and Assange will be broken. If so, he will be released under a plea bargain that is little different from dropping the charges altogether. Incidentally, this preventive detention strategy will require coordination across administrations if Obama is not reelected in 2012, but I doubt this will be a problem.

As for myself, I admire WikiLeaks for its exposure of diplomatic deceit, and I am looking forward to its rumored release of documents from Bank of America. I abhor the actions being taken to shut it down. The only positive side I can see is that Assange is not a Muslim, and we are not yet talking about Predator drones.

1 comment:

Kevin Carson said...

In the meantime, with Assange in custody, the "dead man switch" will release the "Insurance" file and have the same effect on the U.S. government as kicking over an anthill.

And on the likely assumption that others have admin privileges and some servers remain in existence, Wikileaks will probably schedule some big embarrassing releases just to prove that it's bigger than Assange. Bloggers and tweeters will publicize Wikileaks' dotted IP address far and wide, in a reenactment of the DeCSS uprising.

If necessary, the Wikileaks organization will progress to doing numerous BitTorrent releases worldwide, which can't be stopped by any means short of shutting down the Internet.

In short, the dinosaurs will just thrash around harder and as a result sink faster into the tar pits.