Friday, December 03, 2010

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 Terrorist Conspiracies":
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 vision. 

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 Russia's secrets. 

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 by now. 

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. 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). 

He may be reached at